Root Menu

Adrian White

In conversation with Malini Roy

I was born in Jamaica – I have African roots but I don’t know where my forefathers were exactly from, and I don’t really care.  I don’t think my background has helped me in any way in England. I’m always marked out by my black, foreign accent. There was this local gym I joined once…I wanted to pay in cash, instead of direct debit, so I talked it over with one of the managers. He agreed to let me pay for two months, an amount of £54. But I wasn’t given a receipt, or anything in writing – well, three weeks later I found out that the guy had been sacked and I had been ripped off. The people at the gym misbehaved with me…to this day I feel that if I had been a different colour and nationality I wouldn’t have been treated like that. Well, maybe not even a different nationality – on my bus rides I hear conversations all the time between whites about how “these foreigners are taking over our country”.

Not everyone’s strong enough to take it…I worked as a concierge at a hotel before this. I earned more in that job because of the tips, notwithstanding the fact that I had to stand at the door wearing a coat and a ridiculous top hat. One day, a foreign gentleman from the continent took a picture of me. He sent me a copy of the photograph, with a letter: he said, “Adrian White, you’re a liar because you say you’re white. Open a pub called ‘Black and White’ – you’ll make heaps more money there.” Black or white, indeed. Think of Sudan – the lighter-skinned people fighting the darker-skinned people – it vexes me.

Many famous people stay in the hotel I used to work at, including Michael Jackson, Bill Clinton and Claudia Schiffer. From the day I got that letter from the photographer I refused to wear the top hat, although I continued to wear the coat – I felt like people were laughing at me all the time. But there was this other girl from Zimbabwe in housekeeping who crumbled under the nasty jokes that an east European colleague used to make about her. I made a complaint to the human resources manager on her behalf – meanwhile, the European woman had heard about the charges, and she began behaving well with the Zimbabwean girl. She even invited the Zimbabwean girl home for pizza, and showed her pictures of starving African people. She said she loved these people, and that she was sponsoring one of them to have a more decent lifestyle. The Zimbabwean girl felt bad, but she couldn’t tell why. She withdrew the charges and I was made to look like a fool…there was only one person who backed me up. That was the head concierge, and he happened to be white.

I wouldn’t like to bring up my children in England. I think the racism would be too hard for them to take when they’re young, but I’d like them to go to university here. It’s easy to say that one should struggle, and I think I’m a survivor myself, but struggle can also make you weaker. I used to do well before – I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I was good at track and field events when I was in high school. Ever since I got laid off from the hotel, I’ve picked up a habit of gambling. I used to play football before, and I now I bet on it. It started with this random bookmaker’s place I saw one day after I lost my job. I went in, bought a £2 ticket, and I won £400 – that first week I made a thousand pounds. Boy, it was fast money, but then I said to myself, “God, I know you’re looking at me, and you want me to look at other ways to earn money.” Nowadays I gamble because I’m bored – on my days off, I read a book, or watch TV. Then I ask myself, “What if I tried my luck?” I don’t spend money, I waste it – I’m not addicted to the habit, I want to kick it, but I get a kick out of it, just to see how life goes. The more you get, the more you want, the more you lose…six years ago I came to England for a five-month holiday to visit my aunt and my cousins, and here I am. I took this job as a security guard at Oxford University for six months, and it’s going on for two years now…two  years from now I see myself better off, but life is not fair. My idea of a better life is a life with more freedom – I work for security and I dream of freedom. I don’t want to be a leader and I don’t want to be a follower: I want to find myself working because I want to, not because I have to. I signed up for a catering course at Sheffield University – some day I hope to set up a family business, where I’m free but not alone.

I miss my mum and my brother a lot – they live in Florida now. I haven’t been there. My mum came over to visit a couple of years ago, and I haven’t seen my brother in eight years. I think family love exists when you feel that love even when the person isn’t there with you. When my grandma got sick and died, I felt that I should have spent more time with her, but I can feel her love even though she’s gone. If you were to ask me what love is, I would say “I don’t know.” I’ve been through relationships myself, but if it wasn’t for my mum and grandma I’d lose my respect for most women. I don’t care for girls in funny skirts who want you for the night – you have to work for a relationship with a girl you meet, not want to sleep with her in hours or minutes. The girls I hang out with are very upfront and glossy: all they talk about is guys and cars. They are also bitchy: a few days ago I became friends with a girl, I wasn’t looking for a relationship or anything, but another friend of mine had problems. She called up this girl and said, “I don’t want to hear whether you’re talking to Adrian, or whether you’re going to meet up, or whether you’re going to have sex.”

I never saw this in Jamaica, where I lived till I was 18. The other day I watched a TV show with girls in a dance-hall, and they were Jamaican. I call that proper misrepresentation. It gets on my nerves when they depict the Caribbean as a haven of drugs – I’m from Jamaica myself and I’ve never smoked pot in my life.

There were rules there. If girls in high school liked us, they’d approach through friends, and get to know us before sleeping together. I wrote my first love letter to an Indian girl…if we cared for anybody we’d let them know by whizzing paper planes in class. Even the girls did that – I want to respect the person that I marry. I think respect is more important than love.

My parents never married. My mum was a social worker, and she had me and my brother four years apart. We have the same dad, and he’s the mayor of a parish, but we never saw much of him. My mum brought us up on her own, and we had a middle-class upbringing, going to a proper school. All this was quite normal for kids like us, and I don’t remember being unhappy about it. I know a guy here who’s a bit weird. He does funny stuff all the time – he fibs, claiming that he used to be a chef and that he has £200,000 in his bank account. He lives in his imagination – people say it’s because he had a bad family, his parents weren’t married, his dad died when he was young, and his mum didn’t love him very much.

I never have crushes on famous people. I never wish I was 50 Cent or even Kofi Annan. I’d like some money, but not power or fame. I never want to be Somebody, because I think everybody’s unique. I don’t go to the gym to have the body of a movie star. I go there to keep fit and to get rid of stress.

Why do we have to have this thing called “class”? I think everybody is the same – some people are more fortunate, that’s all. Working here as a security guard I meet people of all sorts, some people go by with a smile and a wave, some people stay and chat. There’s this guy who walks by without even looking – so sometimes, just to bug him, I yell “Hello, Good Morning!” to him. Then he looks up and shrugs, “Oh yeah, hi.”

I’m now learning more about the world and its people. If there’s anything I’d like to learn more about right now it would be how security systems work. My boss used to be just like me before. He was working for other people. He saved up his money, and then set up his own business. I think I’ll do the same. With all the terrorism going on in the world, security systems need to be improved everywhere.

My priorities have changed over the years. When you travel, your imagination gets wider, and you want more out of life. Right now I’m going through a phase where life has just gone wrong – I regret the day I came here. If there’s anything I could wipe out it would be that. I have to get back on track now.

April 2005