I had an interesting conversation the other day. A Nigerian friend of mine was proudly telling me he’d been invited to lunch by his English neighbour. In fact he was part of a selected few that this neighbour had invited; and this friend whom I shall call Ade, felt honoured to be included. The reason for the lunch was so that the neighbour could say good bye to these chosen few who all lived in the same road, and also he was celebrating his move out of Chingford into Essex. According to Ade, the discussion was dominated by the neighbour’s reasons for moving out. ‘Too much of the wrong sort coming into the area’ and ‘Chingford has changed for the worse’, were some of the comments Ade said the man had made. I asked Ade how could he stay to listen to such nonsense. He gave me a look as if I’d missed the point and said he agreed there was too much of the wrong sort in the area. ‘Wrong sort? I said. I didn’t understand. ‘When you say ‘wrong sort’, do you mean people like us?’ He laughed. But I didn’t. He continued. ‘Well you know what I mean. When I moved here I was one of the first blacks to be living in this street. Now, there are so many. Wanting to play loud music, having parties going on all night – whether they’re Africans like me or West Indians, it’s too much. We don’t know how to behave.’ Wow, I thought, I was speechless. I should have had a quick ready answer but the strange thing was my silence prevented me from making further comments as he was probably the umpteenth Black person I’d met who held this viewpoint.
As someone born and bred in Tottenham but have lived in places like Manchester, Scotland and Croydon, I drive through areas like Winchmore Hill and Mill Hill in North London and realise that the Black people you see walking around actually live in these areas. Nothing wrong with that. We have been here long enough to expect that will happen. But in Tottenham, where once the community was very connected: everybody knew everyone whether one was a Jamaican or Guyanese, there was some degree of unity. When I went to a talk given by Professor Paul Gilroy (promoting his new book Black Britain) a month ago, he said that unfortunately Black Britons had made little progress in the last thirty years (which he went on to elaborate that it wasn’t our fault) but when I walk around the area these days, maybe there is some truth in what he says as the community has become like a shadow of what it once was. There are new communities which I must welcome but it seems as if we have become dislodged and weakened as a result.
Those of us, who used to live in places like Tottenham, have moved out into unwelcome territories not realising that perhaps the reason White people are moving out, is simply because they want to have a neighbour who looks them and shares a culture they can identify with. They want their own space and are determined to live as they want. Again, nothing wrong with that, especially as their ‘protest’ has been non-confrontational. But there we go, chasing them wherever they go to, hoping that what? It will finally make us feel accepted or that we have achieved something? We are better off staying in ‘our’ areas, and working to improve and strengthen our community. We cannot have any effect or impact by living in places like Essex.