I had de ja vuh like for real this week. But it was nothing new, nothing unfamiliar. Sadly, this won’t be the last time someone says something stupid to me about something race-related.
I apologize in advance if that word stupid seems harsh, but it’s getting boring, you know? Well, I guess you don’t know, but as soon as I tell you, I hope you will understand.
I blogged about Toni Morrison passing a few weeks ago. I was shocked – and grateful – by how many people read and reacted to it. It goes to show how impactful her words are, how greatly her stories and life touched people, how enduring her legacy will be.
But some – seems like there’s always a few – chose to glom onto one thing, pick that one thing apart, and ignore the overall message. In this case it was my title, specifically the words, “Be Black.”
I was chastised for word choice, for not living up to my privileged position, and apparently for being silly, if I’m reading/inferring the comments correctly because what else could a black person be? Be Black? How nonsensical. Whatever is your point? Blah blah blah.
Now, I’ve been writing this blog for years. I’m used to people saying petty things in response to it. I get it. The subject matter can be controversial. It can be a trigger. For some, it can create a lot of angst and anger and worry. But that’s what it’s supposed to do.
I write because I enjoy it. But I also write because I want to make people think. I want to make people question, consider, relate, remember, and ultimately, I want to make people change, in any way possible.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think I’m powerful enough to do all of that – at least not on a grand scale, not yet. But dream big, right? So, I write. I write purposefully, intentionally. Every word is considered, chosen, carefully.
I want to tell you a story. Stories are nuanced. They’re not entirely literal. I want to offer you a perspective, an idea, a point of view, something you can use, hold on to, relate to, be comforted by, or be agitated by. These things are rarely black or white. They are multi-colored, pun intended. It’s why my blog is called A Life Not Grey.
When I said “Be Black,” I meant don’t be afraid to stand up to all the shitty things the world attaches to our race. Don’t shy away from them. Don’t accept them, and don’t be afraid of them because despite all messages to the contrary, there is nothing wrong with being black. That, for me, was one of Toni Morrison’s enduring themes.
She wrote countless stories depicting us as 360-degree people with hearts, souls, complex feelings and dreams. She wrote stories that humanized us in a world that often wants to demonize and minimalize us, our contributions, our abilities, our ability to love, to reason, to advance, to do, some even question our right to even exist. And just like me writing the words “be black,” people constantly questioned why Morrison wrote that way.
Why are there no white characters? Why don’t you write about white people? Why? Why? Why?
In video interview clips of her on the other end of those questions she was graceful, thoughtful. She never seemed to get angry. The decibel of her voice never rose. Morrison was like a Buddha, an ultra-feminine sage with her locks wrapped around her head like a well-fitted crown. She tried to explain, to engender some kind of understanding – on her own terms of course. But I think she made the effort because she wanted to somehow instill the message that we are worthy of having our story told.
I don’t know if I would have been as cool, especially not after the third, fourth, fifth time. The blind rudeness of it, the short sided-ness, the sotto voce suggestion that I was wrong to write my stories my way? Well. Even for the most emotionally intelligent, mature, aware writer, such relentlessly insistent, foundational criticism might be hard to stomach.
Those people weren’t querying technique or word choice. Those weren’t plot questions, or critiques on pacing or narrative flow. This was, why did you choose this subject matter? Why choose black people for your focus? In the small print underneath the headline one might read, why did you bother?
No. I’d love to think I’d be as graceful as she was on the other end of those questions, but I know better. My temper might have frayed. I probably would have sighed, loud, long and heavy. Sarcasm might have crept over my face. Maybe I’d have smirked as my head tilted to one side. The pause might have grown long and thin and uncomfortable. My eyes might have gotten slitty as though with sleep before I answered:
“Why are there so few white characters in my books? Because I don’t want there to be.
“You ask why don’t I write about white people? Because I don’t want to. That’s my right, is it not? To create my art, the way I see fit, just as it is yours to absorb it and respond in any way you choose.”
But I’m not a genius. Toni Morrison was. That’s why I wrote that little blog tribute to her. Her life mattered. Her work matters.
I don’t know if mine will. I’m working on it, for sure, but you never know. People like her, however, make my life better. She made Black people feel better. She made – her work makes – us feel understood, appreciated, considered, believed.
Seeing me cry as I write this she would have touched my back and known, just known, how I feel because to be black, to be a person of color in this country, in this world, often means you will be aggravated on a big and small scale over everything and anything that you do.
Believe it or not, nothing I write is ever intended to be divisive. Nothing is intended to hurt anyone else. I don’t see the purpose of that. Nor do I have the energy or the desire to engage in that kind of low-life behavior. But I’m not capable of shying away from the sad, pathetic, sorry ass consistent truth of race, race relations, diversity, inclusion, the lack there of, discrimination, bias, hurt, harm, danger, inequality, and their pervasiveness in almost every aspect of American – of global – life for a black body.
I wrote “Be Black,” and that is exactly what I meant to write. Because I want you all to know it’s okay to be that. It’s not wrong. It’s not ugly. It’s whatever I say it is.