I’m an avid lover of books – always have been… always will be. With everything going on; a global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement and trying to make it through life while dealing with mental health issues, I haven’t taken the time out to read a good book.
In my desicion to explore more and learn more, I decided I was going to read the book Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.
I thought now was a good a time as any; especially with my current state of mind. I had made a conscious decision to read more books by black authors. I realised that, I myself, a self proclaimed reader, did not have nearly enough books by black writers.
It troubled me deeply. I was consumer buying books, not realising the impact this had on my own people when I didn’t buy books by black authors. It’s something that has always been in the back of my mind, but I did not see the issues until last year, when I started my masters in book publishing where we didn’t even discuss black writers or books or people of colour in the industry. I didn’t abd couldn’t relate to what I was learning and saw and I found it difficult but, I digress… that’s a story for another post.
The bookstores I shopped at, didn’t house many titles from black writers. Growing up I didn’t hear of many black writers; the only ones I was familiar with were, Akala, Malorjie Blackman and Benjamin Zephaniah and that was only when Black History Month rolled around.
As I grew, I started seeking out and researching black authors. I started reading the works Maya Angelou, and got acquainted with Nigerian authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and Chigozie Obioma, who are now my favourites!
I’ll admit Queenie was bought after my friend recommended I read it. I thought there wasn’t a better time than now to give this a read.
Candice, I think as a black writer and woman, has achieved some amazing things. She is the first Black women to win the Book of the Year award. A problem in itself that she was the first woman of colour but still a good achievement. The book gained traction in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and after it was listed on suggestions of books to read by black writers.
Within the first two pages I was already ‘triggered’ (feeling a sense of anger and upset at a situation) because, in my mind I could already resonate with this character when it comes to self identity, friendships, forming relationships and family dynamics. As I kept reading Queenie continued to frustrate me in how she handle herself in situations and how she dealt with people when they confronted her about her race. There was some many themes that were addressed in this book that unfortunately correlate with the current world climate.
One thing I was able to pull from this was the relationship she had with her friends. In any friendship group there are different personalities and beliefs, this can sometimes be hard to navigate. In the book it how she has two white friends and a black friend. One of her white friends is open to learning about the black culture; there are instances where she asks questions, whereas the other is quite self centered and doesn’t see past the notion that Queenie “should be lucky she has a friend like her”.
As a black woman who used to have a “friend” like that it made me think about the different situations I have found myself in, where I have ‘toned’ my blackness. It brought me back to my first year over University. I made a white friend who thought it was okay to call me “oreo” because, ‘I was black but sometimes acted “white”.’ To this day I will never understand what that means and why she thought it was okay to give me that name. What is acting white? Was it just because I was a knew all the lyrics to Wonderwall by Oasis? Or watched Friend? What did that even mean?
I didn’t confront her about that nickname till 2018 when we had graduated. I had allowed that to go on for three years but she still didn’t see the problem in her using that phrase.
This book was so brilliantly written in the way it addressed what we as black women go through and honestly, I think if you want to understand the life of a black woman, you should read this book. Another important issue it addresses here is mental health and how sometimes in the black African and Caribbean cultures it is swept under the rug and not talked about. I cannot stress enough the importance of opening up the conversation about mental health. Queenie goes through a lot of trauma and loss that isn’t addressed properly and her family do not do much to help until things get really bad.
Candice does a brilliant job in lifting the curtain on family dynamics and the impact they can have on decisions you make in life. It can have a detrimental effect on every area without you even realising it.
The need for equality and diversity is also addressed and it sheds light on the very real concepts that some organisations have “token” black and people of colour, maybe 2 or 3 in every department, showing that they are “inclusive”. This is demonstrated in PR; posting pictures on social media with hashtags and buzz words with smiling employees who should be grateful to be there.
When I put this book down, I was proud of how far Queenie had come from the start of the book. It is the reality for us as black women in society; sometimes we are objectified, sometimes we are silenced or forced to not be ourselves in friendship groups or relationships. But sometimes we are able to use are voices to stand up for what we believe in and be proud of our identities. On a personal level, I was able to examine my self identity.
In this book and this character, I was able to see the good that can come from what we are currently facing. I laughed I cried and I got anger and cheered on Queenie willing her to do well. She might be a fictional character but, she is based off of what we as black women here in the UK go through.
If you haven’t already I recommend giving Queenie a read!