Changing face of Britain

— Howard Campbell

Sunday, February 17, 2013    

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FOR many years, Caribbean immigrants in Britain packed grounds like Lords and Old Trafford to support the West Indies cricket team. They stood in terraces and cheered star footballers such as Cyril Regis.

But being black in the United Kingdom has changed considerably in the last 25 years. Gemma Feare is part of that transformation.

The 21-year-old Feare is the reigning Miss Jamaica UK. Unlike West Indians who moved to the UK in droves during the 1950s, she was raised in a much more tolerant society, something she recently spoke to the Jamaica Observer about.

"Things are definitely easier for my generation, when my father moved to England there was a lot of racism against people of colour. There's still underlying tones (of prejudice) but there are so many positives now, like institutions prepared to help persons of different ethnic backgrounds in business or entertainment," she said.

A flood of immigrants from Asia, Africa and the Caribbean in the past four decades has made the UK world's largest melting pot. The capital, London, is the hub for much of that diversity.

Feare was born in the East Midlands, an area in England known for its large West Indian community. Her father is from Westmoreland while her mother was born in London but also has roots in that west Jamaica parish.

The slender Feare has visited Jamaica regularly since infancy through trips initiated by her parents to help build awareness of her Caribbean heritage.

She credits those 'fact-finding' visits for helping her develop an appreciation of Jamaican culture, a feeling that is not particularly widespread among Britons with a Caribbean background.

"Some of my friends are interested in their Caribbean roots but not a lot, but that also goes for many people in the UK with an immigrant background," Feare explained. "But I'm absolutely Caribbean, I think it's important everybody has knowledge of their heritage."

Starting in the late 1940s, there was an influx of Caribbean nationals to the UK. Most went to shore up that country's economy which took a battering during World War II (1939-45).

Gemma Feare is in Jamaica for Reggae Month activities.

— Howard Campbell




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