by Nwabisa Moyo
White doll. English books. White models. White actors. White characters in books about white lives. White representations of love in my Black world, as a Black child.
As a young Black girl growing up with books, TV shows, and magazine covers that did not reflect who I am, made it hard for me to find my identity. I was not exposed to people that looked like me, spoke like me, and acted like me. Instead, I was constantly shown all that I was not, and would never be. For a long time, I did not know the power that I held within my hair that defied gravity and my skin that soaked in the rays of sunshine that shone on me.
I did it all. The relaxers. Longing for lighter skin. I altered my accent. I did it all, because that is what I thought beauty was; because that was all that represented beauty in the media. But beauty does not only come in a pair of size 8 jeans, light skin, long hair, and a narrow nose. That is only a form of beauty, not beauty in its complete form.
As young Black girls, we have always fought to be represented in the media, books, magazines, and other forms of art. We have fought to be seen in society. To be heard.
Even though there wasn’t nearly enough representation in the past, over the years I have discovered a great deal of African literature that reflected my life, my experiences, my thoughts and my languages. These books were a mirror in front of me, reflecting my fears and struggles. While engaging with these pieces of work I felt seen, like I was having my world explained to me, and my thoughts laid out for me.
Through reading these books, I fostered a love for who I am. It felt like having a conversation with myself, like learning the secrets of my thoughts, of my life. Being able to read a book that I fully relate to had always been an impossible dream for me, because I was always distilled with English and Western literature that barely confronted the issues that I experienced.
This changed when I found African authors who wrote about the everyday experiences of Black Africans.
One book that greatly impacted me is “Coconut” by Kopano Matlwa, a South African Author. This book talks about being a “coconut” in South Africa, and the experiences that teenage girls live through (like starting their periods and finding themselves in a world filled with so many dictators who want to tell Black girls what they can and cannot be). While reading this book, I felt like I was talking to a friend of mine about what it’s like to live as a Black girl in different spaces, like the township and the suburbs.
Secondly, the series “Hlomu The Wife” by Dudu Busani Dube impacted me by introducing me to the next stage of my life: womanhood. We read of the struggles women in South Africa face and the power that they have, yet are often stripped of. Still, they rise like the sun, despite the darkness. I learned that my life and experiences are valid, and my story is worthy to be told.
The series explores the lives of a wide range of women from different backgrounds. Reading these books reminded me of the power that I have as a young Black woman, and that I am seen by people in the world. This book taught me that I am worthy of a seat at the table. The characters, though different, were all allowed to tell their stories from their own points of view, without interruption, alteration, and exemption of parts of their stories.
Their truth was unveiled and displayed, proudly, for us to see into the lives of ordinary Black women, and how they manouevre spaces in South Africa. Especially those spaces dictated by men, who long to tame women like animals, and put them behind bars under the guise of “protection”.
Beyond just reading, these books made me feel again. They each taught me that reading is not just consuming information; it’s living someone else’s reality with them. It is actively taking yourself into a new world, opening your heart and learning to love a person you’ve never met or known, who has also, never existed. More importantly, they can show you how to better love yourself. The love you deserve.