Black History Month Spotlight: Pauline Black

13 October 2020

For Black History Month, we’re flooding our news feed with profiles of our black authors, past and present. Check back in for updates over the next few weeks. Marketing Director Niamh Murray writes about Pauline Black, whose memoir Black by Design we published in 2012.

As lead singer of The Selecter, Pauline Black was (and still is, they are still touring when life is normal) one of the coolest women in music, and one of very few women in the ska / two tone scene. So her perspective is one of life at the forefront of a musical genre that drew an audience from across black and white music fans and had plenty to say to all. Their music covered racism, sexism, politics and poverty in Thatcher’s Britain – intersectional from the off – and so there would be more than enough here to delight music fans. 
But Black by Design doesn’t confine its scope to sweaty dancehalls, bedsits and recording studios – this is a much deeper and more nuanced memoir, about growing up out of place and what that experience does to Black‘s sense of self, how it motivates her journey of self-discovery. A book for anyone who loved Lemn Sissay’s recent memoir My Name Is Why or Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. Read it as one person’s portrait of how multicultural Britain has evolved since the late 70s and when you’re done, check out The Selecter on Spotify.

Buy your copy of Black By Design from your local independent bookshop or:

Waterstones | Amazon | Hive

Follow @paulineblack 

pauline black black by design


My earliest memory is of vomiting the breakfast contents of my stomach onto a pile of starched white sheets that my mother had just finished ironing. I succeeded in Jackson Pollocking all of them. She was not amused, but then again it was her own fault: she shouldn’t have told me that I had been adopted.

It was the late summer of 1958 in Romford, a newly expanding market town in the county of Essex, famous for the stink of its Star brewery, ‘a night down the dogs’ at the local greyhound racing stadium and as the one-time residence of the infamous Colonel Blood, the only man to have stolen the Crown Jewels, even if only temporarily. This backwater suburb was only fifteen miles north-east of London’s buzzing post-war metropolis, but a light year behind in terms of progressive thinking.

My mother was astute enough to know that, since I was about to start infant school, I should be told the truth about my origins, just in case my new pale-faced schoolmates asked me why I was brown when my parents were white. I had noticed that I was different, but I hadn’t realized that it was any kind of a problem. Well, nothing much is a problem at four years old, other than not getting what you really want for birthdays and Christmases.

‘Why didn’t you tell me you felt sick,’ screamed my mother, as she landed a huge smack on my right leg, grabbed me by the arm and sent me upstairs to my bedroom as punishment. ‘As if I haven’t got enough work to do,’ she shouted as I howled my way upstairs.