Author: Upasana (Sana)
A vibrant world of Black Culture
With the fervor of Black History Month underpinning London life, it is an exciting time to be involved with the many activities and events taking place to recognise, acknowledge and raise awareness about black lives and diverse ways of being.
When I walked into the Black cultural market in Brixton on a Saturday morning, I was ready for this. I was ready to encounter new narratives, ideas, art, and culture that would add new dimensions to the way I think of identities and nations and broaden my understanding of the world around me. I left that evening with a lot to ponder about, and the importance of carrying on the ethos of engaging with diverse histories.
Challenging single narratives
I stopped at the book stall. The book covers were vibrant and colourful with images of black women and men, and maps of different African countries. This felt different and new, making me pause to think of the absence of these books around me.
All throughout my childhood I was exposed to Euro-American authors. Blonde hair and blue-eyed characters would bake scones, pluck apples, play in the snow and had dogs named Charlie. I loved these stories, they took me to worlds that were new to me, introducing me to different names, faces, places and words. But that was all I was ever exposed to. In school and college, sociological theories, psychological frameworks and therapeutic models were largely Western, taking me along the same path, with the same story. While my passion for the arts and humanities was only strengthened, somewhere at the back of my mind there was a constant murmur. A voice compelling me to look beyond these stories (Adichie, 2009).
‘I always felt that I looked so different from the characters in the story,’ said Natasha1, author of one of the books at the bookstall. Born and brought up in London to Jamaican immigrant parents, Natasha grew up reading British authors. While she is British and connects with the culture, she was always looking for answers to her identity. ‘What is Jamaica like? Why do I never read about it in stories? I had so many questions,’ she said.
I resonated with Natasha. Both of us were looking for different narratives introducing us to alternative ways of being, including the diversity in Euro-American countries, which are equally culturally vibrant. To move away from the single narratives she grew up on and introduce readers to the pluralities in histories and cultures, Natasha started writing children’s books on Jamaica. ‘This book is a beginning, to encourage other authors of colour to write, to tell different stories, introduce new voices and celebrate diversity.’
Power and empowerment
Underlying the celebration of Black History Month and the narration of stories, is the idea of power. Black voices have been silenced for decades because of dominant power structures. One set of actors were in a position to dictate who deserves basic rights, whose voice matters and who continues being in a position of authority over others (Carty-Williams, 2020). Some stories are silenced and marginalized, while others continue to shape knowledge and life worlds.
To address this power imbalance and create more equitable spaces for voices to flourish, initiatives like Natasha’s help in reclaiming silenced histories and untold stories. It empowers and humanises black culture and people to break free of the years of disrespect and rejection. The very possibility of owning one’s story and having the ability to freely write, speak and publish is often beyond the imagination of these communities, a distant dream. ‘Even if I write children’s stories, they are powerful,’ said Natasha. A whole new generation of young people exposed to these narratives will be sensitised towards diversity and inclusion and accept and respect cultural differences.
Beyond Black History Month: Transcending Hope
I walked back home, deeply reflecting on all the authors and stories I had missed out on. But equally, I left with a sense of hope and liberation. The Black History Month had opened a window of opportunity to people like Natasha who wanted to initiate change and make a difference to the everyday realities of communities. A single story can be powerful, but multiple, plural and diverse stories are empowering and liberating. I only hope this ethos continues and we continue to engage with alternative histories beyond the Black History Month, because that is the journey to meaningful change.
Carty-Williams, C. (2020). Publishers want more black authors. Why have they silenced us for so long? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/11/publishers-want-more-black-authors-why-have-they-silenced-us-for-so-long
Chimamanda, A. (2009). The danger of a single story. (video). TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.
Indira, R. (2020). Lending voices to the marginalised: the power of narratives as alternative sociological discourses, 69(1), 7-16. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epub/10.1177/0038022919898999