As Black History Month draws to a close, I find myself ruminating on the wider impact of the month and the media focus it has attained. This led me to Keziah Doudy — founder of The Black Narrative, a project she hopes will spark a change in the representation of young black people in the media.
Doudy, a 19 year old Geography student from North London, is enthusiastic and insightful.
Of the project, she tells me “The Black Narrative is an online platform for young black people to document their lives, their own personal stories and their experiences. I started it with the aim of dismantling the negative stereotypes about young black people that are persistent in the media.
“But I also want to encourage people to challenge their perception of what they think blackness is. I wanted to make the point that the black community is not a monolith, there is a lot of diversity within our community and it should be celebrated.”
A relatively new endeavour, she tells me that the project was born of a frustration with Western media.
She says “about 2 or so years ago, there were suddenly a lot of incidents of police brutality where black people were being shot and killed or injured by the police. But every time something like this happened, I noticed that there was an instant attempt by news groups to justify the violence against the victim by demonising them and bringing up negative aspects of their past.
“I don’t think there’s ever a justification for that kind of violence so it was quite frustrating for me to see mainstream media outlets working so hard to turn the victim into the bad guy. It was really a response to that.”
Whilst this problem is most prevalent in America, perhaps a symptom of their outdated gun laws and complicated judicial system, we agreed that things weren’t perfect in the UK either.
Doudy says “I wanted to bring it closer to home and make it more relevant to the UK. There’s a lot of negativity when it comes to black youth and there are a lot of smear campaigns against prominent black people who speak out about these kinds of things. In the UK media there’s a dominant perception of blackness that’s just gangs and violence and a certain way of speaking and a certain way of living. I just wanted to respond to that and to challenge those ideas”.
Ambitiously, she has big ideas for the project.
She tells me “at the moment it’s very London and Manchester based because that’s where I’m based but I’d definitely like to expand it to other cities. Eventually, if I’m able to travel more, then I want to make it more international. I’m very interested in the stories of black people in non-English speaking countries because we always hear a lot about the Black American experience and the Black British experience but we don’t get much about the Black French experience or the Black Austrian experience.
“In a year’s time, I think I’d like to take it internationally and be documenting stories of people all over. In 5 years time, I’d like to come out with a book with all these stories and possibly set up a charity organisation through The Black Narrative. I’d like to give children in disadvantaged areas the chance to travel as well and see places like South Africa or Canada so they can have those experiences and see beyond where they immediately live.
“I feel the reason that there is so much inter-generational deprivation and poverty in some areas is because people can’t see beyond where they are. They don’t imagine themselves doing other things and being in other places. Travelling is so important because it exposes you to new and formative experiences.”
Already the project is making waves, going from strength to strength.
We reflect on the journey so far and Keziah tells me about one of her more memorable interviews: “One of my favourite interviews was with a guy called Kome. He told me about how he would often get teased by other black people because of his interests. He was a classical musician, he played rugby, he did art, and he felt that there needed to be more encouragement of black people pursuing things outside of the realm of what we consider to “black” things.
“Things like rugby, which is seen as a predominantly white sport, and classical music shouldn’t be fields where only white people can excel. I thought it was very introspective of him because sometimes, as black people, when we talk about our issues and our problems it’s very easy to point the finger and say well ‘white people conditioned us to think like this’ but sometimes we need to be more responsible for ourselves.
“We need to take responsibility for uplifting other members of the black community, even those that are different from us.”
Whilst the project has so far been an individual labour of love, Doudy is excited at the prospect of involving more people.
She says “I’d love that. If you want to share your own personal story you can email me or follow the project on twitter at @TBlackNarrative. There’s also an Instagram page but it’s just great to have people interacting with the website in general. I love to hear what people think or what they’ve learned.
“As well as sharing stories, I’ve included a feature page so if people don’t necessarily want to talk about themselves they can talk about issues that they think are important or are affecting young black people today. I’ve just had a piece that a guy has written about what it is to be a young black man and how to deal with hyper-masculinity and the battle of how to be vulnerable and how to express yourself emotionally and it was amazing so I welcome outside contributions.”
The project can be found at theblacknarrative.co.uk