Book: The Space Between Black and WhiteAuthor: Esuantsiwa Jane GoldsmithPublisher: JacarandaPrice: £8.99Purchase the book here Reviewed by Reshma Ruia
The Space between Black and White by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith is a personal memoir that is also a political and socio-cultural commentary on being mixed race in a predominantly white society.
Goldsmith narrates her journey of growing up in 1950s Britain as a mixed race child raised by a single mother in a loving working class family where the shadow of her absent African father looms large. As a child moving from Surbiton to Stafford to rural Norfolk, Goldsmith found herself in almost exclusively white environments with no one who reflected her experience.
Goldsmith was ridiculed and abused inside and out of school, and branded as a ‘mongrel with a touch of the tar-brush.’ She realised early on the power of words to diminish one’s sense of self.
‘I hate being the only Brown girl in a school of five hundred. I stick out. My skin is all wrong and my hair is all wrong,’ she observes early on in the book.
Yet this is far from being a misery memoir; at its heart lies a desire and a determination for acceptance and validation on the author’s own terms. The book traces Goldsmith’s growth as she develops from a teenager who was desperate to have ‘white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair,’ to an adult who celebrates her African cultural heritage. It is a poignant portrayal of a child’s search for identity and a sense of belonging.
‘Uncertainty and pain is what I’m used to—being an outsider. When I was eight, I wrote a play about it. At fourteen, I wrote novelettes about famous White girls and their Beatle boyfriends for my school-friends. When I was fifteen, I became a women’s libber. At seventeen, I got pregnant, and then again, when I was twenty. Then I got elected as President of the Students’ Union. I always think of something to get me out of it, to make me feel real, to help me fight back, prove myself.’
The Space between Black and White deconstructs the term ‘mixed race,’ arguing that its ‘one size fits all’ approach oversimplifies the complexities and history behind the label. This nuanced interpretation of prejudice and privilege informs as well as entertains, shedding light on what is, according to the 2001 Census, Britain’s fastest-growing minority population.
Goldsmith’s passion for women’s rights and racial equality shines through as she narrates her personal experiences of injustice, from her sojourn as an au pair in Scandinavia to her term as president of Leicester University Students’ Union. In addition to this exclusive of her lifelong advocacy work, Esua invites us into her most intimate personal dilemmas and joys – culminating in her moving and consuming search for her absent father in Ghana.
The Space between Black and White is ultimately a story about being accepted on your own terms, irrespective of gender, class or colour. The book is inspirational in its message of hope and resilience.
The book is published as part of Jacaranda’s unique pledge to publish 20 titles by 20 Black British writers in one year. The aim of the initiative is to normalize the presence of diverse literature and to amplify the voice of Black Britons as valued members of British culture and society.