A mixed race woman who spent a number of years in Lincolnshire is campaigning to raise awareness of her experiences as a coloured person living in the area in the hope children will grow up better informed about different cultures.
Author Esther Lawson has spoken out following the media interest Love Island’s Gabby Allen faced over her romance with Marcel Somerville, who was also on the ITV2 show.
The 55-year-old daughter of a British Kenyan and white Liverpudlian claims the prejudicial comments the relationship attracted are not isolated and that racism is “alive and thriving” on the streets and in schools.
She said: “White people were served before my mother and I in the shops – in 21st century Skegness.
“Love Island’s Gabby Allen hit the nail on the head about the racism in our society today, and thousands of people of colour in towns as and cities across the UK will have similar stories to tell.
“The sad truth unfortunately is that racism is on the rise in Britain, but today’s racism is about more than just colour prejudice, it’s manifested into xenophobia against anyone from another country be that India, China, Eastern Europe or anywhere else in the world.”
Esther, who lived in the Skegness and Spilsby area from 2008 to 2012 following an invitation from a friend, claims Lincolnshire is the most racist place she has lived.
She has since moved to Stoke-on-Trent – the first city she says that her family has felt safe.
“My family spent a life on the move trying to avoid racism – from South London where we were thrown out of our home because the neighbours objected to having a black family on the street, to the Sussex coast where lighted newspapers were pushed through our letterbox,” she said.
“Lincolnshire is by far the most racist place I have ever lived, particularly the towns of Spilsby and Skegness where we faced open hatred.”
As a mixed-race girl growing up in 1960’s Britain, Esther experienced at first-hand racism in all of its forms and from all quarters of society.
She was kicked, beaten and called “wog” and “golliwog” at school. The bullies would then mock her asking “wogamatter?” distorting “what’s the matter?” into a term of racial abuse.
Racist bullies prevented Esther and other children of colour from playing in the sandpit in the public park near her home. On one occasion she was knocked unconscious when a large stone was thrown at her and hit her head.
At school she was accused of cheating when she achieved top marks in class, because non-white children were not expected to be that clever.
Her white father, who, like Gabby Allen, was Liverpool born and bred, never allowed himself to be photographed with his Kenyan wife and mixed race children.
When her family moved home, neighbours petitioned against the new black family on the street.
And at just eight years old, she was arrested and charged with 56 criminal charges, later facing a judge in a Sussex courtroom despite being two years below the age of criminal responsibility:
The charges against her included “stole a piece of fruit between October and December”, “stole purse from pocket at some point between 1st and 31st October”.
She said: “When I appeared in court, I didn’t understand what was going on or the gravity of the situation, I just remember being sat in a huge chair in front of the judge and feeling very bored.”
The judge threw the case out and, in Esther’s words, ‘gave the police a good ticking off’ for bringing it to court.
Following the case, the young Esther suffered post traumatic stress disorder and a nervous breakdown before she was even eighteen.
Her painful childhood experiences are recalled in her gritty real life story “Wogamatter”. The book has already made its mark in America where it is now available in school libraries across the USA.
Esther is now campaigning for more awareness in the UK where she believes racism is still swept under the carpet:
She said: “Racism was rife and no-one batted an eyelid when people of colour were called nasty names or suffered violent abuse just for being different.
“But racism still occurs in the UK – sometimes in plain sight, sometimes more subtly, below the surface - and will continue to do so until we face up to it and encourage people to tell their stories to ensure we learn from our past to enlighten our future and have more tolerance of each other’s differences.
“The US acknowledges its shameful racist history and has embraced Wogamatter which is now included as extracurricular reading in US schools,
“It is time now for the UK to do the same, stop hiding it and pretending it didn’t happen.
“Change can only come by educating our children. It is part of our history.
“In Britain people are uncomfortable even with the title of the book. Well get real, Wogamatter is the word the racist bullies invented to taunt me with; hide from that, and we’re hiding from the problem itself.
“Recalling my story has been hugely difficult and extraordinarily painful for me and my family, but I am telling it to help others come to terms with their experiences and to have comfort in knowing they were not alone.”
* Wogamatter is available from WH Smith, on Amazon and Ebay.