Unheardwords of Writers of Colour

When we returned for a short stint in 2016 I edited a number of articles and pieces; here they are.

About Crystal Mahey-Morgan

Re-Start June 2016

Crystal Myth

    It’s been a while since I posted any original content to unheardwords, not that I haven’t considered doing so many times. But wait. I thought. Don’t commit unless you have something to say.

Unheard is sometimes a good thing.

It’s been Crystal Mahey-Morgan (ownit.london) who has brought me back.

When I first heard her talking on the Hay Festival Debate “Are we publishing too many books?” (BBC Radio 4, May 2015) my ears detected the refreshing sound of someone young-ish who seemed to be talking in twenty-first century language about “publishing” and “books”. It got me to thinking, where are we at now?

Well, the old media and digital media make strange bedfellows.

When people talk about “books” and “publishing” - the ancient art of getting them made and onto shelves - it somehow sounds at odds, not only with digital means, Content and Platforms, but with lifestyles.

Is there a distinction between the different strands of inform, educate and most prized, entertain, that stream through our lives now?

And, even someone of my age – an analogue native - is asking this, so I can only imagine how it looks, feels and sounds to someone half my age or half their age.

The thing is, despite the speed at which the revolution has occurred, we adult humans take our own sweet time to change. So we might be talking about how to transform publications to appeal to the young, whilst the world has already transformed all sense of content and its distribution, for everyone.

Believe me, I know it’s hard to keep up but then I also realise that no one’s explicitly asking me to keep up. This is a time for ‘meeting the world as you find it.’ For, being mindful of contexts past, whilst being ready to roll with the disruption present or even, to be prepared to create a disruptive future.

Khome, © unheardwords.com, 2016 (all rights reserved)

unheardwords - bamboozled, fake depiction real impact

May 2018

Fake Depiction, Real Impact

I remember identifying with the themes of perpetual mis-representation when I watched Spike Lee's film ‘Bamboozled’ in 2002.

Here was Mr Lee performing a public service in consciousness raising, connecting dots that up until that time I could only glimpse in isolation.

For me, the story behind the core of the drama, was of how a narrow depiction of black people had been used in film and TV as a lazy substitute for a full and fair, broad spectrum portrayal of black people and the lives they lived.

Perhaps not so surprising when, to carry across the 'male gaze' theory, the idea that the perspectives of those who produce, make and distribute film and TV, will inevitably feed through into their content, a ‘white western gaze' if you like. Read more.

unheardwords - Identifying Blackness

April 2018

Identifying Blackness

Opening with the declaration, “I don’t identify as black”, in the same way as a colour doesn’t define other ethnic groups; artist and entrepreneur (and self-professed vegan) Jay Brave has been conducting interviews as part of BBC Radio 4’s One-to-One. “But crucially, society sees me as ‘black’, and so this defines much of my lived experience, and many other people’s experiences.” He goes on to qualify this as a controversial subject, “there are many black people who take exception to this point-of-view, they identify as ‘black’ and it’s crucial to them and who they are.” Whilst, for some other people, just talking about race and identify makes them uncomfortable. Read more.

unheardwords - hunt for poems

March 2018

Hunting for Poems

Just the other day someone who'd first written to Unheardwords in 2005 contacted me to ask whether I still had her poems.
Of course I said I'd search the archive and see what I could find.
Over the next couple of weeks I spent a little bit of time on a hunt for poems - an enjoyable pursuit if every there was one - and managed to find everything that had been sent in.
Collinie Hareendra Weeratunga took part in the early interview slot too, where new writers gave an insight into the whys and wherefores of their writing.
I was really pleased to re-unite Collinie and her early work, plus to be able to re-present three of the poems, and the interview.
And here they are.
How Long The Road
Room Number Sixz
Breathe Life Too
Collinie Weeratunga Interview

March 2018

A Conversation with Peter Kimani

peter kumani visits waterstones - unheardwords community Wednesday 14th March 2018 witnessed Peter Kumani in conversation with editor of Books and Arts at The Economist, Fiammetta Rocco at waterstones, Tottenham Court Road in London. A Kenyan poet and novelist, Peter was born in 1971 and is a graduate of the University of Houston's creative writing program. He was in the UK to talk about his debut novel "Dance of the Jakaranda".
1963. Kenya is on the verge of independence from British colonial rule. In the Great Rift Valley, Kenyans of all backgrounds come together in the previously white-only establishment of the Jakaranda Hotel. The resident musician is Rajan Salim, who charms visitors with songs inspired by his grandfather’s noble stories of that spawned the Kenya they now know. Visit Saqibooks.com

unheardwords - Internect of Things

January 2018

The Internect of Things

It appears that whilst we’ve never had access to more, we’ve never been so narrowly defined.

Let’s go post-social-media hype:

In this Next world, which is just on the periphery of where we’re currently standing, people are still ordinary people, just as now.

And, we’ve grown even more familiar with the Internected (Internet and Connected) nature of our lives, and continue to take full advantage, able as we are, to do even more with even less effort.

So what’s changed?

Sure we’re served by subconscious information flows synchronised to make our lives easier.

Not so sure it’s easy to retain our critical, conscious, questioning faculties in amongst these auto-customised echo chambers of our own views and voices.

unheardwords - Let Me Get Back to Labels

December 2017

Let Me Get Back to Labels


In 2017 was the term, people-of-colour, still acceptable?

I’ve been running with this usage since the beginning of Unheard, I think. I wanted a label that didn’t create a box into which people wouldn’t feel comfortable fitting themselves.

Instead I sought a term that might engender wider association.

Anyone struggling for a channel of expression was Unheard, right; I was just coming at it as a black man with a black British perspective.

I raise the people-of-colour and acceptable question because as we move forward and the younger begin to assert themselves over older voices, it appears that everything is up for rightful challenge.

Once, post the outright offensive, we were all Black, and though it was a relief, it didn’t make a lot of sense.

In more enlightened times (2000 – 2010), we became Black Minority Ethnic (BME), which genuinely, I never felt, but was a useful way of throwing a hoop around groups that didn’t fit the “majority” populous label.

BME’s morphed into Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) now, perhaps to distribute the weight a little. Still no identification on my part, but perhaps useful from a group and report point-of-view: for example, “BAME groups still grossly underrepresented in UK management, study finds” or David “Lammy Review of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) representation in the Criminal Justice System” (2017) Read it Here.

By contrast and on the upside, people-of-colour sounds a lot more human; particularly my writers-of-colour slant on it.

Downsides, well, you could read overtones of a community ‘of colour’ that doesn’t naturally exist. Or, language throwbacks to black as "coloured"; a way of casting an entire set of multi-various people of all walks onto a scrapheap of the underprivileged and underserving.

And the answer?

We’re just ordinary people, placed into an extraordinary setting which means we’ve assumed a minority status, and with time, perhaps those younger voices will make all such labels an irrelevance.

unheardwords - Let Me Get Back to This

December 2017

Let Me Get Back to This

Now let me get back to this, it’s been a while since I picked up the WORD and started writing Unheard.

I thought for my re-visit I’d see if I could make any sense of what’s been happening through 2017 from a ‘people of colour’ perspective. That is to say, my own perspective as shot through by the tales that have flittered into my ears and eyes, importantly, that have occupied my thoughts.

A bit about me, then.

It’s been a busy year – of course – have you met anyone recently who hasn’t been busy. I think what constitutes busy differs, but then, busy is as busy seems to be, right?

My busy has involved being asked to step up to the plate in my full-time job, so that the fabric of my non-paid time became very thin, so that I had to protect it well, guard against it becoming threadbare.

I am a mixed-race man who has lived in England his entire life, 50% of that in zone 2 London, much of the other 50 in the outer zones.

I have seen lots of changes to the ways people like myself (and I do simply look black, to all intents and purposes) see themselves and are seen.

And somewhere, about Obama-time, I too – now, I know I share this with some of you – got to wondering (hoping, maybe) – whether a coloured corner had been turned.

Did a mixed-raced (black) man in the Whitehouse signal a breakthrough for people-of-colour in their own neighbourhoods? Which brings me neatly to here and now...see Let Me Get Back to Labels

unheardwords - tracking back to hackney

January 2017

Tracking back to hackney

I'm trying to remember when I first heard certain music, what it meant, and in a circular way why I remember it. What was it that made it stand out and why do I associate the hearing and the doing?

In 1977 I went to secondary school. Before this my music had been that brought into the house by my siblings who could afford the singles and occasionally albums of American soul artists.

Average White Band (pick up the pieces), Stevie Wonder, Billy Paul (Mrs Jones), Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, Heatwave (mind blowing decisions), Candi Staton (Young Hearts Run Free), Gladys Knight (The Way We Were).

This music, despite the basic HiFi system it played out on, was immediately pleasing, smooth, harmonious, soulful. It’s backstory was a blissful work of my imagination, a Hackney boy born and bred I knew nothing about the actual United States, only what I’d seen on TV shows.

At the same time, I was growing up and blundering my way through changes that would take me across the tracks; from a world in which identity hadn’t crossed my mind, into one in which identity was a conscious state of mind.

My real music selection memories begin at this crossing point; where "half-caste" boy (no mixed-race at that time), raised solely by a loving and ‘doing-her-best’ white mother, finds a black side to his existence.

I've included my playlist in the full article have interspersed some of these tracks with a little more recollection of my figure-it-out-as-you-grow boyhood.

Adolescent identity, as now, was all. Me and mine weren’t dub-steppers and we certainly weren’t soul-boys; rather we were modern jazz-sophisticates – cutting our own line between ‘roots reggae’ and ‘popular soul’ - we were about hard core musicians and some of the greatest music ever made – which as every self-styled group likes to think – made us something different all together. Read the full article

bob dylan redefines literature prise

October 2016

Literature Reprise

So Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prise in Literature and a signal goes out, a hint that even in esteemed circles something has changed.
Upfront. I’m not very familiar with his work; of course, I know who he is and have heard a number of his soundtrack-to-a-generation songs.
I’ve heard people, fans, comment that they aren’t surprised at all that Dylan’s work has been recognised in this highly honoured way.
I’ve heard people, not such fans, comment that recognising a musician as a Nobel Laureate doesn’t make much sense.
I didn’t encounter Mr Dylan or his music (knowingly) until my early twenties (in the 80s).
I heard a young man from a very well to do background who occupied a place well above mine in the hierarchy – it was an insurance underwriters with a long established reputation - talking to like-minds about the genius that was Dylan. How going to see Dylan would be a seminal moment in his life.
Casting my mind back, I remember thinking, wow – this dude must be pretty amazing to inspire the likes of these people – the young Dylan devotee who couldn’t have been much older than me, seemed to have so much more going for him at the time than I did.
Still, I didn’t acquaint myself with Bob then and haven’t dug deeper in the intervening years.
What I like about this award is its apparent breaking of the boundaries between forms and functions, which in my view is long in coming. To be more accurate, the recognition that literature doesn’t just come in one form, is overdue.
In Lionel Shriver's novel, ‘The Mandibles’, about the lives of a family living in a future United States post climate, population and economic change (the year is 2029), a somewhat out of touch father is talking to his seventeen-year-old daughter about her studies. She tells him her tutors want her to talk about art rather than producing any. He comments that writing is a way of producing something, to which she replies:-
“Not anymore. Nobody at my school reads anything. They use ear buds, and get read to.”
This sort of summed it up for me. Literature ain’t what it used to be. Literature ain’t where you’d expect to find it. But, literature still exists; write and read it or not.
My laureate would be Gil Scott-Heron, though the last time I mentioned my admiration for the man and his music out loud in public only one person in the group knew who he was.