The fiancé urged me to write a blog post about our day out and about in Hull yesterday. As you probably know, I grew up in the outskirts of Hull. I was always a home bird and lived in and around Hull from birth, throughout uni and in my first few post-uni years, with the exception of 10 months spent in Denmark at the age of 7/8.
I grew up in a household where race never really seemed to be an issue. But then, we never really came across people of different races in our every day life.
Hull had long been a very white working class city. There has always been a plethora of invisible immigrants – white Europeans, Americans or Antipodeans. In fact, there are many Scandinavians living in and around Hull that they have a longstading community and their own church in the centre of Hull. Following that, most of the ethnic minorities in Hull have tended to be from China, the Middle East (wrongly considered ‘Kosovan’ by the majority rather than the Iraqi Kurds they often were), or Asia. There seemed to be very few black people.
Of course, we had a couple of Asian and black kids at our school. But 10 or so out of 2000 is pretty unrepresentative of the ethnic minority population of the UK.
In 2006 I started working at Humberside Police as Hate Crime Coordinator – running a hate crime reporting scheme. I was shocked at the amount of discrimination, in particular racism and homophobia, going on in and around Hull, East Yorkshire, North and North East Lincolnshire. Some of the incidents that stick out in my mind include a black guy getting beaten up and called n****r in Grimsby, an Asian taxi driver being verbally abused in Beverley, and a gay man having eggs, balls and abuse thrown at his house in Hull.
I also remember having to deal with a couple of phone calls from angry members of the public – primarily in Hull – complaining about (and I paraphrase) the “preferential treatment” minorities receive from the police when they “use” racism or homophobia as the reason for their broken window.
Come 2007 I’ve moved on from my job in hate crime and met the now fiancé, Jeff. In 2008 I moved down to London to spread my wings, hope for more opportunities than Hull could offer, and be closer to him. Now to state the obvious – London in very diverse. That’s one of the great things about it. According to the Evening Standard, more than a third of Londoners are now foreign born – that’s around 2.5 million people. London encompasses more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world.
In the past 3 years I’ve probably been back up to hull 15-20 times. In that time, Jeffrey and I have noticed a marked increase in the number of black people here. Hull has always been very white, working class and extremely insular. Sadly this has meant ethnic minorities have never really received the most friendly of welcomes.
Now, in case you don’t know, Jeffrey is black. His parents are from the wonderful West African country of Ghana, having settled in South London in the late 70s. He’s never experienced any outright racism, neither in London nor Hull. Though in our early days together I have had friends or colleagues asking me how my parents have taken to Jeffrey being black, with two friends saying their Dads “wouldn’t be able to handle it”.
But maybe I should get on to why our day was ‘cultural’ yesterday and how all this preamble ties in. As you may or may not know, Jeffrey and I are getting married in Hull in August this year. We therefore needed to find an afro barber so that he can get his hair cut before the wedding. Yesterday was the perfect time to try and find one and test it out before heading off to a wedding celebration for my friend Kirsty.
Of course, finding a black barber in Hull wasn’t easy. A Google search proved fruitless so a call out to all Hullians in my Facebook friends list was necessary. Luckily, thanks to an ex Humberside Police colleague Shona, we found Wright Choice Barbers on Beverley Road. So, off we trotted.
We got there at 10.30 yesterday to join 1 black guy, a mixed race Asian guy, and a white couple watch the owner (who I think might be a Nigerian guy by the name of Brian) giving a 6 year old white ginger kid a mohawk with intricate shooting star shaved into one side and zig zags in the other – freehand. A chat with his parents revealed that “he won’t get his hair done anywhere else… he lets the barber do whatever he wants to do… his aunty, who’s a hairdresser can’t go near his hair and neither can we.”
After that was the turn of an older black guy getting a fade, followed by the young mixed race Asian guy also getting a fade. Along came a mixed race Jamaican guy and eventually three other black guys, another black barber (this time Ghanaian), a black hairdresser, and a mixed race woman with her black 5 year old daughter – both the proud owners of strong Hull accents.
Out came the pool cues for one of the older black guys and the mixed race Jamaican guy to play pool in the middle of the barber shop while waiting for their fades. Then it was Jeffrey’s turn for the barber’s chair – this time no fade, just a number 1 all over and a tidy up of the goatee. So he sits in the chair and the Ghanaian barber who’s working on the Asian guy’s fade asks if Jeffrey’s Ghanaian. Apparently he can “tell by the head shape”. Out comes the Twi and excited discussion from the older guy playing pool all about Ghana. Turns out he was from Tema which is where Jeffrey’s mum has a house and where we stayed for much of our time in Ghana in 2009.
This led to conversations with him about Ghana and with an older guy from Tonga about Africa in general, and about life in Hull. I asked him how he finds living in Hull, to which he replied “better than it used to be”. He came to Hull from Tonga in 2006, admitting it wasn’t his first choice of where to live. But he’s happy to see a larger black population in Hull now and says it’s much more friendly than it used to be. Indeed while we were there both black and white people would pop their heads in the door (when the white pigeon had got out of the way) to exchange some banter.
Sadly, after a great 2 hours in the barbers, it was time to leave this warm and fun social situation and head across the road to the African supermarket which proudly sported the Ghanaian flag on the sign. We had been talking the night before with my parents about drinks for the wedding and had said we ought to buy some Supermalt for the Ghanaian who love a bit of it. And if the Ghanaian supermarket didn’t sell it, where in Hull would? While there, out came the Twi again, with the two ‘aunties’ behind the counter asking where Jeffrey was from. Turns out one of them was also from Obuasi and both were disappointed to hear we lived in London, but delighted to hear I was (almost) Jeffrey’s wife. And here’s a plug for them. If ever you fancy some Supermalt, some plantain, gari or even West African cloth, head there and I’m sure you’ll get a warm welcome.
But what’s the point in this story? Well, I think it shows how far Hull is moving with the times. Jeffrey and I find it great to see more black people (and indeed people of other races) in Hull, as it can only add to the cultural elements of the city – which lets face it, has one of the Slave Trade abolitionists, William Wilberforce, to celebrate along with a rich cultural history of people passing through the city on to a new life in America, bringing with them new foods and artefacts. It was also great to see a hub of social activity involving people of all races and from different walks of life come and go from a little barbers on Beverley Road.
Plus, it makes me feel better to be around people from all over the world – noone wants to spend a lot of time somewhere where everyone’s the same.
Image – Wright Choice according to Google Streetview, address: 231 Beverley Road, HU5 2UT