The night I got my life

Each year, the Southbank hold the Women of the World festival, this is a period of talks, discussions etc. by a range of accomplished and emerging women from many fields. Give it a Google.

This year, the extraordinary civil rights activist Angela Davis was invited down to discuss the state of civil rights now, women and race. I booked my ticket forever ago, and genuinely counted down the weekends like a child at Christmas. Well, Christmas came and Ms Davis was a perfectly wrapped present, bow and all.

To copy the description on the Southbank’s website for those unsure why I am fan girling so hard “Davis is a living witness to the historical struggles of the contemporary era”. She is an academic, writer and an activist who has dedicated/ dedicates her life to fighting for Black rights and challenging oppression. Hounded by the FBI and branded a “dangerous terrorist” by President Nixon, Davis has tirelessly fought against capitalism and the white patriarchal society it exacerbates. She has also done a lot of work on the (in)effectiveness of the prison system. Nothing in my short synopsis, will do Angela Davis justice, so let the internet be your friend, and buy all her books :).

I furiously tapped away at my phone trying to jot down the gems she shared (though I’ve heard it’s on YouTube) so here goes. Introduced by Southbank’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE, Davis came out to a standing ovation, because obviously.

With no beating around the bush, Davis was asked with reference to her latest book, ‘Freedom is a constant struggle’ and the current (post trump/ post Brexit/ Alt fact Alt right) climate how we address both progress and regression?

“Trump is a disaster”… we all nervously laughed at this 3% humour/ 97% scarily true fact. Davis continued to say, although Hillary wouldn’t have been perfect, there would have been more space to do the necessary organising and petitioning with her in power.

Yes, over the years it’s been infuriating seeing the same problems crop up, and yes, institutional racism is worse, however conditions have changed. To say nothing has improved, is to also say the work that has been done has been meaningless. Davis recounted her meeting with activists involved in the BLM UK movement, and commented that the younger generation have more profound ways of working and moving things forward, which is inspiring. So, despite the 2016 shaped hiccups, progress has been made.

On how we can have meaningful discussions on racism..

Davis agreed this is one of the most difficult conversations to have, but it cannot be done in abstract. Racism must be discussed in the context of activism so constructive steps can be taken. Davis then questioned why the goal post for freedom and equality, is set at the centre of the systems we are trying to dismantle. Black and LGBTQ communities should not aspire to be equals in the destructive and toxic white hetero-patriarchy we are surrounded by. Meaningful dialogue on racism and all it infiltrates is thus essential, and is thankfully happening more frequently now. Davis made a poignant point in reminding us all, to be patient. The fruits of our labour may not be evident now, but that’s not why we fight. “We are creating terrain for something that may happen 50 years from now” and that is ok. Capitalism has forced us all to measure the world in such small time frames, we forget that “today we are living imaginaries of those long gone”.

Today we are living imaginaries of those long gone.

We then moved onto everyone’s favourite buzzword “intersectionality”… it’s importance/ relevance in feminism today.

Intersectionality has blossomed from the civil rights era, black female activists were (and still are) asked if they were black OR a woman, as if one couldn’t fight for equality for both. Intersectionality is thus the exploration of how we fit and challenge both these issues and their connectivity.

Davis continued by saying that feminism is such a loaded and racialised word, in that the normative standard of it is white and middle class. Intersectionality will be an actuality (ooo it rhymes) if the picture you imagine when hearing the F word is the marginalised rather than the privileged. A black trans-woman as opposed to a Lena Dunham esque type. Davis recalled being named a feminist after publishing ‘Women, Race & Class’ in the 80s, retorting that she was actually a black revolutionary woman. Fast foward to 2017, and Davis feels like women of colour have put in the work to redefine and reclaim it. She then throws shade at Hillary Clinton for failing to take note of that in the presidential campaign. Hillary may have shattered the glass ceiling, if she won, but she paid no attention to the women and communities who would never see that ceiling as they were constantly slipping on the ground crumbling beneath them.

On men and their role in feminism..

Davis insisted that men should take the initiative, they don’t need to be invited to the table. Moreover, many of the issues feminists campaign about, like domestic violence, reproductive rights, sexual abuse etc are in fact by and large men’s problems.

We then went to questions from the audience, which I must say were pretty profound… sometimes at these events people come armed with things that should be reserved for a professional counsellor………..anyway, a question was put forward by Siana Bangura about anger and self care, and how we can use it for productive energy.

Davis stated that anger can be good, referring to Audre Lordes’ observations on this. However, we must also be aware of it becoming self destructive.

When asked by an 18 year old activist, what she knows now that she wishes she knew then…

Like the true don she is Davis exclaimed nothing! She wouldn’t change a thing, because the mistakes made and experiences had were crucial in taking her to where she is now… If you didn’t know, Davis was tried for 3 capital crimes (aka crimes that could’ve led to the death penalty) , and spent 16 months in jail awaiting trial. Reflecting on this, Davis said this experience was a gift, and support she received during the whole ordeal, showed her the power and the importance of the movement.

When asked about the experiences of women in and leaving prison, Davis noted how people assume the prison complex is a male issue, when it’s not, particularly when you consider the fact that the US alone host 1/3 of the world’s female prison population. Many women who’ve been in prison, liken their treatment inside to what they faced from men outside prison, demonstrating how the violent tendons of patriarchy have seeped into institutions there to protect. Such an issue is why feminism must be understood as a movement that goes beyond the guise of simply gender, a feminist society would break down the destructive systems that hinder both women and men.

Davis has been very vocal about her support for Palestine, and thus was asked about this, and it’s importance in fighting oppression. Davis first reminded us all that she went to the Jewish university Brandeis and this is where campaigning for Palestine began, alongside her Jewish peers. Parallels can be drawn between the Palestinian and US civil rights struggle, if one looks at police brutality or anti-Black racism and Islamaphobia, which is the greatest threat today. Davis concluded by saying that Americans have a habit of being US-centric, and it’s about time they learnt to show solidarity with other causes……

The final question was posed by campaigner and sister of Sean Riggs, a black man who died in police custody. Marcia Riggs asked what gave her the strength to keep going, and in an action that moved us all, climbed onto the stage and embraced the revolutionary black woman that is Angela Davis.

Snippets from my bookshelf 

This year, I’ve made a concerted effort to only read books written by non-white authors, I feel like I’ve had a book-a-lution, as this is the most I’ve read since uni by choice, annnnnd the content has ranged from kingdoms in Benin to estates in Kilburn. I’ve gone through my bookshelf and selected some of my favs, peruse through to find the perfect stocking filler!
(In no particular order)

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla

Nikesh has compiled essays written by Black and Asian people on their experiences in the UK. This is easily my favourite read of the year. It’s insightful throughout, hilarious at times and poignant at others. I am so grateful that this book was put together and I urge every single soul to read it.

Black and British by David Olusoga

Did you catch any of the BBC’s Black and British series? If not iPlayer that immediately. This book accompanies one of the programmes featured in the series, and it is phenomenal. Sometimes non-fiction can be dry and unnecessarily verbose, well, this book is certainly not that. Each chapter explores a different element in Black British history, remaining fascinating and captivating. An important book for every bookshelf.

Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn 

I wrote about this in a earlier post, so if you’ve still not read it, you are playing yourself!
Don’t let the cover fool you, it’s not bursting with sun and happiness, but I like it all the more for that. 

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I 👏🏾 loved👏🏾 this! This debut came out earlier this year, it is the perfect book to read when you need a break away from the festivities. I think I read it in one sitting, not because my life is that pathetic but because it’s excellent.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

This novel is what 2016 needed, I was literally counting down the days till it came out. As can be expected with a Zadie Smith book, the narrative is layered and complex, and the story development gradual, without being slow. It has been 4 years since Ms Smiths last novel, and boy was it worth the weight.

Mama Can’t Raise No Man by Robyn Travis 

I was ambivalent when I heard this was written in the form of letters, as this can be difficult to pull off convincingly, HOWEVER it works perfectly. The story flows seamlessly, and the different perspectives constantly make you pause, think and reflect. This book genuinely blew me away, and I urge you all to support, buy and read.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma 

This is another one I’ve blogged about, and still in my fav of favs, to save repetition on why it is great #facts, read my post on it :). I cannot wait to see what Chigozie comes up with next.   Order. This. Book. Now.

The Book of Night Women by Marlon James

I read this post Trump, and as with any Marlon James book , the darkness, intricate writing and bold description takes you out of your reality. Set in 18th century Jamaica it is not a book for laughs, and can get very brutal, nevertheless, it is worth every accolade. 
Merry Christmas 🎉

Two debuts for you

 

Heyy, sorry it’s been awhile, I’ve been on hols on a melanin recharge. I made sure I kept my 📚 game up , so here we have two 2016 releases that you must read.

‘My Name is Leon’ Kit de Waal

This hotly anticipated debut by Kit de Waal came out in June 2016 (UK release). Set in 1980s Britain, the story is about two brothers who are placed into foster care. This story could have been written in the third person, yet Kit chooses to tell it from the perspective of a mixed race, 9 year old boy, Leon. This gives the reader a completely different, heart wrenching and heart warming insight. We follow Leon as he cares for his mum, as he tries to decipher why his white baby brother is adopted and not him, and as he goes through social worker after social worker. Cleverly and convincingly written, this book is an essential for upcoming autumnal nights.

‘Here Comes The Sun’ Nicole Dennis-Benn

Another debut that came out this summer, a page in and I couldn’t put this down. In fact, I had to limit myself to a few chapters at a time, as I was nearing the end a few days into my holiday. If you’re looking for a cheery, colourful, don’t worry, be happy type set in the Caribbean, this is not it. The story explores the life and secrets of a family who live in a area bordering Montego Bay. Nothing is held back, as topics like sexual abuse, sexuality and the effects of tourism (to name a few) are addressed. My only gripe with this book is the ending, in that I feel like it didn’t really have one…but this can be resolved by Nicole releasing a sequel. All in all, superb read!

Enjoy 🙂

An evening with greatness 

On Sunday 7th August, women and men, flocked to the Southbank, many in their colourful African best to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, discuss bestselling ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, 10 years later. If you missed it, have no fear I wrote down EVERYTHING, partly for this blog, but primarily for general life enrichment.  With no introduction required, Chimamanda came out to a rapturous applause, alongside interviewer Ted Hodgkinson (who did a great job FYI). Ted begins by asking Chimamanda about the ancestral influences of the book, as well as its raison d’être(yep Chimamanda’s got me speaking French). Seemingly impressed by the question, Chimamanda tells us that the Biafran war was a period she always felt called to write about, (disclaimer, I am not about to detail the causes and happenings of the war, google it). As an Igbo, born and bred in Nigeria, this war had a profound effect on her family. Chimamanda recollects being told stories, notably by her father about experiences during the war. These stories enabled her to capture the “emotional truths” that make the novel deeply moving, whilst hours and hours in libraries carrying out research and going through archives gave the book its factual element.

It is clear that this novel is more than just a story, both Chimamanda’s grandfathers died in refugee camps during the Biafran war… There was a certain emotional space Chimamanda says she inhabited whilst researching and writing this book, that was not experienced in any other writing. ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is not simply a novel but history.

Despite this calling, Chimamanda admits to feeling the pressures of broaching a topic left alone by much of Nigeria’s education system. She wanted to capture an honest picture of Biafra, in its making and after, without writing propaganda. Moreover, the pacifist in her, wanted to write a novel that shone light on everyone’s truth.

We then got onto the topic of the character Richard Churchill, the English journalist who travels to Nigeria. (Richard  was covered at different points, for ease of reading I’ve put it all together). Chimamanda says she never planned to include an English character, however, the more and more she researched, she realised that the “outsider” element was crucial to the war. It was foreign journalists for example, who reported on the death toll, and refugee camps in Biafra, and other nations that supported ( whether verbally or with arms) the warring sides. Additionally, Chimamanda read about BBC broadcaster Frederick Forsyth who covered the war, and alas the seed for Richard was sewn.

Although Chimamanda was certain she DID NOT want Richard’s character to take the form standard in literature, of the European that travels to deep dark Africa, she admits to struggling at first with writing his character. She jokingly says Richard initially spoke in long sentences with lots of commas, but that this didn’t feel right or real. Richard is a white male, Chimamanda is not, but once she was able to strip this away, and transcend race (tehe),writing this character became more natural. She recalls the offence some took to her depiction of Richard, and proudly retorts that those offended were used to white males playing a central role in all things…. On the contrary, in her novel, we see him struggling to write about his experiences during the war, precisely because, despite being an honorary Biafran, this is not his story to tell *cries in white privilege*.

And with that we go on to Ugwu, the character the novel starts and ends with, Odenigbo’s house help ( sorry I don’t know the politically correct term for this). This character is given a  salient role in this story, with Chimamanda giving a voice to a level of society that is often muted, because as she deftly puts, “class is not talked about in Nigeria, as the people talking are all of one class”. Chimamanda explains that out of all the characters, it is Ugwu that earns the right to tell this story, even if society deems him as a lowly servant.

We then move on to discuss, the polar opposite twins, Olanna and Kainene. Chimamanda states that these characters were inspired by the fact that, women’s stories were and still are, rarely the centre of narratives about war. Ted rightfully observes that the war adds a resilience to Olanna, who Chimamanda describes as the sibling that strives to be good and parent pleasing.  The war ” strips her layers of bullshit”, and you see a strength in her that was always present in Kainene.

After what Chimamanda calls the psycho analysis of some of her characters, we move onto a recent chapter in her life, motherhood. You can literally see the happiness radiating off her, as she discusses her baby. In this journey,  she has found a sense of admiration for mothers, equally, it has also made her more concerned about current issues and affairs, as she needs her daughter to grow up in a world, better than what it is now. When stating some of the differences between writing and motherhood, Chimamanda admits that when writing you are the character’s God, but you are not your childs, which is a blessing but also frightening.

We ended on the much anticipated audience questions. I understand that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is our Guru of life and literature, but some of the questions people were asking had me like O___o , so I’m only delving into a few.

On the books ending;

Chimamanda speaks on meeting a mother who trekked decades after the war ended, to find her son who had gone missing during the war, and had been cited in the North. She hopes that such compelling truths are reflected in her story’s ending.

On feminism;

“Feminism is who I am, not a cloak I take on and off” *drops mic*.

On gender equality in Nigeria;

Younger Nigeria women seem to be less progressive, 23 year olds obsessing with marriage, and policing women more than men…..

On politicising her novels;

When you’re  black or brown, white audiences read your work as an anthropology not just as a writer writing about love or a family etc. Chimamanda recollects someone asking her about a character in one of her books, and if he was representative of the 1980s military regime in Nigeria, NO, he was just a father.

It is a disservice to only see/ force the political aspects.

On complex, sensual love life’s of her female characters;

Chimamanda  cheekily responds, that it’s a reflection of her love life. She emphasises that it is important for female sexuality to be seen as a thing and not connected to shame.

On Europeans working across the African continent;

Listen!

Someone tweeted that the evening was like Comic Con for Black girls, and that is literally it. I cannot overstate how inspiring it was. Ted ended the night by gushing “your daughter is lucky to have you as a mum”, and the standing ovation Chimamanda received following this demonstrates how correct this is!

Sunday Soothers 

Here are 3 books I’ve read and fallen in love with this year. 

‘The Long Song’ Andrea Levy

If you’ve read this already, I know I know, I’m late. If you haven’t, get buying now! This novel from the acclaimed ‘Small Island’ author, had me hooked from the get go! I was initially ambivalent about reading a novel on slavery, as you know, not everyday negativity, however a page into this and that feeling went. There IS a harrowing current that runs throughout this book, but it is necessary, and above that is a witty, charming and emotive story.  

‘The Fishermen’ Chigozie Obioma

This book narrowly missed out on the 2015 Man Booker Prize ( to the incredible ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings, google it!), but it is still a winner to me, particularly as it is Obioma’s debut. Set in Akure, a town in Western Nigeria, this book tells the tale of four brothers and a prophecy that breaks them. The writing style is superb, and every word used powerful. I read this at every possible hour, nearly missing train stops because of it. If this is the magic Obioma writes in his first book I CANNOT wait for the next!

‘Till the Well Runs Dry’ Lauren Francis Sharma

I actually saw this book on the gram, and had no expectations, good or bad, I just wanted something to read. Well, well, well, what can I say…Lauren Francis Sharma tells a colourful and captivating story of love, life, secrets and obeah (black magic). Another spectacular debut, the words fly you to Trinidad, where you grow to love and bond with the main character Marcia, and yearn to find out all the mystery surrounding her. A joy to read! Who says preeing for hours on Instagram can’t be fruitful…