Reaching for the universal

Last week I had the honour of being a panelist on a webinar about publishing values in 2020. I listened to the various publishers, both big and small, in the UK and abroad talk about the challenges and opportunities brought by the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic. Everyone is talking about diversity, how to increase it not only on book shelves but also inside the offices of talent agencies, publishing houses and retailers. There was a sense of urgency and a genuine desire to increase the representation of Afro-Caribbean talent, both in print, online and on their payrolls.  

I left the Zoom feeling confused. In principle all of this is good news. Black Lives Matter has resonated in the national conversation. Booksellers are promoting books about the politics of race, there are memoirs and novels about growing up black in Britain. There are articles, essays, twitters exposing the everyday racism in our society. I am grateful for all the activists and thinkers willing to make their voices heard.  An honest expose of the walls protecting white privilege from the rest of us was long overdue.

Where do we go from here?

The defining struggle of my life has been for my humanity. I have walked away from jobs, friendships, even a marriage because I felt less than. I’ve endured loneliness and despair but I cannot accept a life shrunken to being a political entity, a token, a label, a statement, a charity case. I have never thought of myself as a representative of my race or gender because we black women are not a lumpen group of grievances but human beings. I’m a writer interested in the human condition and yes, my experience of life in this corner of the planet is coloured by my skin, but my dreams are not. The purpose of literature, of storytelling is to find the universal, to help each one of us feel less alone in our journey, connected in our capacity to love, and for joy.

What we need are not 'black' books but stories about love and loss and exile and bondage, of families and tragedies and triumphs and new homes; books that tell the real story of how we ended up walking the streets of British cities and how the black story is inextricably linked to the white one.

There’s only one place to go from here - and it is not to revised quotas and superficial outrage. It is to a place where we have learned to accept our common humanity.  Only then we will really be equal.   

Isabelle Dupuy's novel Living the Dream is set in London, her home now. PUblished by Jacaranda Books, it is available in hardback and Kindle. She is working on her next novel, set in Haiti. You can find her on Twitter at @authorisabelled.