Finding My Black Voice
When I found out about the slave trades in Libya, besides all the other relative emotions I felt at the time, the non-emotion of silence filled me up more. I recanted and shared images, reports, other people’s talking points, but I had none. A whole week had lapsed and finally, I knew what I wanted to say. ‘This was wrong’, ‘this shouldn’t be happening’, but I wanted my words to be more powerful, enough to evoke a response that enabled movement, that would then bring about change, change that would finally bring an end to this atrocity. The fact that this dehumanising occurrence was happening to people that looked like me added to my personal crusade. Along with the prominence of Black Lives Matter, the NFL national anthem protests, the rise of the Right and Alt-Right in many parts of the world. Even my own personal gripe with the lack of effort being shown for black history month in schools. Having just had a new baby also means I am very aware of the type of world I want to bring my children into.
I started a story with the verbatim news coverage of two men from Nigeria, being sold, live! I moved on to explain who these people might have been before their dehumanisation. What family may have been missing them? Although beautiful, the story didn’t capture all I wanted to say, it only bridged one piece of my aim, empathy for the victims.
Listening to other black voices is something I now crave and purposefully seek out. I enjoy their perspective. I get comfort from hearing other black stories, it allows me to reflect on my own experience and to gain a few new ones, sometimes. Following my first attempt, my second try was harsh and miles away from where I’d begun. Feeling inspired and rather revved up by ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.’ Like Reni Eddo-Lodge, I too wanted to sound off! Even though every word was strongly felt, it didn’t receive the response I wanted or the response I could objectively be content with, especially from those that were not black. I was shouting “black lives matter!” And they were responding with “actually, all lives matter!” This pissed me right off. Ironically I had mirrored some of the authors’ interactions in the book with my very own experience. I did say we were similar.
I was struggling to get them to see my perspective, empathise as to why I said what I said, but in reflection, why would they? They had never walked in my shoes, felt my experiences, known the things I knew. So with the help of James Baldwin's ‘Stranger in the village’, I saw an eloquent way of saying what you want, but without sounding like the ‘ANGRY BLACK WOMAN’, even though I felt I had every right too because I was angry and I am a black woman. Baldwin’s comparison of his own calm celebrity-like treatment as a stranger in a small remote village in Europe, with no black people, to the general aggressive treatment of black people in America, his home. He subtly conveyed just how terrible and at times, inhuman treatment of African Americans in a place that they call home, was so abhorrent that he felt more at peace and ‘home’ in a foreign land, where he was technically the outsider, but instead of brutal rebuttal, he was welcomed. That in itself spoke volumes.
Wanting to add another female perspective, I fell for ‘So you wanna talk about race’ by Ijeoma Oluo, because I did want to talk about race. I enjoyed it. It resonated with me, like the coat of armour a black person, particularly black women, have to wear every day, just to get through it. Coincidently during this time Ta-nehisi Coates’ ‘Between the world and me’ was having a resurgence, particularly through my social media timeline. Inquisitive, I decided to find out what all the buzz was about. Coates’ was essentially writing a love letter to his son, trying to prepare him for the world he lived in, explaining why he, Coates, was the way he was, what the world felt like when he was growing up in it, all the while tackling the injustices, institutional racism and racial disparity faced by African Americans, men particularly. My own journey of raising a black boy in the current climate, allowed me to connect with Coates’ story. Through his-story, Coates helped me to realise the key to finding my own black voice would naturally come from telling MY story.
So I did. Using the facts and truth as I understood them, allowed me to finally achieve what I initially set out to do, just say what I wanted to say. I realised I had to add me, show what created me, my perspective. This breakthrough allowed me to finally find my own voice, which really meant telling my own story, it just so happened to be a black one.