Hackney lawyer on why she needed to write a book

Pauline Campbell has been through a lot in her career.

Pauline Campbell has been through a lot in her career. - Credit: Pauline Campbell

Rice and Peas and Fish and Chips is a success story, but success for Pauline Campbell wasn’t a seamless path. 

The lawyer and author’s new book (which is not quite Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll!) recounts the ups, downs, challenges, and doubts she has faced as a Black woman on the right side of the dock in court. 

Her empowering story began when she took a writing competition around the theme of equality. 

“It was just a tiny snippet of my life,” she said, about the 5,000-word piece she wrote. However, it did the trick as Nobrow, her publisher, would ask for more.

Pauline is English and the first-generation child of Caribbean migrants. As she grew up, she faced systemic racism that was buoyed by political resistance to overcoming racial issues.

Rice and Peas has now been released.

Rice and Peas has now been released. - Credit: Pauline Campbell

After her dad died, years before, Pauline had started to reflect on her journey and her family’s story. 

Through her child, teenager and adult eyes, Rice and Peas and Fish and Chips tells her personal story, put into perspective with the political setting and her parents’ story. 

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Whether it is Enoch Powell’s public statements, the 1981 Brixton riots, Stephen Lawrence’s murder, Pauline links public matter to how she, her family and community experienced it. 

Doing so, she somehow balances a voice that Black people were deprived of at the time. 

She wrote: “But what Stephen’s case showed was that for us there was no justice.”

“All of it was hard”, Pauline said about her book, “Because it was about me and my family, my life.” For instance, in the book, she recalls her 13-year-old self, watching Roots, an award-winning American mini-series, following Kunta Kinte, captured and enslaved. 

Watching it was the turning point for Pauline to understand what racism was. She wrote: “That was like coming to a realisation I was different and which was really hard to take because I didn't want to be different.”

Around the same age, she also recalls, not being invited to a friend’s birthday because of her skin colour. Then, her whole life would be paved with this surrounding and persisting public voice that narrowed her ambitions and wills.

That immersion in Pauline’s life and experience of racism is the very aim of the book, to get rid of the so-called victimhood that surrounds racism.

She said: “It's so hard for people to understand that this isn't just a ship on our shoulders. This is not us moaning and griping about inequality.’
She added: “I wanted to find a way for people to step into our shoes.”

“I always wanted to be a lawyer and I always wanted to do something different with my life. 

“But for 16 years, I didn't do anything about it because I didn't believe that I was good enough.” This lack of self-belief is collateral damage, if not main, of what racism does and keeps doing. 

“If [your passion] is dormant in you, it will come alive when the time is right.” 

For Pauline, the time was right when she witnessed such a scene of violence that she had to get involved - an event she details in the book. 

She wrote in her book: “I gained a new consciousness – I no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines, I wanted to confront these problems head on.”

Fuelled with that need to help, she found her way back to self-believing. 

When the book was published, she received feedback from all over the world, of people recognising themselves in the story. “And they don't just [write] a line. They do like pages!” she added.

When asked: “Rice and peas or Fish and chips?’ Pauline replied: “You can't choose. You just can't. (…) I’m filled with a wonderful culture from both sides, which I embrace, and I'm not ashamed of either one of them.”

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