‘My father ruled through pain’: In this Guardian Interview, Colin Grant tells the stories behind I’m Black So You Don’t Have to Be
As a child he knew both love and violence; as an adult, both recognition and rejection. The writer talks about his marijuana-dealer father, his clashes at the BBC and the police stop-and-searches that drove him out of London
Colin Grant describes himself as a British historian and writer, but one with a Jamaican will and inclination. What he means by this becomes clear over our 90-minute conversation in his Brighton seafront flat. Discussion centres on questions of identity: why do working-class parents often fear their middle-class children, why do former colonies continue to fetishise “Britishness”, and why does he think spelling black with a capital “b” is political correctness gone mad? “I think it ratifies this idea that your so-called race precedes you … In Jamaica, we say: ‘All a-we is one.’”
When it comes to arguing the semantics, Grant is even and surgical, which is apt for a man who turned his back on a promising medical career to pursue writing. But he is also mischievous and stubborn, traits that he has surely inherited from his parents, who share top billing in his new memoir, wonderfully titled I’m Black So You Don’t Have to Be.
“I’m glad you like the title,” he says. “I’ve been nervous about it. I’m not saying I dislike being black. I’m just saying that being black comes with certain kinds of challenges.”