As part of Black History Month this year, NELFT Knowledge & Library Service worked with the EMN and allies to host a discussion around the book Black, Listed by Jeffrey Boakye. The book is a thought-provoking glossary of terms linked to black British identity, ranging from terms of endearment (‘Queen’) to official terms (police codes). Boakye discusses painful topics with insight and welcome bursts of humour (his section on Quentin Tarantino’s films is well worth a read!). Contributors to the discussion did not need to have read the whole book – as it was non-fiction, there was no danger of spoilers and it’s the sort of book that you can dip in and out of.
The discussion was held on Zoom and Twitter. The Zoom edition opened with reflections from the two hosts, Christopher Tuckett, Associate Director of AHPs and Mark Dumbrill, Family Therapist. Christopher and Mark began with recognising their relative privilege as two white men and shared their journeys to allyship, from the whitewashed history education received at school and thinking the EMN “wasn’t for me” through to their current positions organising and chairing this book club.
Topics raised by attendees included the pressure on black people to demonstrate excellence just to get by (whereas white people do not face this same pressure), tokenism, representation and football – a wide-ranging chat. People were positive about the book – “to see everything captured in one book is amazing!” – and reflected that it had exposed them to new understandings of terms such as ‘woke’. They found the reading experience “exhilarating” and nuanced, and shared the advantages of having multiple cultures to draw upon and the insights of younger generations into the myriad ways of being black and British: "my children tell me, that is not politically correct [...] my children know the right things to do and say!” and “my children have developed their own language – they don’t categorise by skin colour, they say ‘blonde’”.
Boakye’s story of not having skin tone colours in his pencil pot at primary school that matched his own identity highlighted the importance of decolonising the curriculum and checking in with people regarding how they would like to be referred to. One participant reflected, "I've been black all my life – but I didn't realise until I was an adult and moved back here, where I was born […] then it was ‘Oh-oh, I'm black’”.
The discussion closed on a hopeful note, but with the recognition too that there is work to do. Participants felt that NELFT’s commitment to equality is genuine, and that oftentimes the organisation truly represents the communities it serves. Calls to action included the excellent idea of embedding the agenda item to learn something about each other’s cultures into every team meeting.
It's not too late to join in the discussion with your own thoughts – you can use the hashtags #NELFTReads and #BlackHistoryMonth and Tweet us @nelft_library and @nelftemn on Twitter. Our post-reading survey is still open – if you received a copy of the book, please do fill this in to inform our future book-chat plans! We have ideas for collaborating with other staff networks, offering different formats (e.g. audiobooks), and maybe even a Valentine's Day special - so watch this space!
If you would like to pre-register your interest in receiving our next book, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make sure to let you know as soon as it becomes available.
Catherine Jenkins, Health Literacy Project Manager