Author Candice Brathwaite: “We do not have the infrastructure within publishing to support the voice of black British literature”


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n Candice Brathwaite’s Instagram feed, a healthy video of her slow dancing and laughing with her husband. In a previous post, the author shares an image from his latest book, Sista Sister, which is firmly on the Sunday Times bestseller list. In just about every other post, she wears outfits so vibrant and stylish that you can’t help but hover over each one and hope that she tagged the brand.

This whole influence affair has its issues, but if we talk about the literal term, you’d be hard pressed to find a woman – especially a black woman – who wouldn’t take a peek at Brathwaite’s life and pine. even just a little bit. She is a two-time successful writer and TV presenter and is also set to appear at the Evening Standard’s Stories festival in association with Netflix next weekend.

When Brathwaite appears on my screen for our video call, she is full of life and joyful, and she is wearing a bright orange dress with dramatic sleeves as it is the first hour in the morning. I expect no less. We’re here to talk about Sista Sister, which follows on from her first bestseller, I Am Not Your Baby Mother, released last year. Although Baby Mother came first, Brathwaite tells me that Sista Sister had been in gestation for five or six years, having been repeatedly turned down by various publishing houses. “The backlash was that there was no audience for this kind of material,” she says. Not anymore. “When the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement happened, not only was it no longer ‘there is no more market’, all of a sudden every publishing house had a diverse team and wanted ten titles to prove she was with the kids. “

The influx of black literature following the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 was hard to miss, with publishers producing books on anti-racism by black writers. Some were good. Some seemed to spoon-feed non-Black readers reminding them that racism is one thing. Many – it must be said – were time-consuming reinventions of the Reni Eddo-Lodge wheel. Although a Brathwaite fan, I admit I was reluctant to read Sista Sister. What more can be said that I do not already know and actively avoid linger for for fear of having a nervous breakdown? I was wondering. I am relieved to hear that Brathwaite shares my concern.

“I’m sick of this kind of storytelling. These stories are a regurgitation of our trauma, ”she says. Speaking of non-black audiences, she says that “if you can’t sit with us when we’re having fun, that in itself shows your bias. You’re so used to seeing black bodies abused that when we just want to tell our stories, you’re actually not ready.

Sista Sister: Notes on Things I Learned the Hard Way So You Don’t Have to by Candice Brathwaite (Quercus)

Her sense of fun is displayed throughout the book, adding comedic relief to some of the heaviest moments. An all-too-familiar anecdote strikes me during her chapter “Snatching Wigs”, when she describes the tingling sensation and “the smell of the fish market” of straightening my hair for the first time – an experience that I do not like. personally remember with a thrill. White readers will not understand. But it is okay. Black women will read it, laugh about it, and share it with other black women they know and that’s kind of the point. Brathwaite says the book is meant to be passed on to our daughters and nieces, and I can see why. Millennial black women lived these things in silos, only learning how connected we are all when we matured and were able to put names like “micro-aggression” and “misogynist” to our experiences. How much more self-confident, mentally stable, and robust would we all have been had we had a sister to refer to during our formative years?

Brathwaite emphasizes the importance of focusing black female voices and not being afraid to alienate voices that are heard more often. “I couldn’t turn around and play myself and be like, let’s have this voice that’s trying to talk to everyone,” she says. “Enid Blyton wasn’t talking to me. The Babysitter’s Club did not speak to me. JK Rowling wasn’t talking to me.

Our conversation turns to social media and life as an influencer. She is clearly one of them, with 228,000 followers on Instagram alone, but does she like this label? “It depends on how you influence and what you share,” she says. “If it’s because people are influenced by me to live ambitious lives or to achieve the things we have been told that we can never have, then call me an influencer all day.” At the same time, she does not hide what influence entails. “I hate that people dance around the fact that this is a business. You need that amount of eyeballs to make Nike pay you two thousand dollars. It is a necessity and it is part of the business model.

However, you won’t notice that Brathwaite is too flashy about these branded offerings. “I have no interest in looking fluffy or in being noticed. I love luxury unboxes and luxury content, but I know how I’m wired and what my goal is. I just think the influence starts to go to the left when you get caught up and lose sight of why you even started.

Bodé Aboderin

Despite the profitability of brand sponsorships, being a hypervisible woman on the internet is hard enough, let alone a hypervisible black woman. From being underpaid compared to their white counterparts, to the targeted bullying of other influencers (Brathwaite was one of the Clemmie Hooper’s trolling Instagram account targets), they support a lot. “I’ve had horrible experiences, not only with other influencers, but also fighting to be respected by brands and fighting to be paid what I’m worth,” she says. “It’s a great puzzle especially for black influencers. You know that even if you had a similar platform – even a bigger platform [than a white influencer] – you are going to be undermined at some point in your career. Compensation for influencers is a reflection of global compensation.

It just might come back. On September 25, Brathwaite will join writer, poet and activist Kadija Sesay in a panel I chair on black British writing, at the Evening Standard’s Stories Festival in association with Netflix. I ask Brathwaite for a preview of what she will be talking about in regards to the issues facing black writers in Britain. “Black British writers are not the problem. Publishing is the problem. The institution is the problem, ”she told me. She recalls the I Am Not Your Baby Mother editing process in which a white editor made culturally insensitive comments, which led the author to insist that a black editor be hired. “I was like a second – everyone wants a black writer, but you don’t have black publishers. We’re already going to have a problem here because the editing will dilute the voice.

“We have the writers and we have the stories,” she continues. “We don’t have the infrastructure within publishing to support the voice of British black literature. How are we going to protect or legitimize the voices of black British writers if we walk into publishing houses and the only black face you see is in the canteen or reception? “

What’s the one thing she wants her readers to take away from Sista Sister? “It’s not in your head,” she says after a long pause. “Women who look like us are set on fire to death. There’s always another hurdle, and that deep feeling when you know you don’t have that job because of your hair or your skin tone – because of things that are in many ways out of your control – it doesn’t. it’s not in your head.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of black women who needed to hear this.

Candice Brathwaite is on a panel on Black British Writing at The Evening Standard’s Storytelling Festival, in association with Netflix, at Picturehouse Central on Saturday, September 25, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The festival runs from September 24-26, tickets are on sale now. Head toward stories.standard.co.uk to book and find out more about the program

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