In conversation with K Bailey Obazee and Sharifa James on the importance of Black queer joy and community
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE BY KATERINA HOLMES
When it comes to the classroom, and the wider world in general, both Black and queer history have suffered a great deal of erasure. Growing up, classes that addressed Black or queer history focused on oppression. Even then, important details were left out. If we only ever learn about our oppression, how will we learn to celebrate ourselves?
On experiences in the classroom
K shares that growing up in a Nigerian household meant they had low expectations when it came to Black culture and history being addressed. It wasn’t until post uni that K “started to realise how much has been omitted from British history”. Sharifa shares a story about how the one time race was spoken about in school she received an A+ on an assignment. “Being the only Black child in my class, it can feel like, ‘Oh here we go again, everyone’s looking at me and expecting me to tell them things’”. This resonates with me a lot as someone who also attended a predominantly white secondary school. I vividly remember when we were taught about Stephen Lawrence, the teacher singled me out and asked if I’d like to step outside for the class.
What could be done better?
Both Sharifa and K agree that there should be more conversations on joy and positivity. “And on what Black people have contributed to the world, that will include queerness as well,” Sharifa adds. She goes on to tell me about the Bristol Black Joy Project. Sharifa and her colleague Lara Lalemi work with schools and talk about Black queerness. The project gives a little history about how we have always been here. “Some of the students aren’t even queer, but the fact that we’re talking about queerness in a way that they’ve not heard before means they are still interested. It goes to show there is an appetite there for young people to hear these stories”.
K admits that whilst things have improved, there is still a lot of work to be done. “I love that you have things like The Black Curriculum. They are an organisation that teaches everyone about reimagining the Black future of education through Black British History. There are people like Black Cultural Archives, that again drive that and create more spaces where both the teachers and students can learn about Black history. If you don’t have the right people teaching Black history, they won’t teach it right. It’s so much better to have organisations that are led by people of colour who really understand what they are trying to teach, instead of learning whilst teaching”.
On reading lists
Despite studying English Literature and Creative Writing, throughout my education, the only book written by a person of colour that I saw on a reading list was Beloved by Toni Morrison. By my second year of uni, I was so sick of this I made a presentation on Octavia Butler and how she is never credited for shaping the genre of speculative fiction as the first Black woman to gain critical acclaim as a sci-fi writer. She was also a lesbian, something which is still erased to this day. I was overjoyed that my presentation inspired my tutor to put Butler on the reading list for students in the year below me.
I am eager to talk to K about OKHA, their Black queer bookclub. Like me, she was frustrated by reading lists that featured very few people of colour. “I started the book club so that we could introduce ourselves to more authors of Black ancestry. There are so many. Of African heritage, of Caribbean and Afro-Latinx heritage. It’s really just about creating a space where we can educate, connect and platform Black and queer people”. When I ask about her motivation, K says, “There’s no point waiting for organisations or companies who don’t really care about my life, what I love, or how I exist to create something for me and then also reap the benefits of that. I think Black people should be the owners of that which centers them”. I ask K about what feedback the book club has received. “Everyone loves it obviously, because it’s amazing. It’s not just about coming in and reading the book. You’ll also be able to engage in an exhibition by a Black and queer artist, you’ll be able to engage in a panel, or screening or Q&A. It’s another way to engage in the queer and Black community that’s not just focused on drinking”.
On creating safe spaces
We are all in agreement that the best way to celebrate Black History Month, and our Blackness and queerness in general, is to be amongst our community. Sharifa has found a way to do just that with Kiki Bristol. After feeling a little erased from the LGBTQI scene in Bristol, the team came together and decided to create a space on their own terms. “…Since then we’ve done lots of different things. We’ve held big panel discussions with Lady Phyll, Travis Alabanza and Josh Rivers, in buildings where we don’t often exist”.
Are you looking for ways to connect with your community this month? K and Sharifa have you covered!
PRIM Pop-up Bookshop, Boxpark Shoreditch, Monday 11 October – Sunday 17 October
You can find updates on Sharifa’s The Queer Blackity Black Joy Podcast here.
You can also join Sharifa’s queer running club here.
DIVA magazine celebrates 27 years in print in 2021. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.