Black is Not a Genre
I’m black and I’m seeing all the horrors of systemic racism play out in 2020 just like so many of my brothers and sisters. I’m angry and sad all at once. I’ve joined protests, I’ve written op-eds and I’ve taken part in public dialogues about racial equity and the changes that need to happen.
I’m also working on a book. Guess what it’s about. Not blackness. Not racial equity. Not systemic racism. I’m writing a young adult science fiction novel about three time-traveling brothers.
Why? Because I can.
On a recent discussion, my good friend Jon Veal, co-founder of an amazing game-changing non-profit organization called Alt__, said something I found deeply poignant:
“As a black person, you do not have to march. You don’t. We’ve done enough. If they didn’t listen to Malcolm. If they didn’t listen to Martin. If they didn’t listen to James (Baldwin) or Maya Angelou or the Black Panthers, they’re not going to listen. If you don’t want to use your voice, you don’t have to. If you don’t want to write paragraphs on Facebook, you don’t have to. Sit down, bro. Sit down, sis. Take encouragement. Take care of yourself and take encouragement.”
What Jon said, I think, taps into a feeling many of us have as black people, that being a big voice in the movement is our all-the-time job. We need to be out here using every avenue we can to push the movement forward. We need to march until our feet bleed. If you write a book, it better be about the black struggle, black liberation or something in between.
Our blackness is not all we are. In fact, at its core, the struggle is all about freedom. Freedom to live. Freedom to walk in our purpose. Freedom to step outside of any box imposed on us by another. So if all our work is about the struggle — about the horrors of America’s past and present, about the fact that we are Black and that means we are othered and pushed down — I think we are missing the point.
“I am not a black artist, I am an artist.” — Jean Michel Basquiat
Blackness is a reality, not a genre of art, literature or film. Just because we are in this skin, we need not feel pushed to create things that fit into the literal Black box. We can tackle the issues we want to tackle when we want to tackle them. We can also step into a different arena and talk about something else. That’s freedom.
Now, about this novel I’m writing… Are the three time-traveling brothers black? Yes they are. Will their blackness inform aspects of their identity and journey. You bet it will. Are they going back in time to stop slavery or Jim Crow from happening in some kind of allegory about what the world would be if things were different. Good God no. That’s not the story I want to tell. And I don’t have to feel guilty for letting another brother or sister pick up that ball.
The work we do is constant. Living in the world we live in is constant. We as artists should feel free to build a new world whenever and however we want. That’s what makes it fun. If the world you’re building doesn’t cover the blackness trifecta of slavery, segregation or racial inequity, that’s ok.
It doesn’t have to.