Baroness Lawrence reviews Baroness Benjamin's autobiography 'What Are You Doing Here?'
June 2010: Floella Benjamin takes her seat in the Lords as a Liberal Democrat peer | Alamy
Baroness Benjamin’s latest memoir is a refreshing and timely reflection on the evolution of Black life in Britain from the 1960s to today
I, like many mothers in Britain, have sat with my children and watched Floella on our TV screens, primarily as the presenter of Play School on the BBC. She provided essential representation. This representation continued when she became Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham in 2010. Having Floella support my introduction to the House of Lords, three years later, highlighted how far we have come and showed the world there are more Black people working to make a positive change in Britain than many see.
In July 2014, she conferred upon me an honorary doctorate whilst she was the chancellor of Exeter University, a role she held from 2006 to 2016. We continue to work on various causes together in the hope of creating a legacy of change for the generations to come.
Floella’s new book, What Are You Doing Here?, is refreshing. Her approach to life with her three Cs – consideration, contentment and confidence – is something I wish many more people would have. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but something we should all believe in when we wake up in the morning, giving us a good outlook for the day.
There were so many similarities between our experiences in the book, and one of the most poignant is the way we were treated in the playground when we first came to Britain from the Caribbean. I also noticed there were some parallels between our young years living in the United Kingdom, especially the fact that we were both working in a bank in our 20s.
There were so many similarities between our experiences
As life has gone on, with both of us having appeared on national television, I also appreciated her description of how doing basic things, like going into the hospital for a procedure, were not so simple. Whilst hospital staff often do their best to maintain professionalism, it appears that there have been times in both of our lives where staff have proudly spoken of how fond they were of us and would often ask for autographs.
Black history is British history and this book not only tells the story of another Black person, but also highlights the success of an individual who came to Britain in the 1960s and lived a successful life. The struggles, on a micro-scale, may seem distant from Black life in Britain today but, on a macro-scale, they are very much the same. After all, chapter 37 starts with the following: “Growing up in Britain as a Caribbean or Black person in the 1960s, you constantly heard from your parents that you’d got to be 10 times as good as the next person.” That sentiment is just as relevant to Caribbean and Black people in Britain today.
I would recommend those of my generation to read this book and applaud themselves for having succeeded against the odds. Readers from the younger generation should be encouraged that there is hope with hard work, and that support from others along their journeys helps make a difference.
Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon is a Labour peer
"What Are You Doing Here? My Autobiography"
Written by: Floella Benjamin
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