I think that we all need to scrap this idea that normality is something to strive toward. I personally cannot pinpoint or prescribe what it is to be normal

Janet from Queenie
Image of Queenie ebook cover from Jefferson Parish Library accessed through the Libby app

About: Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five year old Jamaican British woman living in London straddling two cultures and not feeling entirely comfortable in either. She’s worked hard to obtain a job at a national newspaper, but once there, she finds she’s constantly comparing herself to her white middle-class peers and coming up wanting . Plus there’s the break-up with her long-term boyfriend. Unmoored, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places, making many questionable decisions. As Queenie careens from one poor choice to another, she finds herself wondering , “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”- all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.

The night after I finished reading Queenie, I had a dream that I was in Boston, talking to police or ICE or terror police personnel about complimenting Black women, my argument was that black women compliments don’t always have to be sexual. The police sort of took a different view and things got bloody. Next thing I had taken the form of a Hispanic woman who was bleeding and has to go to the hospital but has to reveal that she is illegal to get medical help. She is escorted by a former lover who discovers she had their son whom she has kept a secret. Yeah I am still trying to wrap my head around that one.   

I discovered Queenie when I was going through the Jefferson Parish Library catalogue of black literature. I can’t remember what exactly I put in the search bar, but it must have been some version of African/ African American/ Black literature. I know they say never judge a book by its cover but more often than not I am very guilty of this. The cover of Queenie caught my attention and also one of the quotes about it being the “most anticipated book of the year.” So I figured, let me dive in, and see what it has to say. Well for one thing regardless of years of separation, we black people as a whole are the same.  We do not believe in therapy (though this is changing), are very particular about how we make our food even if health authorities tell us otherwise, our grandmothers tend to be the pillars of our families, and a good section of our families has an unshakable belief in God. Queenie was relatable but also a stranger. Her obsession or longing for her ex is akin to not wanting to let go of things that are over and it is the way she deals with this relationship that shows how much she grows. I love that she decides to commit to therapy. I was not impressed with the carefree way she dives into one night stands or flings, you get to a point where you want to smack her but as her backstory starts to form you sort of understand why she treats herself the way she does. Her family and friends try to help her before she self-destructs. But in the end it is up to her and she takes control of her life in a way that makes you proud and want to hug Queenies everywhere. Queenie has different angles that it can be explored from, but for me the most fascinating angles are the hypersexualization of Black women (to be explored in a future post) and racism. In this post, I sort of focus on the racial aspect of the book and add my own rumblings about this issue and colonization.

When I was growing up, a lot of people were emigrating to the UK and it seemed to be the land of milk and honey. I remember wishing I could go to the UK. To add to the wishful thinking of emigrating, I had been learning about the ”heroic” efforts of Dr. David Livingstone, the man who “helped ” bring Christianity to us “primitives” and the white British abolitionists who helped end slavery. It is only now that I realize that the white saviour complex is indoctrinated into us from the time we are young. Dr. Livingstone was born in Blantyre, Scotland whilst I was born in Blantyre, Malawi, this was a source of kinship. The things I learned about colonization and white folk before I left Malawi made me grateful and glad that we had been colonized. I remember one time when I was in the seventh grade, I wished that we had been colonized by the Portuguese because that would mean we would speak Portuguese which I found way cooler than English (tragic! know). I cannot overemphasize the need to scrap our school syllabus and put some patriotic things in there. We always wonder why Malawians are not proud of their languages or heritage, I partially blame our education system for this, we have been brainwashed into thinking that our history is no good until the white folk came. When I moved to the US for college and got exposed to what being Black means in America, I realized that it had all been a lie. Then I read that there was racism in the UK as well, I was just like whaat?? This supposedly cool place that helped end slavery and brought Christianity, commerce and civilization to me (according to my sixth and seventh grade social studies classes) did not like black people. Reading Queenie and looking at the racism she deals with from friends, her boyfriend’s family to her one night stands, makes me wonder how much racism is swept under the rug on our side of the continent or if we even realize it is racism. When natives interact with white people,how much of ourselves do deflect and hide, do we just genuflect to white culture and accept it while castigating aside our traditions and beliefs. When Queenie deals with a white coworker in a meeting who tells her, all lives matter, as response to her wanting to do a piece about Black lives matter; I wonder how much strength a Black person needs to have to respond to statements like that. Our friends in the diaspora by being the minority and knowing the horrors of slavery in a way that I believe African Blacks will never understand, know racism probably before it even happens, meanwhile over here, a majority of us still think that colonization was what saved us, in my opinion, it destroyed us beyond recognition. It turned us into people at war with ourselves, a struggle for identity where we wonder, if we should embrace the new, or both the old and the new. When you add religion to the mix, it becomes even more complicated. One of my favourite moments in the book is when she argues/debates/lectures the supposedly “woke guy” for hours about Blackness. It is quite a sight. At this point, I am going to recommend, “Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo Lodge. This book dwells a lot on Black British history and I believe can provide some illumination as to why Queenie feels caught up between two worlds.  I am still not done with this Reni’s book but the few pages I have read make me realize that there is so much I do not know. 

The more I read about Black people in the diaspora, the more I wonder about the history of non-white people as a whole. How much have we lost and will never know about our histories? The portrayal of Black women in the media makes you wonder if there are ever any happy black women out there. But the friendship between Queenie and Kyazike makes you grateful that Black women are creating seats at the table and shedding light on the Black female experience.  Their friendship also highlights the importance of having friendships and relationships with people from similar backgrounds, they can understand you in a way that the “Darcy’s and Cassandra’s” will never understand. On the whole Queenie makes me wonder what is better, to be a Black female in the diaspora or to be African Black. In the end, I will take either option because it is an honour and a privilege to be Black. Reading books with Black women as the main characters is something that I am enjoying and hope to do more. Our stories need to be told by us, no one else. I like the ending of Queenie, it leaves you feeling that family and friendships are what makes us who we are and the calm in the storm

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