Esua Goldsmith and Being An Only

Esua Goldsmith and Being An Only

Award winning author, Esua  Goldsmith grew up  “being an only “ in a  white working class neighborhood in the 1950s in south London. She was the mixed race daughter of a white single mom and a Ghanaian father who she never knew as a child. Often being “an only one”, Esua describes the feeling of being “an alien dropped  from outer space”.  

This pervasive emotion ran like a thread  throughout her life.  She did not see herself, in  books she read , or on the television or in stories told  or anywhere else.

Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith (Esua) was the first and only woman of colour elected as President of Leicester  University Students Union in the 1970s. She talks  about her first book called “The Space Between Black and White”, which was published by Jacaranda#2020.

Literally she had to build her  identity from the ground up. It was a real kind of challenge. She hopes her book will resonate with anyone who feels they don’t quite fit.  Acknowledging that we may feel like this sometimes and can experience the trauma of not belonging,  Esua hopes that her memoir offers encouragement  hope,  optimism and a sense of belonging for everyone.  She heralds self care as  important.   “We all need to take care of each other, to take care of ourselves and of the planet”. A mother of two young people, Esua has  witnessed the trauma  emanating from Covid-19 from their perspective. “At the same time there was an outpouring of selflessness, support, kindness and volunteering by everyone, including young people” Esua reminds us. 

Healing also emerges as a vital theme.

“At the moment I’m working with a feminist collective called ‘healing solidarity‘. Interesting, I think the most important thing about what we do is  healing as well as the solidarity. You can’t do one without the other.  This includes healing ourselves, healing the world, healing the planet, healing each other –   healing from past things that have been done.”

Esua was the first Black woman chair for The Fawcett Society, chair and co-founder of the gender and development network. Vice chair of Action Sid UK, Her roles have included being the trustee of the Equality and Diversity forum, as well as the ambassador for the Women’s Resource Centre. She was appointed the Queen Mother of development in her home village in Ghana in 2015. She was awarded an honorary doctorate for her work in women’s rights.


00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseLeads” with your host Tesse Akpeki and moi your cohost Paula Okonneh. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive, and supportive place and space for people to share hear and tell stories and experiences. You will hear from top experts and thought leaders, strategies, tips, techniques, that have been found useful while navigating a diverse range of challenges, difficulties, dilemmas. And you can also use this opportunity to create and shape opportunities. So our guest today is Esuansuwa Jane Goldsmith, and she grew up in a working class neighborhood in the 1950s in south London. She was the mixed race daughter of a white single mom and a Ghanaian father who she never knew as a child. Esuansuwa who is also called Esua is a highly celebrated feminist and political activist. She has dedicated her life to fighting for social justice and towards gender and racial equality. She was the first woman, and I may stress the only woman of color elected as president of Lester university students union in the 1970s. She was also the first black woman chair for the faucet society chair and co-founder of the gender and development network. Vice chair of action aid UK, and many more. Her roles have included being the trustee of the equality and diversity forum, as well as the ambassador for the women’s resource center. Wow. I could go on and on and on. But I want you to know that she was appointed the queen mother of development in her home village in Ghana in 2015. And she was also awarded an honorary doctorate for her work in women’s rights. We are going to be talking today about her book called “The space between black and white”, which was published by Jacaranda#20 and 20. And that was her first book. And I’m sure the first of many more to come. Welcome to “TesseLeads” Esua. I mean, I could go on and on about you. We can have the whole podcast where we just read in your bio.

00:02:37 Esua: Honestly.

00:02:43 Paula: This was good. I enjoyed that

00:02:46 Tesse: Esua thank you so much, Paula and I are so glad to welcome you to “TesseLeads”. And personally, I feel privileged to have you as a guest. I love you as a friend and you’ve been a coach and a mentor to me through the years. And through my own walk in leadership and governance and personal life. I’ve seen you of a humble woman who walks your talk and you just change the world. Today it’s a pleasure to hear more about this wonderful memoir you’ve written, which is “the space between black and white”. And I’m really curious now. Tell us more about what your book is about? Why decided to write your story in this format? Cause I noticed that it’s in present tense, it includes stories and anecdotes and speeches and diary entries and dreams and visions. It has humor and it also has lightness. But for me, it’s so touching because it’s revealing very raw and personal moments of your life.

00:03:50 Esua: Well, I’m very thrilled first of all, to be with you both. And Tesse we are long, long time friends, so it’s a real pleasure to be talking to you on your show. It’s an honor, and also to meet Paula as well, and to be working with the two of you. And Yeah, you’re right I was a late starter. My first book published when I was 67, so absolutely crazy in some ways. And it’s been a long time coming for sure. I had the idea to write it a long, long time ago. But I think the thing with the memoir is that it’s actually about real people that you know, and to tell your truth to people who have lived with you all your life and very important and intimate members of your family but who have no idea what you’ve gone through. Because I was born as Paula says, as a mixed race kid, the only brown kid on the block in the 1950s, when there were very few black people around in the UK. And we were in very small communities in working class communities. So like the Windrush generation had been put in roots down about six years before I was born in Brixton, which isn’t far. But I very rarely saw any black people, because I lived in that estate and I went to school on this working class estate, and I just didn’t see anybody else apart from my family and neighbors and family friends. So I really felt what I describe as being an only one. And I wanted to describe this experience of being like an alien drop from outer space, if you see what I mean. But throughout my life and what that felt like when you don’t see yourself anywhere in the world. In books that you read in anyone around you on the television, in stories or anything, there is no representation of you. So literally you have to build your identity from the ground up. So that was a real kind of challenge. And I was thinking, how do you actually tell this story? Because sometimes life is a bit mundane, but at the same time it’s punctuated by moments of kind of real drama. And the only way I could really bring people with me was to tell the story in my own words from the point of view of the age I was at the time. The first few chapters are in my child voice, where I’m actually in the present tense describing to you what I’m seeing and hearing as a child. And then in my adolescent voice and the rage that you get, and you get everything out of proportion, you know. I wrote something like, oh, I went on a family picnic and there was all these beautiful flowers in the fields and my little brother and sister were rolling down the hill and my mum and dad were laying out the picnic and I was sitting in the car and I felt like death. You just think that is very teenage, isn’t it? You know, and you’re just. Cause I didn’t know who I was and I just didn’t feel part of this family, you know? And I think when you write that down, I think your family feel oh my God, we should have known about this. Or else they deny it and say, oh you didn’t feel like that, you’re making it all up you know? And you get gaslighted. So it was a way of saying, this is my truth, this is my story. And I know that people are going to tell me, I didn’t feel like that. But basically you have to still tell that story because there’s plenty of people that know exactly what you’re talking about and we don’t get heard. So I hope my book will resonate with anybody who feels in “the space between black and white”. Not necessarily racially, but in any way sort of even metaphorically. Where they don’t quite fit, they don’t know who they are. All of that. We all feel like that sometimes, but I think to feel like that the whole of your life, it’s a real kind of trauma and we need to see racism as trauma. And we need to isolation and exclusion as trauma. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to be too heavy. I didn’t want people to feel that it was a, what they call a misery moi, rather than memoir. I wanted it to be full of light and shade. Sometimes it was funny and sometimes it was tragic and sometimes I went through nervous breakdowns where I literally hit rock bottom and I couldn’t get out of bed. And I wanted to describe how that felt from the point of view of here I am sitting in bed and I can’t get out of bed. And I was helped because I had all these memoirs. I realized, even though it wasn’t published until the age I am now, I was always writing. So I had all that original testimony, plus I was a student activist and leader from a very young age, as Paula has said, by the age of 22. I was actually addressing audiences of a thousand students sometimes. And so I had all these speeches and they’re all in the records of the student’s union at my university. So I went there and lots of back,you can see my 19 year old self, my 20 year old self writing articles, giving speeches, which were printed in the local paper and in the student union paper. Talking about anti-racism, anti-apartheid, feminism, anti sexism, all the things I talk about now. And I just thought this is recognizably me, it is me, definitely. I mean, I’ve expanded my views but I had them you know, age 15, 16 I definitely knew who I was in terms of my radical politics and my feminism.

00:09:55 Paula: Wow. I sit here and listen to you and I say, wow. I need to stop saying wow, well that’s the only word I can think of right now.

00:10:03 Tesse: Wow I’m joining you. Wow. So double wow. Double wow, triple wow.

00:10:09 Esua: Wow.

00:10:12 Paula: Two things. Well, I am going to ask you therefore because you said you’ve gone back and you’ve seen all the speeches that you wrote way back then. And now you read it you’re like, this is me. Can you read an excerpt from your book that picks up some of these speeches that you wrote way back then but arerelevant now?

00:10:32 Esua: Okay, let me just see if I can find the reference. Let me see 196.

00:10:40 Paula: Is that the one about the student union that you wrote? About the student union

00:10:43 Esua: Yes. If you want me to read that one. Yes.

00:10:45 Paula: Sure

00:10:45 Esua: So, this is just a meeting that happened because the rugby club at the time that I was a student. I was in the women’s lib group when I first started at the university and the rugby club for ragweed which is a sort of charity week in which students raise money. It was notorious that the rugby club would put on some really kind of sexist strip show or something like that for the entertainment of students to raise money for charity. And they thought I could do anything cause it was for charity. So we went down and complained about this and did a protest outside and it was female nude, mud wrestling. So we all got all the feminists got covered in mud and got chucked out of this protest. So I thought, right okay, I’m going to change the law, I’m going to change the world. And I was 19 at the time, and I thought I’m going to go into the student’s union the next day and organize a meeting, an emergency meeting and call all the students together and put a stop to it. So I went into the students union, I said, I’m going to call an emergency meeting and the motion is “this house is against sexism”. But nobody knew what the word sexism meant. It was a new word that had just come over from America, nobody knew what it meant. So then I went into the student’s union the next day for this meeting, right? And there was like nearly a thousand students in the room. They all saw the first three letters “sex” and thought ‘ it’s going to be a really good meeting’. Right. So anyways I was absolutely terrified I can tell you, as I saw that. And no women used to speak at student union meetings because any that did they’d start shouting off, off, off as soon as she got up. Get them off and just heckle her and howl abuse to stop women’s speaking. So I was there you know, little brown me and I was the only black student in the whole room, nearly a thousand student. So anyway, I’m getting into my stride okay, in the middle of this speech. You think it’s just a bit of fun to shout off off off when a woman comes up here to speak, but we have the right to free speech as well. The very presence of strippers in our union undermines us, it robs us of the confidence to speak out and know will be heard. Call yourselves revolutionary, socialists, rebels. Sexism is the deadly weapon used by our oppressors to divide us. Is our students union on the side of the oppressors? Or do we support women’s liberation? Another huge roar goes up from the audience, they know whose side they ought to be on at least, but I haven’t finished yet. This motion, we’ll make sure this kind of thing never happens again. That when we women walk in here, we will be listened to, taken seriously, treated with respect. We deserve that every bit as much as you men do. We are fighting for our freedom. Are you with us? I urge you to vote for this motion and banish sexism from our union forever. A sudden surge of energy and dilation courses through me as I raise my clenched fist above my head, there’s a fraction of a second pause. And then yes, everybody’s up on their feet, clapping, shouting, stumping their approval. I realize I’ve gone well over my three minutes, but the speaker has lost count, he just shrugs his shoulders. He can see there’s no stopping me. It is on my side. Speeches against abstentions? He asks when the cacophony has subsided. No? Thought not after that performance, nobody would dare. Okay then let’s go straight to a vote. All those in favor raise your hands. All the hands are shooting up. I can see the crowd spilling in through the door and out into the foyer also have their hands up carried Nam Khan bang goes the gavel. I turned round to Fran, the secretary in her usual place on the platform next to the speaker, taking the minutes, she grins at me and writes “standing ovation loud and sustained applause” in the red minute book. We won.

00:15:13 Tesse: Wow.

00:15:15 Paula: Fantastic. And that was 19 year old you.

00:15:20 Esua: Yeah

00:15:20 Paula: I can only imagine that it got better. Oh my word, you were radical, but I like

00:15:30 Paula: yeah, no change

00:15:32 Esua: It’s funny, because at the time I thought people thought I was completely mad. I mean, the feminists they’re just in a few of us and people thought that we were absolutely crazy. And when I left there, I’d organize all these sittings and everything, and I thought, oh, everybody would be so glad to see the back of me. So I was absolutely amazed when 2015, 40 years later, they invited me back and gave me an honorary degree

00:16:03 Esua: women’s rights. So it just shows you, people do forgive you in the end.

00:16:10 Paula: Yeah, that’s fantastic. O, my word. And you said you’re 67. So I’m just trying to do the math. Whoa, that would have been.

00:16:18 Esua: 68 Actually. So I was born in 1953.

00:16:21 Paula: You’re 68, I cannot believe that.

00:16:26 Tesse: I want to take whatever you’re taking, drink, whatever you’re drinking, do whatever you’re doing, because I cannot believe you’re a day over 40.

00:16:34 Paula: Yeah, that has shocked to me.

00:16:37 Esua: Well, I’m powered by my own sense of light you know, getting the revolution done, you know. We just kind of, we got to do it sisters you know. I admire younger women like yourselves who aim for the struggle. And I feel that sense of sisterhood. And I also feel 19 in a way. That the ideas I had then I still have them you know. I’ve learned to give more examples and enrich my knowledge, but the basic tenants on which I based them, my ideology and my basic beliefs and principles, I think haven’t changed since that time.

00:17:19 Tesse: I’m going to give a kind of shout out to you and the energy that you are bringing. We’ve had, on the show. We’ve had Nancy White, we’ve had Bonnie Marcus, we’ve had Carol Wiseman. These are women who are like you empowering other women and you’re women who are so generous with your spirit and you’re giving. So thank you for bringing it to us in this loving way. Generous leadership is beautiful.

00:17:44 Esua: Thank you for asking me to be here because I think if we can get the word across to people, especially in this time, because I think it’s very easy to lose heart and to lose optimism. My heart goes out to young sisters today who are 19, who have been locked up for a year and a half. And haven’t been able to speak to, even if they wanted to, to a thousand students in a room. Because it’s not been possible. So just to think by the magic of audio and zoom and all of these things, we can reach out to each other and that your time will come. You have a huge contribution to make any young women out there listening. And we support you all the way. People’s starting to talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, like the women that you’ve mentioned. But actually the women who are standing on our shoulders can see higher and further than we can. And that means that we have to rely on the younger generation to take the torch and take our legacy forward. And that’s what gives us all hope. And I hope it gives our young women hope to know that we are with them all the way.

00:18:53 Tesse: Amen to that. Amen,

00:18:55 Paula: Amen, because I was going to ask you,

00:18:57 Tesse: the key messages, yeah she just kind of like said it all. I mean the thing about standing on the shoulders of giants is I’ve always loved, but what you’ve added to that is they’re able to see further and that’s something about visionary, that’s something about perspective, et cetera. You know I’m going to ask a question because at the moment, one of my biggest passions is wellbeing and resilience. You know, as I was saying earlier, I actually set up the wellbeing and resilience leadership initiative, which is a virtual network. And it’s actually brought such joy to my life and to the life of people connected, because we can connect with each other and support each other and listen to each other and just care for each other. So, you know, when you reflect back at your life, Esua, different bits of you, the 19 year old, the four year old, the different bits. And I would say to anybody, if you haven’t got the book, get it. I got it, and I haven’t regretted it. In fact, if anything some people are going to have it. Paula listen to this stocking, come to mind at Christmas and you know, kind of reflecting back at your life, the highs and the lows. What are your learning about wellbeing and resilience? What are those things that you can say to other people listening to you and reading your story? What emerges for you looking back and looking forward?

00:20:19 Esua: Well, I think what emerges for me is that we were definitely expected to do the resilience bit. Like whatever was thrown at us, we had to get on with it. And you know, just power through it and keep going. And I think we gave ourselves a lot of sisterhood and support through that. And during the seventies, consciousness raising was a very important part of the women’s movement. And so we used to gather in small groups and do this sharing of what happened to us in our childhood and how we’d been traumatized by oppression and patriarchy and those small incidents that really shaped our lives. Being told what we can’t do and what we mustn’t do and what was expected of us as little girls. So I feel that there was the sort of birth of that kind of self care, we didn’t call it that. But I feel that consciousness raising was about that, it was about therapy in a way group therapy of survival as women survival and thriving and strength as women. So I think there’s a really long historical tradition of that in feminism, which I think we definitely had it in the seventies, but we lost it in maybe the eighties and nineties in the sort of power era of Thatcherite get the shoulder pads on and go out there and be as good as men you know, and act like we were sort of super women and we could do all the house thing. And act at work like we didn’t have any family and act at home like we didn’t have any work sort of thing. And so you’ve got this incredible kind of stress and burden on women to be everything and to do everything and to excel. And at the same time, you didn’t have that same kind of self care. So there was this culture of burnout and I’m afraid it infected the not-for-profits possibly as much, if not more as the corporate sector that we were in for the thigh and the struggle and that if necessary to the detriment of our own health and our own families and our sanity and burnout and all that stuff. So that I’m very, very pleased to see all these years later that people are beginning to realize if we don’t take care of each other, ourselves, our own selves and the planet we are doomed, you know. And as I say, the whole thing around COVID that I think was incredibly traumatic for the younger generation and feeling locked in and very often for the benefit of the older generation. At the same time, we did have this outpouring of selflessness and of support and of kindness and of so many young people volunteering. There were almost not enough spaces for them to do that volunteering in, if you see what I mean. So I do think that self care is really important and at the moment I’m working with a feminist collective called “healing solidarity”. And the interesting, I think the most important thing about what we do is the healing as well as the solidarity. And you can’t do one without the other, really. So they go together for us in terms of healing ourselves, healing the world, healing the planet, healing each othe., and that word healing is even more powerful than self-care. Because it’s not just about taking care of ourselves, it’s actually about healing from all the past things that have been done. Robbing us of our history of our identity, of our power, of our will, of our stories. So it just seems to me that the healing thing is self care is part of it, but it’s a whole lot bigger than that, actually. So I would say again, I’m an optimist and I’m very inspired by that whole movement. We’ve got the multiracial movement and it’s involving all generations, young women and older women. Very much based on feminism intersectional feminism, saying there is a whole plethora of identities, plural in being a woman. And one of the most important ones is race. Women races, Y and women races of color, and the different experiences we have. But the healing and the solidarity that has to come with that, dealing with whiteness, dealing with oppression. And we are working hard on that. And I think it’s definitely a new era in that way, in the way we’re talking about race, the way we’re talking about the way forward. I see in my lifetime, although I’ve always had the same ideology and the same values. I’ve seen them evolve in very different and powerful ways. All of which were of their time. The black power movement, and then the internationalist movement of the nineties, and now the healing and the solidarity of the two thousands. Of all being part of the movement, it’s not that we were wrong, it’s that we grew and this is what is so wonderful and keeps me going. I have so much to learn, we have so much to learn from younger women who are growing up in an age of internet and an age of global connection. But also an age in which a lot of the assumptions we made about the structures and the systems are falling apart. And that is both scary, but it’s an opportunity too.

00:26:18 Tesse: That’s so beautiful. I love the bit about younger women. I love Paula’s daughter Amaka. I learned so much from her. Because she’s a woman with a heart and a head and a spirit and I’m like, oh awesome. What comes to mind is that South African, Swahili saying, which is “Mbuntu”. “I am what I am because of who we all are” that comes to mind. There was another one that I came across a few weeks ago is sour burner, which is I see you, I see the value in you, I see who you are. And what you are seeing just encapsulates that thing of oneness, but also visibility unconditionally in who we are. Paula, your last thoughts.

00:27:03 Paula: My last thoughts are, everything you’ve said resonates with me about healing and solidarity. We talk a lot about self-care, but as you rightfully said, self care can only come about through healing or they go hand in hand in some way we can’t have one without the other. And that’s vital for us to hear. And then for our young people give them a shout out recognize that what they’re bringing to the table is important. Their voices matter, because they have a different outlook on a lot of things and we have to keep remembering that we are the generation that we are moving out and they’re the ones coming in. But we can learn from them. I learn every single day. I sit in here listening to you and taking notes because I’m like, I’m learning him from Esua today. And the next podcast we do, I’ll learn something new from somebody else. But this is amazing. As you also said COVID has helped us become the solidarity to grow because now we are not bound by physical locations. We can connect all over the world. And if we have a common message, that’s not going to be lost because of a time difference. So anything we can still come together and have our voices matter. And one thing we haven’t asked you though, Is what are your social media handles? We need to get that out there when we post what you’re doing.

00:28:25 Esua: I think I sent Tesse a list of them. So yeah, they’re on my email and the same with my website address.

00:28:33 Tesse: Yeah, you had to send a whole pack and thing so we can just get them all out there.

00:28:38 Esua: Yeah. And I’ve got images on there as well.

00:28:41 Paula: Thank you so much Esua.

00:28:44 Esua: It’s a real pleasure talking to you on your show. It’s an honor.

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