Dame Elizabeth Anionwu: the heritage of racism, the politics of health

December 03, 2020 00:55:55
Dame Elizabeth Anionwu: the heritage of racism, the politics of health
The Plastic Podcasts
Dame Elizabeth Anionwu: the heritage of racism, the politics of health
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Show Notes

Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is, in her own words, “a black British woman of Irish-Nigerian heritage, thank you very much”. She is an activist, health care administrator, lecturer, and Emeritus Professor of Nursing at University of West London, where she created the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice.

Her memoir, “MIxed Blessings From A Cambridge Union” tells of how her parents met in 1947 and how she was subsequently raised in convent schools and by her grandparents.

Inspired at the age of four to take up nursing, she has been a leader in the research and treatment of sickle cell disease and thalassemia, has been granted a CBE and a damehood, been cited as one of the 100 most influential women in the world in 2020 by the BBC and, to top it all, appeared on Desert Island Discs earlier this year.

And now she’s here with us.

Plus journalist and writer Sheron Boyle raises a pair of personal Plastic Pedestals

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:03 <inaudible> Speaker 1 00:00:22 How are you doing? I'm Doug Giovanni and you're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. Find a sense, subscribe to [email protected] here at the plastic podcasts. We don't see ourselves as part of the establishment. In fact, the closest we come is calling ourselves wheat. When all this is is one man in a back room with a microphone and an arts council grant, all that changes today. However, as we play host to Dame Elisabeth, Anyon, <inaudible> one of the BBC's list of 100 most influential women in the world in 2020, awarded the Dame hood for her work on sickle cell and thalassemia. She was born in Birmingham to a Nigerian father and an Irish mother, a dual heritage. That is the subject of her book, mixed blessings from a Cambridge union raised in a convent. She was inspired to become a nurse at the tender age of four, for all the plaudits and awards. Perhaps what makes Damon Elizabeth, even more of a pillar of the establishment is the fact that earlier this year she was a Castaway on desert Island discs. It's been quite the life so far. And so naturally we start by talking about death. Speaker 2 00:01:27 I experienced my first death that 18, you know, very naive, um, sheltered kid. I mean, you know, I had had a very sheltered ex uh, experience and, you know, to be thrust on a, and just told by third year student nurse go and help this other first year, we were in San code to lay out a body. I mean, come on, you know, no, no, no sort of preparation. You just get on with it. And it was emotionally quite tough for that sort of thing. Can you prepare for that sort of thing? Well, I think you can actually prepare students or at least share with students a more experienced person sharing with new students, their, their feelings and experiences as they carried out, laying out a, a dead individual. And also, you know, therefore you're not surprised at the reaction that you get that because if you're not prepared for the reaction you go away feeling really guilty sometimes. Speaker 2 00:02:40 Um, I mean, th I describe it. My mum was, uh, my friend and I was 18 having been told to go and, um, prepare this gentlemen for, you know, um, the mortuary and he, he was huge. And his, his abdomen was huge because of the nature of the illness that he had died from. It collected fluid in his abdomen. Nobody prepared us for that. And we just all go and go and do that. Now, if somebody had starts our look, just be aware that when you go in, you know, cause when we walk into the, it wasn't even a cubicle, it was a, um, curtained off area of, of the ward. All we saw was the sheet over this body and then the sheet going like that, literally, and then up to what, what would, what was face? And we both looked at each other and we were both short and I had to get run one side of the bed and my friend would go around the other side. Speaker 2 00:03:39 We had to wash this gentleman's body, which, which, which required turning him over so that we could, you know, um, well, she's back now that I think that we, we weren't the students that should have been centered a lot. They should have sent for a bigger students and to be quite honest, cause it was, um, it was really, it was actually quite scary task for us. So when I pushed this gentleman over towards my friends so that I could wash his back, nobody had prepared us for the expulsion of air that can happen with a dead person now come on. So what did we hear as well? We, we were just hysterical and hysterical. Laughter and the word sister Curtis, cause we quite near our office and th th th th she, she slightly with the curtains back, push them, close them quickly after we're standing there. Speaker 2 00:04:35 And we were just, that made it even worse. Of course there were tears coming down our cheeks because this is all for my God. She was fantastic. She really was. I mean, that's what a teacher should be. Like. She sharp with us in the sense of, of the gentlemen come into my office. Fortunately didn't have to walk very far when she shut the door. But before she shut the door, she called another nurse and she whispered something to 'em don't call what's going on here, shut the door. What she does that nurse to do was to go and get some tea can imagine. Cause she realized the shock we were in and the fear that we were in because we, you know, we've been discovered, you know what I mean? And she, we were crying. We were petrified and she said, look, stop. Okay. You don't need to cry. Speaker 2 00:05:23 You're not in any trouble. And then started to explain to us, look, she was crossing with the third year students who should have been with us it's we shouldn't have been left alone. So no, it was our first experience of this. And she does the third year students to organize, getting another student to help her unbeknown, to the ward, sister, 30 students. It just got to first year students and told them to get on with it. So, you know, there's all sorts of things going on. And in the end, you know, she sat with us, had tea with us, um, and actually called the 30th student in who gave her taken off her. I'll tell you, it was, we were wiling at one point. Yeah. And then she stopped us all just come on and we have this team biscuits with her. And what was interesting. She talked about death and dying. She turned it into a sort of tutorial unbelief. I've always remembered that in terms of the role that we will have in teaching, what junior staff do you need? People. Yeah, fascinating work. It switched from where it was like we thought we were going to be punished and fearful to actually a very nice tutorial. Thank you very much. Yeah. Speaker 3 00:06:37 Is it what you'd um, is it what you didn't visit when you were reading from your know the, the, the, the biography on your, on your website here at the age of four year inspired? Speaker 2 00:06:46 Yes. A dark year. Most of it was, uh, because what, what attracted me to nursing was having experienced the care from her, a brilliant nurse who happened to be a nun in the, uh, uh, under, under, under nurse, uh, in the Catholic children's home that I grew up until the age of nine and I'd ha had very bad eczema and the way she distracted me from pain while she was taking the dressing off, you know, I'll never forget that as a young child. And this, what I loved about her was that I just associated with, uh, with not feeling any pain. Whereas if I went to another nun who didn't use that similar approach, it would be a very painful experience having the dressing, not quite torn off, but just taken off briskly. And, um, yeah. And I thought I want, because of the positive experience I had with this numb, I wanted to be like not to none but a nurse. Speaker 2 00:07:55 Yeah. And what age did he go into care? Oh, from three, three months of age. My mother looked after me in a mother and baby home. No, actually for six of six months old, my mother looked after me. I didn't, I didn't know the exact period. She looked after me at that early age until I was decided to write my memoirs. And I contacted the, uh, national house athletic, uh, organization that ran the children's home to see if they had any photographs of me. They didn't have any photographs, but they sent me this incredible dossier of all my records that they had. So I that's when I learned exactly when I was admitted and circumstances and yeah, it was six months of age. I started in the father Hudson's homes, which was for the younger children. And then I moved on three and a half apparently Nazareth house, which was the old tuna stayed there until I was nine. When I went to stay with my mother and stepfather. Speaker 4 00:08:57 I'm going to talk about that in a second, if I may. But first of all, let's, let's rewind slightly to your, to your, to your mother and your father meeting. I mean, you've talked about it in, in, in your book. Um, but um, they met at Cambridge didn't, they Speaker 2 00:09:12 That's right. My mother was in her, my mother was studying classics. She went in 1945. So the last year of the second world war, she got a scholarship Speaker 4 00:09:22 And your mother is Irish. Yes. As Speaker 2 00:09:24 Far as heritage, in the sense that it was, it was her great grandparents. Well was the, the, the generation that were born and brought up in Ireland. My grandparents were born in Liverpool in 1896, and my mother was born in Liverpool in 1926. I re I actually commissioned a genealogist from Dublin to look into the Irish heritage site. Fascinating, uh, cause there wasn't much records except my great aunt. Kate had written a letter to my cousin setting out quite a bit of family history and the genealogist set that that was absolutely fantastic. Those were the, the, if you like the clues that he needed, uh, to explore much, much, much more deeply into our Irish heritage. And he was able to go back to the 1840s, Speaker 4 00:10:26 My word as good work, actually, Speaker 2 00:10:29 That's very good work with the lack of, well, you know, I'm sure th the, the, the, the, the record and not that brilliant for various reasons in terms of the, the, one of the key census, um, remember 18 something or other, I was, there was a fire in Dublin and destroyed, destroyed a lot of, of the, of the records, but it was the church records of course, that, uh, where everybody registered their birth and death in the church in Ireland, that, and, and in this country as well, that's been a huge source of information for many people looking for their family history. Um, Speaker 4 00:11:17 So your mother is an Irish heritage and studying classics at Cambridge Speaker 2 00:11:21 At Cambridge. And my father was Nigerian and he had been awarded a scholarship to study law in, in again in Cambridge. And we're talking about the second period of the second world war. My father came over in 1942 in the middle of second world war, which I thought was quite interesting. He started his studies, um, I think Trinity hall, uh, and my mother, hers was 1945 at new Newnham college to study classics. I don't, I've never found how they met or anything like that would have been nice, but they, by the time I was really curious about it, but they're both deceased. Couldn't really ask anybody. Speaker 3 00:12:05 So your, your mother, your mother, your mother met your father and your father met your mother and you were born nine months. Speaker 2 00:12:12 Yeah. In 1947. Yeah. And my mother wasn't married and Catholic, well, no Irish Catholic heritage can imagine. So you can just only imagine what the shock was for my poor mother when she realized she was pregnant and I've only got, well, this is quite good that I have this. I have the oral history from my aunts and my mother's younger sister who I'm very, very close to him. And, uh, my mother wouldn't w didn't tell her parents that she was pregnant. It was my grandmother that realized, uh, the situation when she was finishing sewing a dress for my skirt and was doing the fitting and tape measure around my mom's waist when she was six months pregnant. So my grandmother quickly realized what the situation was to her horror. Everybody's aura. You know, my grandfather was a stalwart of the Catholic church and was friends with the local parish priest. Speaker 2 00:13:17 And he went straight to the parish priest to seek advice. And I T and also my mother was a bright student at Cambridge university. You know, it was a bit of status going on there and a desire to enable my mother to complete her studies, which she didn't in the end, but not due to lack of support. I mean, I think there was a lot of irritation that my mother decided to drop out in spite of all, all the, um, connections and support that she got between the church and my family and the university, the university never knew that she was pregnant. They were told that she'd had a nervous breakdown and was rehired rehabilitating and, um, Island, you know, and for me, when they came across these papers, I was fascinated because I was brought up very much in a strict Catholic environment, in a convent come on. Speaker 2 00:14:17 And, and my, um, contact with the Catholic church lasted until I was 16. When I left my grand grand grandma mother's house. And, you know, you're taught never to lie and dah, dah, dah, and to sort of see in all these papers that the collusion going on between the church and the university was that the university didn't know. So, you know, the lies that were being told, and I think, well, that's interesting. So you can lie in certain circumstances, but not in others, you know, but, you know, but there was a lot of support for my mother have to say, yes. Speaker 4 00:14:54 So, uh, um, was it three months old, you were taken into the, um, into the care of the church? Speaker 2 00:15:02 Six, six months old. I was taken into, uh, the father Hudson's homes, which were in Birmingham. And I stayed, uh, uh, until I was five, I think. And then I moved to the natural house convent, the children's home again in Birmingham. And my memory is of Nazareth house. I don't remember. I vaguely have a memory of being on the veranda as a, as a toddler. So that would have been the father Hudson's homes, but it's, it's Nazareth house. Children's home that I remember. And that I do start to describe in terms of my memoirs. Yeah. What are your memories of it? Overall? I was happy, which actually isn't the classic narrative we've been bought up in a Catholic children's home and far from it. I, and some, well, many people have had horrible experiences, traumatic experiences growing up and care, or growing up under the auspices of nuns and priests. Speaker 2 00:16:12 You know, we've, we've read so many of these. I was fortunate. I think that on the whole, I was happy. I mean, the negative experiences of due to the fact that I wet the bed. So those children, um, like me, we had horrible punishment for that. You want me to describe it? If you wouldn't mind? No, it was horrible. So what would happen was the non, you could see she was bad tempered or nothing. You know, they inspect your beds in the long dormitory. You can imagine, and we'd wait. We knew what was coming. So you put your bed tonight last night. So they briskly take the sheet and we would be basically frogmarched down to a little area. We'd all have to get onto a chair. Well, I left to come home when I was nine. When I wet the bed all the time I was there. Speaker 2 00:17:02 So I'm talking about probably from being five, six, seven, eight, you know, really young we'd stand on it. Each of us stand on a chair, and then they drape the urine soak sheet over our body. That wasn't enough punishment. They made us stretch our arms out under the sheets, keep them high. And you were punished if your arms started to fall, which suppose they do quite quickly by a non on the other side of the sheet, whacking you with something like a ruler to get your arms back up really cruel. And even as a child, Doug, I thought Canada nonsense supposed to be brides of Christ. You know, kind people, Christian people. This wasn't very Christian. It's really cruel, but, but you know, when I read somebody else's narrative, I can't remember the book, but this was, she had a very traumatic experience growing up in Australia and in a natural house convent, she had similar treatment to being a bed wetter. Speaker 2 00:18:08 I thought that was interesting. Um, so where these nuns were taught this punishment, I don't know. But, um, having said that her experience was, was vial, and then she was subjected to physical abuse and also mental abuse as well. I, I, the, the punishment for bedwetting was probably the worst punishment that I had. Um, others in my experience, a genuine, genuinely more positive. It's where I learned Irish dancing, which I actually adored. Um, I think I was a favorite of some of the nuns. I was taught to play the piano, that there must have been just a few of us being taught to play the piano. And if we got our, we did our exercises, well, we would be taken out to Birmingham city center to have Knickerbocker glories. Can you imagine, I mean, you know, I have beautiful memories, absolutely beautiful memories. Speaker 1 00:19:04 <inaudible>, you're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora. We all come from somewhere else. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at the age of nine Elizabeth left Nazareth house to live with her mother and her stepfather. What followed wasn't pleasant Speaker 2 00:19:29 To start with? It was pleasant. Obviously my mother was delighted to have me with her. And my stepfather initially was very pleasant. Um, jokey. He was alone, long distance, low driver. By this time I had a half brother and another half brother was on the way. And I think he arrived at three months after I had arrived. So in that sense, you know, I, I, I had never experienced a family home like that with brothers and a baby brother, wonderful for a nine year old, 10 year old, you know, to have a baby in house and bought it. It started to change later. I discovered it, it was because my stepfather was being teased by his mates in the pub, but he drank, he liked to drink. What's he doing with a half cast child in the house? This is the mid 1950s in Wolverhampton. Speaker 2 00:20:31 I was the only black child in the neighborhood. And he started to take it out of me. I think it was under the influence of alcohol as well. When my mother wasn't around, um, just physically assaulting me for the minus infraction. I wouldn't go infraction, not being able to dry the glasses properly because the, and I was very logical child because what, I didn't realize that that was making it worse. Cause I was basically answering back. I, I didn't think I was done shooting back, but he would, um, whip me with the damp tea towel that I was using. I it's really painful that, you know, and so it's all like whiplash and showing me this, um, dump glass, which should be shiny, he's telling me, and I'm saying what the tea cloth is dump. Don't you answer me back, you know? And I'm so inside I was so angry, you know, I can't help the class, not being able to, you know, I knew why. And I was trying to explain it and quickly realized shut up Elizabeth. I was actually making it a lot worse, you know, and could smell the alcohol on his breath, you know, or horrible. Speaker 4 00:21:43 So you left then at about the age of 10 and a half? Speaker 2 00:21:49 Yes, I was nearly 11. And that was because my mother definitely hadn't been aware of the physical abuse cause he was very clever. Um, my mother worked, so I think he was, it was, you know, when she was working. So she found out, Oh, because there was one absolutely brutal assault. Um, what happened was I was, I was in bed and I just heard the thing I'm coming up the stairs and I knew what it was going to be about because that evening, for some reason I had a lovely half-brother he's now a very, very close to Michael. And um, for some reason I'd kicked him. Well, you know, siblings can get occasionally violent with each other, even though they love them. And my mother wrote the day, I think that she told my stepfather when he came in about me kicking Michael, but that was his, you know, that was their first child and it was drunk. Speaker 2 00:22:52 And he just, that was, that was it. He was up the stairs, pull me out of the bed, drag me down the stairs, just physically, physically hit me. And I went flying across the small front room and hit my eyebrow on the half. And you know, that's like metal and burst, open blood pain, screaming. That was it from my mother because very soon after that my father came and I was, went with him to live with him and my grandmother and my aunt Pat in the North of England, uh, wirelessly, just across the river, mercy from Liverpool. So that's where I spent my adolescence. Speaker 4 00:23:39 So, um, when we were talking before you said that basically it was until about the age of 16, you had what call your Irish upbringing. I'm presuming that the, the, the last four years of that were the, that was with your, um, Speaker 2 00:23:52 My, her parents. Yes. They had, um, one of these, what you're going to stare at your phone record, you know, radio and the record player. Stereogram the stereogram thank you. It was a present for my aunt's 21st birthday, which had happened just a few months before I arrived. So spanking new and she liked jazz. So she, I wasn't so much into jazz then I still liked jazz, but it's not my professional art to be honest, but I do not. But I remember because they've recently done a wonderful documentary on elephant's Gerald and she loved my aunt loves elephants. So I smoking, she had the records, but there was, there was a, uh, uh, an Irish musical collection. And that's what I liked John McCormack. And I remember the LP and I always thought, what beautiful eyes, John McCall, McCarthy, the photograph they had of him. I actually funny John McComber because I loved his voice. Speaker 2 00:24:54 I mean, what water voice, but there was, it was just a beautiful photograph. And that was one of my favorite LPs actually. I mean, there were, there were others as well. Uh, so there was the Irish music. It was the Irish food. My mother, my grandmother did soda bread and stews. Uh, yeah. Um, so it was the music, but you know, also talk, it was the storytelling and the humor. I was very close to my grandfather. I have to say, um, I was very, very sad when he died. I was probably coming up to 13. He died of pneumonia because there's something about our relationship. He was so pleased that I enjoyed history. And he was the one that taught me a lot about Irish history. We just go for walks. We had a dog and just go off together, the power of us. Um, uh, but I remember once going to stay with my great aunt. So these were the, yeah, the sisters, Lil Kate, great aunt, Lil and great aunt Kate. They were the sisters of my grandfather and I was very close to them, but I do remember once and they were very devout Catholics, the them, Oh, probably walking in the neighborhood of Liverpool, where we were, where they lived. And they were greeted by some neighbors in the street. And my great aunt, Katie introduced me to them as the top, their adopted niece that I was adopted. Speaker 2 00:26:39 Didn't say anything. They never said it to me. We never discussed. I thought these are strict Catholics who were lying about my origins. And that made me realize there was stigma about my color. Although they were very kind to me, this Brown skin color was a step too far for them to say that, Oh, well actually, you know, isn't that what's remember that it's a child. You learn. If people don't speak about something, don't, don't ask any questions about it. Why, why are they not? You know, but my father, because people, the fact that people say, where are you from? Where you really from? I remember thinking, well, I must have got this skin color from my father. Not obviously not from my mother. And I never asked my mother or my poor mother. I mean, she was working every hour. God gave her and there was all this problem. It's only a short period. I live with her. Remember, and I certainly wouldn't have asked my grandmother about my father. Nobody talks about him now. So I had the sense not to ask questions, you know, but that meant that I, I had this void and knowing about my full identity till I was a young adult. I Speaker 3 00:27:58 Was going to say, you were reunited with your father, weren't you? Speaker 2 00:28:00 Yes, because what happened? I wrote to my mother when I was 22, I was now a health Fisker in London. My mom was still living in the Midlands. And I asked about my father because up until this time, Oh, that time I might my maiden name. So I had my mother's maiden name for a long, good art center. Um, and I asked, wrote and asked my mother to tell me about my father, what she did immediately. And that's when I read my father's name was Lawrence RD out of Victor, Antonio. And, um, when I, so I had this, I had my father's status and my mom had said, look, I don't think you'll ever find him. We've lost contact before the internet. Of course, you know, she wasn't sure it was a good idea for me to try and find him because she was worried. Speaker 2 00:28:52 I might be rejected by his family and I, but I knew I was going to make some inquiries. Um, and for three months I had my father's name at the back of my small diary. And then one day I remember I didn't own any Nigerians, but I then realized that I knew gentlemen from Sierra Leone, a barista who in passing had told me that occasionally he taught Nigerian law students. I asked John if he could find out where my father's name came from in Nigeria, because I know it's a couple of years after the dreadful, Nigerian civil war, the back from war. So I knew there were different ethnic groups in Nigeria. So we're talking about 1972. So he said, okay, leave it with me, Elizabeth. It was a Monday evening in June 19 two. And, um, so I, that was it. Wednesday morning. John rang me at my clinic and said, I've spoken to your father. Speaker 2 00:29:49 It was that fast. But I discovered my father and he gave me the phone number and said, your father wants to speak to you. I've spoken to him, drop the phone on John, pick the phone up straight away because it was, I was sick in the stomach. I have to be honest. I was really pleased, but I anxious as well. And I realized if I didn't pick the phone up straight away, I might take a long time to ring that number. So I just rang my father and he greeted me at the other end of the phone once in the next day. And we got on so well for the eight years that I've known him before he died. He died quite young and it sorted me out. I became complete and I looking back not long after I met my father, I realized I was a calm individual. I was a more confident prouder. Uh, you know, I was proud of who I was rather than the shame of being constantly asked to worry from my dear because of this and being different because until the age of 18, you know, I grew up totally with white people. A part of the puzzle was completed. Definitely. And I was complete. I felt complete as well. Speaker 0 00:31:06 Yeah. Speaker 1 00:31:06 Listening to the plastic podcasts, we all come from somewhere else. It's more than just a hashtag if you're new here or even if you're not, and you want to keep up with all the plastic that's fit to broadcast, why not subscribe simply go to the bottom of our [email protected] and pop your email in the space provided on COVID Maitri click later, you'll be on the list and notified of each fresh podcast. We'll be back with Elizabeth Arriann Wu in a moment. But first the plastic pedestal, where I asked one of my interviewees to name a member of the diaspora of personal or cultural significance to them this week, Sharon Boyle, author of 50 years in the making the celebration of Leeds Irish center proposes a pair of personal pedestals, Speaker 2 00:31:51 I suppose, really I've got two. Um, the first would be my dad's mom, um, Margaret Martin Boyle, um, who at 19, what was, became an official council passenger on the Titanic, um, align is through her ticket name and number because her cousin couldn't get a ticket and she was on the next boat that last, um, she got from America. What's the maiden Hartford met and fell in love with, uh, the family myth was that it was German. So this would be 1912 on what's around first world war. Now I've since done research. He was actually, he had a German step model. So that was possibly one thing, but probably was, was is that he wasn't Speaker 5 00:32:40 Catholic. Um, she was sent back to Ireland, had a semi arranged marriage, really with my grandfather, uh, uh, when she had seven children, including a set of twins, he was so ill with rheumatoid arthritis. She Birch that to look after him, run the farm and look after the kids, but not only that, the neighboring Donald children orphaned seven children and she, um, kept an eye on them over, um, when a London grubbing, rich neighbor came to try and grow up the Donnelly's land, my face to grumble the, um, it brought along a priest brother and my foster grandmother pushed him in the bog and my uncle remembers his central behalf floating in the Bach. So, uh, she, um, she was a beautiful woman as well, and she lived to be 92 dying of old age. And, and I suppose this, the second heroine rarely would be, um, my great great-grandmother who was widowed, barely literate, beautiful, again, dark hair, high cheekbones, and raised children as best as she could, you know, so they they'd be my heroines Speaker 1 00:34:04 Sharon boil there. And if you want to hear more from the leads Irish center interview, and frankly you're missing a treat, if you don't, then why not go to the [email protected]? Alternatively, you can find the interview on Spotify, Amazon, or Apple podcasts. Now back to Elizabeth <inaudible> and while reuniting with her father may have completed the puzzle. It didn't end the story here. We talk about reconciling with her black identity and the politics of health. Speaker 2 00:34:34 I gone to Paris. I'd lived in Paris for nine months and, um, I worked in a clinic, um, but also taught English to the two children of the doctors who run the clinic. And I became very friendly with a French Beneen midwife. And I told her one day the story about washing my face 10 times in the children's home to try and become white, like my friends. And she said, Elizabeth, under the very book you need to read, which was by Frantz Fanon called black skin white mask funds Fanon was a psychiatrist on the French Caribbean Island of Martinique, but very radical and gives a Marxist. And he had, uh, gone to work in Algiers, French during the French colonial era, as a psychiatrist in large hospital in the, in the Capitol. And he became aware of how he thought that that's this black skin white masks that the impact that colonialism and neocolonialism had on black skin, Brown skin, individuals who were ruled by white people that subconsciously or consciously they w they disliked their Brown black skin, because it was seen as inferior in this situation. Speaker 2 00:36:01 And really IDH, ideated, idealized wanted thought of themselves, wanted to be white. And it's a beautiful, beautiful book. And the scales came off my eyes when I read that book and it really made me understand, uh, the doubts and the shame that I had grown up with being different because of my skin color and pushing as a student to wanting to be not all the others and not stand out. And, um, it really helped me understand that. And also, I mean, I was already starting to feel proud of who I was and becoming interested in politics and understanding where this negativity had arisen from and sorting myself out. So this about, you know, you are who you are and suck it up, basically political, Oh gosh. Yes, of course it is. And if anything that affects the human being and particularly in a negative way, it's political because it impacts on how society views us, how we're treated in society, how individuals, for example, with mental health conditions, um, the stigma historically of that has been horrific, uh, the dispossessed feeling always as other outsider, not belonging. Speaker 2 00:37:24 And I think this is the key issue though. I, I, I have not experienced some of the most traumatic experiences that some people when they <inaudible> have experienced and the black diaspora, um, expense, some, one of the things I can understand and, and, and I've lived, it is the sense of being seen as an outsider when you know, perfectly well, you're not an outsider. And, uh, it comes back to some basic issues. Why do certain people think you're inferior because of your accent, your name, your origins, your skin color. Is there something in the human psyche that makes us want to be superior to others? I think there is actually, I don't know. I don't know if this is viable, but it's, it's negative. I don't like it. Um, but we can all be, we can all have those feelings of feeling superior to others, for whatever reason. Speaker 2 00:38:22 So, but, but in some situations where those feelings superior to you have much, much more power than you and block opportunities for such groups for such individuals. Um, that's when it's so negative in terms of, um, trying to survive in society. And, and you can see Wars have been created as a result, religious factions and language differences, um, ethnic differences and the hatred that exists simply because you know of the right faith or right skin color. It's terrific. Do you see that affects treatment as well? Oh, yes. We know that there are inequalities in health care. Uh, and certainly from the, the area that I'm have been interested in sickle cell, we know that when you compare it to an equally serious condition. So, you know, I don't believe in hierarchies of illness, but we look at cystic fibrosis, which is a very serious genetic condition affecting the lungs and the pancreas that predominantly affects the white, Northern European communities. Speaker 2 00:39:44 It does to a much lesser extent affect black and minority, uh, very, very much lesser extent. So you see with a condition like cystic fibrosis, which as I've said, is serious and warrants can support for the families. It's actually fewer cases of cystic fibrosis and there are a sickle cell disease. But if you look at the allocation of resources, it's, it's, it's, it's the reverse. And what is the big difference? One affects mainly white communities and one affects many black communities. That's to me, the other areas, they're very similar. The inheritance partners, the same, the both as I've said, very serious conditions, both can cause death early on, um, both request screening programs, you know? So in terms of conditions, they're very, very similar, but who they affect is different. And as a result of that, historically, you can map out the inequalities, even, even though cystic fibrosis, could there be much more support? They still have more support than condition like sickle cell disease. And as I've said, I'm very careful not to pit one condition against another, but when we're talking about health inequalities, it is useful to have some examples. So you're not just spouting. So Speaker 3 00:41:11 You mentioned being an outsider and a surface level local. So it's not like, you know, you're, you're, you're part Nigerian, uh, part Irish, uh, and also in, in British communities and so forth. And one way or the other, you're going to appear as an outsider. It's one of those three, those three sections. And yet here you are Dame Elizabeth, do Speaker 2 00:41:34 You ever saw, I go, well, how did I get here? Of course I do dark. I mean, come on. It's good to have got a sense of humor. I mean, it's not that I don't take this award seriously, but come on, you know, you know, the life I've lived, you know, that there are other things that are actually more important and they're really our survival friendship, families, um, jobs. So I'm, I'm very grateful for the honors, but I'm actually more grateful. I've got a daughter, I've got a granddaughter, I've got to flats, I've got friendship, friendships. Um, and I've got music. And, you know, th th there are actually things much more important. I have turned down an award by the way. I did, I did read, I did write about it in my mum wants, I didn't, I didn't talk about it when it happened, because I felt, I thought it was a private thing. Speaker 2 00:42:28 So it's, it's obviously I've accepted wards subsequently, but I turned down, uh, it was an MBE in the mid eighties, and it was for surgical services and I was honored, but I wasn't happy about the fact that the national health service and the department of health were not doing enough for the families affected by these conditions. And so I politely wrote back confidentially as a citizen. I didn't want to make it public. Thank you very much. I'm on it. But, you know, I'd rather, she likes to see these institutions providing more support to the families. Thank you very much. You're sincerely. And I don't, I don't like empire by the way, either which a lot of us don't like about their wards. And I respect those people who turned down on the simply because they have the empire debt, you know? Um, but I got talked into accepting the CB, which was the next award that I was given in 2001 services to nursing. Speaker 2 00:43:32 And a few friends sat me down because I needed to work. I didn't really want to accept it because then, but they said, look, Elizabeth, you know, I, I don't think you realize the impact that this will make, particularly for black nurses. It's a significant award. If you should accept it, and you might be surprised at the impact that it's made. And I was, I was surprised at the impact it made, uh, this, I have lot of friends, but also even during COVID lockdown, but certainly before COVID locked down are feeling constantly invited to go around and give talks, but based on my memoirs and things, and it's often too mixed ethnic groups, um, I mean different ethnic groups, as well as mixed race as well. And sometimes to, to blind groups, for example. And there's no question of it that the warmth and the impact it's made on, on nurses and midwives generally, but particularly from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, they're proud that I've got an award like this. And many of them have said it makes me realize, even though you've had all these difficulties, it is possible for us to, to make progress. It is possible for us to be rewarded. You know? So when you're constantly being told, I think, yeah, my friends were right. Actually I wasn't, I was still, I still, as I said, I've still got my concerns about them. Speaker 2 00:44:59 And then, and then of course, once you've got one award and when you, he has done the lunch, get invited for another one, it makes it a bit difficult. Speaker 1 00:45:16 You're listening to the plastic podcasts, tales of the Irish diaspora find and subscribe to [email protected] And the last section of my interview with Damon Elizabeth Anyon whew. We talk about her Nigerian and Irish heritage is, and what being a member of the diaspora means to you. Speaker 2 00:45:34 I think there is a difference between the experiences of the Irish Jesper and the Nigerian Jasper Nigerians. Um, I've never felt enslaved that they've had colonization when you look at the th th th th the horrific history between Ireland and Brittany, come on. You know, that, that, that, I think that th th th th the trauma there is storage only wave upon wave upon wave upon. I mean, I, I, sometimes I think I'm surprised the Irish even talked to the British, you know what I mean? I, you know, obviously things and I've seen, uh, Sam initial interest in history. Um, so there are, there are similarities in terms of types of relationships they've had with Britain, because of course, as you've said, quite rightly, although I'm of Nigerian Irish heritage, I'm not, I've never, I was never brought up at Niland. I didn't grow up. Speaker 2 00:46:39 I mean, I had aspects of Irish cultural heritage from the diaspora, but I wasn't born and brought up in Ireland speak, you know what I mean? I, I, I, and the same for Nigeria, I wasn't born and brought up in, in Nigeria. I don't speak Ebo few words, nothing. So even though I'm very conscious and proud of the heritage, I also realize, uh, I would be called, what is it? Plastic party. That's, you know, I, I, you know, that, that would I, and also Nigeria, I don't, I, I, I'm not, once I'm not Nigeria, and I know I've got Nigerian houses, but you, you understand what I'm saying? I, I didn't grow up, uh, and I don't speak the language. I don't speak any good. So I understand that. And gradually, I've got very confident and proud of who I am. I'm a black, British woman, I'm of Irish, Nigerian heritage. Speaker 2 00:47:39 Thank you very much. And I'm very comfortable with that, describing myself in those terms. And, uh, not being embarrassed that I don't speak this language, or I don't speak that language, not being embarrassed, that I don't understand certain aspects of the culture because I haven't grown up in it. Well, it's not my fault. This is my heritage. You know, I, I have been pulled up occasionally on both sides years ago, you know, that's not my fault. Is it, you know, I was born in this country as this, this is my heritage. Yeah. This is my heritage, but it's my experience. So the fact that I, for example, don't speak Ebo my fault. I, I, it's just that sometimes Nigerians can, Ebos, I'll have to talk about it. It's can be very in your face about, Oh, why it wasn't my fault. You know, I can't help it, that I didn't know my father and that shuts them up and can tell you, you know, and then we get back to being pleasant. You know what I mean? But I will, I will stand up and sort of explain and be, because I've thought about these things so much, you have to, when you've mixed heritage, you have to, if you haven't grown up deeply const in those cultures in way that I haven't really, I mean, some aspects of it. Uh, but you, you know, we have to, if you're not proud of who you have ended up being where you are, that's when all the negativity and self doubts. And, uh, I think come into play. Speaker 3 00:49:15 When we look at that, the wheels, I'm also, I've also been aware of the, um, the, the, the rising in visibility of mixed race, Irish and things like that. And I one, I wonder if that's, that's the same with, with mixed race, diaspora of all kinds of different heritages. If there's a, if, if there is a, a sense of greater confidence inside and talking about a mixed heritage, rather than being one thing or another. And if so, do you think it's down to anything in particular or, or just the, the way you have the history? Speaker 2 00:49:47 Well, I would have thought that for example, uh, members of mixed rest, Irish, that I know who born and brought up in Ireland, Brown skinned, Irish accents, Irish, sometimes many of them, um, for them, I don't know, I've listened to this for them to have been seen as other is particularly vicious. I think that, you know, they, they are really being slapped in the face again, that it can, you can have as much Irish heritage, Irish culture. They are Irish. They are Irish fact that they've got Brown skins so well, and it it's, it's, it's a sad aspect of some aspect of Irish politics that there are those that think if you're Irish, you must have a white skin. And that is there still. We know that, and that is the heritage of racism. And it's ironic. And I've, I've read some of the literature on this. Speaker 2 00:50:55 It's, it's, it's more than ironic. It's, it's desperately sad, but you know what I was talking about, how sometimes we, we all can look down on others, but to have Irish people who have come through all the trials that they have experienced, you know, thinking, hold on, step back a little bit, think about your own problems you've had with other groups in this world. Why are you suddenly now looking down your nose, that's Irish, people who happen to have a Brown skin. You need to take a look at yourselves, you need to know your history better, and you need to practice some of that faith or whatever belief you have in how you relate to fellow Irish people, because I've seen, well, I follow a lot of the, uh, um, through, through, through mixed raced Irish. I mean, it's, it's an incredibly important organization for me. It's a channel through which I do read about the debates that are going on in Ireland. For example, you know, the experiences that some people it's not all negative, don't get me wrong. But you know, the Speaker 1 00:52:13 One final question, which is the question I ask all of the interviewees, which is what does being a member of the RFD Aspro what does it meant to you? Speaker 2 00:52:21 It's a source of pride to me to be part of the Irish diaspora, because I've had the privilege of growing up and having Irish culture embedded in me from childhood. I looked back and it's not as though with my Nigerian heritage, I came to that as an adult, and I'm very pleased I did. And I, I, I I've, I've, I've, um, it's brought me a lot of, uh, value and enjoyment and interest, but there's no doubt about it. Uh, I used to be a health visitor. So obviously I've studied issues about child psychology. There's no doubt about it. That whatever impacts on you as a child, I think does have a greater legacy for you than, than, than what you, uh, experienced as an adult. So I am really delighted that I had really on the whole very, very positive experiences off the RSG aspirin on the culture as whatever came down in Birmingham, but, you know, to, to, to, and this is why I still love, uh, Irish music, uh, singing literature, history, um, and Irish people today, most of them anyway. Speaker 2 00:53:46 Um, I, I know that that is because I was immersed in it to some extent from a BA from babyhood into adulthood. Uh, certainly as a teenager close family, uh, and institutional, uh, links. And I, uh, I know that that has helped me understand the RSTs for a little bit more than maybe some other people, uh, and certainly more than people would expect when they look at me. Uh, and it's also a huge delight, um, or maybe a finish on this story. I remember when I was a student nurse, I would have been about 19 or so. And I was looking after this Irish lady, she was, she was in bed and, uh, she was a bit down and she was saying how much she missed some aspect of our Irish family back home. And, uh, I told her I had an Irish heritage and she looked at me. I said, yes, I do. I can talk to my centers. Okay. Were you adopted? I said, no. And I said, I grew up in a convent run by Irish nuns. And I did Irish dancing, never. So I stood there. I looked around, there was hardly anybody in the ward. And I did a little trick for her to see that woman laughing with tears, running down her face and the joy of water. And she said, well, I'll never make that mistake again, Elizabeth, I will never judge people on how they look. Speaker 0 00:55:23 You've been listening to the plastic podcasts with me, Doug <inaudible> and my guest Dame, Elizabeth, any music by Jack Devani, find us at www dot Gnostic, podcasts.com, email the plastic podcasts, Gmail com, or simply follow us through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. The plastic podcast is sponsored using public funding by arts council, England.

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