When you are a little kid, viewing the world through inexperienced eyes, there are certain things that don’t register; differences that go unnoticed. When you are running around with your friends in the playground at infant school, you don’t see white and black, rich and poor, northern and southern, native and foreign. You just see people like you.
It can’t be any different anywhere else, surely.
I will give you a couple of quick examples of what I mean. Growing up I had a friend called Pavlos Samithrakis. We first became mates in reception class, at the age of five. I used to go round his house all the time for dinner and to play, and I knew his two little brothers who were called Yannis and Markos, both of whom had the same olive skin and dark features as their brother. Pavlos’ dad was a tall, dark man with a thick moustache, who spoke with a strong accent. He worked on the ships. His name was Angelo. I imagine you have a hastily built up picture of this family in your mind. They are obviously Greeks. There were enough clues there. The names, the accent, the physical appearance. And yet it wasn’t until I was about ten or eleven that I knew Pavlos’ family to be any different to any other in the neighbourhood. Even the name Pavlos Samithrakis never seemed foreign to me. He was just my mate Pavlos.
Through the same years of my life I had another good friend called Tunde. He lived just around the corner from me, and most days our families would walk to school together; Tunde and I running ahead passing a football between ourselves, while our mums walked behind with our younger siblings. Tunde was black. Both of his parents were white. I never noticed this; or if I did, I never questioned it. Never asked my mum, ‘How did two white people have a black baby?’ It wasn’t that I felt it rude to ask, it was simply that it never seemed out of the ordinary to me. He called his parents mum and dad, and so as far as I was concerned they were his mum and dad. When we were around 12 Tunde went away. One day he was here, the next gone. But his mum and dad still lived round the corner. And on top of that, they had a couple of new sons, also black. The only thing that seemed odd was that these new sons were of school age. I had never seen them as babies or toddlers.