West-centric Discussions on Afrocentric Literature

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Gule Wamkhulu at the Blantyre Museum, Malawi
Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.
Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah 
It often happens that I’m reading book reviews on African novels and I have to stop myself from responding to some, to be honest, quite offensive and useless criticisms. I read reviews that were obviously written through a Western lens and it shows. I’m a fair person and I don’t expect readers to always find the content of their reading accessible, but honestly, we need to change our mindset when reading cultures and groups of people we aren’t familiar with. I always find it necessary to begin such posts with a disclaimer and my disclaimer is that these are just my observations and I speak for myself and nobody else.
When it comes to book reviews, Two of the books I’ve come across that get the most flak from readers have surprisingly been Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and I’d like to say a little something about these books.
To appreciate Things Fall Apart, it’s probably best to know a bit about colonialism. Even if you don’t, if you’re a careful reader it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick up the ills of colonialism when you read the story of Okonkwo and his village of Umuofia. When one reads the book, one will note that the structure of the book is not like a “conventional” novel. Through your reading you will note that humour is important in African culture, and so is orality. Even if there is some content that the reader doesn’t understand, one would hope he or she possesses enough curiosity to look it up on the internet; even a paragraph from Wikipedia is better than nothing.
Adichie’s Americanah seems to come up a lot in conversation too. So many naysayers for some reason seem to have issues with the hair mentions, of which there are quite a few. One reviewer asked how could Ifemelu, who is apparently an intelligent black woman, be so “obsessed” with hair?  Hair IS important to black women and education has nothing to do with it. Adichie is a very intelligent woman and writer who clearly understands black hair politics in all its complexity and I’m grateful to her for writing it in to her novel.The criticisms I’ve seen levelled at Ifemelu’s womanhood arise because so many see her through Western lenses.  When Western feminism is thrust onto female African characters, we are admitting that we only see one way of womanhood instead of the diversity. We are also forgetting the fact that Africa has different social structures and systems, and what works in the West doesn’t always work there, and vice versa.
 Another criticism I came across fairly recently was the issue with  names. Names are a sensitive point for so many of us. Names mean something. Neither of my names are African because of colonialism and imperialism, but many Africans do have traditional names that have beautiful meanings.In the book Roots, when Kinte was born and given his name, this is what Alex Haley wrote: “It would have to be a name rich with history and with promise, for the people of his tribe-the Mandinkas- believed that a child would develop seven of the characteristics of whomever or whatever he was named for.”
 This clearly shows how important names have always been traditionally.The fact that Adichie and Achebe use Nigerian names in their books should not surprise people, nor should we wish the names were English so we can easily remember them. There have been plenty of rejoinders about how Russian names with their patronymics and alternative spellings and nicknames also confuse people but most people see War and Peace as a challenge, as they rightly should. I’m trying to be patient and understanding, and I don’t deny coming across new names is difficult but I’d rather make an effort to try to learn something I’m not familiar with.

If I  read diverse literature and I come across some thing I don’t  understand, instead of brushing it off and calling it stupid, I know the best thing I can do is stop and acknowledge my blind-spots, maybe do some research on my own.If done right, reading diverse literature should create empathy.Non-Western writers should never have to bow to demands from readers to whitewash their writing and make it more accessible while diluting the story and its power just to be accepted and more marketable. That’s been the problem for so long, and writers are now writing their cultures proudly, and that’s a beautiful (and important) thing.

To me, a lot of these faux criticisms this just drive home the point that due to the lack of diversity we have been used to, the Western way is still very much the default;  the lens through which we judge the world. We still ask questions about where the Nigerian Oscar Wilde is; we call books the African Ulysses, as if the West is the benchmark the rest of the world should be measured by. It’s definitely time for us to change our mindsets ans challenge what we think of as “normal.”

My 2015 in Books

2015 was a good reading year for me, and it was a year that came with a lot of changes. Emotionally it was a tough year and I think that the situations I experienced  told me what to read. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more thankful to be a reader as I was this year. So much of my reading turned out to be comforting and serendipitous, and I ended up reading books I didn’t even know I needed to read. And because of circumstances, I wasn’t able to write as many reviews as I normally do, but I was able to benefit from reading other people’s words.

Experiencing two deaths in my family, I was greatly encouraged and comforted by Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World , and strangely calmed and made more introspective by Barthes’ Mourning Diary, and as I discovered later, he died not long after he had finished writing it so I don’t think he ever got over his mother’s death, which makes the book’s content even more sorrowful.

My graduate research paper, which focused on black women, spurred a lot of my reading. In particular, Toni Cade Bambara’s ‘Black Women’ anthology, ‘ Black Feminist Thought ‘ by Patricia Hill Collins as well as  ‘Black Women, Writing and Identity’, by Carole Boyce Davies not only introduced me to many new black women writers, but also drove home the point that there is a lot of research and writing on black women that still needs to be done. Reading black women’s memoirs, such as Tracy K. Smith’s ‘Ordinary Light’, Jacqueline Woodson‘s ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’, and Margo Jefferson’s ‘Negroland’, as well as books written by black women about other black women, for example, Kuwana Haulsey’s book, ‘Angel in Harlem’, and Maryse Conde’s ‘I, Tituba’ gave me the motivation I needed to do more research and write more.

This year I became more aware of Chicana feminism which I found I was able to relate to a lot given my own experiences of being member of a subculture. Even after my graduation, I still feel compelled to read similar books and I think they have made me stronger and more aware.  Women from other groups inspired me as well. I read  Maxine Hong Kingston  and Sandra Cisneros  for the first time and I was truly impressed.  I was able to finish reading all of Toni Morrison’s books and Anais Nin ‘s journals, and they were as inspiring as ever.

I think it’s clear that there’s been a vague theme in my reading and indeed I made a conscious effort to read more women this year. According to my math, I read 156 books this year and 104 of them were by women. I’ve enjoyed discovering new women writers, for example Willa Cather, Kim Thuy, Hong Ying, Anne Sexton, Venus Khoury-Ghata, Hedwig Dohm, Wang Anyi, Gloria Naylor, Gayl Jones, Ernessa T. Carter, Geling Yan, Maria Dermout, Buket, Uzuner, Helene Cixous, and Joan Didion.

I did read some great books by male writers though, particularly in the poetry section. I also reread Man Booker Prize Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women  in preparation to seeing him in a panel discussion. There are so many books I have to read but rereading brings its own rewards.

Later on in the year I became more interested in doing art research and I read some introductory texts to several famous artists. But the most inspirational book to me on art so far has been one I’m still reading, a collection of essays by Jeanette Winterson (‘Art Objects’).

Although I have continued to diversify my reading, and have also made more of an effort to read female writers, my reading continues to be American-dominant. Next year I plan on re-reading Toni Morrison’s books in chronological order. I also hope to read more Middle Eastern, North African, and Latin American literature.

Below are three lists of books that were highly favoured by me in the non-fiction, fiction, and poetry categories.

I appreciate all of you who read my blog and interact with me. Wishing you all a great 2016:)

Non-Fiction Books

  1.  Between the World and Me– Ta-Nehisi Coates
  2. A House of my Own- Sandra Cisneros
  3. Art on my Mind: Visual Politics– bell hooks
  4. A Woman Speaks- Anais Nin
  5. The Black Woman: An Anthology- Toni Cade Bambara
  6. The Gloria Anzaldua Reader
  7. A Bad Woman’s Story– Kishwar Naheed
  8. The Journals of Jules Renard
  9. Paris is Burning- Lucas Hilderbrand
  10. The Light of the World- Elizabeth Alexander

Fiction

  1. The Natural Order of Things– Antonio Lobo Antunes
  2. Angel of Harlem- Kuwana Haulsey
  3. I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem– Maryse Conde
  4. Dreams of my Russian Summer- Andrei Makine
  5. The Woman Who Read Too Much– Bahiyyih Nakhjavani
  6. Lucy– Jamaica Kincaid
  7. The Joys of Motherhood– Buchi Emecheta
  8. Mr Loverman– Bernardine Evaristo
  9. You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down– Alice Walker
  10. China Men– Maxine Hong Kingston

 

Poetry

  1. The Ink Dark Moon- Ono No Komachi
  2. Selected Poetry of Anne Sexton
  3. She Says- Venus Khoury-Ghata
  4. Beneath my Eyes- Li-Young Lee
  5. How to be Drawn- Terrance Hayes
  6. Mercurochrome- Wanda Coleman
  7. Prelude to Bruise- Saeed Jones
  8. The Breakbeat Poets- Kevin Coval
  9. In Presence of Absence- Mahmoud Darwish
  10. Forbidden Words- Eugenio de Andrade

 

You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down- Alice Walker

The more I learn about black-, especially African-American history and culture, the more I understand how great Walker’s writing is and how well she uses her fiction to impart knowledge. Sure, stories are meant to entertain but in Walker’s case they are also clearly written to educate. Every single one of these stories taught me something. For that reason I think of Walker’s short stories as essays, in a sense.

Walker discusses lots of topics, including difficult ones such as interracial relationships, abortion, and pornography. Perhaps some of those topics aren’t for everyone (and a few of the stories were quite explicit) but if there’s anyone who can handle such topics, it’s Walker. I get the feeling that Walker weaves in some of her own experiences in her stories because quite a few of them did seem to have a semi-autobiographical feel.

As the title suggests, the main topic of this book is women, in particular black women. One of the most interesting stories was “Nineteen Fifty-Five,”  which was about an older black woman who sold some of her songs to a white male singer. Walker managed to address so many things that I’ve been thinking about art and appropriation, and she also got me thinking about the disparity between group needs and what people from other groups (race, class, gender, etc.), think they want; this is something that she illustrates quite well without explicitly stating it as such.

I know a little about the history of black music in the States and of how it has often been appropriated. Yet, the whole point about art is that it’s supposed to come from within, from our experiences. But so much art has been appropriated anyway:

“Everybody still loves that song of yours. They ask me all the time what do I think it means, really. I mean, they want to know just what I want to know. Where out of your life did it come from?”

“They want what I got only it ain’t mine. That’s what makes ‘em so hungry for me when I sing. They getting the flavour of something but they ain’t getting the thing itself. They like a pack of hound dogs trying to gobble up a scent.”

The story “Coming Apart” was just a masterpiece. In it Walker uses excerpts of an essay I hadn’t heard of, by Tracey A. Gardner, about the racial aspects of pornography. I’ll let the following excerpts speak for themselves:

“For centuries the black woman has served as the primary pornographic “outlet” for white men in Europe and America. We need only think of the black women used as breeders, raped for the pleasure and profit of their owners. We need only think of the license the “master” of the slave woman enjoyed. But, most telling of all, we need only study the old slave societies of the South to note the sadistic treatment — at the hands of white “gentlemen” — of “beautiful”, young quadroons and octoroons” who became increasingly (and were deliberately bred to become) indistinguishable  from white women, and were the more highly prized as slave mistresses because of this.”

“Because Tracey A. Gardner has thought about it all, not just presently but historically, and she is clear about all the abuse being done to herself as a black person and as a woman, and she is bold and she is cold—she is furious. The wife, given more to depression and self-abnegation than to fury, basks in the fire of Gardner’s high-spirited anger.”

I’m always interested by exotification being a rare minority where I live. In the story “A Sudden Trip Home in the Spring“, the female protagonist realizes that she is constantly being othered;  I could relate so much to that:

“How could they ever know her if they were not allowed to know Wright, she wondered. She was interesting, “beautiful,” only because they had no idea what made her, charming only because they had no idea from where she came. And were they came from, though she glimpsed it—in themselves and in F. Scott Fitzgerald—she was never to enter. She hadn’t the inclination or the proper ticket.”

Like I always say, Walker is one of the bravest and most honest writers I’ve ever come across.And she’s adept at creating multidimensional black women characters. She illustrates black women with agency, and with a (much often denied by society) inner life. For me, a black woman who not so long ago rarely read of black women’s experiences in literature, Alice Walker’s work is so important. Her brand of feminism, womanism, is something I can feel comfortable with as encompassing of the black woman’s experience, which is very often so different from those in mainstream feminism. Additionally, black feminist heroes are included in Walker’s writing and to me that seems like not only is she paying homage, she is also encouraging us to read up on these greats and learn from them. As I learned from doing my thesis, the main way that black women learn is from each other, and from reading black women’s literature as a way to understand their complex identities. Audre Lorde, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells…I’ll be reading you all soon.

 

 

To Be a Black Woman

Sometimes certain events cause me to reflect on my experiences. I’ve had such an experience recently, thinking about Black womanhood and what it means to be a Black woman in the West. I contemplated things I’ve faced, and how I’ve grown. Through speaking to my other Black female friends and family members, reading blogs and other autobiographical  writing, it was affirmed to me just how hard it is to be a Black woman; it truly does involve struggle, both internal and external, inside the community and outside of it.

It’s disheartening when our experiences aren’t listened to, when we as Black women, marginalized people, have to fight and struggle to have our voices heard, to confirm that we have feelings and emotions, to prove that we’re worthy and that we are not caricatures but living, breathing beings. Many of us were  raised between cultures and are caught in the middle, yet our struggles have made us stronger and more resilient, stimulated our creativity, and made us more determined to share our voice. Black experience is not characterized solely by struggle, but at least for me a part of being a Black woman in Canada has involved struggle in a city where I feel relatively isolated from blackness, where I feel my issues are rarely addressed adequately.

I’ve spent over 3/4 of my life as a visible minority in the West. I am aware of my surroundings, the social structures, and often, like so many of us, I am just tired of what I’m seeing, hearing and experiences. In recent times I look for some sort of respite, and to be honest it’s hard to come by.  It often only comes when I am with family and like-minded friends, when the television is switched off, and when the magazines remain closed, otherwise I am bombarded with images, lies, and sobering statistics. Like all the Black women I am on close terms with, I have struggled (and I’m still struggling) in many ways; there have been the identity issues, beauty ideals, exotification, being made to feel  invisible, the list goes on and on.

The Black female experience is different for everyone, but for those of us who have lived in the West so many things are common, from the sexualization and harassment experienced from a young age, to being told to stay in the shade so that our skin colour doesn’t get dark and “ugly.” It also means that as adults we are having to remove all those internalized lies about ourselves, and accept the fact that although flawed we are human and we are worthy.

Being a Black women affects so many aspects of my life; it means I plan things differently, I have to be more strategic about certain things. The Black experience is not meant to be a trend or a fad; for us living it it’s our reality and it dictates so much including how we are seen, how we are treated, and the health issues we face.

The co-opting of race as a costume is what I see as essentially an erasure of history, culture, and racial experiences. It’s not about admiring a group of people or feeling an affinity with their culture, which happens all the time and is perfectly valid. This is about believing one can just decide to wear another race like it’s a dress. Blackness is about more than outward appearance; those who use the Black women’s aesthetic often go for the stereotypical aspects, thus further insulting our image. Black people have struggled to get to where we are, and so many of us are still working hard. This is not a fair world, especially for us.

Yet, still, here we are, thriving regardless of all these obstacles. But it’s been a journey, one many of us are still on. The journey illuminates the Black woman’s experience so well: a journey of honesty and vulnerability, admitting many things to oneself, decolonizing one’s minds. Before this journey I was quite naive, a hopeless idealist, believing people had what was best for me at heart, believing that we live in a colour-blind society, believing media lies, ignoring what was going on around me, and refusing to name the micro-aggressions I witnessed. Since embarking on this journey, I have met people on a similar journey, people with whom I can commiserate. These are people who understand issues that others might see as inconsequential, for example getting  hair braided, not being able to find the right shade of foundation, having to deal with people touching and prodding you without asking because they don’t see your humanity. This journey obviously affects the psyche in a profound way.

Survival has always been about finding ways in which to escape from and survive in this land that oppresses us. We have worked hard at doing so. We have worked hard at empowering ourselves and other black women, and finding freedom at all costs for our sanity, in order to grow, and perhaps to prove something to ourselves and to others. For those of us who are immigrants, our vantage point is different than that of our parents; not only do we have a generation gap, we also have a cultural gap. And that makes us stronger while making our lives ever the more complex. We are excluded from so many areas of life yet we do our best to squeeze in, to occupy more space. Our experiences are often negated but we are determined to speak.

My racial experiences cannot be understood fully by the reading of books, nor by spending time in Black spaces. It’s not something one can catch by breathing in the same air as me; it’s only something that can be completely understood by being me, or someone like me: a Black woman.

“No man can feel the iron which enters another man’s soul.”- Hazel Carby

Mourning Diary- Roland Barthes

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“That’s how I grasp my mourning. Not directly in solitude, empirically, etc.; I seem to have a kind of ease, of control that makes people think I’m suffering less than they would have imagined. But it comes over me when our love for each other is torn apart once again. The most painful point at the most abstract moment…”– Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

I doubt I’d have picked this book up had it not been for my uncle’s recent death. Grief isn’t the sort of thing I exactly want to think about but in this case I had to confront it, and felt reading someone else’s thoughts might help put things into perspective for me.

Barthes’ diary is about the death of his mother, who he was obviously very close to, and it is one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of writing I’ve ever read:

“Suffering, like a stone…
(around my neck,
Deep inside me)”

It was so very touching, perhaps even more so as I was thinking about my late uncle, life, death, grief… And I’ve also been writing, though nothing as gut-wrenching or as emotional as Barthes did. In fact I forgot about my grief and dwelled on his, a man who has been dead since 1980. The impact of the written word is eternal.

From the little I know about Barthes, I’m aware that he was a linguist among other things and indeed he had some thoughts on the language of mourning. Which got me thinking about the cultural aspects of grief and mourning but I’m still dealing with/thinking about that:

“My suffering is inexpressible but all the same utterable, speakable. The very fact that language affords me the word “intolerable” immediately achieves a certain tolerance.”

The composition of the diary was very short diary entries over the space of several months but there was so much emotion distilled in each entry:

“As soon as someone dies, frenzied construction of the future (shifting furniture, etc.); futuromania.”

What I appreciated was the personal explorations of how grief plays a part in all parts of life. There are levels of grief, and our grief changes how we see almost everything. And there’s no time-frame to get over the grief either. But grief as something personal is something I’ve heard a lot over the years, and I realize nobody can really understand our grief. As Barthes said, ““Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.”

Give Sorrow Words

Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.
– William Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 3)
I’m slowly reading Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection entitled “A Field Guide to Getting Lost.” In that book she touches on her quest to learn about her family history, a history that includes migration that has resulted in her family being scattered all over the world, a bit like my family in fact. I’ve been thinking a lot about her story and why it resonates so much with me.
 
Initially my plan was to  write about the consequences of being caught between cultures, between continents, of not having a strong rooting anywhere, of feeling the need to find out more about one’s family history as a way of grounding oneself and knowing one’s place in the world. I got to thinking about what has been lost by this moving around.

 
By a strange foreboding something happened that made me reflect on this in more detail than I would have liked. In the space of just under 12 hours I lost my great-aunt and my closest uncle. We are here, they are there.There’s this great distance that requires money and careful planning to cross. Weddings and other celebrations you can plan for, funerals, not so much; last minute flights can cost thousands so it’s not always financially feasible to travel, and even if travel is possible the idea of having to spend over a day flying and in transit is definitely draining for someone who is already distraught.

Death always causes me to reflect, to remember things. When I think about my great-aunt, I remember a serious woman who was apparently  nothing like her cheerful sister, my grandmother, who passed away long before I was born. At first I was intimidated by her sternness, and was always slightly worried about getting on the wrong side of her, which never happened, but as I grew up I began to understand her more, and understood why my mother loved her so much. In the picture below she is almost 80 years old. It’s my favourite picture of her because I rarely saw her smiling. I wonder what her stories were, what she went through.

Amayi Evalesi Gomani

My uncle, on the other hand, was someone who truly understood me and was my confidante in many ways. He was constantly encouraging me, even up until  the week before he died when I was frustrated by the progress I was making on my thesis. In the picture below he’s dancing with my aunt, his half-sister, at her engagement party. He was always so full of joy and life.

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Death  brought comparisons of culture to mind and of how things are done in different places. I remember when another uncle passed away when I was 17 years old, this time I lived in Africa. At this point I was face to face with African funeral rituals that I had been unfamiliar with. I watched with fascination and confusion as the houseboy and the gardener moved the furniture out of the living room and lay straw mats on the ground instead. People I’d never even met before travelled from far away to stay with us, they occupied every space in our large living room, (probably why the furniture had to be removed). I felt suffocated at the time because I just wanted some privacy, that’s how I dealt with grief, and still do. But the African way is clearly a collective mourning, perhaps developed to share the grief, to relieve the load. At the time I thought they were a slight nuisance, I didn’t like feeling helpless and restricted in my own home. I found it strange that a choir from the school my uncle runs came to sing. I wondered, why sing at a funeral?   This was my Western mentality speaking, not understanding why one would sing at such a sad occasion. Sounds were something to note: the loud, unrestrained wails of the mourners at an obviously very emotional time and people were releasing these emotions. This was not a time to be “genteel” and “refined”; I think they very clearly knew the consequences of unshed grief.

But here in Canada my sisters and younger cousins and I are not equipped to support my aunt and mother the way people back home could have; we don’t know how to fully, we were never of that world really. Back then I could sense my mother, my aunts and uncles were comforted by this outpouring of support from family, friends, and even neighbours. What has struck me is even away from home, the  older people in the African community here in Vancouver want to do things in the same way as back home, and they do so to the best of their ability. I think it also helps relieve the guilt of not being able to go home, of having chosen a life away from their family.* I also realize how important rituals are in life to alleviate grief.

For me, having shallow roots, even in Canada where I’ve spent most of my life, is something that has caused me concern from time to time but it has also liberated me. My definition of home is always changing but  I realize now that home is where my family is. The desire to go to funerals in order to properly say goodbye, to attend weddings, to watch my cousins and little nieces and nephews grow up, that’s what I miss by being here. That is my loss.

* Now I’m reminded of an  anthropology class in which I learned the different cultural definitions of family. My definition of family has always included my so-called “extended” family, I don’t really use the word “relative” to describe aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.

“My Silences Had Not Protected Me”

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” – Audre Lorde

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.’- Zora Neale Hurston

My plan for this post was to thank all those who share their stories, those who have given me and others strength to speak, all those who did not allow themselves to be silenced by the loud criticism of Society. Somewhere along the line my piece ended up being about having to defend one’s rights to share experiences deemed “negative” by some.

I sensed I was not alone but I couldn’t be completely sure. I knew I was being fetishized, sexually harassed, exotified, treated as a stereotype, and exposed to racial microaggressions. I wanted to talk to other women who might have had similar experiences and some knowledge about these things. So I read about other women’s experiences. I found stories of great courage and often relentlessness in their quest to have their say.  I realized  that the things I had felt were inconsequential, the things I had held on to for so long actually had meaning. I suddenly felt that as a collective of fearless voices, we are stronger.

But my triumphs have often been momentarily derailed by the “If you stop talking about it, it will go away,” crowd. I wish I believed that, that would be bliss. However, as a realist I’m far from convinced this is the case! I look back and think of the number of years that I was silent about certain issues but they were still there. That’s enough proof to show me that ignoring reality doesn’t make it go away.

Social media as a space in which discourse can happen has been a godsend to me in so many ways. it’s become a place where I can listen to people’s stories and learn more from  groups of people I might have never known much about before. But social media is also a place where we are advised not to discuss racism, feminism, for fear of rocking the boat. There are tactics used to silence us: threats of physical violence and death, and negative labelling, for example.

I came across the following quote last year and it spoke to me.

“I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity.”  
Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope

I find the above sentiment echoed in the many brave voices that have inspired me. These voices have come to me through various mediums but the important thing is they made me realize what a relief it must be to be able to share one’s experiences and stories.

Stories that I have been sharing recently have for some reason come from my 8 years in Africa. For some reason I’m beginning to reflect more on that time and how living there has impacted my identity. Specific news coming from Africa reminded me of one of my own experiences with racism over there. Was it negative of me for sharing the fact that I hadn’t been invited to my classmate’s birthday party because I was black and her parents didn’t like blacks? Could I have been a bit more positive perhaps and maybe not mentioned the fact that there is actually quite a bit of non-black on black racism in Africa?

To me, it doesn’t make sense to share censored stories, or to only share stories that support the master-narrative. People sense fakery and can’t relate to it. If platitudes were going to change the world, they would have done so long ago.

Why do we share? We want change obviously, we want healing, we want to connect with others. Discussing reality is not negative, it can help in giving voice. It’s not my job to bottle up my feelings, and spew out insipid expressions. If I write anything at all it has to be real.

Society often tries to silence us and make us feel bad about voicing our opinions and concerns. And sometimes those appeals for silence and changes in behaviour come from well-meaning people. I know they want to help but policing my words and actions isn’t helpful at all. Whenever a (black) woman talks passionately (and from her personal experience, I might add) does that make her threatening? Are we supposed to “know our place”?

Sharing our experiences is how we mobilize. When we do so we refuse to be complacent. We know that discourse will help to deconstruct faulty foundations. We know we are tired of the society that tells us it’s all in our head and we are just imagining it all. I am grateful to the people who do talk about race and gender issues so fearlessly. So many have sacrificed their lives to share what they believe in. Thank you for giving me the power and the strength to not give up on my own journey.

Through stories and sharing our experiences, we heal together and offer solutions; so much is possible.  If we keep quiet, the issues never go away; they are always there, repressed. I refuse to live in denial.