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lady phyll, Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah
Image: Time Out/Corinne Cumming

Activist Lady Phyll on experiencing racism growing up in London

UK Black Pride co-founder Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah recalls coming face to face with a National Front march in Enfield

Written by
Paula Akpan

Enfield Town was my regular haunt as a young person. On London Road, there was a place called the Townhouse where you could learn how to dance tap, ballroom and disco.

In 1983, when I was about nine or ten, I met my friend Hayley at the Townhouse and we found that a National Front march was taking place on the street that day. An old woman with a tartan shopping trolley told me to hide in a shopfront. She said: ‘The people coming down here don’t like your sort.’ Hayley, being white, blonde and blue-eyed, kept an eye out while I hid. I saw these big burly men in bomber jackets and steel-toecapped DMs, with swastikas in tow.
I will never forget that. I was utterly frightened of these men.

The next day, I asked my history teacher why we were learning about Henry VIII rather than slavery. I didn’t have the language to articulate how I felt. As I got older, I turned some of that anger into passion. I worked for a trade union and studied labour relations. Had that march not happened, I wouldn’t have challenged my teachers or entered into the work I do now.

I only went to the Townhouse once after the march. I guess I had felt free up until that moment. 

UK Black Pride will be three-day digital event this year. July 2-July 4.

Read more from this series:

Candice Carty-Williams reminisces about the Camberwell market of her childhood

Dane Baptiste on his first stand-up gig, in a London wine bar

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