As a travel writer and photographer, my work centers on cultural connection. What makes us similar, why we need to be different, and how we can connect through our similarities while respectfully making space for our differences. This thread is what underpins my work across platforms.
How can I make us feel more seen, less alone, and truly listened to?
When I moved to Sweden from the US in 2009, one of the questions I fielded monthly concerned the difference between being a Black woman in Europe versus being one in the States. After all, both cultures have societies which continue to marginalize Black women. Whether it’s second-guessing our expertise while clearly being the smartest person in a room, or facing daily microaggressions which often require digging into deep wells of emotional strength to face yet another day.
So I decided to write a book about this.
IN EVERY MIRROR SHE’S BLACK was born from trying to answer that multilayered question in a nuanced way. More importantly, I knew what fellow Black women were really asking me was whether they could fully thrive in Europe over the States, or if it was just another journey of survival, except against a different set of societal rules they needed to learn.
That dichotomy - surviving vs. thriving - is what we battle every day, and what I wanted to explore through my characters, Kemi, Brittany, and Muna. I wanted to show the diversity and depth of the Black experience, where women with drastically different backgrounds, values, and motivations in life still share that core feeling of wanting to be seen and appreciated.
The same desires, fears, and moments of joy they each experience are universal human emotions. They are common feelings which connect us all across race and creed. Yet, the narrative of the “strong” Black woman continually surviving against all odds continues to be perpetuated to our mental, emotional, and physical detriment.
The truth is, we’re tired of surviving. We want to thrive, just like everyone else.
This is why some readers were less forgiving of my women making mistakes in their quest to thrive. They were being processed through stereotypes first, instead of being seen as soft, emotional, and deeply human with relatable flaws. Women who can ultimately break too because, as the Swedish proverb goes, ‘the deepest well can also be drained’.
I wanted Muna to be fully seen as her bright-eyed innocent self and not have to bear the burden of carrying an entire community on her very young shoulders. I wanted Brittany to be fully seen as a woman who wants the finer things in life without being judged as being Black bourgeoisie. And I wanted Kemi to be seen as her imperfect ambitious self, who shouldn't be afraid to fail when many parents pressure their kids to always succeed. A woman who is tired of constantly proving herself in the face of mediocrity.
These are themes I will continue to dissect in my next novel: Can you truly have it all? Can having it all be a gilded cage? Can you run from your past to have it all?
So, getting back to the question of what it truly feels like to thrive as a Black woman in Europe… In the US, while racial tensions are more overt and rife in broad daylight, you can still self-actualize like Oprah Winfrey and rise into C-suite positions, while battling bumps along the way. Because, to begin to find solutions to a problem, you actually have to publicly admit and acknowledge that it exists in the first place.
In Europe, you might live quietly isolated in a quaint little mountain town with breathtaking panoramic views away from overt racism. That is a form of survival as well, but you’ll probably battle something more insidious: deeply-entrenched covert marginalization which has been normalized in a way that doesn’t get adequate attention and isn’t fully questioned in broad daylight as it should.
Regardless of all these external battles, the deeper work remains internal. As I shared in my dedication, your voice is more powerful than you think, even though you feel unappreciated, uninvited, or invisible.
We’ll never eradicate racism, inequality, and marginalization in this lifetime. We also can’t control how people react and treat us based on dangerous stereotypes and their learned values. What we can do is authentically show up as who we are and take up space, because we’re allowed to fully exist without explanation. This is what the next generation needs. People who are brave enough to live boldly and walk in their truths, despite the messaging society constantly shares.
This is why my book, IN EVERY MIRROR SHE'S BLACK, has resonated so deeply with as well as triggered some readers around the world - from calling out internalized prejudices people were ashamed to admit, to people finally feeling fully seen and heard.