Author of ‘Decolonial Daughter’ discusses motherhood, racism and her letters to her European son
JORDANNAH ELIZABETH | 9/13/2018, 2:29 p.m.
Brooklyn-born author Lesley-Ann Brown decided to write her book, “Decolonial Daughter: Letters from a Black Woman to Her European Son” to express all of the intricacies of life and Blackness in extremely different geographical settings. Brown moved to Copenhagen, Denmark 18 years ago, where she had a son. The book is a collection of searingly honest and historical notes and letters to her son, who had never experienced American or Trinidadian Black life. It was also a way to get him to engage in her writing more. Her son told her he would read her work if she wrote a book. After spending her career as an essayist and educator, she took the challenge, and thus, “Decolonial Daughter: Letters from a Black Woman to Her European Son” came into the world, ready to give insight into the complexities of a Black international perspective.
AmNews: Your book is to your son who lives in Europe, a place very different from Brooklyn or Trinidad and Tobago. Is there a lack of conversation about racial identity and colonialism in Denmark to the point where you felt you needed to communicate the complexities of them to your child?
Brown: There certainly is. As an educator and parent, I’ve been appalled at the lack of focus on Denmark’s and Europe’s role in colonization. This in turn produces a populace who are blissfully unaware of the historical connections between the present and past. And of course, this ignorance serves a purpose. I’ve also been quite saddened by the fact that although there is a Black presence here, the media and education tends to turn a blind eye to us, or when the attention is on us, it is oftentimes in a very dehumanizing way. I felt I needed to give my son, in one place, the information he (and other children in his situation, including my former students) a guide-book of sorts, a road map that would point him in the right direction if/when he chose to dive further into his maternal background.
AmNews: The book is called “Decolonial Daughter.” Do you feel decolonialized? What does that mean to you?
Brown: Decolonization is a process—one I feel that I am very much in the midst of. I don’t think it will end—it necessitates unlearning all that we have been taught by the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist system under which we all live here in the West. Decolonization means to me, to constantly question and critique the legacies that have been handed down to us, so that we can be better prepared to build more sustainable systems to the Earth and to each other.
It also means understanding that there are many other knowledge systems, and learning about them, and taking what works and discarding what doesn’t. I talk about the Twi word “Sankofa” in my book, which I believe is a great tool in the process. It means “to go back and fetch it”—and I think particularly as a Black woman, whose true cultural heritage have been silenced and erased, that it is very important for us to find these systems out. Culture is what feeds our soul. It needn’t be a culture that is specific to you, per se, but still, if it has something valuable in it that sustains your spirit, then I say go for it.