What does it mean to find your voice? And as women of colour, who have historically been marginalised and (physically) silenced in many ways, how do we write, so that we don’t perpetuate the same oppressive culture? For Buhle Ngaba, her eagerness to speak back and ‘find her voice’ came in the form of writing a children’s book.
As she says in the preface, the book was written as a “healing balm” for herself. “For the part of me that winces every time black female bodies are dismissed or violated in a white, patriarchal and racist reality.”
The digital, free-for-download, poetically written book is a tale of a young girl with “a fluff of hair, a mouth the shape of a cherry blossom and brown pools for eyes”.
The girl in the story is voiceless, except for the humble hum of a golden cocoon in her throat – a hum only she can understand. As the story moves, the girl becomes and feels alienated because of her voicelessness. She grows empty and disheartened, compromising herself in order to ‘fit-in’.
But then something, or rather someone, in the form of a red-winged woman, brings the girl back to herself. She realises, “her voice, that she had been chasing, had been inside her all along”, writes Ngaba.
The story is accompanied by black and white images of a young girl and the red-winged woman which narrate the story in a compassionate way. On top of that, colourful illustrations layered onto the pictures give the book a playful and inviting feel.
The book tackles, visually and textually, the issue of black female representation and how certain fairy tale images [blonde hair, blue eyes and a very thin figure]; can be scarring for young girls.
In the introduction to Black Looks: Race and Representation, feminist scholar and cultural critic Bell Hooks says, “Opening a magazine or book … we are most likely to see images of black people that reinforce and re-inscribe white supremacy.”
Ngaba courageously puts herself in a space and position that intentionally undermine these images that re-inscribe white supremacy.
The book can be downloaded at www.girlwithoutasound.com