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.
AmNews: Is there a difference between being Black and European? There are many Black people who are European, what does the disconnect seem to be between you and your son’s experiences of Blackness?
Brown: Great question. I think in terms of how European is associated with whiteness we need to be clear when we use these terms. I purposely used the word “European” to refer to my son, because I wanted folks to think about what that word means. The term “European” emits a very conflicted response, even from those we would consider “European,” e.g., many from the U.K. have historically not associated themselves with “Europe.” I don’t think there has to be a difference between being Black and European, and I suppose that is what I’m getting at when I term my son, who is biracial, as “European” and myself as “Black.” The disconnect between my son’s and my experience of Blackness is that I grew up in a predominantly Black world, whereas my son did not. Besides living in Denmark, the only other time I was exclusively surrounded by whiteness was in college. So my son has had to navigate whiteness all his life, in a way that I have never had to.
AmNews: What is motherhood like to you?
Brown: Learning. Forgiveness. Gentleness. Ruthless. I have faltered in the wake of motherhood. I have shone. When I think about motherhood, I think of the great mother spirit, the Earth—she who gives and provides. I attempt to embody that spirit when I can. I learn so much from my son. I like to keep my labels porous—to allow exchanges of information, e.g., I tell my students that they will not only learn from me, but I from them. My son has taught me a lot about self-love, patience and confidence. Although we grew up in entirely different circumstances, I am in awe of what he has had to navigate and the grace in which he has done so. When I look back on my past relationships, I can see that my pattern is to be with very maternal partners. Motherhood is the hardest endeavor I have ever embarked on. And the most rewarding.
AmNews: How is your relationship with your son now compared to before the book was published?
Brown: My son is now 18—he turned 18 before the book was published. He’s been traveling a lot in the last year, and I can feel the distance has made our bond stronger. He has read the first half of the book—I have heard that many children of writers don’t read their parent’s work!—and has told me what a great writer he thinks I am. I also think it is a bit daunting for him because this book started off as a bet. I had written an article for him, in the form of a letter, which he never read. He then said, “Write me a book and I’ll read it.” So, I think he’s still reeling from the fact that I actually produced a book!
AmNews: Are you happier in Denmark? If so, why?
Brown: I do think I’m happier in Denmark because there are things I don’t have to worry about here that I would have to if I was in the states, e.g., health care. The standard of living is higher here, even for those who are not economically robust. Also, Denmark is such a small country that even its capital city, Copenhagen, seems like a village. I like the quiet of the city. I also know that my being older, more mature has helped much with my level of contentment. I’m also careful about using the word “happy” because happiness is dynamic, it changes. I don’t want how I feel on the inside to be too attached to any one emotion. I would say more than anything I have learned to be more grateful for what I do have.
AmNews: What was the creative and emotional process of writing this book?
Brown: This book is a culmination of a series of writing I undertook after moving to Denmark, so putting it together meant pretty much going through my writing, using what was published already and creating new content to connect the already-written pieces together. Emotionally, it was draining, and by the time I handed the book over to my publisher I was so sick of it, I felt like I never wanted to see it again. In putting this book together, I had to revisit some very difficult moments in my past. But having done so, I can tell you that I am emotionally stronger for it. Writing one’s story is a wonderful tool of healing.
AmNews: Who do you think will truly be able to relate to this book? Is it on the basis of internationality, biracial stigmas, the Black global lens or the relationship with father and son?
Brown: I think particularly Black women and women of color who have children in countries other than their own. I think people who are interested in moving to another country and living there would be interested. Folks interested in history, and how it relates to the present. People who like memoirs. Folks who love Black people. Caribbean people. Trinidadians. Parents to children who have different racial backgrounds. I think people in general would be able to relate to this book. The only bad reviews I seem to get are from white folks who complain that they couldn’t connect. I laugh at that. Says a lot about them.
‘Decolonial Daughter: Letters from a Black Woman to her European Son’ is published by Repeater Books and is available for purchase online and from bookstores.