My status also changed from a middle-class Yoruba school girl in Nigeria, an incredibly diverse country with over 300 languages, to a working-class black girl flipping burgers for £3 an hour to support herself in South London while going to an FE college part-time.
Black History Month has become more prominent today than it was 25 years ago, however, I am still struck by how differently we talk about black history in the UK, compared to how I was taught it growing up in a country of 200 million people where everyone was black.
Even then, I recognised identity as a complex issue, unique to every individual. Skin colour being an almost negligible part of it, more salient were culture, language, geography. My identity today has become even more complex, building on who I was in 1996, today I am not just an immigrant, but a wife, mother, MP and government minister. A legacy which I will pass on to my own children.
History as I was taught growing up in Lagos, was the journey of how we have come to be as a society and as a country. In particular, the contributions that notable individuals made to shape the world.
During Black History Month, I want us to tell the stories of those less well-known individuals who we will forget if we don’t showcase them. Where people have been excluded, it is right that we highlight them so their valuable contributions to that evolution are not forgotten.
Celebrating black Britons is integral to this. People like Lord Bernard Ribeiro, who pioneered the use of keyhole surgery which transformed patient experiences around the world; or Lionel Turpin who fought for Britain in the trenches of WW1. There are so many more, from all walks of life.
These achievements aren’t only of interest or relevance to black people. They belong to us all, whatever our skin colour. We’re all standing on their shoulders in some way, as we aspire to evolve further to fulfil our potential – individually, and as a nation.
In any diverse society, there are always difficult moments that need to be borne and reconciled with. But when division threatens unity and progress, it’s vital that we work with each other to bring people back together.
In this spirit, the government will shortly publish its response to the Sewell report, from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. Not only will we act on many of the recommendations, we’ll also take up its themes of trust, fairness, inclusivity, and agency. These are key components to ensure that we evolve further towards our common cause – achieving equality of opportunity for all.