In 1981 Pauline Black made records about prej­u­dice as black youths fought po­lice on the streets. As a mixed-race woman she knew about racism. And then, she tells Elisa Bray, she found out she was Jewish

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

PAULINE BLACK was 42 when she de­cided to track down her birth mother — and re­alised that she was Jewish. It had taken 38 years to make the dis­cov­ery. Black first found fame as a pi­o­neer of the 2-Tone ska move­ment of the 1980s. Her band, The Selecter, was one of the multi-racial groups to rise to promi­nance against the back­drop of the ri­ots that swept the coun­try in 1981 .

Sub­se­quently, Black turned to acting and ap­peared tele­vi­sion drama se­ries such as The Bill.

She was only four years old when she first learned from her white mid­dleaged par­ents that she was adopted, and that her fa­ther was Nige­rian and her mother from Da­gen­ham. That it took her so long to seek out her birth par­ents was be­cause she had de­cided not to be­gin the search as long as her adop­tive mother was alive.

“By the time you’re 42 you have to do the maths and you think to your­self: ‘My mother’s 17 years older than me, maybe I had bet­ter get on with it’.”

With the lit­tle in­for­ma­tion left by her adop­tive mother, and a lot of her own de­tec­tive work, she was led to her mother, Eileen Mag­nus — and a half­brother and sis­ter, nu­mer­ous cousins and aunts — in Aus­tralia.

The phone call came at five one morn­ing. “Hello, is that you, Belinda? It’s mummy, dar­ling.”

“My mother called me by my real name, which was Belinda,” says Black, re­call­ing the life-chang­ing mo­ment. “That was the big­gest shock. Of course 42 years might have gone by, but in her head I was still a lit­tle baby, and she was my fan­tasy fig­ure, so that re­union was quite strange for both of us, but noth­ing more so than be­ing called Belinda Mag­nus, a name that didn’t re­ally feel be­longed to me, but was mine.”

B l a c k dis­cov­ered t h a t h e r g r a n d f a - ther’s pare nt s had em­i­grated f r o m G r e e c e where they had been traders. The rev­e­la­tion of these Jewish roots brought back mem­o­ries of her child­hood.

“At school there was a young Jewish boy that I grew up with. We used to get on re­ally, re­ally well to­gether. He didn’t go to school assem­bly and I was the only black kid at the school, so that marked us out. Maybe there was some un­der­stand­ing be­tween us,” she says.

Hav­ing grown up in the 1960s in Rom­ford, sur­rounded only by white peo­ple, Black had al­ways felt an out­sider. And hav­ing watched as a girl the tele­vi­sion se­ries All Our Yes­ter­days, with its news­reel footage of the Nazis and the Holo­caust, she be­gan to recog­nise a pat­tern to the op­pres­sion ex­pe­ri­enced by mi­nor­ity groups.

“I be­gan to dis­cover what had hap­pened dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, and I equated that with what I saw black peo­ple were go­ing through in places like South Africa. As I grew up I started to re­alise what racism was about.”

To dis­cover that she was Jewish years later only served to sharpen that re­al­i­sa­tion. “It’s a bit like hav­ing two help­ings of some­thing that maybe gives you in­di­ges­tion — or other peo­ple in­di­ges­tion, prob­a­bly!”

It was racial alien­ation that in part led Black to form The Selecter, in the search for an iden­tity. “I didn’t know any other black peo­ple. Through mu­sic I’ve found peo­ple of a like mind who have had some­thing to say po­lit­i­cally about the racism that per­vaded this coun­try at the end of the ’70s and early ’80s. That was what I felt I could do some­thing with, and write songs for, and per­form on stage.

“Learn­ing about my Jewish roots was cer­tainly a defin­ing mo­ment. It’s very im­por­tant for me to know the truth of my iden­tity. With­out that, you’re al­ways won­der­ing cer­tain things, and so yes, it was com­plete clo­sure.”

She also dis­cov­ered she had in­her­ited the per­form­ing gene from her mother’s side of the fam­ily. Her cousins had sung and toured with the D’Oyly Carte Opera, while her grand­fa­ther was a mu­sic hall artiste. Her half­brother was a bassist in a punk band at the same time as she was per­form­ing with The Selecter.

Find­ing out that her lost daugh­ter was a singer was also a sur­prise for Mrs Mag­nus. “My mother was ab­so­lutely knocked out. She’s a bit of a per­former her­self. I think that be­ing a show-off came quite nat­u­rally to me.”

Poignantly,Black­n­ev­er­gave­up­think­ing about her mother through­out her mu­si­cal ca­reer. “It was some­thing I had fan­ta­sised about. When I was on Top of the Pops, I used to think: ‘Ooh, I won­der if my real mum is watch­ing, I won­der what she might think or if she might recog­nise me.’ But it’s rather strange – I found out that my mother had watched an episode of The Bill that I had been

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