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After that I worked for a brief while as a shop assistant, a dresser at the BBC and the Royal Opera House, and a receptionist at a family-planning clinic. I was working part-time for a sex-education project for young people in Islington. Fortunately I had recently enrolled on an afternoon-a-week writing course at the City Lit in London, just as a hobby. The course had an emphasis on writing about what you know. In fact I came to see that every black person's life, no matter what it is, is part of the black experience. I discovered a family I had never really known I had.One day the staff had to take part in a racism awareness course. By this time I was scared to call myself a black person. Didn't you have to have grown up in a 'black community'? Didn't your parents need to be proud of being black? My upbringing was so far removed from all of that, I felt sure I would be found out as an imposter. So, nervously I began to explore what I knew – my family upbringing and background, and my complicated relationship with colour. Because being black in a majority white country comes with a myriad of complications and contradictions. A few months into the course I had the urge to visit Jamaica for the very first time and stay with the family I had never met. I realised that I meant something to people who lived on the other side of the world.
It drew attention to her as well, and she hated that. In Jamaica this had had a big effect on my parents' upbringing, because of the class system, inherited from British colonial times, people took the colour of your skin very seriously.
My parents had grown up to believe themselves to be of a higher class than any darker-skinned person.
It was too foreign and therefore not worth knowing.
As I got older my feeling of outsiderness became more marked, as did the feeling that nothing in my background – my class or my ethnicity – was really worth having.
She said wistfully, ‘But I had to, or I would have had no one to play with'.
So when she came to England she was pleased to be bringing her children up amongst white children. ' The clear message was that our family was foreign and had no right to be here.
I remember a journey I took on a London bus when I was a young girl. The bus was full of people and one of them was a black man. I could tell from his accent that, like my parents, he was from somewhere in the Caribbean. Why was he, and why were all black people from Britain's old empire, so completely alien to them? The same thing would not happen today in quite that way.
He was talkative, smiling politely at people and trying to engage them in chat. Everyone is used to a mix of cultures and London buses are full of Londoners from all over the world.
Once, when given a lift home, I got my friends to drop me at the gate of a proper house. Then as soon as they were out of view I walked back to my flat.
I got a degree in textile design and worked as a designer for about ten minutes before I realised it was not for me.