When a black female Educator and now Ambassador-At-Large with UN special Consultative Status for NGO’s (ECOSOC) from New York City writes a book, in particular one with a title as unique as ‘From Bed-Stuy to Beijing: Unapologetically Black in China’, people notice. News of Her Excellency (H.E.) Dr. Cheroll Dossett’s novel has spread from black communities in Guangzhou (where she is based) to Beijing and everywhere in between.
Let its title sink in. Ask yourself, what does my blackness mean to me? What is blackness at home? What is blackness in a foreign country? Dr. Dossett’s book asks these three questions of the reader as she honestly and openly shares her own story. As more people of African descent make the decision to venture into China and other foreign countries such questions are asked with increasing frequency. The notion of Western countries as ‘post-racial’ has been debunked as the evidence that blackness is attacked has long become undeniable. In America, Cheroll’s home country, blackness has historically been supressed by institutionalised racism. Their systematic oppression of black peoples extends beyond law enforcement and seeps into mass media, as well as being responsible for the prevalence of culture vultures and more.
For such reasons, amongst others, countless black people are today questioning whether life in the West is truly better than in China. With China’s booming economic growth black people of African descent from all over the world are venturing towards the Middle Kingdom in pursuit of a fulfilling life. Unapologetically Black in China guides the curious mind through these questions as Cheroll shares intimate details of the ‘lessons learned’ living as a Black woman in China for the last seven years.
Black Livity China caught up with Cheroll to explore some of the inspiration behind her new book.
The first experience that got her writing, she tells us, is an interaction that she had when she began her tenure as a Foreign Faculty member in the MA/Ph.D Program in Foreign Languages at South China University of Technology in Guangzhou.
At first glance, she recalls, a new colleague admitted, “I’ve never seen anyone Black teach at a university in China”. Cheroll remembers being shocked that a Caucasian millennial from the UK would react in such a way. The author recalls, “I was angered by it but rather than comment on my anger I cut her off…it caused me to pull away and to take stock of not only her but the statement she made.” From that point onwards, Cheroll kept her distance from the woman as an act of self-preservation, stating ‘interactions with someone who makes you uneasy simply aren’t worth it.’
The second reason Cheroll chose the title came from her observation that black people in China constantly find ourselves saying “sorry” for every little thing, even things that are by no means our fault. She now makes it her duty to remind those in our community, “Stop saying you’re sorry. Stop apologising.”
Yet, after some time she confesses she felt that her original title ‘Unapolegtically Black in China‘ was significantly lacking, although she couldn’t quite put her finger on what. After deep, reflective thought ‘From Bed-Stuy to Beijing’ was added, with the intention of capturing her physical movement from Brooklyn (New York) to her initial landing in Beijing. By choosing to embrace her new life, the title ‘From Bed-Stuy to Beijing: Unapologetically Black in China’ was born. The author recalls her debut book’s birthing process as “indeed a laborious journey filled with pain, guilt and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.”
The first part of the book chronicles her life from 2000 to 2011 when she lived in New York in the Bedford-Stuyvesant Section of Brooklyn. The title was later shortened to Bed-Stuy to add a bit of ‘artistry and flavour’ to a community that she adopted as her home for 12 years. Commonly known to insiders as the neighborhood from which mega businessman and rapper, Jay-Z hails from; Brooklyn is a proud community of Afro-Caribbean, African immigrants and Black Americans who struggle each day to provide stability for themselves and their families; for example, through faith based activities, education and youth development, programming, social justice and community involvement.
Since moving away, H.E Dr. Dossett notes just how much has changed in the once impoverished community of Bed-Stuy. It is now a preferred area where investors ensure the quality of the community and the average property value is a staggering $2,000,000 for a two-story Brownstone Unit. The book cover features her residence in a photograph shot by Anthony Rowley (better known as Mister Rowley), another native ‘Brooklynite’ and well-known Fashion Designer and Photographer based in China.
Reflecting on the changes in Bed-Stuy, Cheroll draws parallels between witnessing the transformation of her neighbourhood just like she witnessed her own transformation. Over time she embraced her journey on the path to cultivating an authentic life. In order to do the same, Cheroll tells us that one needs three ingredients: confidence, self-assurance, and awareness of ones’ gifts.
Moving to a country like China is a truly unique experience for people of the African Diaspora, no matter where we come from. We enter this country dealing largely with the natives’ perceptions and not our own realities. These perceptions are based almost exclusively on appearance or physical attributes. Thus, as Cheroll soon discovered on her arrival, “If you have invested in yourself like I have academically, financially, and in other ways that I deem important to live a quality life, once you cross that border and travel across the Atlantic Ocean everything you knew or believed about yourself is challenged on a routine basis”. Cheroll considers herself to be a person who embraces the humanity of an individual, but in China black people are not always afforded such an opportunity.
Writer versus Author
Many people write to release their thoughts and emotions onto paper. Journaling, for example, has become a widely recommended therapeutic exercise. For some, they are a sacred space to unload their most private thoughts and intimate details of their life – whilst also making for an amusing read later on.
Writers also use this form of self-expression to allow their creative thoughts to become tangible. Whatever the reason people write, most do not take the opportunity to move beyond their comfort zone and to publish their work. When a writer becomes an author their thoughts become exposed and open for the world to view, read, scrutinise, and hopefully appreciate. Publishing written work is thus, a whole new ball game – one that few of us are brave enough to play.
It takes courage to make your work public. Authors also have to be discerning with what they share and when, as was the case for Cheroll. “I held my book for six weeks beyond the due date out of apprehension that there would be things inside that are too personal”, she admits to one of our writers. Yet Cheroll made a commitment to her readers when writing Unapologetically Black in China, swearing to be 100% authentic in her narrative.
Her book is a seamless blend between a memoir and a motivational text. Her story is deliberately told in a way that serves as a guide to others. Unapologetically Black in China gently pushes readers to interrogate the constraints they face and surpass them in order to reach the next level of their best life. Some parts of the book are informative teachable moments where she tells us what she has learned about survival in a foreign country. She refers to the experience as, “navigating the system without the benefits of speaking the language.”
Not learning Chinese was a deliberate choice for Cheroll. Albeit ‘a bit arrogant’ in her decision-making (her own words) she found that by avoiding to learn the local language she was insulating herself from insults, public scrutiny and distractions that challenge her sense of peace.
Of telling her story through this book, one thing that would have been different had she been living at home, is that her command of the English language wouldn’t have been affected. An unintended consequence of navigating the adventures of switching from one language to another is that it complicates the writing process. Such was Cheroll’s own struggle when writing her book. When speaking a language with those who have learnt it as a second language, the native speaker intuitively uses simpler words, grammar, and abandons cultural references. After a few years the speaker finds their fluency of their native language slipping.
Intellectually we are reaching a point where deep down there is a nagging feeling that life shouldn’t come with constraints. But truly internalising this is a daily struggle. The shackles of these constraints could be because of age, finances, or other socially enforced factors. Cheroll wrestled with internal and external messages to overcome the obstacles associated with writing and publishing a book in a foreign country where one doesn’t speak the language.
Cheroll advises her readers, “not to try quick fixes, instead enjoy the process and take the time to step back and reflect. You may have setbacks…opportunities to recalibrate…to put you back on track.” She believes that life isn’t meaningful unless you have an impact not only on yourself, but those who have been fortunate enough to make your acquaintance.” When you have awareness of yourself you come to terms with your strengths and your abilities which dictate how you move, who you associate yourself with, and how you align your projects with your personal life.
With her wealth of experiences spanning two continents and a lengthy career, Cheroll succeeds in telling a humourous yet all too relatable tale of her time in China. From Bed-Stuy to Beijing: Unapologetically Black in China is a timely offering that reminds those of us in China to make the most ouf our time in the Middle Kingdom, while simultaneously offering a window to the experience for those outside of China. Ultimately, it reminds the reader to live both fully and fearlessly, whichever side of the world they may find themselves on.
***Calling all Beijing based family*** Cheroll will be in Beijing on the 4th of May at Reading Between The Wines. To find out more scan the code in the flyer below:
To keep up with Cheroll and her latest projects follow her online:
Twitter: cherollD; wechat: cdossett385; FB: dossettcheroll
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