Meet Fin, from Cornwall

(Fin’s story as told by himself and his mum, Colleen to Louisa Adjoa Parker)

Fin is 8 years old and lives near St Austell, Cornwall. He defines himself as British-African. He was born in Kettering. Fin’s dad was born in Uganda, and his mum in Dover. He never met his paternal grandparents. His maternal grandmother comes from Cornwall and his grandfather from Kent. When he was 20, Fin’s dad fled Uganda during the Amin regime and went to Rwanda. He was there while the genocide was taking place. The Red Cross helped him get to the UK, where he has lived for about 25 years. Fin’s mum and dad met in Eastbourne.

Fin says, ‘I like being mixed race. It’s when people are racist to me I don’t like it. It makes me feel I don’t fit in. People stare at me and touch my hair without asking too.’

Fin has experienced a great deal of racist abuse in Cornwall. ‘People say the N-word, that I should go back to Africa where I belong. The first time it happened, I was in Year 1. A kid called me a stupid African and hit me. I talked to the teachers but they said, “Just deal with it, it’s fine.”’

Fin’s family came to Cornwall when they moved away from Northampton, where Fin’s dad lived. In Mevagissey, Cornwall, where they lived at first, they didn’t have any problems. However Fin – and the wider family – have experienced and witnessed racism since living near St Austell.

There have been a range of issues relating to race at Fin’s school, from the other children and the staff. At one point Fin had a blend – the sides of his hair short – as he has a tight afro, and doesn’t like it being brushed. Fin’s mum Colleen says, ‘He’d often be in tears when I brushed it. The school told us it was a “radical hairstyle.” So I gave him a mohican, and told them, that’s radical. They said it needs to be short all over, so we cut all his hair off. They had been talking about exclusion. I told them, his hair’s hurting him. You can’t tell me how to have mixed kids’ hair when you don’t have a policy on this.’

After his hair was cut children insulted Fin by calling him baldy, or bald stupid African. So he grew his hair and wore it in dreadlocks. Colleen says, ‘His dad’s from the Bantu tribe and I told the school dreads are part of their culture. They wanted written proof of this. I showed them a photo of his dad. I just wanted my son to be comfortable in his own skin.’

On the last day of term after Fin grew dreads, the school’s head at the time asked Fin to come back next term with a durag, and told him, ‘I don’t want your hair distracting other students or hanging in your eyes.’

In the last few years the family have noticed kids looking at Fin, laughing  and whispering. Colleen has seen children staring at his hair when they are in the park. She feels she can’t help but retaliate as she gets upset.

It’s not only children, however, who have abused Fin. When Fin was 6, the family were walking home from the train station when a car slowed next to them. Men hung out of the car windows making monkey noises. Colleen says, ‘I had a new-born in a pram. I told the kids to keep walking, that the men were making noises because Mummy looks silly. Fin said, “I know they were making the noises at me because I look like a monkey.”’

Colleen says that what’s been happening has affected all of her family. ‘A girl split my daughter’s lip – a girl who calls Fin the N-word. Fin’s (white) sister was bullied by this girl and her ‘followers’ to the point where she beat her brother up in the playground. My kids still have to see her, it hasn’t been dealt with.’

Colleen has also witnessed racism towards other young people in the region. She once saw a 13 year-old mixed race girl being harassed by a group of adult male rugby players on a train. ‘They were all in her face, saying, “There’s only one monkey emit in Cornwall.” I wanted to help her but didn’t know what to do. There are a number of mixed families around here. But it’s as though they ignore it [the racism].’

Colleen keeps her distance from people and focuses on her family. She would like to start something to raise awareness, such as a diversity festival, but doesn’t know how to. She says Fin feels failed by the people who should have been there for him, that what he has experienced is basically ‘dampened down segregation’. She makes sure she talks about what’s going on with Fin so he can rise above it. ‘It’s subtle and not subtle, almost normal here. The education system is a part of the problem.’

When the school has tried to address the racism, things haven’t gone well. Colleen has asked Fin’s school to get books on black history. Fin came home with a book about a yam. ‘They need,’ she says, ‘to teach kids about the roots of all this. Schools are still teaching from the perspective of colonisers, how Great Britain ran the world. Cornish people have a link to Bajan – the Bajan accent has a Cornish tang. It’s because people went from here and owned plantations. We are all connected.’

A new teacher from London held a big assembly on diversity after one of the times Fin was racially abused. There was a picture of Bob Marley up on the wall, and the teacher talked about how all races matter. A child sat next to Fin’s sister, pointed to the poster and said, “Look, another [N-word] like your brother.”

So how has this affected Fin? He says, ‘Sometimes I feel sad and angry. I stopped moisturising so my skin would go dry and dusty and l’d look lighter for school. I scratched white lines into my skin, too, to try and look whiter.’

There are positive aspects, however, about living where Fin lives. He says, ‘I like the duck pond. There’s a big tree I like to climb. And going to the beach, body-boarding.’ And he has begun to form his own identity and find role models: ‘I saw a documentary about the skinhead movement before it became racist. I started wearing the clothes and I liked it. I like the patterns, and the braces. My best friend’s parents wear this style, it makes me feel like I fit in, a bit. I like the music, ska. I like lots of different types of music. I’d like to turn all this [negative experiences] into music.’

When asked what he would say if he could tell the people who have abused him how it feels, he says, ‘I don’t know, because they’d probably just ignore me.’

19 Comments

  1. Wow, Fin, I really sympathize. your experiences are very similar to my own when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. I’m so sad and upset to think that many children are still, in this day and age, going through the torments you have suffered. Solidarity!

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  2. Welcome to Cornwall, Fin!
    Cornwall needs diversity.
    My children are mixed race. I hope you continue to thrive and prosper in what appears to be a loving family. Far more people support you than you realise. Here’s one.
    All the best

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  3. I’m absolutely appalled at the school and for the way you as a family have been treated. I thought Cornwall open their arms and welcome anybody here…
    I feel so very sad as in the 21st century this is happening still, all humans are equal, no one is different.
    I would definitely take the school matter higher, how disgusting they made your son shave his hair, and for not supporting you more, they need to obviously bring more diverse books etc to teach the other children, and also to have a no tolerance on bullying!!

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    1. Hi Fin and family , so sad and angry this
      is all happening to you and angry that schools are not doing more to intervene . My daughter is not black but white and half German and cleft lip has been bullied for being different..( nazi was one of the words she really did not like ..) Schools in general really need to step up against bullying even more so against racially driven bullying.

      Educate, make kids understand how this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable .their behaviour however comes often from racist bussed biased parenting… School curriculum needs to change and be less all about victorious British history moments but balanced with the more schanfil chapters of colonisation, slave trade etc ..
      In my mind if s kid has bern warned repeatedly about racist bullying , the bully should be excluded from school.. or schools are colluding with that behaviour .

      Want to give you all a big big hug . know that not all kids are cruel. Some really appreciated differences and multicultural society … although sadly it yet the majority..

      Me and my girl certainly agree that black is beautiful. So be proud of your heritage .. dont let them waer you down.

      ? change school and complain if this one does not address it .. ( although may not always make a difference) there is a good website on bullying and how to complain about it and get it addressed on higher level.

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    2. I am Cornish and 61 years old. I am ashamed to say that a lot of the Cornish are racist. They also don’t like holiday makers coming here, despite us needing them!!! Or people buying houses here who aren’t Cornish, especially if from London!! Sadly we are way behind the times here…..it is a very difficult place to live and work………I have been treated very badly in the workplace. I am a woman…..they don’t like to employ women as Supervisors, Managers etc……..I have held good positions in the past but not by Cornish employers………..I am disgusted at the way this poor family has been treated and ashamed of my countrymen…..I have lived in France and in Wiltshire and did not experience any of this…..

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  4. I am so sorry to hear this and wish Fin and his family well. I am white and live in Cornwall. My son married a Senegalese woman and we have beautiful Grandchildren, the oldest of whom has experienced racism when visiting us.
    Please continue to ask the school to help. Maybe the recent BLM will help them see what they should be doing to protect Fin and to educate Cornish children.

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  5. I am just so so so disgusted that Finn and his family have had to deal with such awful and disgusting acts from people in the county I live. Its uneducated, ignorant and totally unlawful behaviour. I am so sorry the school has failed to protect and support you. The schools need educating and the curriculum has got to address this. Our children have got to have the education and understanding of different cultures, nationalities, skin colour, accents, hair colour, faith etc. something that is seriously lacking across the world. We should respect all and I’m so sorry this has happened to your family.

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  6. There are some real animals in St Austell. In 40 years living in Cornwall i found no problems anywhere except in the town. I was involved in 3 episodes of threats of violence. One was aimed at the Turkish Kebab shop, one was a feeble cashpoint robbery attempt and the third was threats of real violence and abuse because I walk with a bad limp.
    Its a very deprived area which is very inward looking and needs help to understand what prejudice is and its impact.

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  7. If someone puts you down it makes them feel up. Theyre very sad inadequate and certainly deserve pity. So walk tall. Decent loving people will never be racist! The rest need help!

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  8. So sorry you have had to experience this Finn. It is not acceptable for people to treat anyone this way. Ignorance is no excuse, your school should be ashamed. You are beautiful, don’t ever change – you don’t need to. Be proud of who you are.

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  9. I’m mixed race too and had similar experiences growing up just outside Liverpool . My children both look white and have experienced name calling about their grandmother. I raised this with the school in st Austell but never heard anything back

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  10. As a mum to 2 mixed race children this saddens me that any child should be belittled and ridiculed in this day and age for their skin colour. We are just hoping to move down but this makes me think so I want to subject them to such prejudice and hatred.
    Fin be proud of you, your family and your identity it is other people who have the problem not you.

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  11. This is so sad. I did not realise there were so many ignorant people in Cornwall. I Am ashamed to think such disgusting human beings exist in that beautiful county. I brought my children up to understand colour is not issue. Just sometimes there is a clash of personalities but it should never be about colour. There is good and bad in every culture. I despair. I felt this way 50 years ago and still hold the same and deals today at 81 years young.

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  12. Hi Fin & Family,
    Hope you are all well. I feel the school needs to be aware that a school in Hackney on 7th Feb 2020 had to pay a teenager £8,500 for exactly the same behaviour regarding hair..
    By the way I like your hair ,and as a rugby fan look out for many different styles.

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  13. Hello Fin and family, thank you for sharing your story. I’m ashamed that people have considered it acceptable to treat you in this way. For the record I think your hair is so cool. Wishing you and your family well. You have such a melting pot of heritage- lucky you to be able to learn all about the different backgrounds and stories of your culture. My children are part-Spanish and we are enjoying learning about the Spanish culture and traditions. Enjoy the body boarding at the beach. Take care.

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  14. Hi Fin and Emma and family. My ex wife was from Papua New Guinea and we came here in 2000 with my son Apio and daughter Sarah Lapito. He is not mixed but she is. We live in Camborne. We are lucky and haven’t had much discrimination, anyhow my kids have dealt with it quite hard and aggressively. But it can be bad and needs to be dealt with. I have quite a few nixed race and coloured frinds living around here too. I am on facebook. Philip Antony Bevington.

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