This week I decided to focus on education in the African British context and to highlight our travails in the pursuit of western education.
It has taken a long time for the African community in the UK to assimilate into British life. For instance, we are now in the 4th generation. Mind you, my children belong to the 3rd generation. They are born and brought up in Britain.
The first generation, like my parents, came as students. Life back home in Nigeria was beautiful after independence in 1960. Africans came to Britain in droves to attain a high standard of education. But what they encountered in the 50s, 60s and 70s was dank cold and miserable weather, and a wall of racism. The Windrush generation also suffered this.
That is why the overriding dream of every African parent, home or abroad, is to see their children well-educated and succeed in getting a good job. I do not blame parents for desiring this, for they have experienced worse living in the UK.
At that time, Nigeria’s greatest desire after her independence was for her citizens to get their western education in the UK and come back to develop the country. My parents were part of this ‘gold rush’. England opened her educational institution to Africans, and many Brits amidst racial prejudice opened their homes for rent!
When the Africans started having babies, plenty of white nannies and foster parents decided to take on the children for busy parents who were either students or working.
There were stories of English nannies getting African children to go under the sun to deepen their tan. Author Yinka Summonu wrote Cherish to chronicle the pursuits of a black child privately adopted by a white family.
However, Britain is very good at expressing its joy, angst and everything else through comedy. As such, they created many sitcoms around that period. I distinctly remember Rising Damp because they sold repeats to Africa into the 80s. It’s a sitcom from 1974 to 1978 about a stingy, sexist, racist landlord, Mr Rigsby, played by the late Leornard Rossitter, a desperate spinster – Frances de La Tour and British Trinidadian Actor, Don Warrington who played an African student, the son of a rich African chief.
The first black student to attend Eton College made news all over the western world. In April 1964, Tokunbo Akintola, the son of the Premier of Western Region of Nigeria, late Chief Ladekan Akintola, was escorted into Eton. I do not want to imagine his experience!
Writer Dillibe Onyeama was the 2nd black student to attend the college, and this is forever etched in African literary landscape with his first novel Nigger at Eton!
The 2nd generation, like us, also came bravely with the knowledge and confidence of having a British Citizenship and were shocked at the institutional racism that we encountered. The Thatchrite years were horrendous. Consequently, the only time you see a black face in the paper was when they committed a crime.
In the then British society, Champion boxer Frank Bruno and Comedian Lenny Henry were the darlings of the media. There were no black mentors or role models. The few African British that succeeded were probably trying to survive as they managed to pull the ladder after them and stay in their lonely lanes! You had to make your way. It was a very depressing time. Labour came in and, I think, made things bearable. The conservatives of today are more open, as they embrace some aspects of liberalism.
To gain acceptance, the 2nd generation Africans cottoned on to the fact that they had to seal the education they acquired back in Africa with an additional one from Britain. Thus, many of them went on to do their Masters. The ones that followed in the 90s discovered that if they went into ‘safe’ areas like Social Work & Care, Housing/Local Authority, Nursing, etc., they would climb into middle class, although perhaps in the lower rung in the beginning.
Slowly, my fellow Africans fulfilled their dreams. They became a kind of middle class. They also started buying houses in the edges of areas that British indigenes considered ‘dodgy’. Their children went to the local schools and survived as much. So how are African British doing these days?
The family considered to be the smartest in England are from Nigeria. The Imafidon children are geniuses that have broken world records in the academic field. Their father, Chris Imafidon, is a scientist and education expert who has gained worldwide recognition. African British millenials have not only achieved well in the academic arena. They have only taken it further by becoming entrepreneurs in well-respected fields.
You will wonder what I opted for. I loved IT! So after plenty of urges from my gravely ill father, I abandoned my 5 year snail-slow writing career in its 4th year, went on to do an MSc in IT and got married afterwards. Did I then work in IT? Yes, for a very short time. I still have a corporate job but I have continued my love for writing as you can see.
The story continues…