Jeffrey Boakye: "Listening with open hearts is really important."

Posted by cc576 at Mar 16, 2021 12:00 PM |
From Leicester graduate to acclaimed Black British author, by Ayan Adan Artan

Though Jeffrey Boakye’s school day is over by the time that he sits down to do a Zoom interview with us, his inner teacher is in full force as he answers our questions. Animated and deeply invested in educating in anyway that he can, Boakye is generous with not only his time, but his mind. Covering everything from why he writes the way that he does, how to combat fear as a black creative and the importance of listening to accounts of racism like Meghan Markle’s, he admits that conversation energises him: “I like to be in conversation. I get energised around people. I’m a teacher- I have to engage otherwise I get restless”.

Boakye is author of two critically acclaimed books, “Black,Listed”, an exploration of the origins and impact of Grime as a genre and “Hold Tight”, a breakdown of black british identity and all its nuances. And though he wears several other hats, be it as a teacher or a broadcaster, it is the contents of these books that tell you everything you need to know about the University of Leicester graduate.

Both “Black,Listed ” and “Hold Tight” unpack with unflinching honesty some of the most pervasive narratives surrounding blackness, with Boakye employing a multidisciplinary approach to deconstruct and dissect the archaic structures still in place in this country. Being a key voice of opposition to the status quo can therefore seem like a frightening place to be, especially when conversation around race can-and have often been- deeply polarising.
You can’t help but wonder whether even to him, he sees the enormous risk that comes with his unwavering beliefs.

“The underlying fear of being a black writer is that you’re gonna get annihilated by dominant whiteness. And that is not me saying that there are white people or people who are racialised as white who are going to get me; the system, the whole structure that we are in is denigrating blackness or what has been racialised as black identity. So it feels like a dangerous thing just to step into that, even just being in it can feel like a dangerous thing. So to push at it and pick holes in it starts to feel like risky behavior.”

That fear is one that is shared by black creatives, no matter where they are in the diaspora, aa feeling that as Boakye explains, that plays not only on the psyche of an individual, but that this fear of not only ostracisation, but of abuse to actually directly plays into everything else, including the way writes: “ That’s part of the reason why my writing style is so welcoming- it’s a bit of a defense mechanism. Because if I wasn’t welcoming and palatable to read and engaging then would the dominant structure- which is steeped in white superiority, that construct-would it allow me to say these things? I don’t know. Would I be completely crushed by it?”

He adds that with age, the urgency to tell his unfiltered truth outweighed any fear he felt: “If you don’t obsess over writing something which is good, or something that is right and you obsess over writing something that is true, the truth just cuts through anything else.”

As the conversation progresses, I ask Boakye about the explosive account given by Meghan Markle about her time in one of the most revered and respected institutions in the world, in which she made allegations of alarming racist behaviour against a senior member of the Royal Family. What-if anything-can we learn about accounts like hers?

“If we have learned anything it is that listening with open hearts is really important, and it something that I think that if you are marginalised for whatever reason, it could be gender, it could be religion, it could sexuality, it could ethnicity have to listen carefully to the world because they are feeling what does not fit always, all the time. You are more attentive to the details in a way that people who are dominant don’t have to be”.

And attentive to the details, he is. This conversation is sure to be a mere taster of what is to come as he takes part in the Leicester Literary festival on Friday 19 March, 7.00pm. Boakye’s voice and perspective is one that is vital to the ongoing discourse surrounding race and identity, and it is one that we are lucky to have.

Jeffrey Boakye will explore both Hold Tight and Black Listed with the University of Leicester’s Dr Emma Parker available on the University’s website, and can be accessed here.

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