Lessons We Learn from Our Sisters

We’ve long looked towards the women in our lives to help us understand the world around us. We’ve learned lessons from the mother whose gentle admonishments reminded us to sit up straight or moisturise our ashy elbows; and from the sister who was born a sister but labelled a brother, who taught us the power of living in our truth. Even when the women who were supposed to care for us and have our back didn’t and haven’t, hard-learned lessons have been cast out of the disappointment. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to forget that our mothers and sisters and siblings aren’t here for the sole purpose of teaching us how to live our best lives. As 31 women embark on revelatory journeys in the pages of Sista!, disclosing their innermost feelings via personal essays, poetry and short stories, we’re reminded of the burden women of colour bear, the endless quagmires they navigate, and the impossible decisions they make to survive.

Sista! is not, though, stories of pain. Sure, there is pain, but it would seem each author has been chosen for both their openness and their hopefulness, or because their story heals or leads to healing. From explorations of the deleterious effects of loving white women to the familiar familial theological tussle, Sista! is a triumph of experience. Indeed, it seems no stone has been left unturned in compiling this anthology, so broad and so expansive is the collection. Reading through Sista! is comforting, warming and nourishing. It is a lighthouse during a storm, a north star, a fragrance guiding us back home.

 

Sista! is an anthology of voices: women-loving women of all shades and sizes and diasporas knitted together, reflective of the rich tapestry that is both Woman and Community. It is borne of a need, a need we’ve learned is never met by looking outwards. Phyll Opoku-Gyimah ends her essay on the genesis of UK Black Pride with a quote from Audre Lord, the seed from which the Sista! anthology no doubt sprouted:

“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t. So in our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”

Whether or not someone else’s inner turmoil should serve as a salve for our own confusion or discomfort in understanding our own selves remains to be discussed, but there is something hopeful in knowing that we’re not alone. Sista! gives us pause, a moment to remember and relish in the community that abounds around us and envelopes us in the sisterly and motherly love that has nourished and continues to nourish so many of us. In many of the stories are the lessons we’ve learned the hard way. How many of us have watched our sisters make a mistake and suffer the consequences, only to then sprint off to make the exact same mistake with the exact results, ad absurdum? Whether you’re someone who has never been able to learn from someone else’s mistakes or someone who wasn’t afforded the luxury of someone to learn from, this anthology reminds us that, however we figure them out, we seem to be learning the same truths.

Take Kesiena Boom’s powerhouse essay, “Not White, Not Ever: A Black Lesbian Lament”. It is thrilling in both its intellectual acuity and the bones-laid-bare reflections on her emotional interactions with white women, and the attendant conflict of identity such interactions provoke:

“I have loved white women and I have tried so very hard to push past our differences, to embrace the rhetoric of ‘love overcomes’. I didn’t want to accept and admit that sometimes that is just not true. There will always be separations and seas between us. Romantic love is not an abstract emotion, wrought from the ether. It is a co-construction between two people who must build that love from a place of mutual understanding and compassion for the other. And I knew that the love I could create with white women would always be missing some essential essence.

What would I stifle and stuff down if I committed my life to the emotional labour involved in soothing and protecting whiteness? What parts of me would become weak and worn from neglect? I knew that I did not want to find out. Compromise held no clarity for me.”

Amen!

Not all lessons are about conflict, a lesson in and of itself. In Sista!, we also learn to reclaim our tenderness, the softness we are born with, but which becomes encased after the world makes clear that we must hide it to survive. Fighting against tenderness as weakness, much of Sista! is dedicated to those personal pillow-moments — the caressing of skin, the soft breaths in the height of heat, the yearning for electric touches in sheets. Such revelations are a potent reminder that the strength to fight can be forged by a softer touch, by intimacy and vulnerability. Indeed, behind our fortitude is tenderness, the reclamation of which is itself a radical act.

In its totality, and even taken piecemeal, Sista! exemplifies the power of literature. All throughout, we’re reminded that our experiences, while ours alone, are not ours in solitude, and that the threads of adjacent experiences are woven into ours. Perhaps the unintentional power of Sista! is that it reminds us that our hopes and dreams are not carved from impossibility, but rather from a collective consciousness. When we convene voices and experiences in this way, we construct a space in which we feel recognised, safe and wanted. With Sista!, we can breathe a deep sigh of relief. What a gift.

Sista! is a ground-breaking anthology of writing by and about same-gender-loving women of the African and Caribbean diasporas with a connection to the UK, and is created in partnership with UK Black Pride and Team Angelica.

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