A truly validating experience

Living While Black: The Essential Guide to Overcoming Racial Trauma (Ebury Press) by Guilaine Kinouani, reviewed by Susan Cousins.

Guilaine Kinouani’s book both expands and strengthens current narratives on race. It is written to the Black experience, tackling the complexity of a life lived while Black. In the introduction, Kinouani describes facing the decision to include personal life experiences in the book, reminding me of my own choice to weave my story into ‘Overcoming Everyday Racism’. The personal is part of the political.

Kinouani unflinchingly releases us into her world. She describes the brutal attack on her mother who was defending her own and others’ children as someone delivers ‘the kind of heavyweight punch that is full of hatred and carries the weight of the history of terror’. Black and Brown readers will be reminded of how their parents tried to keep them out of racism’s way. I am taken back to memories of my own mother defending her seven adopted children of colour from the whispers and shouts of ‘N..... lover’. It is not possible to separate the writer from their stance in the world, and many black people will hear and see their stance in the world reflected at them and find this a truly validating experience.

This book speaks from Kinouani’s personal, political and psychological perspective, forcing its way into the world of psychology and counselling literature where Black voices have been missing until relatively recently. Kinouani addresses the Black reader directly, inviting them to explore their history, their experience and their trauma, to reach an understanding of the intergenerational and collective trauma. The impact is laid bare within these pages.

There is honest, razor-sharp, and unrelenting description of, for example, the relationship between white women and black women – seldom written about and barely approached in any discourse around feminism or psychology. Many Black and Brown women have undoubtedly had countless experiences of being overpowered by white women, walking in the shadow of their innocent yet forceful facades and their white attractiveness. At the same time, Black and Brown women are hypersexualised by that white gaze. Images spilling out of the history of colonisation equated whiteness with purity, and blackness with danger, hatred and unhealthy desire – all in order to subjugate.

There are precious stones to be discovered in these pages – materials, tools, reflections. But for me it is so much more than this. The reader is invited to engage in resistance and to practice radical self-care with a tailored self-care plan provided at the end. Kinouani’s searing commentary reminds us just how little black lives have mattered in the history of counselling and psychology.

Kinouani addresses the fractured sense of belonging that many Black people feel. Home is challenged and precarious, we feel unable to trust what we know and what we experience, and we are explained away in the minds of people who hold more power. And yet we are told to ‘go home’, to go back to what Kinouani describes as a fantasy other home, an unfamiliar home that doesn’t even exist because most of us were born and grew up here… We are disconnected and yearning to belong.

Kinouani’s message is clear: Black people are more than one nation and live beyond those boundaries. And yet there is no magic formula, no means with which to unhook ourselves from the traps that bind us. Kinouani says, ‘We cannot excel our way out of racism’, but we can learn to resist and disrupt those who deny our experiences. Kinouani has written a fascinating and impressive book that stands witness to what it is like to ‘live while black’. 

- Reviewed by Susan Cousins, Cardiff University Senior Compliance Advisor, Race, Religion and Belief, author of Overcoming Everyday Racism.

- Read about Susan's book and Susan's reflections following a racist online attack.

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