We are made from a rich patchwork quilt of stories, languages, cultures, identities, voices and journeys that shape every single one of us. It doesn't matter whether you speak the same language, practice the same religion or come from different histories. History matters and we are part of the human story.
I'm often asked by readers, friends, family members etc who live outside of the UK on what it's like growing up here. For many, the old colonial rosy nostalgic image of London and the UK still remains - a place where the pavement is littered with gold and where opportunity is all but a phone call away. Sounds like an advert right?
Being born and raised in London, I grew up with kids who had heritages from all over the world. It's like growing up in a pressure cooker - separate ingredients thrown into the pot, stemmed for decades where we start to merge, become influenced by each other and eventually end up forming new identities that change as new generations emerge. I often talk about this metaphoric tug-of-war that myself and others face: do we go full hog assimilation or the other extreme clinging to our heritage?
With both there is a danger. Clinging to your roots for dear life is dangerous in the sense that you eventually become narrow-minded. I know individuals who are British and refuse to integrate or acknowledge being a part of British society. They long for a homeland that doesn't exist anymore and that they've never experienced - it is damaging and eats away at an individual because this affects the next generation's self-view and the society they're born into.
The other extreme: full on assimilation. I know many kids who've ignored their roots, their skin colour, hair type etc because "it's easier that way" - yeah ok cool. It's called 'being in denial' and that too eats away at people. But what happens when your kids start to ask: "Mummy, daddy where do I come from?"
You can't lie to them the way you've lied to yourself.
It's finding this balance that is the hard part and maintaining it with an open mind. It doesn't happen over night and to be very honest, it's a process that is constantly being developed, strengthened, weakened and built up again in a lifetime. I cannot stress how important it is for people to go read up about their histories be it through reading, asking questions or undertaking journeys abroad. It doesn't matter what your heritage is; part of finding the balance is learning about your own personal history and collective history: national history. You'll find that it spans countries, languages, cultures etc.
At my school, we never learnt about the British Empire, the British slave trade or the past 60-70 years of migration to the British motherland. Whilst it's important to learn about WWI and II, the Tudors, Queen Elizabeth I etc, it's even more important to learn about contemporary history.
To me, it's almost like cultural amnesia - we want to "forget" our grubby past where Britain ruled the world and the aftermath when the Empire "came home" which is the scapegoat for our social problems today.
We like to think that colonialism has finished. That "multiculturalism is dead." That colonies don't exist anymore. No: we're still part of the post-colonial story that is ongoing; each and every one of us.
We need to get past the bullsh*t, stop lying to ourselves, being spoon-fed everything we're told and go off on our own personal mission to find out our stories to tell to our children, their children and their children's children.