Kit de Waal is the author of My Name is Leon which was published last year to great acclaim – see our review of the novel here. We are taking part in the blog tour for the paperback release of her novel, and are delighted that Kit has written a short piece for us below.
My parents met in 1957. My mother was an Irish girl from Wexford and a bus conductress on the number 8 bus that my father drove in Birmingham. He was from St. Kitts in the West Indies. Their romance was roundly condemned by both sets of parents which, naturally, made them more determined to be together and they married after three years. There was lots of prejudice against the Irish and the West Indians at the time; boarding houses refused to rent to them, lots of employers would not employ them so times were hard.
I was born in 1960 and remember coming home from school when I was six and asking my mother why I was called names. She looked horrified and told me that the other children were simply jealous of my brown skin. I took her word for it and never internalized the racism that I experienced as a child.
Both my Irish and my Caribbean grandmothers believed that as mixed race children we were neither one thing nor the other but actually we saw it differently. We felt we inhabited both worlds, the black and the white. We had in fact three identities. We were part of the whole immigrant Caribbean experience: we ate Caribbean food, understood patois, experienced racism and stereotyping, saw the black world from the inside out, the food, music, culture, art and language. As Irish children, we also saw racism and exclusion, caught the butt of the Irish jokes, loved the music and humour, the culture and fierce patriotism and especially now as an Irish citizen, my Irish heritage is very dear to me.
Then, of course, we were English children brought up with village fetes, jumble sales, grammar schools, trifle, Morecambe and Wise. We read Enid Blyton and watched Upstairs, Downstairs. Our Sundays were a repetition of a visit to Nana, an early lunch and an afternoon’s viewing of a black and white classic films.
So being mixed race has always been a privilege for me and my siblings, a triple identity-fest of whoever we wanted to be and whenever we wanted to be it. We are multi-layered with a multi-view of the world and although we may not fit neatly into the tick-boxes on most application forms, it’s not an experience I would ever change.
Kit de Waal, My Name is Leon, (Penguin, 2017). 978-0241207086, 272pp., paperback.
BUY My Name is Leon from the Book Depository.