Read excerpt of ‘The Space Between Black and White’ by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith

Africa Writes have teamed up with Jacaranda Books to bring you a delightful monthly read from the publisher’s Twenty in 2020 releases. In May we are spotlighting The Space Between Black and White by Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith.

Here’s a short blurb: This unique #TwentyIn2020 memoir sheds light on Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith’s journey as a feminist and political activist. The book illuminates her inner journey of self-discovery and uncovers truths that could help a growing community of mixed-race people struggling to find their own space in the world.

If you’d like a 10% discount, head over to Jacaranda’s website and use the code ‘AWNEWS‘ to claim it! Jacaranda Books are crowdfunding with Knights Of and Spread the Word to support inclusive independent publishers hit worst by the COVID-19 economic crisis. You can read more about their Inclusive Indies campaign and support here. #InclusiveIndies

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Prologue: The Other Other

Clapham Common, mid-November, 1957


“Can we stay just a little bit longer, Auntie Bel? Let me have a go now, please let me… ” 

November afternoon, raw, damp, cold, grey. Breath hangs in the air, mud squelches underfoot between trampled tufts of grass. A gang of older boys have been on the swings ever since we arrived, their scabby, grubby knees blue with cold beneath gabardine school shorts. Suddenly they streak off, laughing, just as it’s time for us to leave for home. Finally, it’s my turn. The wooden swing is cold and hard against the backs of my legs. The creaky to-and-fro motion makes me feel queasy. But I still want to have my go. 

Auntie relents. “OK. Five more minutes. I’m chilled to the bone.” 

It’s around five o’clock when we finally start for home. The bare trees fringing the Common dissolve into dark spiky shadows in the dusk. There’s a dull sound of traffic coming closer as yellow lights appear, one by one, in the street and in the flats across the main road. I hate the cold. I can feel Auntie Bel’s warm hand clasping my numbed fingers through my woollen mitten. 

In the foggy half-light I can just about make out a family group moving slowly across the grass ahead of us. As we get nearer, I can see they are wearing the strangest clothes: long robes and trousers, glimpses of red, gold and blue, with short jackets, scarves and hats to keep out the late autumn chill. The woman is wearing a green-and-gold scarf around her head like a turban. They stand out in the fast-fading light, like a flock of brightly coloured birds. The smallest bird breaks away from the group and runs towards me—a little girl, about four years old, the same age as me. She has dark skin and Black fuzzy hair, like mine. We stop and stare at each other, spellbound, rooted to the spot. A sudden shock of connection, of recognition. I know you.

“Kumba! Kumba!” 

I think it was Kumba, they called her. Something like that. Kumba ran off to join her family, and they moved off across the Common and out of sight. 

It all happens so quickly, I can’t quite believe what I have just seen. I try to run after her, but Auntie Belinda holds me back. 

“We have to go home now,” she coaxes. “Your Mum will be back from work soon, it’s getting dark, and Nan will have tea ready.” 

Teatime. It always interrupts something really important, just at the wrong moment. I have stumbled on a secret—I am not the only one! I am not alone in the world. There are other Others. And more than that, ‘coloured’ people sometimes come in whole families—Mum, Dad and two children—not just one-offs like me. I feel strange—excited, scared, shocked, all at the same time—but also comforted.

I can’t remember seeing any ‘coloured’ people before in real life, only once or twice on the telly at Auntie Molly’s, singing and dancing with banjos, or in American films with big Mamas in the kitchen in starched white aprons, cooking up giant pumpkin pies for White folks’ kids. 

But why am I Brown? Why me, when everyone else I know is White? Like those boxes of pure White eggs you get at the grocer’s, with one surprise speckled brown egg nestling among the china-white ones. An odd one out—an accident. How does that happen? What causes it? It’s because of my Dad, that’s what they say. But where is my Dad? Did he ever see me when I was a baby? Why did he leave? Does he ever think about me? Did he get called names, like I do? What does he look like? Do I take after him? Would he even like me if he saw me? Can I see a photo? Can I go to Africa? 

I don’t know if I can ask all these questions; it makes the grown-ups look uncomfortable. It’s like treading on eggshells—Brown and White. At nursery, or out shopping with my Nan, people sometimes ask if I come from a different place, but I have no idea where; I don’t know what to answer. Timbuktu is the furthest, most mysterious place I ever hear grown-ups talk about. When someone goes missing, they say, “He could be in Timbuktu for all we know.” No-one has ever told me where Timbuktu is, or whether anyone could possibly come back. Is it a real place? I like the sound of it. Tim-buck-too; the furthest place in the world. Somewhere in Africa—where my Dad came from. 

Kumba. I like the sound of that too. I wish I had a name like that. But maybe I’m not allowed.


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Image of Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith: Abi Oshodi Photography