Arts and Culture

‘This is a gift to black women’: Catherine Joy White talks Black female resistance, mental health, and the power of art to initiate change

A narrative of joy. This was the key message Catherine Joy White sought to convey through her new book, ‘This Thread of Gold’.

In an event discussing the book run by the National Archives to celebrate Black History Month, the gender advisor to the United Nations spoke of the power of matrilineal connections.

Blending narratives of women of colour across history, White celebrates the “joy [that] comes out of the darkest times” – the way both ordinary and high-profile women have resisted stereotypes and gained their own sense of power.

White offers a new interpretation to Hattie McDaniel’s legacy, for example. McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar, for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939). But the film star was fiercely criticised by the black community for perpetuating racial stereotypes, playing the role of a loyal servant to white people.

But White instead recognises McDaniel’s role in ending segregated housing in Los Angeles and her personal defiance of the asexual stereotype of Mammy with her four marriages.

It is this recognition – that resistance takes multiple forms – which really makes White’s work shine.

The fascinating and far-reaching conversation also touched on mental health, with White opening up about her own diagnosis with burnout.

She admitted she “doesn’t don’t know how not to be busy” and spoke of the burden placed on women of colour. But since her diagnosis earlier this year, she has been forced to practise saying “no”, something she admits is taking work.

The author spoke of the power of art both for improving mental health and as a form of activism. For those who may otherwise feel voiceless, art can act as a form of expression.

The Forbes 30 under 30 Class of 2022 star said: “Art has so much capacity for initiating social change.”

‘This Thread of Gold’ is on sale now, with a film adaptation of the book in the works for the end of 2024.

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