Home Oral History Interview - Marcia Davis

Oral History Interview - Marcia Davis


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Audio recording of an oral history interview with Marcia Davis, who was born in Birmingham and at the time of recording was Assistant Co-ordinator of Hackney Council's North West Elderly Resource Team.


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Q. Can you tell me your name and age?

MARCIA DAVIS (MD). My name is Marcia Davis and I am 35 years old.

Q. Where were you born?

MD. I was born here in England, in Birmingham.

Q. So you’re a Brummie?

MD. Thank you!

Q. They’re not bad people, brummies. So you were born in England, unlike your parents who were born in Jamaica? How do you regard yourself? Do you regard yourself as British or Caribbean?

MD. Okay. I see myself as being Caribbean... yes, foremost as being Caribbean.

Q. What does that mean to you?

MD. Caribbean — meaning, where my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents were basically from.

Q. Why do you not then consider yourself British, seeing as you were born here?

MD. I was born here only because my parents came here for want of a better start in life and to provide more for their offspring and they came with the notion that the streets were paved with gold and so forth. That is why I was born here, otherwise I would have been born in the Caribbean, I am Caribbean because I was brought up in a Caribbean setting, although in Britain.

Q. How much do you mix with the natives socially?

MD: I would say 30%, socially.
Q. So you mean that 30% of your friends are

MD. British or English, yeah.

Q. How typical do you think that this is?

MD. I would say that that this is very typical, from the friends that I have with a Caribbean background, born British.

Q. How would that social mix compare with your parents?

MD. I would say that it differs definitely. I would say that their social mix is 5%. They more or less stuck with the Caribbean community right the way through. Friends and family coming over from the Caribbean always tended to meet and in social gatherings, kept together. So, socially, there was very little in terms of mixing with British people.

Q. So when do you mix socially?

MD. I would say at discos or it might be at parties, birthday parties. It all depends really. Going out for the day. It really depends on the occasion.

Q. Did you tell me that you had children?

MD. I have one child.

Q. I guess that must bring you into contact with more British people.

MD. Yes, definitely. I would say, for my son, that the social mix would increase. I would say that it was 45% in terms of who he mixes with.

Q. How old is he?

MD. 18 yearsold.

Q. Would you say that he is more comfortable than you are?

MD. I wouldn’t say that he is more comfortable. I just think that as times have changed, I think the natives of his generation are more comfortable.. .I am sorry, I have to say that. So obviously, that makes it easier. I think they have so much more in common. I feel that the natives are more comfortable as opposed to him being more comfortable.

Q. Have you thought about...

MD. I think that I would look at the type of work. For menial jobs, it was very easy. Anything menial, those jobs were available. I think it got more difficult when you started looking for more professional type jobs and basically the competition then is high to get those types of jobs and I found that without any formal training, or training in that particular area, the difficulties are greater. I would say that for jobs, the competition is there and so you would have to have that added experience as well as your qualifications in order to get the post, in competition with your British counterparts. That is how I feel about it.

You have to try that much harder. There have been instances when I have applied for jobs and I have felt that I have done quite well but the jobs have been offered to some-one with less experience. Perhaps in terms of qualifications, a bit more experience, but for a particular job where experience probably counts higher than the qualification in that particular area and so I felt a bit hard done by that, but basically plodded on.

Q. You plodded on? Why didn’t you give up?

MD. Well I can’t give up because when I give up, where does that leave me? What do I do?

Q. But there are different types of giving up, you can drop out.

MD. Well, I’m just not that way. My nature just does not allow for that. I mean, my parents, ever since I can remember, were really hard working people. Even though it might have been factory work, I can’t remember a day going by without them getting up (except for a Saturday or a Sunday) and going to work and working long hours as well. So I was already set in that frame of mind because that was the environment that I grew up in. So I have never determined that I wouldn’t go for something. I always wanted something better for myself. I didn’t feel that, whether I was born here or not, that I would have to sit in a factory or sweep the streets or clean offices. I think we have a lot to offer.

Q. Do you feel that you are now accepted by Britain?
MD. No, I do not feel accepted here. I do not think that Caribbean people will ever be accepted here. I think that the British feel that the British are white, regardless of whether a more conscious generation is coming up now and saying we should be equal and looking at race not being so important. I still think the bottom line is that Britain is for the British and no other people, be it Caribbeans or Indians, will be accepted here.

Q. Your son...

MD. Well I do not think that it will happen for a long time. I feel that they will have to get rid of the monarchy. A lot of barriers will have to be broken down from higher up. Maybe the generations like my son’s and the ones after will gear towards that direction but it will not be in our time basically.

Q. One of the ways in which we reacted to ... how important to you is it that we have black consciousness..

MD. Yes, I think I do.

Q. What does that mean to you?

MD. Just knowing that I am black and basically not because of the type of work 1 do or the type of friends I may have. I am always aware that I am black and I am also very aware that I have been born here. I find that in the Caribbean islands, you are considered to be British because you were born here and so “you are not the same as us”. However, my awareness, my sense of belonging, is there and not here and that is something I always tend to thrive on, if you like. You could say that my awareness, in many ways, keeps me up-to-date with my culture. In history, there are so many things that I would not have known if I was not conscious about being black. Especially, being born here, I could quite easily have dismissed them and it wouldn’t bother me.

Q. So what elements of Black History are important to you in terms of Black Consciousness?

MD. I think the history that I did not learn in growing up here, i.e. Black History. That is one of the things that I can try and look into and keep up with as much as I can. I mean growing up here, I learnt about the usual, Christopher Columbus discovering all of the islands, Florence Nightingale etc. I did not have the benefit of the history of people, for instance, like Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King whereas in America, the blacks had it incorporated into their learning. We did not get it here. Things like Rosa Parks and a lot of the slave history, like .... And Sam …throughout the islands. Basically I have had to learn them myself.

Q. Has your son been taught this history?

MD. Not in school.

Q. His learning has been very much similar to what I had, so those things are not things he would have picked up in school. He would have picked them up more at home and actually travelling and going to places and seeing things and finding out what they were about. Definitely not at school, it is still very much as it was.

Q. . . . black consciousness.

MD. Oh yes, oh yes. I think so and not even myself Family members do it and especially the older members like parents and grandparents. You learn a little bit, they have a great input in terms of your consciousness, you know in terms of where they are coming from.

Q. One of the recurring themes that comes up in conversation is related to authority, whether in school, or afterwards, in the workplace. How would you describe your relationship with authority figures, starting off with school?

MD. In schools it has fluctuated. Basically, if I am going from experiences of mine, when my son was going through school. At first I found it sort of difficult, not understanding the structure of school teaching and actually always encountering English teachers. Over the period of time, I have found that it has changed and I have found that in a lot more schools, in terms of teachers, it is really mixed. I was able to relate more to the Black teachers in terms of if there were any problems. Also, this new thing with mentors etc. really helped because I was able to communicate with the mentors and now Black teachers are coming up as headmasters and headmistresses, especially at my son’s school. There was a Jamaican lady who was Black and I think that there was a lot of understanding in terms of the problems that Black children had and that was easier in terms of trying to do something about it. So in terms of the schools, it got better because of the changes.

Q. What about your own experiences as a child at school?

MD. Oh, gosh! As a child growing up, you could say that it was 70% white and 30% Black. It was more difficult. Being at school was completely different to being at home. It was like being in a different world. It was like learning two different ways of being brought up, if you like. So it was difficult and it took some time to get used to, obviously it takes time to adjust.
I think it depended on the teachers’ personalities as to how difficult I found it. Obviously you have those very strict, rigid teachers where you do the work and they tick or cross it and say “yes, it’s right” or “no, its wrong” without an explanation. Then you have the teachers who say “okay, you have not done it properly, let us see why you have not done it properly”. The extra input made it easier but the difficulties depended on the way that they taught and the personalities, I think, had something to do with it. I mean you had your favourite teachers and then you had the ones that you dreaded. Yes, it was definitely difficult.
With the headmaster you knew that it would be the normal white elderly gentleman and what he said goes. Even the English children dreaded the headmaster.
Oh, on many occasions, even in terms of driving. I mean, this is one of the things that does annoy me, and I did have a really terrible experience. I was driving through Hackney, now I work in Hackney, as you know. This happened about three years ago. Once I was coming to work and of course I have to dress for work and be the manager. However, on a weekend, I dress casually in a tracksuit, peaked cap and trainers and I was driving through Hackney to go shopping. Very early in the morning, a Police car came along and pulled me over. At this stage, I am really getting annoyed because I knew that I didn’t have a problem with the car. They say, “excuse me” and they come over to the car. I am on my own, very early in the morning. “Is this your car?” they asked, and I said “I should think so, I am driving it. I have not borrowed it off anyone. At the same time, while one is asking me the questions, one is checking on the radio. So they ask for my name and address and I told them. I was very peeved off and my manner showed it. The other one was meanwhile getting, on the radio, the same information that I was giving.
I asked them why they had stopped me. They said, “basically, (I had a convertible at the time, I am sorry to say) these are high-risk cars in terms of being stolen and we are always getting reports that they have been stolen so we are just doing checks”. I said, “I beg your pardon! Look, can I just explain something to you? I have had my car stolen on many occasions, other cars, and it has been reported to the Police and you have never ever come back and said that you have checked a car out or anything like that. It has just been left on file and nothing is done about it and you are stopping me this morning in my car.” I said “if this car was stolen this morning, you would not have stopped me, you would have carried on. I just think you are quite bored today and you have not done anything over the night.” One said, ‘Oh, don’t get upset” and the other one came back and said that it was my car. So he looked around and couldn’t see anything wrong with the tyres then said, “Okay then Mrs Davis, you can go.” I said “do you want me to thank you for that? I tell you what you do in future. Before you start stopping females about stolen cars because of how the car looks, you go out there and catch the real criminals”. He said, “we were only doing our job. Can you be more polite in future?” Well, that really did it for me. That just messed up my whole day, my whole week, because it was just the cheek of it. I felt that if I was a white female driving down in that car, they would not have done that, they would not have stopped me and it is very likely that that would have been the stolen car.
You can never tell, but it’s more likely because they stopped me, because of the way that the car looked and they probably felt that she does not fit the car because, on that day, I was not dressed up for work.

Q. What about the authority figures in the work situation?

MD. Well, it is difficult. I think that is difficult whether the authority figure is black or white, to start with. It is more difficult when it is a white person who has no experience of working with any other group at all, apart from British. No experience, meaning to say that they have come from an area which did not have any people of other races. Difficult where they have no experience at all and they are just learning and there is this thing about equal opportunities and things like that and they do not have a clue because they have not come from that setting. They try to put it into practice but they are not getting it right but I am aware of that.
One of the ways in which I have tried to overcome this is going for management positions myself. Although there is always some one higher, in my actual work setting I am the authority figure and I don’t have to put up with it too much so that is my way of dealing with it.

Q. But you have done very well.

MD. Yes.

Q. What particular attributes do you think you bring to your job?

MD. I think personality has to fit the specific job and also the type of people that you are working with, the users. When someone is actually looking for a manager or something, they have an idea of what they are looking for, the type of person they are actually looking for. They’re looking for a person with a certain amount of experience and the qualities I think I had, in terms of communicating and so forth, and knowledge and flexibility, I had that. So, I thought I brought that along and that was something that they were looking for.

Q. What do you see...

MD. Becoming independent. For instance, Jamaica has been independent for about the last 38 years, don’t quote me on that. I felt that for me, for someone being born here and being brought up here, that was the greatest achievement for them. Although it has caused a lot of difficulties in terms of finances and so forth, just being able to be an independent island on their own has been a great achievement and I know that a lot of other islands are going to follow suit.

Q. I really mean what do you think Caribbeans have achieved here?

MD. I think just to have got through it all and just to have been able to go back to the Caribbean and put something back into the Caribbean has been one of the greatest achievements. I am speaking from experience, in terms of my parents and my grandparents, who came here in the 40s and 50s and who worked hard and so forth. They have gone back to the Caribbean and are creating jobs and giving so much more to the community that they left so many years ago. I am involved in that as well even though I am not there.

Q. What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

MD. My hopes are, going back to your previous question, around acceptance. I hope that it will get better as generations go on. My fears are that there will always be this issue of British being white and that makes the separation straight away.

Q. Thank you very much.