I have been thinking a lot about my identity of late.
Life has changed recently as I have become a dad for the first time and, as many new parents know, it can be a soul-searching moment.
What does it mean to me be black and British? What are my own personal connections with a country like Sierra Leone where many of my family descend from? And what will this mean for my boy Caleb as he grows up?
My family moved to the UK from West Africa in the early ’80s when I was three. My mother’s siblings also emigrated around that time heading to the US, Canada and Gambia but England was where my parents wanted their kids to grow up.
So, from an early age I straddled two cultures and today can say I am both proudly British and proudly West African.
I was given a strong Sierra Leonean grounding at home through traditional food, music, language, and of course large family gatherings. That sat alongside a quintessentially British education in the West Country – medieval history lessons in the week, Saturday afternoons on the Rugby pitch and roast dinners on a Sunday at my best friend’s house.
What we learn in our early years both in and outside the home shapes us, and it’s clear to me I am a product of those two cultures which sat so closely, and comfortably, alongside one another in my early years.
I felt like I belonged at home and at school, despite being one of only a small handful of non-white kids. Yes, there were instances of racism which have stayed with me – the first cut is the deepest after all – but I can single out these moments as significant and certainly not “the norm”.
For many black Britons however, it’s a different story.
This Black History month I filmed a documentary about my sense of belonging where I spoke to members of my family and other British Sierra Leoneans. Each shared their own unique experience of growing up in the UK, and the varying levels of inclusivity and racism they have experienced.
What I have learned is that identity is an entirely personal thing, shaped through our individual experiences and sense of belonging.
For me, what is important is that we have stories to pass on to the next generation and the space to proudly embrace all parts of our history and culture. That is modern Britain.
As for my son, it will be for him to determine his identity. On my part, I am going to ensure he understands his West African and British heritage and that we celebrate both – there will always be a space for Jollof Rice on the table for Christmas dinner, and we’ll be visiting Gramsy in Freetown over school holidays. The rest I will leave to him.