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  • Akosua Biraa

Heart of the Race

‘just weeds’, she said

‘what about seeds?’

Black woman catapulted globally…

refused out of a desire to keep

value of having plenty


And here too

the people with power

remained silent

burn our lips

Lay down and I

struggled with it

and panic

and hurt

and fear

biggest and most lasting impact

common blood betrays me

Another black woman

Must live among tigers,

but can take time off

living alone

A new moon is coming

cycle of independence

focus in

your own future and

your life ahead of you

validation to keep


This piece is composed solely out of phrases taken randomly from “Charting the Journey: Writings by Black and Third World Women”, an anthology printed by Sheba Feminist Publishers and edited by Shabnam Grewal, Jackie Kay, Liliane Landor, Gail Lewis and Pratibha Parmar (1988). The volume is aptly described as “a contribution to the documentation of ‘Black womanhood at a specific moment in this place called Britain’”.

This is exactly the case, however, with a broad, feminist, “personal is political” agenda that includes the voices of other BIPOC women from Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, Chile and Palestine. At that time in the U.K., Black (with a capital B) was seen as a strategic political category that also included the experiences of South Asians and other minority groups from the Global South. This spawned powerful feminist coalitions and publications, including the diversification of “Spare Rib” magazine in the late 80s and early 90s.

Many of the pieces in Charting the Journey are powerful testimony to life in Britain during the 80s. Of specific interest to me, back then, was a short essay by Shaheen Haque entitled “The Politics of Space: The Experience of a Black Woman Architect”. Haque’s critique of the architecture profession gave credence to my own experiences of marginalization as an architecture student then. She also provided me with the impetus to navigate a rather racist-sexist system of architectural education by enabling my own critical spatial literacy and agency—not only within the profession, but also personally through my successful negotiation for affordable housing.

Charting the Journey was a very important volume in its day, rivalled only by Kitchen Press’s earlier Stateside publication of “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by radical women of color”—another timely collective volume by BIPOC women that was edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (1983). Also, to be shared in a future #ReadIt post.

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