Born to an Anglo-Jewish mother and Nigerian father, she was adopted by a white middle-aged couple and thus began a journey that is in some way answered in the writing of her first book, Black by Design , which follows Black’s rise to fame and recollections of the 2-tone phenomenon allied to the search for her real parents.
She always felt she needed to define her identity, which wasn’t something she had properly considered until one music fan accosted her on a train and clumsily said: “You’re Pauline Black!” It made her stop and think. She’d already changed her name twice, once from Belinda Magnus and then from Pauline Vickers, so who was she now? “The question that underpinned my life journey was: who made me?”
While recalling these early days with her adopted family, Black remarked that, “adoption is legalised identity theft.” When challenged later as to what precisely she meant by this, she further explained that she wasn’t saying adoption is a bad thing, but that, “the identity of the children should not be forgotten and it should be addressed, not forgotten. If a person doesn’t know where they come from then it’s impossible for them to know who they are.”
The conversation inevitably led to her days leading the popular 2-Tone bad The Selecter, and the political landscape that formed the British ska movement. “Things have moved on now since our day, though; recession is global now not national. I don’t have a great deal of truck with any of the political parties these days.”
Referring to the band’s position in the British psyche these days, she joked: “Apparently The Selecter are now classed as a ‘Heritage Band’ as though we’re one step away from a museum.”
The conversation was wide and varied crossing Black’s desire to uncover who she was, black culture, and the forms of racism she encountered while growing up. Her career has also been varied, and when asked about her experience in the acting industry remarked: “The one thing that acting taught me is that there are no ladders for ethnic minorities in this country to climb.”
The subject of the England riots has never been far away from any of the discussions here at the book festival this week, and Black was also keen to impart her views also: “Riots happen, and they happen with people feel dis-empowered. We need to analyse what happened not bang them up. If 13 year olds are going around setting fire to things it is ALL our problem, not just the parents.”
Before leaving the tent for an animated signing session for her music and book fans, she left us with this thought: “I can only try and change people’s opinions and I do it through music and now this book.”