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I'm Black So You Don't Have to Be

"Told through honest, entertaining, poignant portraits, this engaging memoir paints a profound picture of British West Indian experiences as it explores identity, family relationships, race and generational shifts."

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Gracious, witty, honest and wise, Colin Grant’s I'm Black So You Don't Have To Be presents a rich tapestry of Caribbean experiences in Britain through honest, intimate portraits of unforgettable people from different generations, each of them on their own unique journey, and each of them having a profound effect on the author’s life. As Grant notes in his introduction, “They’re really the subjects of this memoir but, if you read carefully, you’ll find me reflected in the eight true stories that form the core of this book.” 

Grant was born in Britain to Jamaican parents and recalls a Caribbean proverb being issued as advice — “play fool fi ketch wise”, a strategy used to avoid the master’s wrath during the days of slavery that also applied to getting “along in British life unmolested”.

Similarly revealing are words uttered by Grant’s “ribald philosopher” Uncle Castus — “I’m black so you can do all of those white things. I’m black so you don’t have to be.” Meaning, Castus believed life would be different for the author’s generation; he shouldn’t have to “play fool fi ketch wise.” And yet the reality was different, as revealed when the author switches from medicine to broadcasting and finds this strategy coming into play at the BBC.

Among the portraits presented, we meet author’s mother, Ethlyn, who was supposed to move to America, but wound up as a single mother in Luton. The account of her visiting Jamaica with her son is especially poignant. Ethlyn’s disappointment in England, and her yearning to build a house and find a new sense of self back on her home island is palpable.

Then there’s Grant’s father Bageye, who sells weed to make ends meet and leaves the family home after being arrested. Estranged for thirty years, the initial hope of the father-son reconciliation results in bad blood. In Bageye and other men of his age, the author observes a generation of “shipwrecked men” –  “Where had all the dreams gone of the zoot-suited sagas boys who strode down the gangway of the Empire Windrush and the many other ships?” As Ethlyn would have said of such men, “England mad them.

Engrossing and enlightening, I'm Black So You Don't Have To Be is a profoundly memorable work.

Joanne Owen

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