As part of International Women’s Day (last March 8), Belgium Black History Month organized an event on the black feminist movement at Kaystudio in Brussels. Writer and activist Filsan Othman (he/she) was one of the speakers during the panel discussion with Henriette Essamy, Aida Yancy, Cultiv Soso, and moderator Rachel Moore. The day after the event, Malkiya Al-Mutairi spoke with Filsan Othman about community building and Black History Month in Belgium. This was their conversation.
Filsan Osman (she/she) is from Somalia. She is a writer, activist, and community builder. Felsan studied African languages and cultures at Ghent University and co-authored the book ‘Who Do We Want to Take Care of? Ecofeminism as Inspiration’, published by the European Patent Office. She is also Events and Production Director for the Ghent Team of Black History Month in Belgium and Editor and Writer for Spijker Magazine Feminism on the Internet.
This conversation took place between Philsan Osman and Malkia Mutiri on March 9, 2022, the day after the session on black feminism.
How did you get involved? When did you decide to use your voice?
Filsan Othman: “I think this happened spontaneously and organically. When I started my studies at the University of Ghent, I noticed that I had to make my voice more and more heard and it had a kind of snowball effect. I started with a speech here or an invitation there, and from there more and more came my way .
Since I wrote the article and since the book Who Do We Want to Care About? Coming out, my focus shifted to how to study intersections, for example between gender and class. It wasn’t something that happened all of a sudden, I just got into it naturally.
How did the book originate and how do you feel now that it has been published?
“The part of the book I wrote was written when I was working on my thesis, so I didn’t feel like I was actually writing a book.
When I came out and saw it in book form, I didn’t believe it (laughing out loud† I was confused because it had my own name on it and my face (there is a picture of me on the back of the book).
I couldn’t believe these were my own words. I kept thinking “Is it written in a real book? Are they being sold?” It was a very strange feeling. I think it’s only now, about 6 months later, that I feel some kind of connection and that I realize what I wrote, how I wrote it and when I wrote it.
It was a very enjoyable period. I don’t think I or any of the other book authors (Dirk Holmans and Marie-Monique Francine) really understood what was going to happen when we wrote it, because I think we had a little book in mind that was supposed to have happened “Ecopolis” (Ecopolis It is an annual event that includes discussions, lectures and workshops for everyone who cares about a sustainable future on our planet).
We didn’t think it would continue to sell and be translated into French and English.”
I was a member of a panel about black feminism in Belgium on March 8th, organized by Black History Month in Belgium. How did you feel after the panel discussion, and how did the audience feel?
“When I was asked to join the committee, I was actually very honored. I didn’t know beforehand how it would happen, but then I can definitely say how things went during yesterday’s event which was fantastic. I was especially happy that we were able to give black women and gay people a space To meet and exchange experiences, but also just for ‘being there’.
That’s something that struck me that night, a lot of people who were just there, just being there and enjoying the conversation. It was wonderful to see him. I have participated in seminars several times, to talk about climate, for example, and the audience is mostly white.
I felt very safe at the last two BHM Belgium events I attended in Brussels, talking about the book with Malcom Ferdinand and the other on 8 March. I’ve never felt safe in a room to talk about my work. Whenever I look back, it gives me energy.
You are a writer, activist and community builder. How do you think your role as a community builder affects other areas of your life?
“To be a good writer, it is important to be part of my community. I want to understand where things are going right and where things go wrong or go wrong.
When things aren’t going well, I want to be able to think together and commit myself to finding ways we can come together and serve each other collectively. I think these different “roles” or domains feed off each other. If I had to give something away, I would always choose to make myself useful to my community.
So, if I had to make the decision, I would always be committed to sharing my privileges and putting them to work for the people who matter most to me.”
What events are you looking forward to attending in person during Belgium’s Black History Month?
“I think if you’re black and queer, the Black Queer Fest in Antwerp (which takes place on March 19 in Arenberg) is something to attend. Also Chop Life…this is something a lot of people will enjoy.”
For me personally, the book fair is the most interesting because it would be really nice to see all these authors and books in one place. It is also one of the events that BHM Belgium members have worked hard on.
Finally our showroom here in Ghent. We have collected images that we are allowed to use from people in our community. We didn’t have a curator, so we put together a set of photos that reflect our time from getting together filming.
Once all of this stuff is put together, I think it’s going to be a great exhibit. Not only to come and see pictures, but also to be in space and be in space together.
I won’t be able to attend them all, unfortunately I can’t be in more than one place at the same time (He laughs†
This interview, which originally appeared in English, was translated by Evi Van Thienen.
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