Pauline Black launches her autobiography, ‘Black By Design’
Music was hardly mentioned as Selecter frontwoman Pauline Black launched her autobiography at Houseman’s radical bookshop in London on Wednesday evening (last night 3 Aug).
She told the 70 people packed into a sweltering store that Black by Design was the story of her journey from being a mixed race baby adopted by a white family in Romford, Essex, to Top of the Pops and reconciliation with her own black culture.
Her family refered to her as coloured” because they thought it was the most polite term available.
Pauline described adoption as “legalised identity theft” and said she had changed her surname from Vickers to Black so people “had to call me black”.
She read excerpts from the book about her struggle to find her true self.
Her birth mother was white British, her father was black Nigerian. She had originally been named Belinda Magnus.
Pauline said “rubbish A levels” took her to unfashionable Lanchester Polytechnic – now unfashionable Coventry University – where she felt at home for the first time.
She said: “As soon as I went to Coventry I was comfortable there. Trade unionism brought people together and it was strong in the car factories of the West Midlands.”
That atmosphere of unity allowed space for Two-tone – the Coventy-based mixed-race ska phenomena of the early ’80s which spawned The Selecter, The Specials, The Beat,and their London cousins Madness.
Elsewhere the nazi-National Front had been recently popular and what were known as “suss laws” allowed police to harass black youths who they classed as under suspicion.
Pauline talked of walking off the stage when faced with “20 rows of people zeig heiling” and said it was “a very intense period” and a “righteous fight” for the bands involved.
She was keen to point out that not all skinheads are racists and mentioned SHARP – Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice.
Pauline said: “We were engaged in a fight but it was not a chore. I didn’t like preaching to the converted.
“Anti Nazi League gigs were ok but all those people were already onside. We needed to take the message to a different crowd.”
Many audience members talked of their own experiences as black and mixed race youngsters in Britain.
There was a discussion on whether things were better or whether prejudice was just more hidden now.
Pauline was adamant that seeing Britain as a multi-cultural society was a positive thing and should be taught as such in schools.
Pauline was born in 1953 and she said she was in her mid-twenties before she discovered reggae.
Her adopted parents had listened to Peters and Lee, Max Bygraves and Shirley Bassey.
The young Pauline had sung in folk clubs – wanting to be like Joan Armatrading.
Asked about current music she said she had thought Amy Winehouse “was the most talented thing on the planet” but “dubstep leaves me a bit cold”.
When a questioner said surely ska was about fun she responded sharply: “If you think it’s just about fun and jumping up and down listen to Madness.”