Meet Amy Ashwood Garvey: Black History Month 2020

Amy Ashwood Garvey (1897-1969) is the Jamaican born feminist, playwright, Pan-Africanist activist and ex wife of Marcus Garvey. Amy was a director of the Black Star line Steamship Corporation, and along with her former husband Marcus she founded the Negro World newspaper. She was one of the pioneering Black women journalists and publishers of the 20th century.

Amy founded the precursor organisation to the West African students (WASU) in London in 1924. She organised women’s organisations in West Africa and the Caribbean and became an important figure in the anti-racist movement in England working with Claudia Jones. She also helped to establish the International African Service Bureau and the London Afro-Women’s centre.

I just loved reading about Amy; she was such an inspirational, resilient woman who showed a great passion for women’s rights. Let’s face it, she was a bad-ass woman, I mean she just had to be given that she was operating in a very male (especially a white male) dominated society. Amy

  • opened the Florence Mills Social Club a jazz club on Carnaby Street, which became a gathering spot for supporters of Pan-Africanism
  • was involved in organising the first session of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945 where she was only one of 2 two female presenters
  • gave talks to women’s groups
  • helped to set up the “Afro Peoples Centre” in Ladbroke Grove in 1953
  • co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Coloured People In the wake of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots

see bad-ass!!!…

I was particularly intrigued to learn that Ashwood had a relationship with a certain William Tubman the president of Liberia. I smiled when I read this as it reminded me of the time when I met one of the late prime minsters’ of Dominica, Pierre Charles… I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination

Ohhh I almost forgot, she is now one of my NoMo sheros, yep she didn’t have any children.

Well you can research more about Amy Ashwood Garvey at your leisure but for now I will leave you with a few of her quotes…

#blacknomorolemodels

Meet Claudia Jones: Black History Month 2020

So we looked at Black Women in Britain as part of the Great Black Women in History course I’ve been attending, that sadly ended on Wednesday. Now I like to dance and was so trilled to learn about Claudia Jones who is known as the mother of Notting Hill Carnival. #BlackNomoRoleModels #BlackHistoryMonth

I have so many great memories of Notting Hill carnival, I always remember my dad parking at my great aunt’s house and waling, as a family, over to the parade to watch the floats and the dancers in their colorful customs pass before my eyes. As a young child my dad would position my brother and me on each of his shoulders so that we would have a birds eye view of the procession. He proudly got to experience this tradition with his family year after year until I started to share this experience with my friends in my 20s, 30s and 40s. One year my dad purchased a manual ice-cream churn so that he could make ice-cream to sell at the carnival.

I remember having to sit at the churn tuning the handle whilst my dad poured in the ice, ignoring my pleas of “my arm hurts” whilst encouraging me not to stop. I remember the excitement on his face, liking his lips at the thought of tasting his delicious creation that would make its mark at carnival. I remember being on the staff (with his Dominican Nation Overseas Association group) where carnival goes would stop by dubious at the though of peanut butter ice-cream. “Buy one and taste it with your friends” my dad would say. One of the group bravely parted with their money on exchange for the cone that my dad proudly handed over. 2 minute later they were back ordering cones for the rest of the group, I can hear my dad’s laughter now – he knew they’d be back. I have tears as I remember those moments, moments that my children will never have with me.

There was one year that ‘jumped up’ in a Trinidadian band with my friends. Man that was a great year!!! We bought our compulsory T-shirts and customised them around our style and personalities  – I think I created slashes in the back of mine – and we partied, jumping up and around the carnival route. Nope I never got to share the magic of carnival with my own children but I have so many great memories that I created with my friends over the years thanks to Claudia Jones.

About Claudia:

Claudia Jones (21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964) was was a Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist. As a child she migrated with her family to the US, where she became a political activist and black nationalist through Communism, using the false name Jones as “self-protective disinformation”.Due to the political persecution of Communists in the USA, she was deported in 1955 and subsequently resided in the United Kingdom. She founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, West Indian Gazette (WIG), in 1958.

Meet Bell Hooks: Black History Month 2020

So I was browsing through Jody’s Childless and Childfree women role models hall of fame and came across Bell Hooks. #NomoRoleModel #BlackHistoryMonth

Bell Hooks (1952-) is an American author, feminist, and social activist. Her writing has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender, and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. Her 1984 book ‘From the Margins’ includes an excellent (and much misunderstood) critique of ‘motherhood’ and issues of what has come to be called ‘intersectionality’. She is childfree by choice.

I was introduced to Bell when I found and read her book “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism”. I can’t remember what led me to her book, it’s likely that it came onto my radar whilst on one of my searches around the history of why black woman don’t talk [outside of the home] about our problems.

In the introduction to her book Ain’t I a Woman, Bell mentioned that “At the time in American history when black women in every area of the country might have joined together to demand social equality for women and a recognition of the impact of sexism on our social status, we were by and large silent. Our silence was not merely a reaction against white women liberationists or a gesture of solidarity with black male patriarchs. It was the silence of the oppressed – that profound silence engendered by resignation and acceptance of one’s lot… Racist, sexist socialisation had conditioned us to devalue our femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification. In other words, we were asked to deny a part of ourselves – and we did… We were a new generation of black women who had been taught to submit, to accept sexual inferiority, and to be silent.”

Bell’s book really helped me to see the depth and heaviness of the many years of oppression that I am unconsciously caring as a black woman. To read that “many people have difficulty appreciating black women as we are because of eagerness to impose an identity upon us based on any number of negative stereotypes” went a long way in helping me to recognise the experiences that I’ve faced over the years, the experiences that have me feeling like, no matter what I do, no matter how careful I am or how considerate I am, I am always seen as ‘wrong’. I am the perpetrator even when I am being oppressed, even when I am hurting. There is such a heaviness and sadness around this experience that it can sometimes be so difficult to put this into words without being seen as the “angry black woman”, when in fact, because of these experiences I am angry.

So I thank you for joining me in celebrating Bell Hooks an exceptional woman who is childfree by choice, who is not afraid to speak her truth and a woman who did not remain silent.

Meet Queen Bilikisu Sungbo: Black History Month 2020

5 weeks ago I started the Great Black Women in History course taught by Black History Studies and what has really struck me from the course is how instrumental black women were in shaping our legacy. Black women were strong and showed great resilience leading and fighting against men in war as resistance warriors standing up for the rights of their people.

Throughout the course I have been struck by how I, as a black woman, am seen because of my history. I am saddened that instead of the incredible strength that my ancestors passed down to me which should be celebrated, this strength, this fighting spirit is instead seen negatively to the point where I am stereotyped as the “angry black woman” because I chose to stand up for my truth, because I want to be heard.

Well today, at the start of Black History Month I have decided to reclaim my ancestors ‘bas-ass’ spirit and celebrate all that they mean to me. So I am going to start with Queen Bilikisu Sungbo. As you will see from her bio she was childless and was known as one of the greatest builders in history who built one of the largest cities the world has seen, during the middle ages, larger than Baghdad, Cairo, Codova and Rome.

You can order the book, The Great and Mighty Wall, and read more about Queen Sungbo and the construction of the earthen wall in Eredo, of South Western Nigeria.

It’s official I am ‘Still Hot’!

This morning I woke up to the following tweet on Twitter…

A few months ago I received an email from journalist Vicky Allan; Jessica Hepburn (Fertility Fest and author of 12 Miles) recommended that she contact me. In her email Vicky said that she “was blown away by my writing, especially my recent post Imitation of Life.” OMG a journalist was ‘blown away by my blogs’ – insert crazy, I’m so excited dancing – ok I am actually doing the crazy, I’m so excited dance right now!!!

Vicky wanted to reflect a wide range of women’s experiences of the perimenopause and menopause and felt that my story was/ is an important story to be heard. I’m still doing the excited dance!!!

So Vicky interviewed me back in August and today shared the cover of the book titled ‘Still Hot!’

I’m pinching myself to know that my story will sit alongside the stories of such amazing high profile women. To think that 6 years ago, at the start of my childless journey, I wouldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through let alone allow anyone into my inner sanctum. What a journey!!!

You can pre-order you copy from Amazon – yes click on the word Amazon

World Childless Week 2020

As I think about World Childless Week starting tomorrow, Monday 14 September, it has dawned on me how far I have come since the start of my childless journey when I was told that I had unexplained infertility back in October 2014. The world of grief that I was then propelled into was, at times, indescribable to the point where I did not know how I would survive. I was so silenced by shame and confused that I could possible be grieving, it felt un-allowed and impossible that this could be true. But with the help of Jody Day’s plan B mentorship programme I came out on the other side knowing that there was the possibility that I could have a fulfilling life without children.

During the programme I decided that my plan B would be to ‘find my voice’ and let me tell you, that seemed so far fetched at the time. Me and my crazy ideas!!! But since then I haven’t stopped talking about how my childless status has impacted my life. That experience helped me to own my story and gave birth to my first book (child); Dreaming of a Life Unlived: Intimate stories and portraits women without children.

Allowing myself to be vulnerable and owing my story has lead to some of the most amazing opportunities, from my interview with Jenni Murray on BBC radio 4s Women’s Hour and other numerous radio interviews, my public speaking opportunities – taking part in Fertility Fest being one of my most memorable

as well as my contributions to books such as Living the Life Unexpected by Jody Day and Motherhood Missed by Lois Tonkin.

Oh and not forgetting being a trained facilitator of the Gateway Women’s’ Reignite Weekend workshops. What a journey!!! And to think before 2014 I found it hard to share anything so personal about myself with pretty much anyone – my inner critic was always there whispering the words “they will not like you if they knew what you’ve done”. I’m glad she’s been replaced with a new cheerleader, one that shouts, “I AM WORTH and I AM ENOUGH

During this journey I have come across so many women, especially black and Asian women who have been silenced by the cultural parameters that tells us not to bring shame on the family, not to talk about our problems outside of our home. Women who were grateful that they found someone who they could talk to who looked like them, someone would understand. I’ve been to honour to be in a position to listen and support them on their own childless journeys.

So as one of 23 World Childless Week Champions from around the world, I am proud to announce not only the start of World Childless Week tomorrow but I will be presenting my childless circle interviews with Meriel Whale for Diversity day on Tuesday 16th. The interviews will be live at 7.30pm.

#worldchildlessweek

Leave the ‘Race Thing’ aside for now

I listened to one of Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table talks’ (Black America In Crisis) that motivated me to write this blog.

I guess the conversation put words to some of the angry feelings that have surfaced recently, actually probably more like over that past xx years.  It was the realisation that we (as black and brown individuals) need to get to a place where ‘we are not afraid to speak our truth’ that really tugged on my heartstrings. I’ve had a very difficult ride over that past 5+ years some of which involved experiences of microaggression; yes that stuff that white people do not want to hear about and the stuff that we are pushed to ‘prove’. I’ve heard comments such as “you may as well drop it because it’s too hard to prove”, “leave the racism stuff to one side for now and just focus on xxx”, “we value diversity” and that’s when I wasn’t afraid to point out the racism that I was experiencing.

After reading a post on Twitter referencing a blog posted on nurses.co.uk where the author said “I could not prove that the reason [that I was experiencing what I was experiencing] was due to the colour of my skin, but with every bone, I knew that was the sole and only reason” I realised that this was one of the reasons (and possible the reason) why I remain angry after hearing a result that should have had me rejoicing. “…We are taught to compartmentalize, store it away and move on, because these are the people that we have to continue to work with and maintain good professional conduct with. We have a fear of being scrutinized or being labeled as a troublemaker*…” These words hold so much truth in our daily experiences, these words are why we sit in silence and ‘leave the race thing aside’ because we are too afraid of how we will be seen, judged or treated if we don’t.

When there is “no justice, there is no peace“**

The Imitation of Life…

As well as being involved in a number of conversations post George Floyd, the latest being on The Full Stop podcast with Michael Huges, Sarah Lawrence and Berenice Smith (watch out for the recording) I have also been reflecting on my experiences as a black woman. As much as I have been encouraging ‘white people’ todo the anti-racism work for themselves and also to learn our history I have also felt that it’s just as important for me (as a black person) to know my history too.

So that being said and on the back of me finishing ‘Ain’t I A Women’ by Bell Hooks, I thought that I’d take some time out to watch the film Imitation of Life. For those of you who are not familiar with the film, part of it is centered around a black housekeeper who faces the rejection of her own fair-skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, who abandons her (cultural) heritage for a chance to be accepted as white with the belief that she would get further in life (and have better chances than her mother did) if she were white.

Thinking back to my earlier years, I do not recall not wanting to be black – I guess I had more (although still pretty limited) opportunities than the originally written 1939 character Sarah Jane had – but I do remember favoring my friends long blonde hair, that they could toss over their shoulders, over my tough, wiry, stay-put hair (I now have a more loving relationship with my hair). I remember secretly playing at home placing one of my mum’s crocheted doily’s (it was the closest thing I had to a wig) over my head pretending that it was my hair, hair that I could then toss and flick over my shoulders. I remember that in my mind, white was better, white girls where slim and beautiful and nothing like how I looked with my big behind and tick (think) thighs – I really hated my thighs.

My earliest memory was of me in a pushchair. My dad had taken me to a market, I’m not sure if my mum was with us, and dad wanted to buy me a doll. He got to the required stall and pointed at the one he so desired me to have. As the lady took it down my dad proudly handed it to me and I screamed – it was not the doll I wanted, it was black and I wanted the pretty white one.

No I do not remember not wanting to be black but I had definite messages of what was good, successful and beautiful and that wasn’t represented in me. The messages I received growing up and into adulthood;

  • “Can you have less plaits in your hair next time”
  • “Have you considered being a shop assistant”
  • “You are not good enough to sit A levels”
  • “How did you get into Bristol Polytechnic? That course (HND in Biomedical Science) sounds too good for you”
  • “Is English your first language?”
  • “Do you have to wear your hair like that?”
  • “You are so mouthy”
  • “Black people don’t do that”
  • “Have you ever been to prison?”
  • “I nearly had to ask you to smile so that I could see you (in the dark)”
  • “I knew that you’d be a good dancer”

and this was what was said to my face let alone the unspoken messages fulfilling the stereotypes within the systems I existed in.

No I do not remember not wanting to be black but I remember the struggles to be heard, to be accepted. The longing to be see as the same and not as other.  I remember feeling tired of having to constantly prove myself – that I wasn’t like the ones they saw in the news. I remember not knowing who I was…

Sadly these memories were born out of my experiences from both white and black people and reflecting on the books I’ve read, the conversations I’ve had, the podcasts I’ve listened to I see the (painful) history/ the trauma that we have been shaped from, that we all still bear the scars of. The history that is, unless faced, destined to recycle itself. To Quote Bell Hooks; “More often than not we bear our pain in silence, patiently waiting for change to come. But neither passive acceptance not stoic endurance lead to change. Change occurs only when there is action, movement, revolution”.

The books I have read…

The books from my ever growing reading list…

I can’t breathe…

There has been a lot of media courage over the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd but watching the news on Wednesday 3 June, reporting on the protests in Hyde Park and Brixton was the first time I felt the tears rise up from my chest. Witnessing the outpouring of anger, bringing so many together brought up emotions that I found hard to contain.  Undoubtedly the words “I can’t breathe” will live on in our memories for years to come…

I sit here as a black (childless) woman with so much fear for my brothers, my nephews and my friend’s sons knowing that our battles are not just on the streets but are within the systems we exist in, with not only those who are in positions of authority but with all white people we are in contact with. Yes the ones who do not want to hear our words, do not want to validate our experiences, who do not want to accept that racism exits – mainly because they do not want to see (or even acknowledge) their own basis that play out on a daily basis.

Megan Ming Francis mentioned in her Tedx talk that the question ‘how do we solve this problem’ is the wrong question to ask. Megan states that we need to understand the root cause; we need to ask what are the underlying issues? I find myself being frustrated during conversations that focus on the trigger (the rate at which BAME people are dying because of Covid being one of them), conversations that do not get the to root of the matter. Those of you who follow me know that I have mentioned the genetic memory that we (both black and white descendants) carry from slavery in my talks so none of the issues that have been raised recently should be a surprise; yes we should be angry that it is happening, but why are we still surprised??? There are so many examples/ statistics showing that black people are being disproportionately treated and/or affected. The British singer Jamelia spoke of this in a recent post (I saw on FB) which starts with “Dear White people” where she talks about ways to help dismantle racism in our systems – I have quoted her speech here for those of you who are not able to access it on FB….

“Call it out

  • in our Education System
  • in the Curriculum (it needs to be decolonised)
  • in Healthcare where black people are 4x more likely to be detained under the mental health act, are 4x more likely to contract and die form Covid and are 5x more like to die in pregnancy and childbirth
  • in the Judicial System where black boys are 8x more likely to be stopped and searched, 4x more likely to have force used against them, 26% more likely to be remanded into custody and given harsher sentences than their white counterparts
  • in your place of work where black people experience microaggression upon microaggression on a daily basis…”

and to add to this black people are more almost 2x as likely to enter a formal disciplinary process than their white counterpart.

I listened to Nova Reid’s podcast [Nothing can be changed until it is faced: James Baldwin, Activism and why white women need to rise up] where Nova mentions the incident in Central Park involving Amy Cooper. I was taken aback when Nova mentioned that white women telling lies, crying, shouting that she is being treated unfairly/ aggressively (by a black person) is racism stemming from slavery days where this was the only way a white woman could exert her power (as white women had none (but more than black people) had in those days).

We need to understand the root cause!

I was asked (by some white friends) how I felt about the recent news reports. I replied that as disgusted as I was to witness what happened to George Floyd I was not surprised. There are endless stories of black men being treated with such excessive force and black people being treated differently from their white colleagues. What I also mentioned to my friends was that I experience this treatment on a daily basis. I may not have someone physically retraining me or kneeling on my neck but I am constantly being vocally retrained, constantly being shown that I am less than, that I am wrong, I have experienced white women crying, lying (about something I’ve said), calling me a bully (white men have done this to me too) because they have not liked me, as their [black] manager, challenging their inappropriate behaviour.

We need to understand the root cause!

My fear with these conversations is that the focus is always on fixing the here and now; how do we stop more BAME people from dying of Covid for example but as Megan Ming Francis mentions “fixes that don’t address the root cause are not really fixes…. the problem is not just the few bad apples its that the whole tree is infected”

 “Our past history can light a way out of the present darkness… Not only white people need to be held to account but we all need to held to account – we need to know our history”. We need to understand the root cause!!!

To learn more from Nova Reid at Nova Reid.com

To hear more from singer and TV presenter Jamelia at Sky News

My hysterectomy Journey

dealing with grief

Well today, Tuesday 2nd June is day 14 post my hysterectomy… I sometimes feel like I should be whispering that “I had a hysterectomy” when I hear that I had ‘major abnormal surgery’.

It has been such a long journey to get here and now that I am here I expected to feel different to what I am actually feeling. On reflection I’m not really sure what I expected to feel; I did think that I’d be really sad, I was worried that others would take this sadness as me thinking that I had made a mistake or regretting having the operation. I was worried that my tears would be misunderstood. I was convinced that I’d be saddened by the finality of no longer being able to have a child – not that my 49 year old eggs and uterus were up to the job anyway – but you get where I’m coming from.

What I actually felt was ‘crap’, no sadness just crap!!!

My friend dropped off at the entrance to the hospital and left me to make my way to the pre-op unit. On arrival the nurse took my temperature and gave me a mask which I wore until I was in theatre being prepped for surgery. It all felt very cold and lonely, no one there to hold my hand, no one to reassure me that it will be ok or that I’ll see them when I wake up. Nope it was just me and my (at times) crazy thoughts.

The ward was just as cold, no visitors allowed with the few patients being looked after by the nurses who really didn’t have much to do. I spent my time sleeping, reading and barely touching my food – hospital food isn’t great at the best of times let alone trying to eat it when you don’t have an appetite. I was discharged after 2 nights and walked down to the entrance of the maternity wing (the irony of it all) so that I could be picked up by my parents who drove me to their house to convalesce. 3 days later my appetite recovered, much to my mum’s delight – she does worry.

I guess the hardest part of this for me (so far) was constantly feeling exhausted, dizzy and sore. My stomach felt so sore. For someone who is very active it was hard to feel so weak and physically in pain. I guess the most profound part of this for me was the disconnect that I felt with my stomach/ where I was cut. As part of my preparation work pre hysterectomy I wrote a letter to say goodbye to my womb. I remember feeling angry that my womb had let me down but now I was faced with not wanting to touch my stomach, I’m not even sure why but it was only at day 6 post surgery that I was able to bring myself to touch my scar. That night as I lay in the dark I allowed myself to explore my stomach;

  • I ran my fingers along my scar,
  • I felt the lump that I image is scar tissue,
  • I felt the hollow dip that was once filled by my womb,
  • I feel the numbness of my stomach and the tingling sensation left as my fingers ran across my skin.

So I am now at day 14 and feeling stronger although still sore. I have to keep reminding myself to take things slowly which is hard because I feel like I’m ok but as soon as I move my body reminds me that it’s still recovering and will be for some time to come. This has definitely been the longest period of stillness for me, which I am finding hard especially as I want to help my parents or get out and exercise but I am reminding myself this is a time of repair. For now I am going to use this time to be still and look inwards; this is now my time to explore a side of me that rarely gets to be seen.