I was born and raised in the East end of London, in a time where music hall songs where still sung in local pubs; carts came into pubs selling cockles and whelks; and cockney rhyme and slang was an essential part of your vocabulary. You could even, if the traffic was quiet, still hear the sound of the Bow Bells ringing in the distance, declaring your legitimacy as a true Eastender.

I went to Boys Brigade, and there I met one of my first and few white friends of that age outside school, Steve.

Steve and I became close. We had sleepovers, I went to his house, and more importantly, he came to my house, which for a black family in the 70s, was a big deal.

We grew up together, in and out of each other’s houses, families and friends for over 14 years, until I was about 21.

The East end in the 70s and 80s was struggling with its identity. There was still tension between blacks and whites, and Upton Park on a Saturday was a running battle ground as the ICF West Ham supporters would wage war against the ethnic population on Green Street. 

Steve’s family was open minded enough to have me in their home, feed me, take me on holiday with them, and care for me at a time when integration was still a touch point fueled by the National Front.

I tell you this story to convey the depth of our friendship and the interaction between our families, and therefore how deep the impact of betrayal that I still think of to this day.

Steve and I were about 17 and he had beat me to the punch on a girl from my school who he dated for a few weeks. The girl was of Jamaican heritage, and was one of the few black children at the public school which I attended. In addition, because she lived around the corner, our bus stop to school was the same, so we often rode the bus together.

One day I went to Steve’s house and we sat in his front room discussing the things that teenage boys discuss. Steve’s dad jointed us and continued our conversation unabated, such was the relationship between Steve and his dad, and by extension, me.

The conversation turned to girls, and we started talking about the girl from around the corner.

 “Orlando, I do not mind Steve going out or muckin’ about with a black girl, but I would not want him bringing one home. I hope you understand.”

This was the first and only time that I can remember any racism from Steve’s parents, which is why I think it cut so deep.

This is a man who had bought me my first pint, taught me how to eat crabs without killing myself, and had covered for me on more than one occasion with my not so liberal father.

Steve and I remained friends for a few more years after that, but things were never the same. I never arranged to meet at his house after that, and I never saw Steve’s dad again.


~ by jeditopcat on 25 March, 2023.

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