The interview with Kofi from Ride 4 Unity yesterday has put me in a very nostalgic mood! With many calls for an autobiography I thought I'd try to put some of my story into words.
My story isn't particularly special, but I understand the power of sharing. If somebody reads this and relates to it, or it helps them on their journey, then it was worth sharing.
I guess I should start by saying that I'm used to being the only brown person in the room. I'm of mixed heritage. My father was from Barbados, my mother is English. I was raised by the white side of my family, in a typically white area, in the 1970's and 80's. Racism was what we'd now call 'normalised', and my family had typical East End London mixed attitudes to people who looked different to them, including myself. Don't get me wrong, I was loved, but I'm not sure it was what you would call unconditional. I was treated differently to my cousins. My family didn't have high hopes for me, they had very low expectations of what I could achieve in life. I'm pictured here aged around 4 years, with my maternal grandfather, on a bike, even though no one remembers me ever having a bike! He passed away shortly after this was taken. I was told I was the apple of his eye. I'm very grateful for the love and care of my grandparents.
I was mostly raised by my loving late grandmother and she wanted to be a dancer, so I was sent to ballet lessons at the age of three, and I continued until I was in my early 20's. I was usually the only non white child at the various dance schools I attended. At normal school there were a few other non whites, and bullying was a part of our everyday life. I rarely saw it punished. My family told me it was wrong but also said there's nothing I can do about it. It was going to be a part of my life forever, because that's the way the world works. As I've discovered over the last few years, like many others like me, I grew up feeling ugly, an outsider, unwanted and powerless. I was angry and frustrated but had no safe space to express my feelings.
Fast forward thirty or so years........ I learned a lot in those years. There was some hard years, and I faced some tough challenges, where I discovered how strong I am and how to empower myself. After leaving an abusive and controlling husband of 10 years I started to want to see what I could achieve in life. I took time to work through and analyse my core beliefs, created during my early years, and how they affected my self image now and how they were limiting my experiences of the world. So, what was my next logical step? I started my own business in the construction industry.
A brown woman
As a professional interior decorator
No, not interior designer
A painter and decorator
AND LEAN IN
At some point something had clicked in my brain. Do not let other people's expectations, preconceptions, stereotypes, dictate how I live my life. Don't wait for a role model. Do it anyway. Due to how my life had gone so far I had become fiercely independent and determined. But it was partly out of defiance, and was tainted with anger and loneliness. I leaned into any resistance from others as well as the outdated core beliefs in my own head. I fought hard, at times becoming a workaholic. I'd moved to an new area, my business was growing, my confidence was growing and I'd found a small supportive group of friends at my local gym, including some amazing mixed heritage women WHO LOOKED JUST LIKE ME!! The five of us have spent many evenings sharing stories from our childhoods, amazed that we had experienced so much of the same. I had never experienced this before. Our little group now has an unbreakable bond. They are my family, they understand me like few others could, more than my own family. I was no longer alone. They have my back, I have theirs, through the best times and the worst, and we've supported each other through many of both.
Having this safe space has allowed me to start to truly discover myself and what I can achieve. When you live in a society where you are discriminated against everyday, on micro and macro levels, where the image of happiness and success that's portrayed in our everyday images, doesn't look like you, where people that do look like you are negatively stereotyped, having that safe space can be life changing, liberating, empowering……..
If I had this earlier in my life, where would I be now? How would seeing positive images of BIPOC have affected my self image?
Part 2 will tell the story of my experiences as a beginner cyclists