Yvonne was born in London and her family is from Jamaica. As well as Devon, she has also lived in Lancaster. She moved to Devon as an adult in 1996.
‘Back then I could go days without seeing another person of colour which was a weird experience. I felt like I was a person of intrigue; I have memories of going to the shop and people asking to touch my hair, or standing at the bus stop and a woman saying I must feel the cold more where I’m from.’
People often ask if Yvonne is a student or holidaymaker, ‘i.e. not actually a resident of this white space,’ and often look surprised when she says that she lives and works here.
‘It took me a couple of years to adjust to living in the West Country; I was always acutely aware that I was an outsider and that my otherness was constantly highlighted and pointed out to me. I still feel ‘other’ here, but the demographic of the cities in Devon has changed, with increased numbers of students, refugee families and so on, so I am less of a novelty.’
Yvonne experienced a couple of ‘particularly awful’ racist incidents in the street in a city centre. She was verbally racially abused. This also happened once when she was on a bus. She feels that when it comes to more subtle instances of racism, she blocks them out: ‘I don’t have the physical or emotional energy for them and I now think ‘this is not my s**t.’
These experiences were ‘pretty damaging’ emotionally, and left Yvonne feeling hyper-vigilant.
‘After the incidents I was unable to go to (and am still conscious of being in) certain areas of the city. I continue to be conscious of my safety due to my visibility. My sense of self was less shaken, which I think is due to growing up in a Black family in London, which affirmed a strong sense of self and Black identity. I feel like Devon is my home but I’m not sure that I “belong” to the community.’
Yvonne has experienced living in both urban and rural areas. She says the main differences are that in urban areas, there is less of a novelty factor and people seeing things as exotic – cultural diversity tends to be the norm, and therefore it’s more accepted.
‘I do think that racism exists in both rural and urban areas though, but the manifestation is different. In rural areas, people of colour (POC) are seen as not belonging, being strange or people from another place, unlike the locals.’
In terms of people of colour and our relationship to the natural environment found in rural parts of the UK, Yvonne believes that POC have ‘a long history of being connected to nature and the land in our countries of origin and the homes to which we have migrated.’ Her dad and his friends cultivated an allotment for over 30 years as a way of maintaining contact with nature. Being in touch with the land was also important to people from the refugee community that she used to work with. She believes that it is the history of colonialism and migration that brought POC from nature into urban areas.
‘One of the things I like best about living in Devon is being close to the wider outdoors. I love living by the sea, being close to the moors and being in touch with nature. I think POC being outside in nature is not a common sight in Devon,so when doing this I feel very visible, but I don’t let this deter me.’
*Name has been changed