As I get older, I look like my mother.
Because my mother is a black woman, it was easy for me to conceive of my blackness.
It doesn’t matter that I am paler than her; I came out of her body. On the streets of Britain in the 70s I know people thought she was the nanny; that she stole me; we’ve had 50 years of people double-taking on us: ‘really?’ I know there are many people who don’t know ‘what’ I am when they look at me. Black is a state of mind. Black is a shared consciousness. The single greatest gift I ever got was my mother taking me to Jamaica when I was six. She wanted me among black people – I was already hearing the words mongrel and zebra (at me) and nigger and wog and paki at others.
When I got to Jamaica the entire society picked up a boat-load of shade privilege and handed it to me like the fair skin and the tall hair was the prize. If I had only deigned to have been the right weight, they would have tried to cart me to beauty contests. These self-hatreds come from the slave mentality beaten and raped into us, from the millions of pounds spent on colonising our minds. I see my privilege. I saw it at 8. I handed it back over and over again. I try to do my best with it. I know my darker sisters have a different life.
So I am Black. All day. All night. Not anything else. For all black is. For all that beauty and wisdom and bleeding, poetic, still-living-regardless imperfection.
Black like my beautiful activist mother who confounds me and makes me my self.
The greatest gift of my 50s is looking like my mother.
They Can’t Kill Us All.
Image credit: Blue Curry. Untitled. Hair Comb Series, 2013-19.
Leone Ross is a Jamaican/British fiction writer and academic. Her next novel, This One Day Sky, is out with Faber & Faber in April 2021.