Ann, a 54-year-old former teaching assistant, talks about the 'triple whammy' of her age, gender and race.
As part of Black History Month, we're talking to Black Britons, to hear their stories of growing older whilst sometimes dealing with racism, inequality and celebrating their heritage.
I’m married, with three sons, and while the boys were growing up, I worked as a teaching assistant. I found a course supporting teaching assistants to become teachers, so I got my qualifications while working full time and became a primary school teacher.
Shortly after I was qualified, and had just started working, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and took time off to have treatment. When I went back to work, I faced a lot of bullying and discrimination. It’s hard for a Black teacher, let alone one who’s seen as having a disability. After my bad experiences, I had to have counselling. Later, I went on to work in other schools. Although I still faced challenges, I also met some amazing and kind people.
I live in an estate, and in 2012, I started a 'Friends of Parks' group. This was because our local nature reserve was not being used. People said it was a no-man’s land, but I went to see it and it was lovely – it has a little bridge, and a little pond. I got in touch with the parks department and started a ‘friends’ group, which has now raised thousands of pounds towards our projects.
We have re-lined ponds, had benches painted, and we are leading a major project to regenerate the park soon. We also worked with a local primary school to encourage dog owners to clear up after their dogs. The children created posters with quite graphic pictures drawn of dog poo! These posters were very effective, and we saw a decrease in dog mess in the reserve.
I’m also in the tenants and residents committee on my estate. We do all kinds of things: we look after the local hall, we run a number of events and projects. For example, we help disabled and elderly gardeners by providing them with gardening tools, compost and also physical help. A few years ago, we had a project where we’d give a prize to the person with the nicest front and back garden. We’ve also got some major funding to renovate the park by the estate, which includes a new play area.
There was also a football cage on the estate that wasn’t being used, so we got it re-tarmacked and fitted with new nets – now it’s a joy to see people of all generations using it.
We’re going to have a ‘trim trail’ exercise trail too. Next, we’re going to start a project called ‘Love Where You Live’ in partnership with the local primary school to tackle fly-tipping.
Recently, I decided to do a master’s degree in ‘Culture, Language and Identity’, which I have completed. It helped me to look at why I am treated the way I’m treated. As a British-born person of Jamaican heritage I saw myself as British. I grew up with Bob Geldof and ‘Lovers Rock’, a fusion of my Jamaican roots and also my British heritage. So, to grow up and find that I’m not really included, even though I was born here, was a shock. I needed to understand the challenges I was facing. Now I am older, in my position, you’ve got a triple whammy – age, gender, race. As well as everything else, you’re always worried about ageism at my age.
When it comes to racism, I would say nothing’s really changed – what’s changed is my awareness of it. For example, when I’m in a meeting and I make a suggestion, no one says anything – and then when a White person makes the same suggestion half an hour later people say ‘Wow.’ But I’ve got more knowledge of how to circumvent things now. As a Black woman, you’re forever working out how to present yourself. You’re on constant alert. Some White people will find you pushy. There doesn’t seem to be any accessible organisational body looking after the intersectional needs of Black women, especially for my age.
A word about the menopause
I’ve seen amazing women lose their confidence because of the menopause. Managers don’t have any understanding of it – you’re just seen as incompetent. There needs to be more awareness of what’s going on in women’s lives. With a little bit of understanding you’ll get so much! Black women bring with them vast experience and an inner strength developed out of necessity.