“Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got. I’m still, I’m still Berry from the block.”
― J.Lo (remixed)
I remember as a kid (perhaps as young as 5 or 6) whenever people asked me where I lived, I would say ‘Herne Hill’ even though I was far closer to Loughborough Junction and Coldharbour Lane. It’s funny recalling that memory that I was so aware of the stigma of being a black girl from Brixton at such an early age. Bit of a shame really.
Thing is, I’ve always been very sure of myself and my identity. When everything else around me changes or feels slightly uncertain I can always draw strength from within because I know who I am. Unequivocally. There have been times when I have felt lost in this journey we call life (I will revisit this in a later post) and times when I have been confused. So much so that it’s made me uncomfortable. Usually this discomfort comes from being in a situation that is at (or is pushing me to be) at odds with who I am. I believe this unwavering sense of self is largely due to my Jamaican heritage, culture and upbringing, and also largely due to my environment. Navigating these Brixton streets ain’t easy; you naturally develop a hardness that is outwardly displayed as armour so that it evident from at least 10 paces that you are not one to fuck with (I get told on a daily basis to ‘smile’ by passers by and have even been shocked when I catch a glimpse of just how hardcore my resting bitch face is :P). As a child and teenager, I was bright, inquisitive, sensitive and well read. I really was a bit of an oddity in terms of the local kids and never really fit in. I wasn’t into what my peers were into… fighting, smoking weed, selling weed, getting pregnant at 14 etc. I didn’t judge them for their choices, I just wanted differently for myself. There was a time when I thought I would inevitably be resigned to an equal fate. You are a product of your environment after all?
I always desired to make it out of the ‘hood’ as I believed it was the only way to succeed. And make it out, I did. But there is something about Brixton that is all encompassing, something that no matter how far you move or how long you’ve been away, will call to you… remain with you. We Brixtonites have a certain way about us that you cannot define nor can you replicate. You either have it or you don’t. From our slick mouths, to our dope boy/ fly girl swag. We make the ghetto look fashionable – which is probably why Brixton is one of the most infamous urban locations in Europe. People from all corners flock here. They write songs about our town. There is so much history and culture here and so many wonderful memories for me. In many ways I am proud that Brixton is firmly on the map of hipster destinations to live and visit, holding its own amongst the shoreditch massive in terms of art, culture, things to do and general buzz. I am happy that money is being pumped into my home town allowing it to grow and flourish. But with this new found popularity I can’t help feel a little sad… so much is changing, and will continue to change. For me, Brixton wouldn’t be the same without the patty shops in the arcade (now replaced by coffee shops and pizzerias), the mad natty dread with his boombox precariously strapped to his wheelchair who would talk to himself as he wheeled himself down from Brixton hill to camberwell. Or the drunkard who would accost cars at the traffic lights on christchurch road begging for change with his tennents in hand. Or the fly girls dripped in Gucci and Vuitton with the freshest styles, lips dripping with gloss. Or the aunties pulling their shopping trollies throughout the market with no care for nearby ankles. We live like this day to day, developing a fondness for the social dissonance that both weakens and strengthens us at the same time, much like any dysfunctional family. It’s these juxtapositions – the poor, crippled, and crazy living alongside the educated, wealthy and privileged that make Brixton so unique. You quite literally witness the real life rags to riches on the block daily. You are probably a product of this yourself having completed your university education, holding down a city job, driving a model of car your parents would have viewed as only for the middle class. Don’t get me wrong – venture down the wrong street in Brixton and you will soon know why it has the dangerous rep of old. But that’s part of Brixton’s charm… the thrill of danger.
A lot of people move to Brixton, and claim it as their own. To them I say “rep where you’re from not where you live,” just as I do now that I live north of the river. I guess you can take the girl out of Brixton, but, try as you might, you can’t take Brixton out of the girl.