Beauty Editor, Motivational Speaker Sherry Ann Dixon on Loving the Cross-Cultural Life
I won a scholarship and came to London to study. I was placed in the guardianship of my Aunt Shirley, my mother's sister, and she became my guardian when my mother died a few years later after I arrived in London. I had 6 sisters and they remained in Guyana, South America with my father and my grandmother. It was decided that it would be better for me to continue my education in the UK. I was 12 years old when I arrived.
The cultural impact of Caribbean, Guyanese, Indian and African people have had on England is vast. It is like living in what I call a pepper pot culture. Everybody is living in such a multicultural England yet retaining their individual personalities, sharing and learning from each other. It was especially paramount at school where we had to learn about each other's cultures, food, dances, ideas, style of dressing yet at the same time engaging in a stiff upper lip British culture.
When I first came, many people of color had to rent rooms in big houses. A lot of them were professionals who had to downsize because their academic qualifications were not recognized by the British. I totally remember living in a really big house, where there was Guyanese black, Indian, Spanish and Portuguese under one roof. We all got along as we were all in the same boat. Foreigners! The African and Caribbean culture was similar, apart from the language. We shared food dishes and learned each other's music.
When films such as Burning an Illusion and Pressure were produced in 1970s London, the films proved extremely important in understanding the collective identity formation and generational pressures of the people who migrated to Europe. They have had a great impact on the knowledge of black history. We are celebrating so many black films or films with black actors and are actively promoting these films via Black film nights. Usually the theatres are packed. There is a sudden surge of people wanting to watch these films. It is both educational and motivating. It's so important that we here in the UK continue to promote these films. And more so there are many theatre performances like Fela Kuti which has been a sell out on every night. There is a thirst for learning and Facebook and other social networks have become vital in the promotion of positive black images, films and video. There is an awesome reality check - we want to know more, more and more.
So how does a Guyanese living in London navigate British culture?
I was brought up in Guyana with a British culture and an English mindset. In fact I believe I knew more about England than the Caribbean. Although I spoke with a Guyanese accent when I arrived, it was quick to adapt to the English dialect as most educated Guyanese perfected this as we were a British colony before. We were British Guyana before independence then we became Guyana. My children are born English. So I am British and they are English. They only know about Guyana because I insist that they know about their grandparents' place of birth and the food and culture there. As they get older they are very interested in knowing more and their cousins in the US and Guyana. We have a ball when we all get together, usually at Thanksgiving and you can care the British, American and Guyanese accents all mixed together. I believe that we are all still Caribbean in the end and I particularly engage in promoting the foods and lyrics of my people to my children and grandchildren so that the culture does not dilute as the generations go on. I particularly bring my Guyanese dialect into the forefront when I am giving talks or making speeches. My accent is me!
As a beauty editor and journalist, I have witnessed it all. There was a time when the British woman of color adapted to the American woman of color's idea of beauty. It has taken many years for us to find our own niche; our own identity. We have embraced natural hair with vigor and we are very proud of moving forward with our own ideas of beauty. Initially, there was a stigma with regard to bleaching - light vs. dark skinned. But because people like myself have written articles for mainstream media, dispelling a lot of the ridiculous myths which were fed down the chain, more women became aware of their beauty and celebrated the diversity of our race. We are proud to wear our traditional garments, and wear bright and engaging cosmetic colors which show off our beautiful skin. Our British hosts have had to learn to celebrate our diversity because suddenly we are making an impact. Of course mainstream organizations are still holding on to stiff upper lip attitudes and in those cases some of our sisters are not encouraged to go natural as this could impact on career moves. But there are so many exhibitions, festivals and organized events celebrating people of color now, that other races have embraced our events and attitudes more.
I went home for a while and lived in other Caribbean islands as well, but I could not settle. I truly now believe that my home is in London or generally in the UK although my heart is in Guyana or the Caribbean. It's about what you know. It's about to what you are accustomed – and the cultures are so different. The laid back-easy attitude of the Caribbean is great for me when I am on holiday but I love the fact that I can do what I want, when I want and can find people with the same vigor and attitude as me. I don't have to feel different because I want to go for a drink after work with my girlfriends and not have to ask the permission of my partner to do whatever. I accept that I have had the freedom of choice and that it is not the same for my sisters in the Caribbean. Also I am not ready to slow down yet. I have so much more to do, too many people left to empower, my voice has to be heard and I can do all these things from the UK. Home for me is where my family is and my children and grandchildren are in London. I can earn enough money here and travel back to my birth home when I am ready for a top-up of Guyanese culture. After all, I am Guyanese on my birth certificate.
Sherry Ann Dixon is a celebrated broadcast journalist, newspaper and magazine editor, and motivational speaker. Dixon was recently inducted into the Black 100+ Hall of Fame. The Black100+ Project is an exhibition of the top 100 black achievers in Britain.
Dixon, a journalist, radio presenter, university lecturer and a member of the National Black Women's Network (NBWN), will be featured in a historic photographic record of black achievement, designed to inspire young people to excel and create a legacy for future generations, by highlighting her success and her valuable contributions to society.