Black Lives Matter

Remember the story about my Dad and how I’d bought an orange tree in memory of him.

What I omitted to tell you was his work and consequently our lives were very much bound up with colonialism and the exploitation of people – black people.

Dad was working class grammar school boy – the first of his family to go to university.

His first proper job was as a research scientist for the CSIRO in Australia – a country with a brutal genocidal past.

A country where indigenous people were killed by British settlers who stole their land and set up farms like the ones my Dad helped in his work as an agronomist.

There he met my Mum – the great granddaughter of British and Irish convicts and immigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century.

They then moved with me and my sister to Kenya where he worked for the Empire Cotton Association advising them on how to get maximum yields.

All the cotton was grown and picked by black workers and exported back to the UK.

After two years we returned to England where Dad got a similar position with Outspan, the South African company importing citrus fruit to Europe.

He made regular trips to South Africa to advise white farmers on growing citrus fruit – an industry that depended entirely on black people’s labour – cheap labour that was an inherent part of a society based on racial segregation and exploitation.

During our teenage years arguments for and against the boycott of firms like Outspan and Barclays filtered through to discussions at the dinner table at our house in leafy suburban Buckinghamshire.

My sister and I were horrified that we were, in effect, living off the proceeds of other people’s misery.

It all came to a head when Dad invited to supper some white South African farmers who were on a European tour.

We children boycotted the event and refused to eat with them – a huge embarrassment for my parents.

I’d “forgotten” about this and the shame I felt for our family’s part in the global system that still perpetuates racism and the dreadful inequalities that arise from it.

Quite often we not only “airbrush” events from our nation’s history, but we also, conveniently, forget our own part, willing or not, in these shameful episodes.