It was back in 2018. I was 27 and was still struggling to find my place in society. My parents did not support me and I did not trust them enough to tell them about my own projects. They were secret and I did not want any foreign opinions to tarnish them. I felt I was a failure. While other people my age began to have children and settle in life with “normal” jobs, I just could not fit in despite all my efforts. I had planned many times, unefficiently to go back to Brussels but even there, I realised I was not really following my own heart but trying to look for my parents’ approbation in some way.
Though not a great fan of the singer, Beyoncé had released her album Lemonade and around that time, Solange whom I admire also launched A Seat At The Table. I was surprised by both Beyoncé and Solange in their somewhat effort to associate trauma with their own family issues. Around that period, questions about blackness arose everywhere. Especially regarding black femininity I would say. I tought Formation, the video, was a good body of work and I appreciated the association Beyoncé’s team made to support the project. Another artist made me question many things as well and her name is Princess Nokia. I felt like, though not a witch, God the Creator forbidding us to support such work, everybody was trying to look for the past and express the grief and pain experienced by years of oppression in the western sphere. I always thought back in the day that our generation was immune to trauma. Only old people could be affected by racism and trauma. I had not realised then how I was the embodiment of such pain and atrocities. Nokia, like Beyoncé -if sincere in her quest and not turned on by money as she often is- and Solange were looking for some answers. With all the revolts in the United States, and the death of Sandra Bland which truly shocked me, I felt like it was time for all of us to re evaluate our own pasts and trauma.
As we live in the shadows of White supremacy, our histories as black individuals were made diminished and were never valued. The immigrants having been crushed by the brutal experience they shared. The power of their oral past has no value when compared to money. For this reason, many died in silence.
In 2018, in a matter of three months, I had produced 6 poetry books, including Beckkky -the first version- Melanos, Rwanda 94, NTN, Bruxelles Vie and the first English version for NTN. It was raw, sexual, heavy and filled with rage. Basic rage I had to express. But I needed to write more I suppose and I never ceased. The music scene in France was dominated by Booba’s 92i label and the talented artists he was putting out every month. I have to admit that the 2014-2018 rap French scene was really influencial to me. Yet, as every artist was re-evaluating the place of trauma in their fields, I began to notice two different “voices” within Beckkky. Yes, the book was about the abuse of White women and their racist hypocrisy but there was another pain and voice hidden too. The more I watched rap videos the more I noticed how a young generation had been trapped in the infernal tourbillon of the ghetto life. The concrete of the construction encouraged me to question myself and ask what could go on in their minds. And without knowing it, the second voice of Beckkky became another work.
Exhausted by the daily disrespect of my Black Congolese ex boyfriend at the time, I thought about him and began to question why he, as a Black guy from the ghetto, would act the way he did. I was writing on my paper, facing the white wall of my past bedroom – it was deprived of wallpaper-I began to play with words. Nègres. Nègros. Nèg. Nègres Menaces. Les Menaces de Nègres. Black BoyZ. Black. Menaces. Le Sang. Les Nègres menaçants. Nègres, Menaces, Sang. Yes. That second Beckkky part had to be entitled Nègres, Menaces, Sang. In the beginning it was the title of one poem of this book. I thought about how Malcolm X was a thug before turning into the legend he became and I used his face for the cover. I was hoping that maybe one day, these young Black French guys I saw in the ghettos would become better, turn their lives around and see how precious they could be to society and to themselves.
Because of Solange, I began to explore my own traumatic events. Sandra Bland had triggered them one night in 2015. As I explored my childhood again, I remember how a few stories have marked my heart as a child in the 1990s. Julie and Melissa, Carla Tucker, Columbine, the war in Kosovo/Serbia/Bosnia, the Congolese refugees and Semira Adamu. The Belgians did pushed the face of a 22 year old Nigerian woman into the cushion to prevent her from defending herself as she was forced to get in the plane which would send her back to Nigeria. At the time, the RTBF showed the images of four officers sitting on her. Then, I believe, I saw the imprint of her face on the cushion or maybe it was a reproduction. They killed an innocent African woman in a Belgian plane. A year later, Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times. I remember, upon hearing the news how I told my 9 year old self “He must have hurt”. My mind could not process how one could be shot with 41 bullets. I heard of him being innocent. And understood as a young child that my skin color was a curse for some people outside.
France was never my country in my heart and I never had good relationships with the African diasporans there. My parents were from Belgium and had another mentality. My mother’s family was not like them. And I felt different. But there were things in France which made me feel better than in Belgium. Saddened by the constant failures of my books, I decided, by chance, to travel to Portugal in December 2019 (pre-rona !). Before I went there, a nice Cape-Verdean brother of mine sent me the contacts of three brothers over there. They became dear friends of mine who later introduced me to other people there as well. I was never welcomed like I had been in Lisbon. I was not Angolan or Cape Verdean and yet, they treated me like a sister. At some point, while eating and talking with David, an Angolan brother, he told me how the Black Portuguese community would be so proud to hear from me and read my books. At that time, Geovanni got killed and later Claudia an Angolan mama was beaten up savagely by the Portuguese police for no reason. Because of the social and political context of Portugal at the time, and because the Black Portuguese community was so warm to me, a kindness I had never felt in France or Belgium, I took upon David’s advice and decided to translate Nègres, Menaces, Sang. Though I can not speak Portuguese -but I understand- I was trying to look for some titles such as Negros Ameaças Sangue, mixing up Sicilian and my approximative Portuguese… Negros Ameaçadores came out easily for all of us. After having looked for so many translators, God sent me a young and wonderful 23 year old girl named Clara, a French-Portuguese talent who was able to do the job. Clara did not only translate the words, she did better, she elevated the embodiment of the spirit of every word. Clara is a gift from the Lord for me.
I was scared of the reception, fearing Black Portuguese would call me an usurpator or accuse me of being someone I was not. It never happened at all. Later on, I felt like one book was not enough. I wanted to enter a market with more. It was necessary for me to showcase more of my things to others. Negros Ameaçadores would be the intro to a short story, O Conto. Based on Semira Adamu’s horrific death, I also explored the brutality of Belgian colonialism especially through the lens of the mixed-race children cases. Mathilda is a little bit of Pi, a little bit of my mother, and a little bit of many other mixed-race Congolese mothers I met in the past. These quadroon, octoroon, biracial women in their sixties who were the products of craziness and colonial rape. I also wrote it based on them. On how, two sisters could stop speaking to each other because of history manipulation -that case is actually real.
How could such traumatic events be thrown under the bus and forgotten? I remember now how when younger, so many Belgian Congolese were of mixed heritage: Greeks, Portuguese, Israeli, Belgians, Rwandan and Germans. These people were the product of colonial rape and did not even seem to be able to put words onto it. I was always surprised by the passivity of Congolese people when it came to the pain of their story and past. Many had experienced trauma and seemed to diminish the violence they experienced. Even the mixed-race individuals.
Why would nobody want to write for these mixed-race women? Why was there so much secrecy? Mathilda was a complex character because of it. She represents the inner battle in oneself. I do not consider her to be evil but the crazy product of criminals. Tilda was no more different than the mixed-race White Americans who decided to pass for White in the US during the Segregation. Who can judge them?
Creating her was not difficult. She was the expression of all the traumatic and racist words of abuse I had heard earlier in my life. She was the channel through which I wrote all these horrific.
Til this day, along with Mulignan, Negros Ameaçadores is one of my favorite works. But it saddens me to read it. It is a combination of the violence of my early work, the sexual agressivity in it and the horror you want to flee from. Negros Ameaçadores could have killed me from inside, I believe.