Candice Brathwaite: ‘I was born in London, but now more than ever I am reminded that my ancestors aren’t from Britain’

To mark Black History Month, the writer and TV presenter returned to the Barbados she knows as 'home' - and discovered a more complex truth.

Candice Brathwaite

by Grazia |

‘Where are you from?’ Is always a question that makes me immediately defensive. As it’s very rarely asked by someone who shares my hue. Being a persistent petty Pisces, I usually respond: ‘Brixton’ in a tone that I hope communicates that I know good and well what they mean, but that they are going to need to have the guts to get to the matter of the issue.

‘Oh OK’ Is usually the response. But sometimes, the interrogator is brave enough to go deeper. ‘No, where are you from, from? Like your background. What’s your heritage?’

And then that’s the point when I sigh, because it really is a damn good question.

I’m lucky enough to always have thought of the island of Barbados as home. With its hypnotic cerulean seas and constant thrum of warm weather, mixed with locals who forever seem optimistic, it's not a bad one to be fair.

My maternal grandparents migrated from the island to the UK in the early Sixties, just behind the Windrush generation. With both of them keeping ties to their homeland, I’ve been able to experience the island usually annually since I was eight months old.

So when ITV's Lorraine, on which I am a presenter, pitched the idea of me returning to explore more of my heritage, my luggage was packed before I had even responded to the email.

I’ve struggled to understand what ‘home’ really means as, while I was born in St Thomas' Hospital in London, now more than ever I am reminded that my ancestors aren’t from Britain.

Now three decades on, with far more knowledge and education about what it really meant for my grandparents to leave all they knew behind - and come to a place which they say was so cold their body hair fell off and never grew back - I was interested to investigate my heritage through the eyes of the woman I have become.

Especially because, since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve struggled to understand what ‘home’ really means as, while I was born in St Thomas' Hospital in London, now more than ever I am reminded that my ancestors aren’t from Britain - and so I am very invested in trying to research exactly where home is.

There were so many prongs to the week-long filming schedule, but the one that offered me both solace and sadness in equal measure was definitely finding out more about my great great-great-grandfather, who couldn’t actually write. Therefore in birth records, where he registered the birth of my great-grandfather, only an 'X' was written - which meant that the registrar would have signed it on his behalf.

To think that I am now a Sunday Times Bestselling author does make me want to believe that the work of those who came before me has not been in vain. Meeting with the esteemed and effervescent historian Dawn-Lisa at St Nicholas Abbey, which was a former plantation, really drove home how much painful history was at the heart of this beautiful Caribbean island. I learned that Barbados was actually the birthplace of British slave society and all the other islands used the magical place I had always ignorantly perceived as heaven as their bloody and violent blueprint.

What I always knew to be true was made clear: of course I wasn’t from Barbados - my bloodline, like many others, were brought over from Africa as enslaved people.

It was a lot to take in. I had to reckon with the fact that although I had roots in the island my experience had not been the one I was now learning about, but in fact I actually had more in common with the white tourists who now came to top up their tans and dwindling supply of Mount Gay. I had to admit that it had actually been a privilege for me to dip in and out of Barbados without having to educate myself about not solely the history of the island, but in many ways my own too.

During a visit to the department of archives, what I always knew to be true was made clear: of course I wasn’t from Barbados - my bloodline, like many others, were brought over from Africa as enslaved people.

While it was challenging to listen to the regret in the woman’s voice about how she was unable to find anything prior to the 1800s, it actually was the reprieve I was looking for as searching for home has left me with more questions than answers, and it became clear that this was going to take far more time than the allotted week we had scheduled for filming.

Thankfully, the rest of the plan offered up the Barbados most people know and love. I was able to tour a mansion worth millions and take an unforgettable yacht ride where I swam in the ocean for the first time ever in my life. While those moments don’t completely erase what I learned about the place I still continue to call home, they did remind me that all I can do is be grateful for how that history has helped shape the woman I have become today.

Watch 'Candice's Barbados', Thursday on Lorraine from 9am on ITV and ITV Hub

READ MORE: Why Should Leigh-Anne Pinnock Be The One To Hold Jesy Nelson Accountable For Blackfishing?

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us