As the riots and protests raged during the summer of 2020 in response to the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police, many African Americans found themselves fielding pleas from well-meaning white colleagues asking for help in understanding what was really going on.
Expat and London-based journalist Kenya Hunt's powerful debut book of essays, "Girl, Gurl, Grrrl: On Womanhood and Belonging in the Age of Black Girl Magic," is not only essential reading for those race curious, it's the embodiment of that Black friend who's willing to sit down and tell it like it is.
A mother of two, Hunt is a gifted storyteller with an intimate writing voice, akin to a girlfriend chatting over a few glasses of wine. She bares her heart on the page, from the emotional pain of two miscarriages, to the heartache of learning that her 3-year-old son had been called "a stupid little Black boy" by his London preschool teacher, to the frustrations precipitated by presumably "woke" white editors she's worked for in the New York magazine world who, conscious or not, still weren't quite sure how a Black reporter or editor fit in.
In her more provocative passages, she tackles this often-overused word. While most online dictionaries define "woke" as an awareness of inequality, and others describe a woke person as a slave to identity politics, Hunt — admitting an allergy to the word — still insists she can't think of a better term that explores the era. As if trying to put her finger over a real but constantly shifting pulse, Hunt, over some 12 pages, provides an exhaustive list of people, places and things to clearly connote what "woke" really means: Shirley Chisholm, Barack and Michelle Obama, Detroit, Harlem, the Guardian and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are all part of the woke canon.
While a quarter of the essays are written by other Black writers who weigh in on Black hair, white beauty standards, self-love and being a Black mother, the book is at its best when Hunt reflects the nuances of being Black. One hilarious passage exposes how a Black American woman's use of the word "girl," can mean anything from "you're testing my patience" to "I agree."
I nearly clapped as I read her ruminations over what is meant by the popular hashtag and movement Black Girl Magic: "It's Solange Knowles dressed in white, dancing on the streets of New Orleans. It's Malia and Sasha Obama, with girlfriends, in my favorite photo of them, trailing behind their dad. … It's nineteen Black women being elected judgeships in Texas. It's Kamala Harris running for President."
It's a prideful thing to be Black, she writes, and of course she's right, though not everyone will understand it. "The world expects the more familiar, stereotypical image of us as the server of side-eyes and roller of necks. But Black Girl Magic is a celebration that frees us from the confines of narrow expectation or subtext."
That's a celebration we could all use right now.
Tatsha Robertson is a New York City-based journalist. She is the co-author of "The Formula: Unlocking the Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children."
Girl, Gurl, Grrrl
By: Kenya Hunt.
Publisher: Amistad, 256 pages, $26.99.