Not to be Overlooked
By Emma Wallace and Alicja Baranowska
Not To Be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column covers reviews of two non-fiction titles: Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods by Otegha Uwagba and A Wild and Precious Life edited by Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert.
Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods by Otegha Uwagba
Published by HarperCollins, Nov 2020
It might feel like a risk to analyse and review the events of last summer within the space of just eighty A3 pages, but Otegha Uwagba’s short essay collection Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods does exactly that, to great effect.
Written and published in the aftermath of George Floyd’s brutal murder, Whites poses a series of pertinent questions, such as: where are we now in terms of anti-racism? What progress has/hasn’t been made? And what does true allyship look like – and is it even possible? Uwagba does not intend to necessarily provide answers to those fairly big questions, but simply to offer us her observations on the events of last summer, and to perhaps highlight what we could be doing better.
Written with unflinching honesty and incisiveness, Whites uses the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer as a prism through which to consider the nature of white privilege, white activism and the mental labour required of black people to navigate the two. Within this, Otegha focuses more specifically on the trends that were brought to the forefront last year – namely the nature of social media activism and the role of the anti-racist reading list. As someone who has long viewed literature as a stepping-stone towards cultivating greater understanding, this latter point was especially eye-opening for me, and forced me to interrogate the dangers in viewing anti-racism in purely academic terms. Otegha is not unaware, however, that in publishing Whites she is perhaps adding to the anti-racist reading list that she critiques. Her first section comprises a series of notes about how best to approach the topic, and the risks inherent in framing whiteness as the centre-point of her analysis. As Otegha herself asserts, “that push and pull – between what I wanted to do, and what racism necessarily requires of me – seems strangely apt, a facsimile of whiteness itself and the way it compels, overrides, distorts, and ultimately controls.”
For me, the brilliance of Whites is precisely down to how Otegha holds these tensions in balance; how she captures the nuances that are so often lost in Instagram infographics. She is interested in the relations between things – whether that be between the US and the UK, between different racial groups or between the events of last summer and her own experiences with racist macro- and micro-aggressions over the course of her life. By doing so, Otegha ultimately provides an exacting, intimate and thought-provoking insight into an unavoidable facet of the black experience.
A Wild and Precious Life by Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert (eds.)
Published by Unbound, May 2021
Recovery can mean a lot of different things and refer to many different situations. But at some point in our lives, we all experience recovery. We all experience a range of challenges related to both physical and mental health, to our personal and professional lives. And recovery is a part of it all.
A Wild and Precious Life is a recovery anthology edited by Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert. It consists of stories, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as poems by established and emerging writers. Divided into sections such as ‘joy’ or ‘release,’ A Wild and Precious Life is a powerful collection of so many varied voices on the route to recovery who are all fighting one day at a time. These stories are equally inspiring and heart-breaking, hopeful and raw.
A Wild and Precious Life is especially powerful because it composes of stories about recovery from so many different things and as a result, can resonate with so many different readers. All narrators have struggled, have fought, and despite it all, continued living.
It’s not an easy read as some stories and poems in the collection deal with abuse, substance abuse, mental health issues and violence. But it’s an absolutely powerful and important collection of stories and poems. A Wild and Precious Life shows how vulnerable and yet extremely strong people really are. It shows how powerful and life changing your community and the people around you can be.
I don’t have a favourite short story or poem from this anthology, but I am sure I will be coming back to many of them in the future. They stay in your memory for a long time. But what I loved the most about A Wild and Precious Life is how it emphasises the importance of writing and creativity in different forms on the road to healing and recovery. Creativity has always been a big part of my life and has helped with hard times, and I would definitely recommend writing, drawing or any other form of creativity for those struggling one way or another. It’s a powerful tool for recovery.