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New exhibition highlights experiences of black Liverpudlians

RAISING AWARENESS: Liverpool poet Levi Tafari

A NEW exhibition in Liverpool will document the experiences of racism by the city’s black population.

The exhibition, called Continuing the Journey, will share the stories of African and Caribbean residents through a collection of oral histories, photography and film.

Photographers from Liverpool-based Stray Cat Media partnered with prominent local black figures as well as ordinary citizens from a variety of backgrounds and ages to capture the images and experiences that will feature in the exhibition.

The display will be on show at the International Slavery Museum from October 3, and photos of participants will feature alongside quotes that outline their experiences.

PREJUDICE

Cheryl Magowan, project manager at Stray Cat Media, said most participants shared similar experiences of prejudice on a daily basis, whether in shops, the workplace, public transport and even from families and friends.

“The project aimed to help bring communities together and express themselves, in a society often in denial about the continued existence of racism” she said.

“Our contributors had traumatic stories, but we hope the project reflects their resilience, strength and power in battling it at the time and retelling it today.”

Among those who took part in the exhibition was Michelle Charters, the CEO of the Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, which is a community partner in the project. She shared her experiences growing up in Toxteth.

Born to a white British woman and a seaman from Barbados, Charters recalled that her mother was stigmatised by many white women and that as a baby, she was spat at in her pram. But she is proud of Liverpool as it is today.

She said: “Liverpool is a multicultural city and has been able to celebrate it. It’s a good time for this exhibition too, given the big new student and refugee populations in the city. It’s really good for people to see what’s happened in the past, and what’s happening now.”

Another participant in the project is poet Levi Tafari, 51. He has bleak memories of growing up in Toxteth, known locally as Liverpool 8, where his family had relocated from Jamaica in the 1950s.

He recalled: “I’ve always known my skin was darker, but it didn’t mean anything until someone called me a n***** when I was about five. You had to stand up for yourself as a teenager, as skinheads carried Stanley knives. Otherwise you’d be six feet under.”

POETRY

Tafari said it was tough finding work as a black young man even after training as a chef, but he eventually got his first job in catering. It was then that he began writing poetry as a response to what he saw in Toxteth.

He has since found professional success as a poet and playwright, with plays staged at various Liverpool theatres and many TV appearances.

Tafari said that young black people living in the city today do not experience the type of racism he endured growing up. However, he believes that racial abuse and discrimination are still a major issue.

He said that last year his son – also born in Liverpool– had just got into his car after work when a woman stuck her head in the window and shouted repeatedly: “Go back to where you come from” and “n****, n****, n****” He said the woman was arrested and had to pay compensation.

He also remembers an occasion when his friend’s son was out celebrating his birthday last year and flagged down a taxi, only to be told by the driver who slowed down as if to stop: “Walk, you black b*****ds.” He then sped off.

According to Tafari, racism is about more than alleged “institutional racism” within organisations like the police. Subtle incidents occur every day, which suggest some of the underlying prejudices and stereotypes remain unchanged.

He said: “You give a cashier the money in their hand, but when you put your hand out for your change they put it on the counter instead. That happens a lot.”

Tafari said he would always calmly address such behaviour. Nevertheless, he claims said that no amount of intolerance would stop him from defining himself as a black British Scouser. He added that it was ludicrous for white British people to attack things for being foreign or different.

He said: “What typifies Britishness? Tea – sourced in India, served in a cup from China and sweetened with Caribbean sugar. The symbol on the English football shirt is the three lions – African animals!”

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