Andrea Levy: How I learned to stop hating my heritage (excerpt from an essay, 2014)
My dad was a passenger on the Empire Windrush
ship when it famously sailed into Tilbury in June
1948 and, according to many, changed the face of Britain for ever. My mum came to England on a
Jamaica Producers’ banana boat. It sailed into the West India docks on Guy Fawkes night in the same
year, under a shower of fireworks that my mum believed was to welcome her.
My dad was an accounting clerk in Jamaica for, among other companies, Tate & Lyle. My mum was a
teacher. They were middle class. They had grown up in large houses. They had even had servants.
My dad did not have trouble finding work. He was employed by the Post Office. But my mum was not
allowed to use her Jamaican teaching qualification to teach. In England, the fabled mother country that
they had learned so much about at school in Jamaica, my parents were now poor and working class.
My family is fair-skinned. In Jamaica this had a big effect on my parents’ upbringing because the class
system there, inherited from British colonial times, took the colour of your skin very seriously. My
parents grew up to believe themselves to be of a higher class than any darker-skinned person. […]
My mum once told me how back in Jamaica her father would not let her play with children who were
darker than her. She said wistfully: “But I had to, or I would have no one to play with.” So when she
England she was pleased to be bringing her children up among white children. […] 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. […]
Light-skinned or not, still we were asked: “When are you going back to your own country?” “Why are
you here?” “Why is your food so funny?” “Why does your hair stick up?” “Why do you smell?” The
was that our family had no right to be here. When a member of the National Front
one of their leaflets in my face and started laughing, I felt I owed some sort of apology. I wanted them
to like me. It would be years before I realised I could be angry about it.
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 hated myself. I was ashamed of my family, and embarrassed that they
In my effort to be as British as I could I was completely indifferent to Jamaica. […]
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 went for Christmas. It was an amazing experience. I discovered a family I
never really knew I had. I realised that I meant something to people who lived on the other side of the
world. I met my
aunt and cousins and saw where my mum grew up. It seems odd to say, but I realised
for the first time that I had a background and an ancestry that were fascinating and worth exploring.
Not only that, but I now had the means to do it – through writing. The more that I began to delve into
my Caribbean heritage, the more interesting Britain’s Caribbean story became for me.
But the British Caribbean is a forgotten history. There are still countless young Britons today of
Caribbean descent who have as little understanding of their ancestry and as little evidence of
their worth as I did when I was growing up. And there are countless white Britons who are unaware of
the histories that bind us all together.
Britain made the Caribbean that my parents came from. It provided the people – black and white –
who make up my ancestry. In return my ancestors, through their forced labour and their enterprise,
greatly to the development of this country.
My heritage is Britain’s story too.
Andrea Levy: How I learned to stop hating my heritage, in: The Guardian, 03.
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/03/how-i-learned-stop-hating-heritage (abgerufen am 30.03.2016).
 Empire Windrush: Passenger liner which is best remembered today for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war
West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom in 1948
 National Front: a far-right political party in the UK
 insidious: heimtückisch
 A few months before Andrea Levy visited Jamaica for the first time she had enrolled in a writing class.
 to delve into: in eine Materie eintauchen, nachforschen