I’ve had this on my mind for a while. This is something that bothers me and makes me feel somewhat conflicted.
For background, if you’ve read any of my work at all, y’all know I don’t really go in for racial uplift. If you don’t know what that means, very basically I’m talking about providing “positive” images of, stories about, and work about Black folks in my case. For some extra background this is a good place to start.
When I was a lil baby writer, I tried very hard to work in the mode of racial uplift. For a while I stopped writing kinky fisting porn and overwrought vampire stories and tried to emulate the Wise Black Women writers who went before me. I wanted to write something like Phenomenal Woman, The Color Purple, The Bluest Eye- I remember writing in my journal fantasies about writing something that would set off a cultural bomb and fit into my ideas of racial uplift and what sort of Black writer I was supposed to be.
Given that all my writing at that time was done in absolute secret, by hand in notebooks I filled then destroyed. I wish I hadn’t, but that’s a whole other entry.
What I was doing during those years say about 16-20ish was desperately trying to discipline myself away from my porny, bloody, dark leanings and into the light. Into the Wise Black Woman ideal. Along with that I tried very hard to stop enjoying “bad” Black folks things.
I stopped watching Yo MTV raps, tried not to like any of my favorite rappers. I tried to glue some respectability to myself and my entertainment because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do.
I don’t want to get too deep into respectability politics but in my experiences those and racial uplift often occupy the same space.
So moving along.
I eventually grew out of that phase after a buttload of growing pains. And when I started seriously working on being published etc my first/strongest instincts led me to some magazines for Black folks.
However, being that I am who I am and the things I like to write I had a very hard time finding places to fit.
I remember sitting going through submission guidelines and ticking off all of the things I did in my work that were a problem. My horror had a hard time finding a home. My earliest non-fiction stories were mostly about things I liked then: being a Goth, going to punk shows/rock shows and my experience being an Alt oriented Black person in Seattle.
An aside. I remember I didn’t know how to write personal essays at that age. I didn’t know they were a thing and I wrote my non-fiction like school essays. I wish I had some now to look at.
Remember, I didn’t have Duotrope or the google machine. I had library copies of Poets & Writers, the occasional Black folks magazine. I can’t say I didn’t swing for the fences. I submitted to Ebony and Essence both. I also submitted to small Black folks lit zines and found that my work was not “positive” enough, my experiences being an Alt Black person were at that time (the 90s remember) too weird and exotic.
Fast forward to the last ten or so years and I observe a lot of the same thing.
I’ve worked with some folks who were very very kind about our difference of opinion about what voices and stories get to be told.
I’ve also worked with some folks who were violently opposed to my work because it is not generally “positive”.
What boggles me is that if we step back and look at the diaspora, there is space for all of us. There is such a rich diversity of Blackness and the expressions of Blackness, why are we still tryin to shuck and jive and present a happy face?
There are times when I see this in Black folks zines and can’t help but think that they are presented for the White gaze. And it makes me sad.
My fondest wish for us is that we can stop doing that.
I want us to feel safe in creating work that is not made to make White folks feel good.
I want hoodrat graffiti artists and fine artists and animators and rappers and violinists and country singers and battle rappers and love poets and resistance writers and Queers and disabled Black folks and trans Black folks and ALL of us to know that there’s space for us. All of us.
We can tell hood stories that don’t revolve around White saviors, sports scholarships, morality tales or redemption stories.
We can do these things and we all need to be about that life.
I’m not saying all Black folks things must include ALL Black folks experiences because that would be impossible. I’m saying, it’s possible to be open to things that don’t fit neatly into a racial uplift narrative.
We can read things that don’t fit that narrative.
I fully believe that in expanding our world and acceptance of the world intraracially, even problematic shit we can be better able to face the rest of the world that often hates us.
As we get closer to The Most Racist Time Of The Year (sung to the tune of The most wonderful time of the year Christmas song) let me remind White folks that not everything is yours. You can do your own research if you want to know more about what I’m laying down here. And your opinion on intraracial matters is never needed.