“Educate yourself!” has become a rallying cry on- and offline in an era where current and past mythologies are being laid bare in the present. At best, the phrase has come to represent an openness to be informed, surprised and challenged – at worst, a guilty charge of not knowing what you don’t know.
I experienced a mix of these feelings as I read Stella Dadzie’s new book, A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance. Dadzie, born in London in 1952, is a founding member of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, co-author of the seminal book The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain, an activist, educator, writer and historian. A Kick in the Belly charts the story of enslaved West Indian women, covers the British and Dutch West Indies as well as the French Antilles and centres gender in her analysis of both slavery and resistance.
Aside from Mary Prince, whose autobiography The History of Mary Prince is the first published account of enslavement written by a woman, black women of the time (and until relatively recently in historical terms) have not been afforded the opportunity to record their stories. Aside from slavery’s obvious restrictions, the intersecting experiences of race and class in the Western world mean our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and beyond have often been too busy working and managing domestic life to write and give voice their particular place in history. It is partly for this reason that The Heart of the Race was such an impactful book both when it was published in 1985 and thirty years on.