White people of course never had to think about it. Light-skinned or not, still we were asked, 'When are you going back to your own country? In my efforts to be as British as I could be, I was completely indifferent to Jamaica.
But if you were not white, well then, how black were you? None of my friends knew anything about the Caribbean.
This isolated them from other black Caribbeans who came to live here – they wanted nothing to do with them.
My mum once told me how, back in Jamaica, her father would not let her play with children darker than her.
At art college I encountered middle-class people for the first time.
Proper middle class – debutantes with ponies, that sort of thing.Keeping those origins of mine a secret became paramount.Few people at my college knew I lived on a council estate.We would always have lighter-skinned children to play with. When a member of the far-right group the National Front waved one of their leaflets in my face and started laughing, I felt I owed them some sort of apology. It would be years before I realised I could be angry with them.I was expected to isolate myself from darker-skinned people too, and it seemed perfectly normal to me that the colour of your skin was one of the most important things about you. The racism I encountered was rarely violent, or extreme, but it was insidious and ever present and it had a profound effect on me. I was ashamed of my family, and embarrassed that they came from the Caribbean.But all the other people on the bus were white and they were looking at him askance. But to the other people on the bus he was more than a stranger, he was an alien. I could sense the misunderstandings that were taking place, but I didn't know why, or what I could do. But still there are silences and gaps in our knowledge and understanding. But she still nursed her dream of becoming a teacher again.Nobody would be drawn into conversation; they clearly wanted nothing to do with him. I was embarrassed by him, but also overcome with pity for his hopeless attempt to be friendly on a London bus. What are the links that made Britain a natural destination for that Caribbean man on the bus, 50 years ago? I lived the life of an ordinary London working-class girl. They had a period of being homeless and then living in half-way housing where my dad was not allowed to stay with his wife and his three children. But my mum was not allowed to use her Jamaican teaching qualification to teach in England. In England, the fabled Mother Country that they had learned so much about at school in Jamaica, my parents were poor and working class.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.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.