Making Space for New Voices – Guest Post with Kerra Bolton

Feb 7, 2018

I’ve long been wanting to use my platform to highlight the work of women of color. One way to bring down the scourge of racism is to make space for other voices. To not take up all the air in the room. To listen.

Welcome to the inaugural post with writer and activist Kerra Bolton!

What book changed your life the most?

The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

I love epic, sweeping stories. However, in The Color Purple, I discovered the power of marginalized voice. Like Celie, I have often felt “poor, black, and ugly”.

Celie discovered the power of her voice, even if nobody but God heard her. That deeply resonated with me.

What’s your morning ritual?

Ha! My morning ritual is to wake up with the thought, “I live in Mexico. Oh my God, I live in Mexico?!”

After nearly two years of living here, I am still astounded that I left my life in the United States and moved to a place where I knew no one and I barely speak the language. The move feels incredibly stupid and exhilarating at the same time.

Then, I do the thing you aren’t supposed to do, which is check email and social media. I use the outrage to get out of bed, make a pot of coffee or tea, and get dressed.

What current project has you the most excited and what about it thrills you?

I am currently in the process of launching a book. I have written the proposal and am getting ready (I hope by the time people read this) to take the idea to market. I am excited about contributing to the cultural conversation about race and gender in a meaningful and provocative way.

You recently wrote an article entitled “When It’s Time to Rethink My Voice.” Can you explain what you mean by voice (it’s an obsession of mine and I love how we all define it differently) and how has finding your voice been part of your journey as a writer and activist?

I define my “voice” as the way I see and process the world.

I describe myself as a “lover-fighter”. Rage and love exist in the same wellspring of my work and life. I fight so hard on matters of racial justice because I love equally hard.

In my writing, I must temper the lover-fighter and decide word by word whether the lover or the fighter is leading the conversation. Sometimes they co-lead.

What’s your biggest frustration with your work right now?  How about with American culture? Do they overlap in any way?

My biggest frustration with my work right now is finding the courage to tell my story and not hide behind stories of others or data.

The lack of imagination and empathy in American culture frustrate me.

Racism, exists in part, due to a lack of imagination. It drives me insane when people say, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be black.”

Yes, you can.

If you can imagine living as a woman kept for reproductive purposes in New England in a dystopian future (Handmaid’s Tale) or you can imagine yourself as part of a complex web of dynastic families fighting for dominance on fictional continents (Game of Thrones), you can imagine being black.

However, imagination requires empathy. That is a muscle which needs practice in American culture.

How has being a woman of color shaped your work, if at all? And if so, has it always?

Being a woman of color has shaped my entire life. I consider it a gift to be a woman of color. I use my gift to educate, provoke, and inspire others. It also makes me fight harder.

What opportunities do white women have to support women of color’s work that you don’t see being leveraged or perhaps even acknowledged?

White women can support the work of women of color by listening, sharing our work, and purchasing our products and services.

Listening is a useful skill for white women who want to transform their relationship with women of color from privilege to partnership. None of us are free, until all of us are. That means seeing and listening to women of color even when you have differing views.

I have been fortunate that several white women, including you (Jen), share my work via social media with your communities to spark discussion. Thank you. It means a great deal to me.

You must vote with your dollars. There is a record number of women running for office in 2018. Learn who these candidates are and support them if your values align. Women of color authors are making huge strides this year. Bustle created a list of “11 new books” to get you started. Finally, women of color are represented in nearly every industry. Take the time to find out who and where we are.

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