Unpacking her heritage and culture – trinidad and tobago newsday gsa 2016 pay scale

In an article she wrote for the UK Guardian in 2012, Hirsch recalled an incident in her teens when she told her friend she was Jamaican. Her Ghanaian mother overheard and was devastated. At the peak of her youthful identity crisis she was embarrassed that being African wasn’t cool. In her recently published book Brit(ish): On Race Identity and Belonging, she also describes the parts of her life where her whiteness – Hirsch’s father comes from a Jewish family who escaped Nazi Germany – has, whether consciously or unconsciously, taken a front seat.

“I’ve been conditioned in the art of English manners, politeness, harmless banter and casual charm my whole life,” she writes in the opening chapter. “At the dinner table with my parents, in the classroom with my teachers, in my tutors’ studies, dining at the Inns of Court, in training for the Bar, at chambers parties…where you learn to send the subliminal message: don’t worry about the fact that I’m black, I won’t make you feel uncomfortable…I am completely non-threatening.”

Non-white people living in majority white societies will recognise this reality, though it is easier for some to transition than others. Hirsch is a highly educated, successful, middle-class British woman, which can open up doors that transcend race. Her ethnic background is also hard to place, which can be useful but awkward. In her own country, she is constantly asked where she’s from.

Hirsch grew up in the very white suburb of Wimbledon, where looking different – particularly as a girl questioning her own black beauty – was a difficult experience. In her book she recalls being told to stay away from the shop her friend worked in, because she was black and it was bad for customers.

“I stayed at Chris Blackwell’s place in Jamaica, Goldeneye: he’s turned it into a super luxury resort. In the rooms they give you a bottle of Blackwell’s rum and on the back of the bottle it says ‘Chris Blackwell’s family have been proudly making rum in Jamaica for 400 years’ and it’s like, I wonder how they managed to do that! I wonder who the workforce was!” she jokes.

“That’s not a proud family history, that’s a slavery history. Your daughter still owns all this land, they’re still one of the richest families in Jamaica. It’s just like in Britain, they’ve rewritten it as this sanitised history. I didn’t know how much of the land in Jamaica is still owned by rich white Jamaicans.”

The relationship of racial hierarchies in postcolonial and metropolitan societies is key to her work. While insidious racism limits many people of colour from achieving their potential, it hasn’t held her back. But what’s so essential about what Hirsch is doing with her book Brit(ish) is that by using it to expose the many forms of historic and contemporary racism that are often not acknowledged, let alone challenged, she is ensuring that the conversation started by writers like CLR James, Maya Angelou, Stuart Hall, Buchi Emecheta and Paul Gilroy is not lost on millennials and future generations.

Privately educated in London, she later studied at Oxford, interned at the UN in New York, then worked in Senegal for two years at George Soros’ philanthropic Open Society Institute. She has worked as a lawyer, BBC journalist and now an author. After having her daughter, she moved to Accra, Ghana to work as the UK Guardian’s West Africa correspondent.

Her mother’s family originates from Kumasi, the city a bumpy six-hour drive north from Accra that was once the seat of the Ashanti Kingdom. In 1895, the British army general Robert Baden-Powell attacked Kumasi and drove its people out, including Hirsch’s third great-grandmother.

“A lot of Jamaicans came from the Ashanti region,” she says. “When I went to Manchester in Jamaica, there’s a lot of Maroon villages around there. It freaked me out how much some of the things resonated with Ashanti culture. I was at a funeral and they were all wearing black and red and nobody could tell me why, they just said, ‘That’s what we do.’ Those are the Akan funeral colours.”

Ideologically, she had wanted her black daughter to grow up in a place where she could “fit in” – like Ghana – but now her daughter is now very much a Wimbledonian, and there is a sense in the way Hirsch talks about it that she finds comfort in raising her family where she herself grew up.