Young adults from Cornwall on growing up with racism in one of the UK's whitest counties

Cornwall is one of the least racially diverse places to live in the country.

According to the most recent data, 98.2% of the population is white.

For people like Cheveay, Karum, Chloë and Yzella - who all grew up in the county - this came with challenges and still does today.

The young adults spoke to ITV News West Country about what it was like to grow up in one of the whitest places in the UK.


Cheveay, 20, from Camborne

Cheveay has now moved to London to pursue a career as a makeup artist Credit: Family pictures

If it wasn’t for this Black Lives Matter movement I wouldn’t have had the confidence to speak out.

Chevay

I remember once I was with my family in Cornwall. We went to catch a train to Truro from Camborne, and these people were stood on the platform, and they stopped their conversations just to stare at us. It’s like they had never seen any people of colour before.

It’s just things like that. The little comments people would make about my family being monkeys, it was just disgusting. It’s so unprovoked. Things that people don’t see, but just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

I remember my Mum not really being sure how to handle it, because I expect she probably knew that this would come. I think she struggled with trying to explain to me that I would have to face this in my life. Especially being in Cornwall where it is predominantly white. I’ve definitely had issues with self-image and self-confidence.

Karum works as a musician and gig promoter in the South West. Credit: Karum Cooper

It’s that constant reminder that you’re not welcome in some place you have called home for a significant amount of time.

Karum

The ethnicity in Cornwall is 99% white Caucasian and we are quite often alienated and made to feel like outsiders even though we have grown up here and lived the same lives as our white peers.

It was pretty shortly after joining school in Cornwall that it really hit me that the use of the ‘N’ word was quite frequent - which for 10 and 11-year-olds shouldn’t be the case. It’s that realisation at a young age that makes you almost brace yourself and put up a wall because you have no idea. If that’s what people are doing at that age, what’s going to happen when I leave school?

For me a big one is people constantly touching my hair. I have had an afro since I was about seven or eight and I haven’t cut it to a short length. People don’t even ask most of the time, especially on nights out and in situations where people have had a drink. Everyone feels like you are there for their entertainment and it’s my responsibility to take it on the chin.


Chloë, 26, from Falmouth

Chloë lives in Falmouth, which she says is one of the most diverse parts of Cornwall. Credit: Family pictures

I was born in Treliske Hospital just like a large population of Cornwall. I’m Cornish before anything else.

Chloë

I was working in one place in particular, a cafe, and it had lots of older members of the public and lots of regular customers. Most of them I loved and would have great banter with, but lots of them also used to ask me where I was from. Once I forgot something for a woman because it was a really busy day and she asked my colleague about it and said, “Oh you can’t rely on those dark girls for anything”.

It’s very unique to have this movement in the South West and I feel very blessed to be connecting with my brothers and sisters in this battle.

For me it’s the time to be defined by my race. Every other time when I’m out on a night out and you want to ask me where I’m from or fetishise me, or when I’m in my place of work or surfing and you’ve never seen somebody like me in the sea before. That’s the time when my race doesn’t matter, but now is the time when my race does matter and I’m really proud of that.


Yzella, 18, from Newquay

Yzella is getting ready to start university in September. Credit: Family pictures

When I was six I wore my hair in a big afro for a school picture and a boy told me that my hair looked like a spider’s web. This was the last time I ever wore my hair down for nine years.

Yzella

When you walk around, you know people are staring at you because of the colour of your skin. You just know. You can be so sophisticated, wearing the coolest outfit to distract from the colour of your skin, but you know it’s what people are looking at.

People don’t even ask, they just come up behind me and touch my hair, and they wouldn’t do that to anyone else. I remember when my grandparents took me to London for the first time when I was little and they asked me what my favourite part of the trip was and I said to them that I wasn’t the only brown person. My favourite part about going to London was that I didn’t stand out.

I’m always happy to answer questions. Don’t be afraid to ask. It’s okay to change your own opinion too. It doesn’t make you racist or mean that your opinion was racist before.


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