Stacey Leigh Ross

Stacey is a UK-based Trinidadian Life Story Artist and Arts Educator who uses art to create social change by nurturing confidence and creativity in people and communities.
Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

I first read this book in the Summer of 2018 but returned to it many times since. I laughed as Akala described his first stay in Jamaica. I groaned in frustration with him as he tried to save friends from the poverty/prison trap. I didn’t agree with his attitude to his Mum when he became race aware but Akala, like me, can only assess things from his perspective and experiences. Who am I to say his feelings are right or wrong? I distinctly remember the loud embarrassing “WHAT?!” I shouted on a train upon learning that reparations to slave owners’ descendants only stopped in 2015!

Before I came to the UK I had never considered my ethnic identity but every institution I interacted with demanded I pick one. How? I’ve got at least eight of them in my blood? Inevitably, I would be considered Black, which is when I realised that the Black British experience was very different from life in the Caribbean. Listening to Akala talk about the UK he grew up in and the history of the Empire that shaped it and its colonies was wildly enlightening. Light bulbs went off all over my brain! I finally began to understand the roots of the societal norms I saw in current-day Britain and Trinidad & Tobago. T&T’s history was more linked to what had happened in other parts of the British Empire than I realised. By 2016 with two multicultural babies to raise, I couldn’t afford to have those gaps in my knowledge. People who don’t know their history (the unedited version) are doomed to repeat it.

So I read Natives because like my children, Akala is a mix of British and Caribbean heritage. When he talks about how his mother nurtured his connection with both cultures, that inspired me because I need my babies to know that their mixed heritage gives them multiple rich cultural veins to tap into. It’s not a liability, it’s an advantage!