Black Lives Matter: What Can I Do As a Writer?

For those of you waiting for the new list of poetry competitions, writing submissions and opportunities open or with deadlines in June 2020, it will be published tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.

I’ve held it back a day for #BlackOutTuesday – to show respect for the death of George Floyd, highlight the senseless loss of black lives due to police brutality and protest the disturbing use of state force against the citizens of the US right now.

We all live in a world shaped by racism and now more than ever, we need to acknowledge and understand that Black Lives Matter. This quote from a 2014 essay by Scott Woods is particularly resonant.IMG_20200602_114203_465

In immediate response to the murder of George Floyd, here’s a great summary of direct action options from Black Lives Matter.

If you want to better understand the issues surrounding racism, the POC Online Classroom is curated by and for people of colour and has a fantastic database of reading and resources, including articles, essays and poems on everything from identity to organizing to self care with writing by Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Angela Davis, Langston Hughes, Marlon James, Angel Nafis and more. Here are a few relevant sections to check out:

I’ve been thinking about how I could better educate myself and help amplify black voices within the literary community. If you feel as helpless as I do and want to know what you can do to take a stand against racism, here are some of the things I’m pledging to:

  1. Make a donation – to the family of George Floyd, to Black Lives Matter, to Reclaim the Block who work to make communities like George’s safer, without police intervention, or to Minnesota Freedom Fund to help with bail funds for protesters who have been arrested. In Ireland, you can tackle racism by supporting MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) or MERJ (Migrant & Ethnic-Minorities for Reproductive Justice). Petition your local TDs and councillors to end Direct Provision. If you are in the UK, check out this poem and list of resources by poet, Salena Godden.
  2. Educate myself. Do the work to understand the insidious nature of racism and how it impacts on everyone’s lives. None of us are free from its impact, as Scott Woods explains above. Don’t ask black friends or colleagues to do this work for me. The information is widely available. There are lots of resources being shared under the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter and Instagram right now. Here are a few ideas to get started:
    • How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi;
    • This Book is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work, Tiffany Jewell;
    • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge;
    • Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad;
    • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehesi Coates;
    • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo;
    • This thread on racism in Ireland by Dr. Justine Akase.
  3. Support the work of black writers and poets. As a writer, read and share their work. Here are some great books to get started:
    • Citizen, Claudia Rankine;
    • Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith;
    • Incendiary Art, Patricia Smith;
    • The Evidence of Things Not Seen, James Baldwin (pretty much anything by Baldwin);
    • White Teeth, Zadie Smith;
    • The Black Flamingo, Dean Atta;
    • Don’t Touch My Hair, Emma Dibiri;
    • This Hostel Life, Melatu Uche Okorie;
    • Correspondences: An Anthology to Call for an End to Direct Provision, ed. Stephen Rea and Jessica Traynor;
    • The Jhalak Prize is also a great reference point for recent work by British BAME writers.
  4. Amplify. I actively seek out and highlight submission opportunities for Black writers, as well as other marginalised groups, in my monthly poetry list but am painfully aware how few journals and competitions make their work a priority. As an editor or publisher, please ensure your submissions policy is inclusive toward black and other marginalised groups of writers. Make space for their voices.
  5. Listen. Who am I following on social media? Whose voices and experiences am I paying attention to? Am I only listening to voices and experiences that chime with my own? Break out of the echo chamber. Accept that my opinion is neither relevant nor necessary in every conversation.
  6. Know that I will make mistakes. Know that those closest to me will make mistakes and some will not be interested in doing the work. Don’t dig in behind these errors. Learn from them. Apologise and pledge to do better. Continue to hold myself and others accountable for words or actions that are harmful to others. Do this with compassion.

Will you join me?

Don’t forget, when buying books, please try and support local, independent and/or black-owned bookshops. 

For some poetry to read right now, here’s a great compilation of Poems of Protest, Resistance, and Empowerment by Poetry Foundation. It includes one of my all-time favourite poems: Rosa Parks by Nikki Giovanni.

…they noticed his stutter and probably understood
why his mother wanted him out of Chicago during the summer
when school was out. Fourteen-year-old Black boys with limps
and stutters are apt to try to prove themselves in dangerous ways
when mothers aren’t around to look after them.

Rosa Parks – Nikki Giovanni

Update: Here’s a fantastic thread of poems and recommended reading by black poets from Luther X. Hughes on Twitter.

Update: Here’s a link to an Antiracist Allyship Starter Pack from Kandice Le Blanc’s post ‘Dear White People, This is What We Want You to Do’, with thanks to writer and editor Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi for sharing on FB.

Update: Here’s a link to Racial Equity Tools: Arts & Culture Strategies, with thanks to Chiamaka, as above, for sharing on FB.

Update: For those who prefer visual materials, Two Thumbs Up: Movies and Documentaries to Use (and Avoid) When Teaching Civil Rights, an article by Hasan Kwame Jeffries at Zinn Education Project, is a great run-down of good, bad and downright ugly documentaries and films covering civil rights history.

I realise this only scratches the surface of a pervasive problem and if you have any other ideas or reading recommendations, please feel free to add them in the comments section below. I’ll keep updating this post as more ideas about useful information come to me.

Featured Image: Black Lives Matter

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