Paula Marie Fidler
Paula Marie Fidler was born on the 15th April 1966 and because of the context of her birth; colour of her skin; white and Jamaican heritage; the period in which she was born, and the fact that her mother was a young unmarried teenager without the total support of her family to keep Paula, Paula was admitted into the child care system. That’s what society told her and that’s what she believes to be true.
The parents who cared for and loved Paula, and the parents Paula called mum and dad always told Paula that her birth mother had kept her for 5 months - she didn't. Paula's birth mother gave Paula into social care immediately after her birth. The story continued – during this 5 months, Paula’s birth mother was able to disguise the fact that Paula was of Jamaican heritage, preferring to protect herself and her relationship with her first new-born baby; telling all agents that Paula was Italian. If Jamaicans were held in high regard and were respected as much as ‘white Europeans' and not considered a blight upon the British community, perhaps Paula’s birth mother would have been proud to say that Paula was of Jamaican heritage and would have kept her and Paula would not have looked at her first born son 20 years later and question how could her birth mother have given her away, when the love Paula had for her first born was immediate and intense.
That little girl is me and I’m think that for a large part of my life I carry the guilt and embarrassment that I was told my birth family had experienced because of my birth. I can't help reading this without feeling the deepest rejection, which always brings tears to my eyes. I recognise, just like Frankl’s basic first principle of logotherapy,
‘Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.' Which suggests I should embrace all that I feel and see in order to understand the meaning of my life.
Throughout my social care records, which total 352 pages, it becomes a distressing realisation of knowing that my lived values of love and compassion are embraced by too few, but also that I was living and growing in a prejudiced and discriminatory community. Whenever I see baby Paula Marie through the pages of despair, I just want to pick her up, hold her tightly and tell her it's going to be OK that she is worthy and she can be hopeful.
However, I maintain if you cannot validate yourself, how can you possibly validate and value others? If we are here to live in a community where we are to support each other's goals and ambitions, love each other, respect each other, have compassion for each other, how can we, if don't even extol those feelings upon ourselves?
Sometimes when you stand on the edge of the shore and you are repeatedly bashed by the force of the hurricane like waves, it is difficult to stand up and face them again and again.
From the slight increase of black women in senior posts and in careers that were once only considered to be for white men and the panacea of changes and positive opportunities for black women, I can see that we are on the brink of re-framing what it means to be a black British person, reframing what it means to be a black British woman. That can only happen if others too embrace the values of compassion, love, forgiveness and equality. I witness these values in thousands of people but I feel it needs to be everyone. I have lived what I believe to be a fulfilled life, despite what my social care records forecast. Where they suggested I was likely to live a life of hopelessness and a life of low expectations - 'career that was totally unrealistic' - I wanted to get a degree and live overseas. For whatever reason, that hasn't been me, so when I look at this child who is rejected at birth, I don't understand what happened in their life or in their adulthood to make them become them. I’m not hopeless or worthless or not as worthy, despite that characteristic being presented to me and my black peers repeatedly, even 53 years later, think Meghan Markle. I can't help thinking that when you are rejected at birth and beyond-' has anyone a long term foster home for this half caste baby?' and being beaten by my teacher at 16 (because I deserved it) and no-one really taking the stance to address, protect me and apologise for this hideous act that I vividly remember - it is because somebody has labelled you as hopeless and worthless.
When white people are no longer considered to be the main levers of power what happens then? This is a line of enquiry I will follow - are 'we' ready? are 'we' content with that pursuit? In my role now I am working with, training with and conferencing with some of the most experienced people in their field and I totally respect them. How do I explore with them, without being labelled a troublemaker or worse, that they are an influencer and full of talent, but occasionally by their potentially innocent actions, they are continuing to perpetrate the biases and preventing equality from being a realisation for all? I see it all the time. It is so obvious and entrenched. Every week I am in schools I see white practitioners’ behaviours and biases it is mostly subtle and not intended to offend or prevent those from equality of opportunity, but it does. I am not saying I am immune from these behaviours. At some points my own biases come into play, which conflict with my mission. I have thousands of stories I could convey to illustrate how my biases and that of others do this. I continue to collect them. I wish I didn’t, but that is living and living theories methodology helps to deepen my understanding of the world in which I live.
I’m not saying I can do it on my own and I certainly don't want to do it on my own, but if we are to reframe what it means to be black and British and to enable people to look at me and people like me and to be happy that I live in the same street, that I eat at the same table, that I travel on the same train, that I have the same car, that I live in the same apartment block as them and they don't look at me and take a deep breath, then I will never be content enough. Somebody must be that voice who tackles this. I hate being that voice for so many reasons.
While addressing some discriminatory behaviour toward me recently and working with a charity which addresses discrimination in the workplace or community, the advice I was given was to keep my voice quiet, as if it was too loud, I would never find another job. I questioned why they would say that to me given that their life’s work was to redress the imbalance and to protect me and others like me by making sure my voice was louder and was full of integrity, more than it had ever been before. Surely, I should have been told - we need you to stand up. We are behind you. There are many people behind you. There are many people beside you. There are many people who have come before you; you are next in the line. We and your black peers are united in our cause to address the social injustice that blacks and others conitnue to face.