It was early nineteen sixties, a time where a black man riding a bus was not a common sight in London. He was talkative, but in a bus full of white people he was an alien and no one wanted anything to do with him.
This encounter is one that became embedded in young Andrea Levy’s mind, who was at the time had not embraced Jamaica to be her country as she did with Britain.
My family is fair-skinned. 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. This isolated them from other black Caribbeans who came to live here – my parents wanted nothing to do with them.
In this retrospective essay Back to My Own Country, Andrea Levy looks deeper into the notions of racism and the revelations that motivated her to go through the fascinating exploration of her roots. Today, according to Andrea Levy, not only she is happy to be called a black writer, she also tries to tell her Caribbean heritage stories through her writing.
We know more about slavery in the American South than in British Caribbean. We are familiar with the struggles of African-Americans from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement. But American slavery was different from Caribbean slavery. In the Caribbean, slaves far outnumbered the white owners, and that mix of isolation, fear and dependency produced very different societies from those of the American South.
How correct is she! Reading this essay was a history lesson for me in essence, for I had no idea of slavery in British Caribbean, despite the fact that I’m from Sri Lanka, a country that was also under the British empire!
So I’m ending this post applauding her efforts “to put the Caribbean back where it belongs – in the narrative of British history”. 🙂 If you are curious enough, you can read ‘How I learned to stop hating my heritage‘ – an edited extract of the essay that was published on The Guardian.