Last week, I came across a video of a poem called Dinosaurs In The Hood by Danez Smith. I’ve never heard of him as a poet before, it was a random night of me browsing Facebook videos after a funny cat video. The video, though, resonated with me on a profound level. Lately I’ve been struggling with how I receive and digest black trauma and black pain, and even my own. This poem recited in this video said more about my feelings towards these uncertain feelings better than I could, or possibly can. It’s taken me well over four months to craft these feelings perfectly, but basically, my trauma and pain is not for sell.
It’s taken me a few months to craft this post to not sound like an attack on authors or to belittle my own political stance. What I’ve learned is that while I am a political/ very Anti-Tr*mp, pro-black, pro-LGBTQIA+, and what I would consider a progressive human being both mentally and emotionally – that is not who I am as a writer. This isn’t a reply to anyone’s calling out at all, there’s no one bringing up this as an issue to me, but I feel like in our current political climate and society, it’s easy to pick a name and a voice as a leader. I denounced my activism on Twitter a few months ago and it was solely done for my mental health and my well-being as a black queer woman on the internet. As someone with only 150+ followers, there’s no one “checking” for me at all, but I also want to keep it that way. Now, this doesn’t diminish my principles or my feelings on the matters. I will still speak on them but I’m no one’s activist at the least. I feel like as a storyteller, I want to make something very clear about the stories I tell and will continue to tell.
This revelation came to me when I came across a twitter thread earlier this year (you’ll have to click the tweet to read the thread in its entirety):
I wish someone would pay me to just write all the boring, mundane & totally uninteresting things I think about daily.
But I’m Black. So. 🙄
— Nneka M. Okona (@afrosypaella) April 27, 2017
The entirety of the thread spoke to me in a way that made me give a rant of my own (again, click and scroll):
You know what.
I’m done writing about things that center around my trauma, my blackness, or my trauma while being black.
— jade ivy monét 💖 (@jadeivymonet) April 28, 2017
This rant wasn’t an attack on anyone, it wasn’t even me denouncing writing about black people or any poc. I want the ability to tell the same stories white people can with black leads that doesn’t come across as something done “for the culture”. What resonated with me about this thread was that it’s hard to find a personal essay done by a black writer that isn’t centered around pain, progression after pain, blackness, awareness of that blackness, or even something about blackness that isn’t something of a lesson for the reader. This isn’t slander of any kind because personal essays take gut that I only moderately have. Personal essays give a voice to those commonly silenced and ignored and I honor the art fully. Although, it’s easy to find essays like those centered around pain and blackness versus essays from white people done with the same kind of cultural awareness. Sure, we’ll see pieces written about white feminism written by a white women, but a lot of pieces of the more popular pieces are ones about avocado toast or the thousand takes on millennials.
But my question is why don’t we have the same mundane, mediocre writing from black people? Why can’t we have that? Why is black pain so profitable? Why is black pain the only subject in terms of our development and progression while other shows/ films/ stories give story arcs to people who go through lone experiences then come out on top? Iron Man, the love of my life, was created from a lone experience of Tony being almost killed by a grenade then extremists. Before then, Tony Stark was still a wealthy man and still a genius. Black people? Our story is that we endure racism from the moment of our conception until our demise. Our character arc in stories, films, and even life, has to be the moment we accept the hate we’re given and just learn to turn the other cheek. Am I the only black person tired of these weak story lines as well as weak life lessons?
This isn’t just about race, but in all traumatic events in our lives. To be seen as human, as important, we have to be victims: victims of sexual assault, absent parents, domestic violence, mental illness, physical illness. While I do praise personal essays for it being a choice of the writer (I’m sorry I cannot stress this enough), I don’t agree with fictional stories and books that are centered around all the same themes. I don’t agree with how accepted it is by society for black films that are basically love stories and don’t show anything more than perhaps a heartache or a failed career (with an all black cast at that) are considered “black movies”, while slave movies, biopic, and any story of the aforementioned turning the cheek on racists are compelling and moving. I don’t agree with how unless authors all just like Maya Angelou, August Wilson, Langston Hughes, or Toni Morrison, we’re not seen as compelling as authors.
The point I’m making is that I’m a storyteller. I don’t want to share these stories of black pain to be seen as progressive. I don’t want to write stories about struggling black girls who live a daily life of fighting oppression. I want happy gay stories, or sad gay stories, and I want these stories to have black characters. I want a love story where the black woman is always seen as desirable and doesn’t have to get over a rape done at age 11 by a close family member or friend, years of men cheating on her, or years of an ex-husband beating her senseless. I want a story that doesn’t have to hurt and always hit so close to home to be seen as a well done black story.
Honestly, I don’t even want black writers to feel compelled to write black stories if they don’t want to. I want black writers to feel as though they’re allowed to tell the same, and probably even better, story as their mediocre white male counterpart. Maybe I’m asking for the freedom of oppression and the right to be artistic in ways we see fit, but I also don’t feel like what is done artistically should even be up for discussion or rejected by any means. Sometimes I wish it was enough to accept that our presence in the writing and publishing world was diverse enough. Except it isn’t, and it probably won’t be for quite some more time. We’re seen as victims and African-American Authors who get their own small section in book stores while the stories written about us, and our pain, are sitting pretty under Literary Fiction and Young Adult by people who favor John Green.
It’s taken me too long to say this. No one even needs me to say it. What I will say again and again until my last dying breath is: