Last issue I wrote about the Black Lives Matter campaign, and my own experiences of being treated negatively as a Northern Irish Catholic woman. This led to me meeting Jacqui Abizie-Mckendrick, one of our NHS key workers, a local organiser of the Black Lives Matter campaign and representative from the BAME community. She shares her personal experiences as a woman of colour living in East Lothian.
Born in London, Jacqui and her parents, who had been working and living in the UK, returned to Ghana when she was six-months-old. She was raised and educated there. Fast forward 24 years, a childhood friend who had married an academic and was working in Edinburgh, persuaded Jacqui to come to see her birth country.
She described the feeling of walking along Prince’s Street in 1994 as a total shock. The strange sensation of not seeing one person like her, amongst the hundreds of faces. Ghana, a former British colony until 1957, meant her view of Britain was very misinformed. In Ghana they speak the ‘Queens English’ so understanding dialects is a minefield. She didn’t for one minute think people would be homeless, unemployed or living in poverty. Nor did she have any understanding of the cultural differences between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. She remembers leaving a job interview incredibly offended because, in Ghana, ‘wee’ means ‘drugs’. Highlighting how even English words can be totally misunderstood.
Jacqui fell in love, married a Scotsman and moved to East Lothian. Swimming against the current became her everyday reality and still is. She told me racism in East Lothian is subtle. Because of racist programming, people treat her differently when she is with her husband, and Jacqui lives everyday in a system where she needs to do double the work to prove herself. Her early experience of living in Scotland made Jacqui aware that racism existed, but she didn’t realise it would be embedded everywhere. Once she knew she was staying for good, Jacqui applied for countless jobs using her maiden name Abizie, with little success. It was only when she used her married name Mckendrick, as suggested by a close white friend, that interviews came through. She describes one interview experience. “I was waiting to be called through for the interview in a room with several other people. I was the only women of colour. The interviewer with her back to me, addressed the others in the room. It took her three times to say my name before she turned and asked me, and the look on her face spoke volumes. I couldn’t help but say – I’m sorry to disappoint you.” Despite being qualified for the job, Jacqui knew, then and there, she would not be given an equal chance.
In 2016 Jacqui qualified as a mental health nurse and to this day, her experiences as a mental health nurse are challenging because of the colour of her skin. I asked Jacqui what else white people living in largely white communities could do to overcome the systemic racism. She said, people should take an interest in getting to know members of black, Asian and ethnic minority groups in their communities. She urges people to forget what they have seen on television and make up their own minds – the media depicts stereotypes which are totally misinformed.
It’s now up to all of us, to wake up, and properly see our fellow human beings.
Jacqui organised a BLM protest at Royal Edinburgh Hospital on 8 July this year, along with SCOT BAME’s Leader, Oudwin Griffith (Senior Clinical Nurse Specialist in Interventional Neuroradiology at QEUH, Glasgow and Chair of NHS GGC BAME Staff Network), Geoff Earl and Scotch Bakasa
for more information visit SCOT BAME Network on Facebook