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I founded and co-founded a couple of companies: Redington and mallowstreet; now I have launched a global initiative, Partnership for Change, which is working to improve healthcare, long term care, pensions & savings and technology for a rapidly ageing population. I write about issues of the day that touch me and make me think. Mostly about how to make things better.

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“Don’t They Have Queues In Africa?”

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I first felt the chill of racist taunts when I was 14 years old.

I had arrived in England just six weeks before, and it was my second day at my new school. I was the only black kid in a provincial school of 1,200 white boys and it was the summer of 1977.

The queue for lunch snaked ‘round the corner of the school dining hall and I joined what I thought was the end of the line. That was a mistake.

The kid behind me said: “Hey! Don’t they have queues in Africa? Why don’t you go back to the jungle where you belong?”

He threw in the N-word for good measure and my blood ran cold.

All the other boys thought it was hilarious and started making jungle noises.

Somehow, I don’t remember exactly, it got very ugly, very fast. Eventually, a teacher showed up and pulled me out of the brawling mêlée.

I thought I had been rescued. It turned out to be my second mistake. Two in five minutes.

I don’t know how they behave where you’ve come from”, the teacher said, “but in this country we stand quietly in line. It’s called a queue.” Then he gave me a detention. 

I tried to tell my side of the story, but he was having none of it. “Just go and shake hands” he said. “I’m sure he was just joking. Where’s your sense of humour, boy?”

I fought back pricking tears and shook hands.

The teacher didn’t get it. The boy didn’t get it. It was 1977 and, back then, nobody got it.

My colour completely defined me. It was just about the only thing anyone saw and that was all there was to it.

In time, I learnt to live alongside the people who didn’t get it, and I watched as the winds of change blew in. That change took many years and, in between, we witnessed the Brixton riots and the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Today, I am overwhelmed with relief that my three teenage children are growing up part of a happy, vibrant social tapestry rich with racial diversity. Their colour just doesn’t come into it.

So, somehow, in November 2011, you do not expect to come across people who still don’t get it.

I suppose that somewhere in Montgomery, Alabama or Jackson, Mississippi, there’s a tired old guy sitting in a sawmill who still doesn’t get it. Perhaps some of the folk who pine wistfully for the good old Midsomer idyll, still don’t get it.

But the President of FIFA?

That’s kind of disappointing.

 

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