When I was looking around for more anti-racism writers to feature, Itoro Bassey’s name came up a few times, so I set off to read some of her work. The snapshots of her experience as a Nigerian-American woman, as well as the longer collaborative pieces give much food for thought. Please meet Itoro:
Itoro, what made you become an anti-racism writer?
I wanted to write about my experiences, and a lot of my experiences focused on navigating racism. Also as a first generation Nigerian-American woman there was a lot about my experiences to explore.
I remember really starting to write about the need for anti-racism after I graduated from my Masters program. Sure, I had the degree, but there were so many emotional scars left from that time, and I didn't have much emotional support to navigate this. In fact, I was told that I shouldn't be too emotional and for a long time I thought I was out of my mind for having such grief.
I was around 22 years old and a decade later I've been able to see how young and afraid I was. I didn't have the language to articulate experiences of anti-blackness in white circles, or navigating anti-blackness with non-Black POC, or confronting my own internalized oppression. Until I read Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider, and This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, I felt lost and saddened. I also blamed myself for how traumatic that experience had been, thinking that I could have done better, been more likable, been more talkative, been less angry, been more smarter, all of that.
But when I read these books and realized I wasn't alone, I felt human again. I also realized that cruelty is not ok, it's not a big revelation, but it's distressing to see how much people are ok with expressing their contempt for Black people, especially Black women. Writing about my experiences helped humanize me and call that toxicity out. There was just a lot of healing and reckoning to do and writing was the antidote.
What response have you had?
Over the years responses have varied depending on the angle I'm writing from. I find that when I'm writing about navigating racism and prejudice in non-Black circles I get more affirmatives, "I've experienced this...", "Yea, that's not ok", or "I hear you." When I write about internalized racism, and how those of us who usually experience the brunt of racism can perpetuate these very same cruelties on others in our community, there can be push back along with the affirmatives. But overall there's always an interesting conversation to be had.
In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?
I simply want a future that's safe for everyone to live in. Where people do not harm each other based on racism or any kind of factor meant to dehumanize.
I also want a future where people are accountable to the legacies they've inherited, meaning they do their ancestral work (because there's so much to heal generationally around racist habits and patterns getting passed from one generation to the next), and move to both individually and systematically heal the terrors we've all inherited.
I want the people who have been through so much when it comes to dealing with racism everyday to rest and experience joy. I want people who benefit from the systematic harm of others to do the hard work of saving themselves without stepping on someone else who needs a break to do it.
What are your top three anti-racism articles you have written?
In a Quiet Place
I wrote this ten years ago, right after grad school. Basically, I tried chronicling my entire experience of anti-blackness and I had no clue writing that piece would lead me to this moment. I can't find where I published this originally, but I know it's in the ether somewhere.
This is about how African immigrants in the U.S. internalize anti-blackness. I really like this piece I co-wrote with Ugo Edu because it also pays homage to our mothers, who came to the U.S. with one idea about how the American Dream should have turned out, and had to wake up real fast to what it really was.
I wrote this for Rethinking Schools. I personally like it so much because I spent a year and some change writing and reworking the article. I would say this was a follow up to my very first anti-racism piece, A Quiet Place. This article focused on my bewilderment at having to take the Chitlin Test as the only Black student teacher in the room. The amazing Dr. Ebony Flowers did the illustrations for this story and I truly adored the editor I worked with.
Share one anti-racism article you've read written by someone else that resonated with you.
Brooke S. Sinclair, founder of the Bias Rehab Center, did an interview for Authority Magazine (on Medium), that talked about anti-racism as an addiction. She gave me a lot to think about, especially as it relates to grappling with the psychology of how racist behavior keeps playing out. I certainly do look at racism as systemic, but I think what we're also asking ourselves these days is how do we get to the heart and emotion of the matter to address the effects of racism holistically? I think Brooke's work and insights do a sincere job of addressing this question in its full complexity.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.