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Publisher's Summary

OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature - 2020

Interrogating our ideas of race through the lens of her own multi-racial identity, critically acclaimed novelist Tessa McWatt turns her eye on herself, her body, and this world in a powerful new work of non-fiction.

Tessa McWatt has been called Susie Wong, Pocahontas, and "Black bitch", and has been judged not Black enough by people who assume she straightens her hair. Now, through a close examination of her own body - nose, lips, hair, skin, eyes, ass, bones, and blood - which holds up a mirror to the way culture reads all bodies, she asks why we persist in thinking in terms of race today when racism is killing us. 

Her grandmother's family fled southern China for British Guiana after her great uncle was shot in his own dentist's chair during the First Sino-Japanese War. McWatt is made of this woman and more: Those who arrived in British Guiana from India as indentured labour and those who were brought from Africa as cargo to work on the sugar plantations; colonists and those whom colonialism displaced. How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African, and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: "What are you?" And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly "post-racial" world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics, and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly, and still lethally?

Shame on Me is a personal and powerful exploration of history and identity, colour and desire from a writer who, having been plagued with confusion about her race all her life, has at last found kinship and solidarity in story.

©2020 Tessa McWatt (P)2020 Random House Canada

Critic Reviews

"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. A deeply moving, urgent and important book." (Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young)

"Heart-stopping 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 - part memoir, part essay, and partly a challenge to think beyond the current parameters of 'identity'. 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." (Anshuman Mondal, professor of Modern Literature at University of East Anglia)

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  • P. J. T. Brown
  • 10-05-2020

A moving search for identity

‘Who are you’ is the question that Tessa McWatt asks of herself as she moves through her life - but as the narrative develops you understand that this is the question we should be asking ourselves all the time.

Inevitably she navigates the racism so ubiquitous and subtlety developed (and often utterly blunt) among neoliberal societies - Tessa McWatt asks this in many different countries to include Canada and the UK and ends with interesting developments from science to include string theory, genome discoveries and viral transfer. Despite being relatively well read in both race and inequality I learned a lot - thank you.

I initially found her voice a wee bit of a monotone and wondered about her wisdom in choosing to read her own story as many authors do - I decided that she made the right choice; I can feel her emotions coming through as she reads, choking up once or twice, to have chosen an actor would have been a performance at one remove thereby confusing the very real identities and mutualities of the reader/author.

In the spirit of reconciliation, Audible Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.