Written by Tina Borgia.

**Please be aware that this article includes offensive language**

I was a White British girl with Welsh grandparents and grew up in a small, predominantly White town where it was not uncommon for me to be surrounded by people who were quite narrow minded.  And that meant quite a lot of racism.  I witnessed everything from chanting ‘You black b*****d, you black b*****d…. at football matches, to full on bullying on the school playground.  The following are snippets of conversations I either heard or was part of; I have referred to the people as A - the adult and B - the child:

A - Who’s that paki and what’s he doing on my grass?

B - It’s just Ranjeet from school and he’s getting his ball.

A - I don’t care what he’s getting, I’m not having sheep sh** on my lawn.

I am ashamed to say that I laughed at this poor attempt at a joke, out of awkwardness - I think I was about aged 7 but I dwelled on this for a long time after and felt terrible about it.  By the way, the boy was Indian.

A - Can you go to the paki shop for me?

B - Why do you call it that?

A - That’s what everyone calls it.

B - It’s offensive.

A - Don’t be daft!

B - I don’t want you to say it to me anymore

A - They should go back to where they came from.

B - Why, what harm are they doing to you?

A - I just don’t like them.  They’re dirty!

B - What?!

A - Not all of them but a lot of them.  You can smell curry on them.

B - That’s ridiculous!  And so what if you can, you smell like a fish and chip shop but nobody says horrible things to you.

A - I don’t like him, he’s a n****r, isn’t he.

B - Oh my god, you can’t say that word.

A - The trouble with people today is everything is all about being PC (politically correct) and you can’t say anything to people anymore.

B - It’s not about being PC, it’s about recognising that people have feelings and those terms are degrading.

A - But it’s all right for a black man to call his mate a n****r?

B - Maybe, but it’s about the meaning behind it - you’re demeaning them by saying they are a lesser person than you. 

A - No I’m just calling them a n****r because that’s what they are! 

B - No they’re not, they’re a person, a human being who is black who has probably had enough of listening to ignorant people like you!

My defensive remarks were not always well received.  Several people said I had too much to say for myself!

 was willing to stick my neck out because I hated to see people being treated differently because of the colour of their skin.  It frustrated me knowing that many people just repeated what they had heard their ancestors say, without questioning it, but I couldn't do that.  I hoped I could change people’s cruel views and I am sure my younger self would have been horrified to think we’d still be having arguments about racism in 2020. And these comments are the mere tip of the iceberg 

When I was at High School, we studied Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ for GCSE.  It was one of those spine tingling moments, where this young Black girl’s story touched my soul - that might sound over dramatic but it is the only way I can describe it.  The abhorrent things she experienced, including being raped at 8 years old and a feeling of deep-rooted inadequacy, in a world that segregated Whites and Blacks, left her mute for several years but she still didn’t let that hold her back.  I didn’t have the same struggles as Maya Angelou but there were certain things that happened to my family when I was younger that struck a chord and allowed me to relate to her.  Her passion and strength inspired me and reinforced my strong beliefs.

I went on to choose to study Maya Angelou’s writing and life in more depth for my English A Level.  She lived a very interesting life, touring the world as a performer, writing and publishing many books,  a university professor and a Black activist who came into contact with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.  She described herself of having ‘a rollercoaster life....there has been this disappointment and that satisfaction and then it begins all over again.’  She wrote about her emigration to Ghana, which she excitedly thought of as her ‘motherland’, saying 

“We were Black Americans in West Africa, where for the first time in our lives the color of our skin was accepted as correct and normal”

but she actually found that it was not that simple - she and other Black Americans, were still classed as outsiders to some extent. 

Maya also knew Malcolm X, and recorded him saying he no longer believed that all Whites were devils 

“On this journey to Mecca, I met White men with blue eyes, who I can call brother with conviction.  That means that I am forced to reconsider statements I have made in the past and I must have the courage to speak up and out about those reconsiderations.”

  This was in the 1950’s and some people are only just reconsidering and retracting racist things they have said and done now in 2020, over 60 years later!  

Whilst at university, I lived in Wakefield near Leeds which was a cultural mecca for multiculturalism, particularly in the Performing Arts. I was fortunate enough to participate in a wide variety of Dance workshops and courses in African, Indian (Bharatnatyam) and Capoeira ( Brazilian Dance fighting technique) and attend a plethora of performances from BAME companies who were based locally and from around the world.  You can read more about my influences here where you can also watch some fantastic performances!

My final year included a research and development study; when I initially told my tutor I wanted to base my studies around ‘Black Dance’, I quickly learned that I had to consider exactly what I meant by that - true, it was a phrase that was often used to encompass African, West Indian and Afro-Caribbean dance styles but what was I trying to achieve? I wanted to know if, for example, a White British person could fully embody a Black dance style with real authenticity, in the way a Black person with African or Afro-Caribbean heritage could?  So, my tutor set me a challenge to ‘go away and come back to me with a definition of culture.’ After a lot of studying I finally arrived at my question: ‘How far can one experience Dance outside their own culture? With specific reference to African Dance.’ 

So I took a group of White British dance students to meet Sakoba Dance Company in Leeds, watched their performance, interviewed Artistic Director Bode Lawal, and did a day long workshop.  3 months later, I had 2 White dancers performing some of Bode’s original choreography and a White friend musician playing djembe similarly to that from the workshop alongside my presentation.  The findings?  Each step removed from the original workshop, the dancers style became noticeably less grounded in the authentic style, gradually and unwittingly layering onto it, their own inherent cultural styles.  My closing line came from a Black British dancer friend: “There is no way you could ever do those dance moves like a Black person, unless you had been doing it since the day that you were born!” Ugh!!  But I would continue to have fun trying, until I was forced to give up dancing due to my health condition, aged 26.

Aged 27, I came to Cumbria for a fresh start as a Drama Development worker, and to be honest, I felt a bit like a fish out of water for a while.  I was welcomed with open arms by fellow arts workers at Theatre by the Lake and Cumbria Institute of the Arts (where my post was partially based) but I found many of the locals difficult to warm to.  It took a long time to settle in and feel properly welcome and it was a huge culture shock in comparison to Yorkshire - even more people were white then!  

My husband, Mike and I stumbled across Culture Bazaar in 2008 when it was at Trinity School and honestly, we felt like we’d arrived! We finally felt like we were in the right place. I know that our feelings cannot be compared to those of you who have come to Cumbria from other countries or the BAME people amongst you from other parts of the UK but I have spoken to many people who also moved to Cumbria from other parts of the UK and they have felt similarly.  At a recent International Women’s Group coffee morning, only one person out of 15 women there was originally from Carlisle, despite there being several other White British women there. So we know that ‘offcomers’ can feel like it takes a while to penetrate the Cumbrian fabric but why is that? Is that because we’re not welcome?  People aren’t friendly?  I honestly think that a lot of it is down to people not having the confidence to be outspoken, broadly speaking people are a bit more reserved and need encouragement to open their arms.  Some people from ethnic minorities are still quite new and novel in Cumbria - how do we respond to people we know nothing about?  In one of our questionnaires, one man commented ‘If all you know about me is what you’ve seen or heard on TV and all I know about you…’ 

So let’s work together, people!  Let’s encourage each other to be a bit less scared and be open to finding out about each other.  And come to Culture Bazaar! For me, that is where I feel most at home.

The year that followed our first Culture Bazaar, Mike became involved with technical support and in subsequent years, I led drama workshops until I became involved with the programming.... and now my role is expanding faster than I can keep up! But I love it.