One of the first things I ever wrote was for a sixth grade assignment about family history. In it, I detailed my father’s childhood, based on conversations I had with him on his early life. He told me about his few memories of Barbados, before he and his family moved to Coventry when he was about six years old, in 1958, as part of the Windrush generation. He told me of the home he’d left behind, and the new one he found himself in, and the experience of existing in an entirely different environment. At that time, I had visited England (including my dad’s childhood home), and had spent several summers in Barbados, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to imagine the stark contrast of travelling from the Caribbean to Coventry. Although I had been born in the United States and lived my entire life there up to that point, I could identify with much more of his account than I had anticipated. Particularly, the experience of exclusion. He was the only Black student in his school at a time when the UK was just beginning its multicultural experiment. And while I was growing up in a mostly white New Jersey suburb and wasn’t the only Black kid in class, I was the only person that was Black and of a foreign background. A fact that was nearly incomprehensible to many of my peers who, never having heard of Barbados at all, and as far as I could tell, didn’t know that Black people existed outside of the US and Africa.
My father’s response to the situation he found himself in was to assert his humanity to the fullest possible extent on the terrain on which it was denied. He worked hard to excel in all of his academic requirements, captained his school rugby and cricket teams and played on its football team. He went out of his way to be polite and friendly with all, even those that would dehumanise him to his face. This is exactly how we are told to respond – in a society that would seek to restrict or outright deny our abilities to live and possibilities for the future; we are told that we must play the game, and if the assertions of our inferiority are indeed unfounded, then we should succeed and prove our equality rationally. However, despite this success on the terms of whiteness, he returned to Barbados, disillusioned with life in England and denied the legal recognition of humanity afforded by citizenship. In the years in between his return to Barbados in the mid-1970s and my birth in New Jersey in 1992, he and my mother met and married and they immigrated to the United States via the Bronx and Miami.