Black History Month 2020: five writers we love

Our roundup of excellent reads for October by Black British women and queer writers.

Readers, it’s Black History Month in the UK! And our two white editors are not who you want to hear from about that, so here’s some reading material on Black History Month and Black culture in 2020 from five truly excellent Black British women and queer writers. #BlackLivesMatter


Unforgotten Women: Mary Fillis, The Black Tudor Driven By Independence – Tolu Bakre, Refinery29

Western retellings of history tend to assume slavery is the only context in which you might have met a person of colour, but there were plenty living amongst the white heroes of your favourite period dramas. Bakre strips the whitewash from the story of Mary Fillis, a Moroccan woman who worked her way up from servant to seamstress and ultimately became one of 60 Black Tudor women to be baptised.

Further reading: In Metro last year, Bakre candidly addressed one of the pressures women have faced since long before the Tudors. “I’m British-Nigerian and in West Africa marriage is seen as the epitome of success,” she writes. “I wish tradition didn’t come with a timer that causes us to compare ourselves to others, become stressed or unhappy.”


I am an activist because I feel compelled to be one – Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Diva

Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, better known as Lady Phyll, the founder of UK Black Pride , was named as one of 100 great Black Britons this year as part of a campaign to celebrate the stories of Black British people. Writing for Diva in July 2019 and republished for Black History Month 2020, she calls on white queer people to remember that they still need to be allies to Black people within the queer community.

“What does it even mean to be proud? There’s a strong connection between the words ‘out’ and ‘proud’ and an explicit suggestion that to be proud is to be out. Those of us from marginalised communities know that isn’t true.”


This Black History Month, I’m uncovering the forgotten stories of queer Black Britain – Jason Okundaye, The Guardian

“In more recent years, Black Britons have accelerated our criticism of the outsized role the US plays in Britain’s Black History Month…But as a writer and researcher who focuses on Black British gay men, it sometimes feels as if this recentring of Black Britishness doesn’t extend to my queer British forefathers.” Gay writer Jason Okundaye grapples with the mainstream erasure of Black British queer history, talking to queer elders and uncovering work by unsung campaigners like those who challenged the homophobic media coverage of gay footballer Justin Fashanu.

Further reading: Okundaye is a columnist for Tribune, Dazed and Vice, where he recently profiled Billy Porter for i-D. Talking about their phone interview, Okundaye wrote: “it feels like an entire constellation of black gay men and boys are present, engaged, and healing together.”


“You feel obliged to tell them they’re not racist” – after George Floyd, black people are hypervisible at work – Dominic Cadogan, gal-dem

Cadogan, a non-binary writer, examines the increasingly exhausting experience of being black in a mostly-white workplace now that George Floyd’s murder and the global response to it has awakened mainstream media and corporate culture to the need to at least appear anti-racist. “The want to genuinely – not just performatively – increase diversity is obviously a great thing…However, the grey area between aiding black people to secure jobs they might not be considered for versus hiring them simply because of their blackness opens them up to the risk of microaggressions or other forms of covert racism.”

Further reading: Don’t miss Cagodan’s fascinating recent interview with model and photographer Bryce Anderson for Dazed Beauty, where Cadogan is assistant editor.


“I Would Probably Go Mad Without Her”: Why “Work Wives” Are Essential for Black and Brown Women – Hibaq Farah, Vice

This one isn’t historical but while we’re on the subject of the Black workplace experience, I couldn’t not link this switched-on exploration of how workplace sisterhood can make all the difference for professional women of colour. Farah, who’s Black and Muslim, details why finding relief and solidarity with a co-worker who gets where you’re coming from can make all the difference in a white workplace:

“As co-author Yomi Adegoke puts it in her book Slay In Your Lane: ‘Blackness is rarely afforded the room for mistakes, the benefit of the doubt and the benevolence of a second chance.’ Complaining about long-work days and office politics is a valid reason for needing a work-wife, but when that’s coupled with the everyday, casual racism many Black women experience at work, a work-wife becomes a necessity for survival and sanity.”


We should, of course, be learning about Black history all year round, and that’s what The Black Curriculum is campaigning for: teaching Black history in UK schools as a matter of course. You can find out more about their work here, take action by writing to your MP or the Minister of State for School Standards here and donate here.

Happy UK Black History Month! If you’ve got a rec for the reading list, let us know in the comments!

Author: Ellie Wilson

I’m a features and lifestyle journalist of six years’ experience. I spent 18 months in 2017-18 writing profiles of businessmen and I haven’t written about a single man since. Thanks to formative obsessions with both Lord of the Rings and Anne of Green Gables, I like my entertainment wholesome, gay and overly invested in trees. I am white, cis?, middle-class and have no diagnosed disabilities, pronouns she/her. You can see my work at thephasemag.com and elliewilsonwrites.com, and find me on Twitter @writative.

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