“Racism will continue in Britain until we face up to our past and stop pretending it didn’t happen” – Esther Lawson
RACISM is alive and thriving on the streets and in schools across the UK – and it’s getting worse, according to author and campaigner Esther Lawson.
“Love Island’s Gabby Allen hit the nail on the head about the racism in our society today, and thousands of people of colour in towns as and cities across the UK will have similar stories to tell,” says Esther.
“The sad truth unfortunately is that racism is on the rise in Britain, but today’s racism is about more than just colour prejudice, it’s manifested into xenophobia against anyone from another country be that India, China, Eastern Europe or anywhere else in the world.”
Lincolnshire is the UK’s most racist county and Stoke-on-Trent the safest city in Esther’s personal experience:
“My family spent a life on the move trying to avoid racism – from South London where we were thrown out of our home because the neighbours objected to having a black family on the street, to the Sussex coast where lighted newspapers were pushed through our letterbox,” says Esther.
“Lincolnshire is by far the most racist place I have ever lived, particularly the towns of Spilsby and Skegness where we faced open hatred.
“White people were served before my mother and I in the shops – in 21st century Skegness,” recalls Esther, who lived in Lincolnshire from 2008-2012.
Esther and her family now live in Stoke-on-Trent, a city which gave them a warm welcome and finally allowed them to leave behind the racist hatred that had dogged their lives. She says it is the only place she and her family have felt safe.
Wogamatter is the author’s personal account of growing up in racist Britain
PRECIOUS MOMENTS: Young Esther (right) with her Kenyan mum and two sisters.
As a mixed-race girl growing up in 1960’s Britain, Esther experienced at first-hand racism in all of its forms and from all quarters of society.
She was kicked, beaten and called “wog” and “golliwog” at school. The bullies would then mock her asking “wogamatter?” distorting “what’s the matter?” into a term of racial abuse.
Racist bullies prevented Esther and other children of colour from playing in the sandpit in the public park near her home. On one occasion she was knocked unconscious when a large stone was thrown at her and hit her head.
At school she was accused of cheating when she achieved top marks in class, because non-white children were not expected to be that clever.
Her white father, who, like Gabby Allen, was Liverpool born and bred, never allowed himself to be photographed with his Kenyan wife and mixed race children.
When her family moved home, neighbours petitioned against the new black family on the street.
At just eight years old, she was arrested and charged with 56 trumped up criminal charges, later facing a judge in a Sussex courtroom despite being two years below the age of criminal responsibility:
“I was questioned alone with no parent or other adult apart from the police officers present, my mother hadn’t even been informed,” recalls Esther.
“I thought it was great fun having my fingerprints taken, but was too young to realise the significance.”
The charges against her were vague, examples include “stole a piece of fruit between October and December”, “stole purse from pocket at some point between 1st and 31st October”.
The evidence put forward by the police was also confused accusing her of four separate offences that happened in different locations at the same time.
“When I appeared in court, I didn’t understand what was going on or the gravity of the situation, I just remember being sat in a huge chair in front of the judge and feeling very bored.”
The judge threw the case out and, in Esther’s words, ‘gave the police a good ticking off’ for bringing it to court.
Esther tells US chat show host Dr Pamela Brewer about her court appearance.
The US acknowledges its shameful racist past, Britain remains in denial says Esther.
Her painful childhood experiences are recalled in her gritty real life story “Wogamatter”. The book has already made its mark in America where it is now available in school libraries across the USA.
Esther is now campaigning for more awareness in the UK where she believes racism is still swept under the carpet:
“Racism was rife and no-one batted an eyelid when people of colour were called nasty names or suffered violent abuse just for being different,” she says.
“But racism still occurs in the UK – sometimes in plain sight, sometimes more subtly, below the surface – and will continue to do so until we face up to it and encourage people to tell their stories to ensure we learn from our past to enlighten our future and have more tolerance of each other’s differences.
Esther recalls that the television series Love Thy Neighbour, which attempted to expose racism through comedy, but instead fanned the flames as it gave the bullies an armory of new racist words they’d not heard before.
“The US acknowledges its shameful racist history and has embraced Wogamatter which is now included as extracurricular reading in US schools, it is time now for the UK to do the same, stop hiding it and pretending it didn’t happen.
“In Britain people are uncomfortable even with the title of the book. Well get real, Wogamatter is the word the racist bullies invented to taunt me with; hide from that, and we’re hiding from the problem itself.
“Recalling my story has been hugely difficult and extraordinarily painful for me and my family, but I am telling it to help others come to terms with their experiences and to have comfort in knowing they were not alone.”
– E N D S –