STORIES by AFLO. the poet
This poem is part of a series written by AFLO. the poet reflecting on RESOLVE Collective’s exhibition and programme Summer House at Brighton CCA from November 2022 – February 2023. The series was commissioned in response to the ‘seasons’ of the project and is made up of SOUNDS, STORIES and SPACES.
This is a found poem, crafted from the messages and meanings from the women who were photographed and asked to share their stories for the second season of the residency. This collective piece tells the story of being a Black woman in Brighton and the journey to find your place, your people, and your voice.
This piece is structured in rhyming couplets and near rhyming couplets – acknowledging the initial shared feelings of being lost before finding a reflection of self that many (if not all) of the women shared.
Written with words from: Liz, Amy, Charlotte, Laurel, Melanie, Barbara, Althea, Grace, Oliviyah, Lucy, Florence, Laura, Millie, Carolynn, Narsha, Yvonne, Rosie, Dorothy, Adriana and AFLO. the poet.
“I did not set out to be at this seat, at this table, here today.”
I felt the vibrations of my voice before but was told I couldn’t have much to say.
His-stories and enslaved labour dictate my current status.
“I did not set out to be seen as a change maker,
A disruptor, or held up as an example of someone ‘making a difference in the community’”
I just came here to be – not to be revolutionary.
“I came for work but stayed for the place”.
Mystified by the sea breeze and sun beams on my face
“I was determined to make it a long-term home.”
To find a place beside the seaside to take root / to blossom / to grow.
“As I ventured out of my shelter, I quickly learned I was not in control of how people perceived me”
Devoured by eyes, fetishized within minds, treated like a piece of meat.
“You can feel like you belong in the strangest of places,
And then a microaggression will humble you right back into isolation.”
“A simple ‘Are you down from London?’ or ‘No – where are you really from?’ in your lovely local pub will do it.”
A thousand papercuts that leave you feeling severed and unrooted.
In their eyes I see I am “never going to be anything more”
Than something to be consumed, “than a tokenized caricature”
“No matter how hard I tried to simply exist as myself around them,”
I am lifted into their fantasies – uprooted and ungrounded.
“It seemed they were desperate to talk to me about my hair, my sex life, the Black Lives Matter movement…”
Am I here to give out cookies whilst objectified for your amusement?
They don’t feel the ache in my voice and body, it doesn’t take long to work out why –
They’re too busy “calling me by the name of the only other WOC who worked there at the time.”
“The type of difficulty which we have neither the strength nor worldly wisdom to overcome”.
Or so we were led to believe, before we found sisters with the keys to get our shackles undone.
From times of old we’ve been told “England is a land of opportunities,
But the marginalized continue to work twice as hard to overcome bigotry.”
“Moving to Brighton, the place where I have felt most minoritised in my life”,
I reside in a neighbourhood where many deny my struggle and strife.
“Because of the city’s reputation for acceptance” (so liberal, so queer!)
“I’ve had several conversations with (white) people who think racism doesn’t exist here.”
“It saddens my heart to hear all the stories of racism experienced by children in our schools,
and these carry on into the rest of society” but our objections are overruled.
“Being a Black woman comes with a mental tiredness that sits on us like a weight.”
“Required to be at the top of our game in everything we do” with no chance to make mistakes.
“The option to stop fighting and breathe even for a second is a luxury that isn’t offered”.
“Too often we are left feeling lonely amongst many”, lacking chances, choices, and options.
“I remember the first time you experienced racism. I remember my heart breaking for you”.
I remember you saying, ‘that’s mean’”. I remember kids and parents who were cruel.
There was that time “I went to help a patient and I was told ‘don’t you put your Black hands on me’”.
Or that time “when the estate agent was showing us around our potential first house”, filled with possibilities,
Then “the estate agent commented: “I hope you are not going to play Calypso all night”.
“I could list multiple different situations similar to and worse than those I have described”,
“But I think I will spare the details, since I’m unfortunately sure
Most Black women reading this will have experienced similar situations” – and this isn’t trauma porn.
“What I feel when I look back is heartbreak, yes, but also a funny kind of strength.”
“I might have cried for a while” but found tears of joy in what would lie ahead.
If I could go back to these colleagues, patients, agents, friends and strangers… if I had the option,
“I would ask them what their problem was” but “like racism in general, it was not my problem”,
So perhaps “maybe I wouldn’t’ve”
“Sometimes it’s better not to engage with stupidness.”
“Bearing this in mind, I chose to shine brightly, infecting others with my glow”.
I “believe in my own power, my own abilities and resilience”, and in the sisters I have found and come to know.
Blessed to find more than a few who knew what this seaside had me swimming through.
“As we shared our stories, I experienced the transformation of us as individuals and as a group.”
“They embraced the freedom of their hair, and I wondered why I felt so bound”
As I began to untangle, unpick, and untwist myself to take up space in my seaside town.
“Sharing love and knowledge of my treasured culture, re-told history, and untold truths,
And the humanity-changing revolutionary artists who channel our ancestors, as I do.”
“I saw a liberation in them”, then I began to see,
“I was isolated from something that had always been innate for me.
Isolated from the Sistahood”, I didn’t have a tribe,
But in these times of global isolation, we found sisters who live nearby.
“I am grateful to my found family for providing me with a safe space in which we all can find and use our voices.”
I am thankful for these circles – for them shaping our city – for proving our stories are not pointless.
I am blessed “to be a Black woman living in this town and experiencing the world in the way that I do,
Finding joy in stupid small things and amazing big things” and finding my own path to choose.
“I get to gaze at the sea every day, if that is my fancy”, roam the stones as I like,
“Or walk on the downs or the Undercliff when I need to scratch that itch to stretch and look up at the sky.”
I found more pieces and feel at peace with me – more places to feel at home, and fewer places to avoid,
Memories like “seeing kids’ eyes light up as they watch their future selves experience queer Black and Brown joy.”
“It’s a reminder that representation matters” – and for us there can never be a surplus.
So there will always be room for me “because I am good enough and I am worth it.”
“I want to thank the organisers and creators of Afrori Voices for the chance to share a part of mine.”
“My life has been defined by many moments, many stories” and now is the time
To be heard – to be seen – to be with my sisters – to link arms when the sea is rough.
“Like my imaginary auntie, Audre Lorde, said, ‘it felt right to me.’ And it still does.”
We caught our breath. “Life went on”. Together we rejoice and sing.
“May we all learn to find our tribe and our place in unbelonging”.