On Tuesday this week, I was able to hear authors Tomi Adeyemi (pictured with me above), Yomi Adegoke, and Elizabeth Uviebinene talk at a bookstore. These authors all had one thing in common – they were black, and they were Nigerian.
It was a euphoric experience!
I’m not the kind of woman (and never was the kind of girl) to obsess over celebrities and wish to meet them. But meeting these authors turned me into the kind of stereotypical fangirl, screaming and being excited as if I was meeting someone who wasn’t quite as human as me!
Anyway, I digress. This is what seeing these particular authors speak meant to me…
Of course, the first thing I felt was that the possibilities were endless. You have to try to appreciate how it was for me, as a mixed-race girl from England from a poor-ish area, to want to be an author. On the TV, all I saw was white people. White, well-educated, well-spoken authors. So, naturally, I didn’t think that I would really be able to make it as an author.
But now, finally, I know I can! On my social media platforms, all I see now is “coloured” authors – or POC (Person of Colour) authors, as they say. Diversity is finally here in our society, and not only that, it’s actually popular! If you look at the New York Times Bestsellers List, you will see the likes of The Hate U Give, and Children of Blood and Bone, and a Reaper at the Gates – all books written by non-white authors!
How amazing is that?
For me, as an aspiring POC author, this is huge. It is emotional. It is life-changing. And seeing this panel of only black authors, and women, too, really helped me to realise that I too can sit there.
The black experience
The next thing it did was really hit home about the black experience. Now, I’m “half black”, my mom is black, my family (big family) is all black. My boyfriend is black, too. I know that world. I’ve been lumped into that world, too, because as a mixed race girl, I’m not white and so I’m considered black. I was the token black girl in my friendship groups, and I was their go-to for information on the black experience, and I was the recipient of “black jokes” too.
But hearing these women speak about their experience was eye-opening even for me. I found myself nodding along to what they said, having experienced the same (or similar) myself or agreeing with their statements. But as I did this, I started to feel like I shouldn’t. I started to feel like I, as a mixed race girl, wasn’t black enough to truly understand their feelings. That I was what they called “light-skinned” or a “mixed girl” who didn’t get the same ridicule, stereotypes, racism, and exclusion that they as “darker” woman receive.
And I could agree.
Though I’d faced the subtly racist jokes, and the inappropriate touching of my hair, and close-minded questions, and being seen as less beautiful than my blonde, white, blue-eyed friends – this wasn’t enough to lump me in with the experience of these darker skinned, black women.
And it was sad to hear them speak of it. Sad, but needed. These things may be hard to say and awkward to hear, but they are needed because they are real. And I’d love to attend more talks like it.
Black women have more to give
This goes without saying and requires no explanation, but this was reiterated at the talk. It’s so unfair that black woman aren’t seen as “great”, “respected”, “knowledgeable”, “powerful”, or “influential” enough in western society. Yes, there’s Oprah, Michelle Obama, and Beyonce…but that’s the most I can think of naming right now.
And isn’t that sad? Deeply sad?
People who are more “woke” may be able to list a lot more, but what I’m trying to say is that the number of influential black women (dark, specifically) is not as POPULAR and WELL-KNOWN. And that’s the problem. Not that there aren’t any out there…because duh there is…it’s that they aren’t known by enough people. They aren’t the first thing you see on TV. They aren’t given the time, appreciation, and status that they deserve.
But perhaps, finally, their time is coming. Black women are speaking out, putting out their content, and not allowing themselves to be swept under the carpet. And I’m especially happy to see it in my own industry. Woman of colour at the top of the New York Times Bestseller Lists? What a time!
Stereotypes are dying
No longer can harmful stereotypes of black people be used. Things like “lazy” and “undereducated” spring to mind here and these wonderful ladies are an example of how that has never been true. It’s maddening that some people even think that (but we won’t go there *breathes deeply to keep calm*) but it’s amazing that now there is no way this can be accepted.
Every day, amazing black men and women are showing what they’ve got and proving that black people have so much to give and that the stereotypes used against them in the past, should now be dead and gone.
Black (POC) characters are needed
Now I know this blog post talks about some heavy stuff, because there are people out there who have been through tough times just because of their skin colour – let’s not sugarcoat or forget that. But on a lighter note, I want to say that hearing these women speak, reminded me why black characters are needed in books, too. Not just do we need black authors (or non-white authors) we also need characters like this. Leading characters! Main characters. Heroes. Change-makers. Influencers.
And we, as writers, are the ones who can make that happen. Don’t force them into your story, but ask yourself why they’re not there if they aren’t in the first place. I know that growing up, I was so used to seeing white characters, that I thought that the ones in my stories had to be white too – even though I myself have always been surrounded by non-white people! Isn’t that crazy? Isn’t that sad?
So, writers, you have the power to change that. Write real characters. Bring characters of all kinds into your story, because that is a real reflection and capturing of our world and our life. Come on!
POC authors are needed
See all of the comments above.
We need your experience. We need your insight. We need your beauty on the TV and social media and on the covers (or back covers) of books. Little black and Asian and mixed girls and boys need to grow up seeing you succeeding so that they know they can too.
Please, don’t be afraid that you won’t succeed. You have a voice, you have a talent, use it. It’s needed now more than ever.