Reading With A Barbadian Flair
Writer and activist Lisa Hurley is Barbados personified. Displaying a relentless boldness in championing an end to racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination, she is rapidly emerging as a respected thought leader in the anti-racism arena.
On the heels of the formal end of Barbados’ nearly 400-year relationship with the British monarchy and colonialism, I talked by phone with Lisa from her home in Jersey City, New Jersey. She notes:
“I have always been anti-racist without necessarily labeling myself that way. Having grown up in Barbados in the Caribbean, I was exposed to an education system which is very different in that you are educated broadly about actual facts.”
Lisa says that the educational experiences she was privy to in her home country regarding the TransAtlantic slave trade and other key inflection points in history have led to her strong feelings about the brutality of colonialism and slavery.
“Over the years as a sort of old school West Indian, I’ve had direct experiences with the legacies of these systems which include of course racism, colorism, and texturism. As a result, I was taught to be seen and not heard.”
Coming from a family of readers and writers, Lisa credits books with having had a profound impact on her life.
On Being Introduced to Books and Reading
There were always books in our home while I was growing up. For me, some of the authors who were early influences were Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.
On A Book That Stood Out At An Early Age
When I was young, I read ordinary children’s books. But then I discovered “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. As soon as I reached an appropriate age to read it, I dived right into the pages and couldn’t put it down.
On The Influence Of That Book
First of all, all the heroes and heroines that I had ever read about up until that point were white. So just from that perspective, it was revolutionary. It really, really resonated with me. Reading it allowed me to begin realizing more possibilities for myself.
On Reading and Self-Care
I’m fond of saying, “you can’t pour out of an empty cup.” For me, that has always meant that my self-care has to come before my activism. In other words, you can’t be excellent at what you do and give it your all if you’re not taking care of yourself, particularly your health. I see reading as just one form of self-care.
On A Recent Book That Spoke To Her
The book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson definitely falls into that category. Author Isabel Wilkerson is obviously an academic of renown. She has a particular style of writing that is so riveting. It helped solidify lots of thoughts and ideas that I’ve had kinda floating around disparately in my own brain. She brought them all together and made it all make sense in a logical framework. Honestly, I could not put the book down.
On Black Intellectuals
I feel that black intellectuals are not celebrated or quoted often enough. Isabel Wilkerson is just one example of this as the level of excellence, intellect, and research that she put into the book Caste was pretty profound. Yet Black and Brown people are seldom given the opportunity to shine our full light in this manner. Not to take anything from anyone — our artists, our sports heroes, we love them, right. But at times it feels as if that’s the only avenue we’re allowed to excel in.
On Hood Feminism
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall is a book I had to read in stages because I was so emotionally affected by it. It’s a book that I had to put down at points and ponder what I had read in order to process my emotions. In some ways, it was traumatic because it resonated so deeply and so closely. Nevertheless, it’s one of my favorites.
On Her Black Hair Advocacy
As a black hair advocate, another book I read a couple of years back is “Don’t Touch My Hair ” by Emma Dabiri. As soon as it came out I said to myself, ‘I have to read this book.’ It did not disappoint. I now follow the author Sharee Miller on social media. She is who she appears to be in terms of walking the walk and talking the talk. She is definitely on my most admired list.
On Books And Workplace Racism
Another book I want to mention is by an author who is not yet well known. She’s actually self-published. Her name is Jacquie Abram. She has co-written a book called “Hush Money: How One Woman Proved Systemic Racism In Her Workplace and Kept Her Job.” She is not well-known yet but the book is doing well and has received excellent reviews. I read it —it felt as if but for a few details it was telling my own story. It’s a book that I wish I had had years ago.
On Reading Digital Books
HA! I love books but my eyes don’t care for them anymore. Sure, I prefer to purchase a paperback or hardback book if I can. And as a library person, I want to have the item. But I actually can’t read them in that format anymore. Me and my readers struggle. So I have moved over to digital kicking and screaming. But it is what it is because sometimes practicality must outweigh preference. And with digital, I can make the text as large as I want to [Laughter]
On Her Favorite Bookstores
I almost hate to mention this because it’s almost a cliche but I do love Strand Bookstore. Way back in the day when I was a little girl, my aunts in Barbados would take me and my sister to the public library which felt like a wonderland. Strand Bookstore in some ways reminds me of that; it takes me back to my childhood, my happy place. I like the atmosphere there; I like the breath of their book offerings. And so, yes, it’s a cool place.
On Why Black-Owned Bookstores Are Special
Another bookstore I like even more than Strands for different reasons is one called “Source of Knowledge” bookstore in Newark, New Jersey. It’s black-owned, owned by an African-Caribbean family and they sell books by and written about people of African descent. As a Black woman, it’s a joy to go there and see yourself fully reflected, from children's books all the way back up. It’s like a family store — you walk in, you’re greeted with a hug — ‘hey sis, how are you, welcome to the store.’ They want you to feel like you are part of their community and a part of their family.
I love that.
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