I spotted this article “You can’t do that! Stories have to be about on tumblr a week or so ago and have been ruminating about it. No seriously go read it. ”
I also highly recommend watching the attached video but you can do that when you’re done here.
Now let me tell you a story about being an early and immediately voracious reader.
As a very young kid I went from reading Dick and Jane to reading novels. Almost as soon as I grasped the how of reading I was off to the races. The first novel I read was Charlotte’s Web. I read it first at home in the summer before Kindergarten and then once the school found out I could really read I spent my lunches that year reading the book out loud to my principal. Who, as I remember was the first Black woman I ever saw in what I thought was a big deal position but that’s another story.
People think children are color blind. The correct notion is that often, White children are colorblind because they see and have their reflections asserted in positive ways everywhere. They are the norm and I as a Black child was the aberration.
Understand that as young as 6 years old I may not have had the language but I knew that I as a little Black child had no business in books, in fantasy, in movies, in cartoons etc. I was just like one of these children in the doll test. I strongly suggest anyone who even thinks that color blindness is good or that children don’t see color, also parents especially white parents watch this in full.
Don’t flinch it will hurt.
I wrote my first story when I was 7. I remember it because it was spring and I was sick from school. I lay in bed with a crayon and my giant penmanship tablet and wrote a story about a Mouse who was in love with a goose.
One of the features of writing for me up until I was about 20 was that I told no one. Because so much of the literature that meant something to me was exclusionary of people of color and some of those authors I knew were racist, I felt that I should not be writing. Being that I was not Maya Angelou or one of her peers or foremothers, writing and the literary world was not for me.
I didn’t write stories about Black people. I knew that if I ever wanted to be the best selling lady version of Stephen King (my ambition at the time was to become an absolute horror goddess) I could not include a vision of myself, my family or anyone not the Average American, read as White people.
I was always very careful that I did not use any type of AAVE, I did not reference Black culture save in a very oblique manner through trying to emulate The Beats. When I wrote my first erotic stories at 17 years old, everyone in them was White and thin and beautiful. They went to nice schools; they were not like me except they were queer and kinky but even that I tried very hard to make heterosexual male friendly.
It is taking me forever to write this because thinking of it is painful. Remembering the deep desire to create art that reflected my world and the world as I might like to see it but having the clear understanding from years of being a reader that, in the literary world there was no place for me
The thing I loved and wanted most in the world did not want me as I was. I spent a lot of time writing and as much time destroying what I wrote not because I hated it but because I did not believe that there was any room for my expression.
That was the reality of my situation and frankly it drove me to some really destructive thought patterns and a belief somewhere inside that I was just inferior because of my Blackness and my want to explore and talk about Blackness.
I bought into White supremacy because there was no one to tell me differently. In the world I grew up in there was no real reason to believe otherwise. It extended from inside out. I hated my skin (see I tried the bleach and failed and After the bleach. On the fallout and trauma where I talk about bleaching my skin as a kid), I hated myself. I was ashamed because I did not want to believe in the White supremacist position and yet every time I spoke up or tried to shed that, whiteness smacked me down.
Now let’s fast forward to the last five years or so.
After having lost writing jobs because I had the audacity to write outside of Whiteness and refuse to have it put into some Box o Blackness, because I have objected to changing a Goddess in a now published story, to one White people would know. because I have objected to using artwork depicting White people when the story was not about White people I feel like I am coming full circle.
That isn’t to say that sometimes I write things that I honestly think White editors do not understand. One rejection I got last year “gently” suggested I remove the AAVE so “people” (White) would understand it put things back into sharp and painful focus for me.
The Literary World at large still doesn’t want me.
Unlike the weeping traumatized me at 6, 16 and 26; I am defiant at 37.
I realized that I don’t care.
I don’t care about traditional big box publishing. I don’t care that most likely I will never be an Internet darling author because I am not a nice White lady and that’s fine with me.
I won’t say it still doesn’t hurt sometimes. It does.
Sometimes as I am writing something I know that 90% of publishers won’t take it.
And that hurts.
It’s not okay but I gotta do what I gotta do.
So let me end with this.
I don’t always trust White publishers.
I try to get published anyway.
I try not to let the bullshit hurt too bad.
I write the stories I write because only I can tell them and they are the stories I want to read.
And a special message to my fellow marginalized authors.
Don’t run away from your roots. You don’t have to write to please Whiteness. Write to please yourself.
Shannon Barber is an author from Seattle Washington where she lives with her partner and a small collection of oddities. She is an avid writer, reader and blogger. Her most recent work has been seen in The Camel Saloon, an interview in Luna Luna Magazine and non fiction in Literary Orphans. To see more of her work please visit her at Shannon-Writes Tweet her @Weebeasty
- Tackling the omnipresence of whiteness in children’s books and children’s writing (storify.com)
- Black Girls Hunger for Heroes, Too: A Black Feminist Conversation on Fantasy Fiction for Teens (bitchmagazine.org)
- Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased In Eighteen Years?
- Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States (http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu)
- Why Make a Caricature of what are Complex Feelings for Some Black Women? (mediadiversified.org)
- How to Write Women of Colour and Men of Colour if you are White (mediadiversified.org)