Telling the truth about blackness in a white world3 minute read

Sekai Makoni is a writer, speaker, activist, podcast host and training facilitator. She is currently based in Amsterdam but grew up in Cambridge and London. Sekai moved to The Netherlands for her second Masters at The Sandberg Institute, where she examines how self-care and spirituality can work alongside art, activism and academia.

What inspired you to start this research?

The main reference points we have for Blackness are often African American. So, I started thinking, what are the particularities to being Black in Europe? I kind of wanted to unearth that a bit more. I came with the intention of exploring Black women’s identities in The Netherlands but my research has become a bit autoethnographic. I’ve been looking at what is it to be of Zimbabwean heritage; my own identity and linking this to colonial histories and how they are present today.

My grandfather was held in detention in what was then Southern Rhodesia so my research is about intergenerational trauma among Black people in the diaspora and healing through Southern African choral song.  

I am in a very white institution so doing this type of exploration under white gaze can be difficult. To explain concepts that might be quite alien to people can be painful. Part of my research is looking at Patricia Hill Collins’s notion of ‘afrocentric feminist epistemologies’ and so if I am doing that within a Eurocentric, masculinist institution; I am having to argue myself through a system that isn’t of me, for me, and works against me. So autoethnography has been interesting, insightful and I would say painful at times but more so because of who I am having to do it in front of sometimes.

I am really interested in telling the truth, and being emotionally honest and vulnerable. But my mum is always saying  to me… “you can’t be ubuntu here, you can’t operate ubuntu in a system that doesn’t value ubuntu because you are making yourself vulnerable.” It’s a double edge: how do I keep my authentic self, be true to myself and do work that I really want to do but also keep myself safe? I don’t know if I always get it completely right but I am trying. I think that definitely involves having a lot of support systems in place. It throws into light the importance of Black spaces and I am very thankful for the networks of black women that I have. I have a lot of support systems back home more because I’ve spent more time there.

What can you tell us about your podcast?

My podcast is called Between Ourselves it’s a podcast that centers the voices of Black women in Europe, talking about issues pertinent to them. And I suppose what inspired me is that I have so many great conversations with the Black women in my life and I would watch media outlets and be like hmmm… the voices that are promoted aren’t reflective of the really interesting in depth conversations I have with the Black women in my life. Especially on important issues of race and identity – I would see quite simplified narratives put out there, I  wanted to complicate that.

The title alludes to the fact that when Black women or Black people gather together something different happens. Of course, anyone can listen to the podcast but when we are between ourselves, I think there is something else at play. I have some friends that have listened that are not Black and they are challenged by some of the stuff on it or they hadn’t thought about certain topics in that way before. I think there is something important about being forced to listen to Black women – without interruption. How often does that happen?  

Once I get my thesis out of the way I want to post the new episodes I’ve been working on since I moved out here – I think they show some interesting perspectives on Blackness in the Netherlands.

Follow Sekai’s podcast here.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Julia Chanda Zvobgo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ‘Of Africa’. She was born in Zimbabwe and raised in The Netherlands. As an Afropean she is always looking for new and creative ways to “make the invisible, visible”. She is a co-founder and a member of 'ethnovision' a collective of visual anthropologists and filmmakers. Julia also volunteers as the Director of Communications & Development for Tariro House of Hope, an NGO that transforms the lives of children and their communities in Zimbabwe.