For July’s Book Club pick, we have the sensational Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, winner of the 2020 British Book Awards ‘book of the year’!!!
**For thoughts and questions from last month’s Book Club pick, click here.**
Candice Carty-Williams’ fantastic novel, Queenie, has dominated the book charts since its release in 2019. In London, we’re introduced to Queenie Jenkins;
‘Caught between the Jamaican British family who don’t seem to understand her, a job that’s not all it promised and a man she just can’t get over, Queenie’s life seems to be steadily spiralling out of control. Desperately trying to navigate her way through a hot mess of shifting cultures and toxic relationships and emerge with a shred of dignity, her missteps and misadventures will provoke howls of laughter and tears of pity – frequently on the same page.’
Our discussion will be on the weekend of the 31st of July though this date is flexible! Just let me know what works best.
I know that last month’s book club was decided via Twitter poll – and this is something I will continue to do after July’s book club pick – however, I decided to choose this novel myself.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve discussed with a few friends and fellow Book Club members about what the ‘theme’ of this month’s pick should be. Our last theme was ‘Dystopia‘, a nod to the bizarre predicament we currently find ourselves in as a result of Covid-19.
But following the murder of George Floyd, June has been a month filled with protests, outrage and the long overdue acknowledgment that racism is rife not only in America, but in Britain too. I do not, nor will I ever, have the experience or understanding to steer the conversation surrounding the real, lived experiences of those affected by racism. However, avoiding anything to do with the events of the last month doesn’t seem right, which is why I’m addressing them here.
‘Race’ cannot be a monthly ‘theme’ for a book club; this trivialises the very real, lived experiences of Black people throughout history. Furthermore, reading is ultimately an act that is self-serving; by reading a book about race, it feeds our egos and makes us feel like we are a part of the conversation, as though we are fixing things.
Simply reading and discussing will not actually do anything to combat structural racism – this is a fact. Tre Johnson wrote a powerful piece for the Washington Post this month titled, ‘When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs‘. He writes,
‘This isn’t the time to circle up with other white people and discuss black pain in the abstract; it’s the time to acknowledge and examine the pain they’ve personally caused. Black people live and die every day under the burdens of a racism more insidious than the current virus that’s also disproportionately killing us. And yet white people tend to take a slow route to meaningful activism, locked in familiar patterns, seemingly uninterested in really advancing progress.’
It’s important to put ego aside and understand Johnson’s point: by reading a book and perhaps then sharing said book via social media on the pretence of appearing ‘woke’ (reminds me of Alix in Kiley Reid’s novel, Such a Fun Age), this potentially performative activism lets people get away with doing zero constructive work while looking like they’re doing the most. The real work is never tackled. Alexandra Tsuneta has written a helpful article about how to avoid performative activism here.
I am very excited to read Queenie this month. However, Johnson’s article makes it clear that book clubs are not the answer, action is;
‘It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art. It starts, also, with reflection on the harm you’ve probably caused in a black person’s life.’
Building on this, a recent article by Rachael Charlene Lewis discusses how increasing numbers of white people – however well-meaning – are harassing Black people for book recommendations and resources. Anti-racist resources are pretty much everywhere at the minute. Google is free, Wikipedia is free. You can read Lewis’ article here.
If you are based in Wales, as the majority of our Book Club are, the Swansea Council Volunteer Service has a great list of organisations that are curated by and focused on individuals in our community. You can find the information here.
You can also donate to and find out about events happening locally through Race Council Cymru. They have funded over 150 projects in their campaign for racial equality in Wales and also provide vital resources on Black history in Wales. You can find them here.
Another person who needs our support now is Siyanda Mngaza, a young woman from Cardiff who was racially abused and assaulted before being wrongfully convicted for trying to defend herself. Her family and friends continue to work tirelessly since her incarceration and have a website with information for how we can help. Learn about Siyanda’s story here.
Reading can be a part of being anti-racist, but bear in mind that it is still doing the absolute bare minimum in terms of tackling racism head-on. We must remember that it is an immense privilege in itself to learn about racism rather than experience it first hand. As a group of primarily white people living in Wales, we need to look back at things that we may have said, at microaggressions and prejudices we may still have and change our ways immediately. At the same time, we need to invest actual money into organisations that do real work, listen to what Black people have been saying for generations, buy from Black businesses and restaurants and call people out when they say racist things.
We already have the tools to be allies. While reading is a fun past time and amplifying black writers and voices is incredibly important, we need to remember that only by digging beneath the surface and getting uncomfortable is when the real work can begin.
I hope you all enjoy Queenie<3