Ngozi Fulani Biography
Ngozi Fulani was born in London shortly after her parents relocated there. She was born into a family that included seven other kids. They were the only black kids living in the street at the time, according to Ngozi. However, they found it difficult to interact and converse with other kids. However, they were encouraged to take pride in who they are.
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My mother Mildred, was just five feet tall but had a strong physique. Small was her. She completed her nursing training after first working for London Transport. The voice of my father, Gladstone Headley, was as crunchy as I don’t know what, and he was a tall, strong man who worked during the day for “British Rail.” He was a sound system technician, or “sound man,” as they like to refer to him. He was always on the move, performing music at home parties since we were not permitted in the major venues. Black folks were not permitted. No dogs, Blacks, or Irish allowed. In house parties, we had to squeeze guests in small spaces, even though we were born here, we were well aware from the start that we were not wanted.
My father, who was a highly enlightened individual, informed me about my ties to Africa. One day he walked in and informed me about the Nigerian musician Fela Ransom Kuti. We had never heard any African music. We have everything from Caribbean Calypso to Reggae, Soca, Ska, and Skalite. But my father’s direct connection to Africa came through Fela. They did not stow away on a ship or anything; they came here because this nation promised them the world.
Britain went to the Caribbean and invited people to come over, then brought them here and mistreated them. The surprise. It was cold, and most people said they had never seen snow or experienced such cold before, but most of all, they had never experienced such hostility.
We lived in Kilburn, and our street, Plympton Road, was mostly Irish. Because we were both oppressed, the Irish were so kind to us, and we were so kind to them. But as a child, you don’t know; all I knew was that we weren’t allowed in Asian or white people’s homes, but the Irish let us in. We didn’t understand because we were too young to realize that being black was a barrier to entering their homes. And that is something that is rarely discussed nowadays. Everyone wants to have this re-written history about how BAME communities always got along and so on and so forth, which is complete nonsense. One thing I will not do is rewrite my history to make it more acceptable to others. I will not do that, I assure you. Most other cultures did not accept us, but the Irish had a commonality that we always felt. Whereas other parents were telling their children to go to school and look left and right, they had the Green Cross Code and all of that. Our parents would tell us that, but they would also tell us that we had to be aware of other cultures that didn’t like us. “When you go outside, try to keep your head down; other people don’t like you,” our parents warned us. They couldn’t tell us that directly because they couldn’t. I doubt they’d be able to form the words. How do you explain this to your children? So they had to figure out how to do that.
My first year of secondary school, I had a teacher named Miss Limb. She was a white, blonde woman who resembled Lucille Ball. She wore frilly dresses and wore her hair up. We were all sitting on the floor when she called the register and began shoving us, “Get away, Get away.” There’s a saying in Black culture that if you’re fleeing something, you flee first and ask questions later. Anyway, my friends and I scrambled away from Miss Limb. Then I realized who it was. I was standing too close to her. I must have been eleven…
Yeah, I didn’t get it. I had no idea it was because I was Black. I didn’t understand it.
When we were kids, we used to watch ‘Tarzan and Jane,’ and white men would go to Africa and conquer all the Black people. They had something called a Golliwog, so they called us wogs and asked if we had just escaped from the marmalade jar. So, the lie they told about how things used to be is a lie. Black children knew from an early age, whether their parents told them or they had to figure it out for themselves; either way, we knew. ‘Roots’ a television show is how I found out how I got here, how I discovered how the rest of the world perceives us. It was a national sport for cops to beat up black people. The police will not discuss this. I don’t know anyone over the age of fifty who doesn’t have siblings or parents who have been victims of police brutality. Police would go out in groups and beat Black people to death. My brothers came home from school with swollen faces. People here despised us, and they still do.
There was no benefit system, no housing support, nothing like that when black people first arrived here, so they had a different journey. My father and mother would come to school and defend us against anything. Because the teacher could hit you with a cane and a bat back then. Men could whip your legs and whip your backside. The men could pull your pants down or your skirt up and hit you. They might be able to get away with it. My twin sister had her first child when she was seventeen, and a social worker was called in. They call in social services for anything they don’t understand. When the social worker arrived at my house and called my nephew a “sambo,” I realized the system was far worse than I had imagined. There were white social workers, teachers, and doctors back then. There were no Black people in positions of leadership. There was no representation of us when we were growing up. As a young woman, I’d wonder why this keeps happening. What exactly is it?
When I was eighteen, I left home and got my own small apartment. That’s when I relocated to Hackney. I remember starting college at the age of eighteen to study Community Studies. They had an African dance group there, and that’s when my life changed. A watershed moment because it connected me to Africa and put me in touch with Africans from the continent. I only had one rehearsal with them. Hearing Africans with strong accents, learning about the food, and drumming touched my heart and transported me to a place I had never been before. It meant everything to me, and I’d never felt more liberated than when I was listening to those drums. The clothes, the beads, the cowrie shells, and the stories were all stunning. My relationship with Africa became a part of my life story. It has an identity because ours was stolen from us. Black people have been forced to pretend to be something they are not.
I’ve been teaching African dance since I was twenty-three. For twenty years, I was a resident teacher in Hackney. With my background in African dance, I went on to run the Emashi Dance Ensemble for many years. I instructed students in traditional African dance and folklore. Every year, we took young people to Africa to learn about their culture and roots. All of this happened while I was dating and having children. My own children visiting Africa was also important to me. I wanted them to see it for themselves, rather than the stereotypical images of starving children living in huts with flies around their mouths. That was a white point of view. I wanted to share my culture with them in my own unique way because the narrative has always come from people who don’t look like us, don’t understand us, and frequently don’t like us. I’d like to think that I contributed to different cultures understanding us. People frequently speak for us, so I try to be very clear and truthful. Anyone who knows me knows that I will never intentionally hurt someone, but if my truth causes offense, I am fine with that. I try to set a good example by being myself, which is why I have long hair and beautiful chocolate skin. It’s still a work in progress because some of the obstacles I encountered came from within our community. The truth is that we must be visible in order to demonstrate that it’s okay to be your true self.
I also possess a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in ‘African Studies’ from SOAS (School of African Studies). From 1996 to 1999, I felt that my Master’s degree placed me in a colonial environment. My class had five Black students. It didn’t feel genuine, and it was traumatic at times. The heads of the majority of the departments were almost all white. Don’t get me wrong: they were really nice to me. But there was something wrong with having to learn about our own culture from white middle-class people. Because colonialism is about control and keeping Black people subjugated, Black people were barred from entering academic circles. That is my reality. There were a couple of Black scholars, including Dr. Adi, who taught Yoruba, as well as two other Black lecturers, but every other person who taught was white. I realized how much trouble we were in and how far we will have to go at this point.
My journey has been and continues to be a collaborative, comprehensive one. Those things that divided other cultures against each other, the school system that did tell the lie of Christopher Columbus and the lie of colonialism’s history. All of those factors were and continue to be a component of my journey. They are present in every aspect of my life. I want to set a good example for both the young and the old. I owe them an unpayable debt because they protected us from so much. What they had to endure and continue to endure, and the Windrush scandal embodies their ongoing struggle. There has been no change. It’s simply different. The racism is still present, as well as the hatred. I maintain my integrity.
Ngozi Fulani Sistah Space
Ngozi and Rosanna run Hackney’s @sistahspace. A safe haven and assistance network for women and girls of African and Caribbean descendant who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse.
Ngozi Fulani Twitter
Follow Ngozi Fulani on Twitter : @Sistah_Space