“My life was far from privileged.”
I stand by that statement, yes, but let me clarify. I grew up in Scotland in a predominately white working class community in the 1980’s/90’s, and that in itself afforded me some opportunities that other communities at that time were not afforded, so perhaps my underprivileged story will prompt some eye rolling. I’m not, as I said in my last post, looking for anyone’s sympathy and I certainly don’t want any poor-me-pat-on-the-back. I’ve spent a lot of years thinking about my own areas of privilege, my successes and failures, and why I was able to “make something of myself” when so many people found it hard to, if at all.
This is my attempt to try and put into words some of my feelings and experiences over the years. My feelings are my own….my experiences are my own and my voice is my own. I’m not trying to be a voice for my generation, there are plenty of people out there; musicians, actors, politicians or activists you can turn to for that, who will no doubt do a better job than I. I just want to share my thoughts and experiences and maybe make you stop and think of your own life experiences to date. I firmly believe that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than anything that divides us” (Jo Cox, 2015) if we just listen more, communicate more, and judge less. I am a product of my environment, but I didn’t say I was a shitty product.
I came from a very proud working class family, we weren’t the worst off but we weren’t living the high life either. My childhood home is an ex-council house my mum moved into with her mum when she was moved out of Barrowfield in the late 70’s. (Barrowfield was a council housing scheme in Glasgow, close to Celtic FC, between the now gentrified Dennistoun and Bridgeton. Barrowfield no longer exists, it was demolished slowly over the years then completely in 1990, replaced with modern housing and the now well known Commonwealth Emirates Arena.)
Our house in Shettleston was small but had a back and front garden with a swing-set and plants my mum took pride in, she still lives there today and still takes pride in her garden and those plants. Our neighbours were friendly and polite, always looking out for one another, and for the most part we lived a quiet life.
I can’t say I was aware of inequality in those early years but I do believe I was aware of what our life could have been if my parents were in a different position. We had a daily reminder walking to school each morning, seeing people who were “worse off” than we were, people with drug or alcohol problems, health issues; mental and physical, and some with housing difficulties like overcrowding or homelessness. All issues, I personally believe, (along with most of Scotland in the 80’s) were a direct result of the political climate at the time.
Our street in The Shetto had a small play park on it, its long since been bulldozed for reasons that will be clear in a second, where we were forbidden to play, in fact, we weren’t allowed to leave our front gate until we were around 10 years old. My mum never fully explained her reasoning for the ban on the park, so of course our curious minds took us there when we were a little older, only to find porn magazines, empty bottles and cans of cheap beer or cider…and used syringes and foils. Needless to say we didn’t go to the park often, mum knew best.
Scotland wasn’t an ethnically diverse country back in the early 80’s and 90’s, and even today I wouldn’t describe it as particularly diverse. There are still some parts of Scotland, mostly small towns and rural areas, that are somewhat whitewashed compared to other parts of the UK. Black people today only account for 0.16% of the population whilst Chinese make up double this number. Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshi and other South Asians make up 1.09%. (According to the 2001 census)
Racism wasn’t something I had any experience with or knowledge of as a youth in Glasgow in the early 80’s, though I now know that it existed on many levels, socially and institutionally, for minority groups…and unfortunately continues today.
We had one Asian girl in our class in primary school, she had older brothers, and was shy and quiet for the most part. Her family owned the local convenience store which was a big part of our community. The only thing I recall thinking about my classmate was that her family had money. They were always dressed so well, had lots of beautiful jewellery and lived in a big house, they were different because of that, at least in my eyes. I have no idea what type of discrimination she faced on a daily basis but I’m sure it was at times relentless.
When I think back on my education and exposure to people of different ethnicities and cultures I find it really difficult to pinpoint when I started to form my beliefs on equality and diversity. I remember always being drawn to people who looked different to me but not necessarily who lived differently.
Our family travelled to South London every summer growing up, we had a lot of family there. My cousins had very rich diverse groups of friends. I loved traveling around the city to placed like Lewisham, Deptford market, Catford, (with the Big Cat over the Catford Centre) Greenwich market, all the bootsales around south London – heading to Brixton and Camden, and ‘up town” in awe of the diversity, and wanting to stay and absorb it all for as long as I could. London was such a huge part of my life as a young kid, and later as a teenager, and will forever have a special place in my heart.
I also loved sports and music, I lived them daily, and that love catapulted me into a world of difference.
The underdog story, the story of struggle, the outcast stories, they spoke to me on another level. I could relate to what I saw on TV and in movies, and I dreamed of a life outside of my community, if I could only find a way.
I found my way in 1993 when I discovered basketball.
One man, a hell of a lot of work, sacrifice and supportive family and friends helped me to the USA where my eyes would be opened to inequality and intersectionality forever.
There was the small issue of finishing high school first.
But thats for another day.