Describing her podcast as “A platform where minorities share their love of books”, Ra'ifah Rafiq is the co-host of the podcast Mostly Lit.
With her co-hosts, Derek and Alex, they have created a community of listeners tuned in to their book discussions, banter and lively debates. They also interview writers, publishers, poets from Siana Bangura and JJ Bola to renowned author Malorie Blackman who was the children's laureate from 2013-2015.
Halimat Shode of The Black Muslim Times UK sat down to speak with Ra'ifah about what the podcast means to her.
H: On your podcast amongst your many conversations with your co-hosts, you discuss representation. How important is it to you and your co-hosts to have Black people represented in literature?
R: Young Black boys need to see Black people reading so it’s very important to have Alex and Derek as hosts on the podcast. It was also important for me to see that Black girls make sure that they can see themselves in writing. I was reading the classics such as Austen and the Bronte sisters and I don’t think I’ve ever read a children’s book with a Black character in it. I loved Roald Dahl’s books and read nearly all of them as a child, but it still felt very distant. I was always reading as an outsider, someone looking into a world that isn’t really a reflection of my world.
I think having organisations like Mostly Lit is so important because people need to see that. It’s nice seeing yourself; I remember the first time seeing a Black person when I came to this country; it was the show Power Rangers and the Black woman was the Yellow Ranger, I found it incredible. Also shows like Sister Sister. Those were the only things I would watch because it was seeing me seeing myself.
H: You've built a great following with your podcast; who would you say your audience is at Mostly Lit?
R: I would say its young Black millennials in the U.K. from who I’ve interacted with but it’s definitely become diversified which I think is great because people who are not Black can also listen to the show and hear how we express ourselves in literature. We also have a demographic in the U.S, Ireland, and a bit of a Nigerian following!
H: You had the phenomenal children's writer Malorie Blackman as a guest on Mostly Lit, what was that like?
R: She’s been our biggest and highest profile guest. She’s so down to earth and she just went for it and was fiery from the start! She said she listens to our podcasts and I was in awe.
H: In addition to being Black-British, you are also Muslim. How would you describe your identity as a Black Muslim?
R: A lot of the time when you’re Black and Muslim, there’s that chasm where people will look at you and ask if you’ve converted. I remember reading a tweet a while back saying “Go to an Asian mosque and they’ll look at you as if you got into Islam through clearing” and it’s a hilarious joke but the undertone is horrible really because, where do you fit in? Where’s that place where you can call home?
You have other Muslims who don’t understand the pressures of being Black. But then you have your own Black people who don’t get how it affects you when there is a stigma put on Islam. Then being a Black woman and it’s like, how many intersections am I having here?!
How do I navigate that; staying true to being Muslim and talking about my Blackness and being a Black woman? What does it mean being a Black Muslim Woman ?
Also working in the corporate field, and asking myself how do I wear the hijab or should I wear an abaya and other wardrobe choices as well as potential workplace politics.
It is a glass ceiling as some may be uncomfortable with you in work interactions because of who you are which can make you miss out on job opportunities even though you have worked just as hard.
H: What do you want to achieve with Mostly Lit?
R: All of us want to get Black kids reading, we all want to make reading cool. All of us have a different focus; Derek and Alex want to get young Black boys reading. For me it’s about Black women, Black excellence, ensuring you can feel like you can aspire. We got an e-mail from a girl in college in America who said how hard a time she was having but how we were keeping her going and made her know Black women can aspire and can achieve excellence. I was so moved; for me I just go in and record and I leave, not knowing people listen and not knowing what you say has an impact on people’s lives. I think that has been important for me to know and has given me more of a drive to do it.
Now we want to do workshops in schools. We want to make changes early. Maybe if I had known that there was a Black Muslim woman out there who really loved books maybe I wouldn’t have applied for medicine and would have had the guts to say, “This is what I want to do.”
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