Sometimes, even I think I just want to stay quiet and slip out without making a fuss.
On a Monday evening in late May I attended the British book awards. This
is “the” industry awards. The highest accolade that anyone in the industry can get, is to win here and I was nominated for British Bookseller of the year.
I was a bit nervous, not about the winning or not, not about being in front of thousands of people. I was nervous and that was growing because I have a habit of upsetting the apple cart.
I had sat for the whole evening listening to predominantly white people tell a predominantly white audience, how clever they all were, how wonderful this industry is. No mention of injustice, no stand for anything. So,here was my dilemma, should I follow the party line and just thank all the lovely people, or should I say more (as I say, “should I kick the cat?” Sorry cat lovers.)
Now those who have heard me speak, may think well that is easy, just do you, speak up. But as I have stated before, black people are not machines, I have feelings, and I know, all too well, that as much as I may get some on board when I speak up, I also make enemies. And for me and many others, it is emotionally and mentally exhausting being seen as “the angry black woman” and like many other black women, this label is given from before we even became women.
So, the dilemma is “Is this a day to make more enemies?” and
then the inner voice kicks in. The reminder that I have a platform and I am a voice (thankfully not the only one) against injutice. Ignoring inequality, is an injustice.
So, I knew I had to say something. I had nothing prepared, and this train of thought had continued right up until the moment I stood on the stage, in front of the microphone, with the award in my hand.
This is what I said and I have no regrets:
One day I’ll be out of a job.
One day we won’t need Afrori Books because they’ll be a level playing field for black authors and authors of colour.
One day we’ll come to the Booksellers awards, and it won’t look this beige, but we ain’t at that day yet.
And so, yeah, I keep getting up every morning and shouting from the rooftops that black authors are doing incredible work and they deserve the platform, they deserve the acknowledgement, they deserve the space in this industry and black people deserve to see themselves represented in books.
And so, until that day changes, I’ll keep getting up, I’ll keep doing seventy hours a week, I’ll keep being in the worst paid job I’ve ever had, but the best job I’ve ever had. And I keep hoping that that change will come.
I want to say thank you to my incredible family, my daughter Ysabel, my daughter Oliviyah who support me in the shop. My husband who is tireless in his endless support. He is an introvert who doesn’t read, you know, imagine being married to me. (He is so lucky)
But mostly just thank you to every black author, that has
trudged through mud, treacle, just everything, to go against the odds and get a book published and get it on my shelf.