‘What are you?’
Tessa McWatt knows first-hand that the answer to this question, often asked of people of colour by white people, is always more complicated than it seems. Is the answer English, Scottish, British, Caribbean, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, French, African, Chinese, Canadian? Like most families, hers is steeped in myth and the anecdotes of grandparents and parents who view their histories through the lens of desire, aspiration, loss, and shame.
In Shame On Me she unspools all the interwoven strands of her inheritance, and knits them back together using additional fibres from literature and history to strengthen the weave of her refabricated tale. She dismantles her own body and examines it piece by piece to build a devastating and incisively subtle analysis of the race debate as it now stands, in this stunningly written exploration of who and what we truly are.
‘Powerful and provocative.’
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‘This remarkable meditation on beautiful, human bodies formed by the violence of slavery and by colonial shame resists categorisation, even as it shows up the ways in which categories of race and identity are no more than empty methods of social control. Reading this book I felt a profound sense of relief: that someone as wise as Tessa McWatt had the compassion and courage to write it. Though she doesn’t spare us, her ancestors or herself, as she travels from British Guiana to China, India and Scotland, we must go with her: and realise the power of recovering female lineage, and realise that there is no centre, except the one we ourselves can make with all the various stories we contain. It is a deeply moving, urgent and important book.’
Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young
‘Heartstopping and wise, exquisitely written, compellingly told, Shame on Me rises to a crescendo of such beauty and grace in its final chapter — a call to activism and resistance — that it left me breathless with the intensity of my own listening.’
Rebecca Stott, author of In the Days of Rain
‘There have been many books about race and identity in recent years, but none quite like this one. Shame On Me is part memoir, part essay, and partly a challenge to think beyond the current parameters of “identity” in our contemporary world. Told from the perspective of a writer whose own inheritance confounds established identities at every turn, it is a perceptive, poignant and deeply profound meditation on how the race-thinking of the plantation continues to structure our sense of ourselves “all the way down”. It is an essential intervention on behalf of those of us who wish to confront and overcome the resurgence of racism today.’
Anshuman Mondal, Professor of Modern Literature at UEA
‘A brave indictment, both passionate and reflective, of the category of race and the prison that identity can become.’
‘Poignant, provocative, beautifully written, Tessa McWatt's new memoir Shame on Me is an important, original and deeply thoughtful book. McWatt asks the toughest, most searching of questions about race and belonging and offers answers that surprise and challenge us. I loved it.'
Jill Dawson, author of The Language of Birds
‘Shame on Me is one of the most moving and intellectually profound books of its kind. As an ‘anatomy,’ it operates with surgical precision upon the necrotic legacies of race, affirming kinship and solidarity against the ongoing violence of silence and denigration. Courageously intimate and beautifully written, it is everything I admire in Tessa McWatt.’
David Chariandy, author of I've Been Meaning to Tell You
Praise for Higher Ed:
‘[C]ombines campus novel (historically a distinctly white-male genre) with a Zadie Smith-like sense of a thoroughly multicultural London … satirises with sharp wit the precariousness of academic life.’
Praise for Higher Ed:
‘A wryly passionate, slyly political and engrossing concatenation of London lives, that only a Londoner by choice could have written.’