Serpent's Tail, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Black by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir, By Pauline Black

Pauline Black's earliest memory is of vomiting, at the age of four, on to a pile of sheets that had been cleaned, starched and ironed by her mother. "She was not amused but then again it was her own fault," says Black. "She shouldn't have told me I was adopted."

The product of an affair between a white teenage girl and Nigerian man, Black was put up for adoption after her birth in 1953 and taken in by a white middle-aged couple from Romford; 25 years later she became the lead singer of the ska revival group The Selecter. The group's espousal of racial equality and multiculturalism was demonstrated by the varied skin colours of its members, though some people didn't appreciate their ideology – notably the skinheads who chanted "Seig Heil" at gigs while giving the Nazi salute.

Black by Design contains inevitable tales of rock'n'roll excess, but it is more than a musical memoir. Black paints a vivid portrait of simmering racial tension in Britain after the Second World War, when immigrants arrived to begin the process of reconstruction, and in the 1980s, when unemployment and deprivation brought it to bubbling to the surface. This is also an intelligent and affecting account of life as a black child in a white family, feeling "like a cuckoo in somebody else's nest".

The casual racism displayed by Black's extended family is quite startling. There was an aunt who criticised Black's "Brillo pad" hair, yet kept hidden on her bookshelves a copy of Mandingo, a notorious pot-boiler about a mixed-race relationship; and a cousin, a gas meter-reader who talked tauntingly of the "darkeys" whom he claimed lived "12 to a room" and subsisted on cat food.

As the only woman in an otherwise male band, Black was to feel a similar sense of isolation in The Selecter. Britain's original "rude girl", she approached her job with a fearlessness and determination that carried her through a subsequent acting career. In 1991 she won a Time Out award for her stage portrayal of Billie Holiday.

If Black is hard on bandmates who struggled to cope with the pressures of life on the road, she is equally candid about her own weaknesses. She takes few prisoners, which what you would expect from a woman who has spent a lifetime taking a sledgehammer to race and gender barriers. With Black by Design, one hopes she will get the recognition she deserves.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits