Fayida Johnson is a former nurse, of Sierra-Leonean heritage. Fayida was born shortly after her mother migrated from Sierra-Leone to England, to complete her nursing training in the 1940s. After Fayida was born, her mother continued with her nursing, and Fayida was fostered to a family in Chiseldon. Private fostering was a common practice for West African people living in Britain during the mid-20th century, many of whom were in Britain to study.
Fayida’s mother, Abioseh Pratt, was registered as a Nurse on 28th May 1943, at the Prince of Wales General Hospital in London. She also worked as a nurse afterwards in Sierra Leone, before marrying and relocating to Nigeria in c.1948. After living in Nigeria for several years with her family, Fayida returned to England to attend boarding school. She began nursing in 1977 when she was in her thirties. During her interview with YHP, Fayida discussed her childhood experiences of being fostered, becoming aware of her blackness, and the changes that have taken place throughout the last several decades regarding people’s attitudes towards race and racism.
I was born here in the ‘40s. My mother had come over to do her nurse’s training. She got pregnant with me, and I arrived, and she continued nursing. I went to live with foster parents. My time in Chiseldon, it was lovely actually. My foster parents were lovely to me. They stayed in touch all their lives. It’s funny, even I as an under 6 year old, I didn’t realise I was black. I hadn’t seen any other black people. And it wasn’t until I went to Nigeria. When we arrived in Nigeria at Apapa, all I could see was black faces. And that’s when I realised. Because I used to turn my hand over, and look at the white part of my hand. And I could never understand why the rest of me was black. And when I came back to England in 1953, I went to boarding school. There was only myself and another black girl there. There was racism, but it just did not affect me. And it didn’t worry me, to the extent that some of the names I was called, it just didn’t bother me at all. It’s not like today when, if you get name-calling, it’s not acceptable. They didn’t use the n-word for instance, we were called darkies. We just accepted it.
I worked for the Home Office for a while, but I decided that I would go into nursing. So I went into nursing, I started in 1977. I was in my thirties when I started nursing, so I already knew about life and how to handle it. I didn’t have any problems with talking to patients or things like that. You learn to be very resilient, you don’t have any embarrassment whereas if you’re younger you might have a lot of embarrassment. Because obviously you work on male and female wards. And sometimes certain men can be a little bit intimidating towards the young girls but I never had that problem because I was a mature woman, I had two children and I could handle myself.
For me if there were any racial problems, I just brushed it aside. In those days, because there were no other black people around it just did not register. It’s only when you think of it later, that you realised Do you know, it’s funny, since Black Lives Matter has come to the forefront, I have been thinking more about Africa and African history. Because obviously when I was at school we were just taught white history. I don’t speak any Nigerian languages, the only language I speak is English. In a way, I am sad. But the thing about it is, it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it. What I would say is that the young are more accepting of different ‘races’ than my generation, or the generation before me. The young seem to embrace different cultures, definitely I would say that. You look at the Black Lives Matter [movement], and there were quite a few white people in that. So I think that the younger generation are more aware of what is going on, as far as different ‘races’ are concerned.