Being a Black Writer in a Post-Racism Society

I honestly believe racism is not inherent. A person can chose to not be racist. Saying they were raised that way is not an excuse.

I honestly believe racism is not inherent. A person can chose to not be racist. Saying they were raised that way is not an excuse.

First I’d like to clarify, that I truly do not believe we live in a post-racial society. I don’t think that such a thing exists in our time. Maybe a few more generations, but not yet. The Civil Rights movement may seem like it was just a page in history of long ago, but my Mom still remembers being in a segregated school. Which means the people who wanted those schools to remain segregated are still alive, probably had kids and tried to teach them their ways. Isn’t that how racism is passed on?

Remember the quick scrambles to try to change the voting laws for all of these different places to stem the democratic Black vote? Also, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in racism in my general dealings since Obama has been in office. It seems that people are more overt. There’s more hate filled glares than ever before. As though I alone with my nappy hair and cocoa skin elected an official, who looks like me to run this country. Even online I notice more people being comfortable saying very negative things about Blacks, but it’s disguised as discourse against our president. But I digress, and will probably come back to this idea in a future blog.

To give you some background, read this New York Times essay: The Good, Racist People and check out this Youtube video:

These with the addition of other things I’ve been reading, had me thinking about being a Black writer in America. As I was writing the poetry for my collection, “The Shaping of an ‘Angry’ Black Woman,” it took me a while to decide to write about race. I sometimes feel like it’s my obligation as an “intellectual” woman of color to try to educate my readers, friends, etc on being black. As if I somehow have the power to write a guidebook on being an African-American. You know how people are said to be a triple threat: being a singer, dancer and actor? I remember being told I was a triple loser: being Black, a woman and fat. There are no Tony Awards for this and no one thinks this a boon for their career.  So I had to think about these questions as a writer, because being a writer of color is never just as simple as “do your own thing.”

  • How do I deal with race issues?
  • How do I discuss my disgust with the racism and the trappings/ bearings it comes in?
  • If I write fiction, do I always have to write about Black people?
  • Can I write about White people too, or is that less authentic? Though I’m from West Virginia, so only knew so many Black people growing up.
  • If I write about Black issues, race relationships, stories about Black people will my readership go down?
  • Will I be seen as a “typical Black writer?”
  • Do I become a stereotype?
  • However, if I don’t discuss race relations, am I denying a part of myself, my family, my past, my culture? Is that my true authentic self?

The video above talks about issues that were going through my head as I was giving my book its title. I felt a general disgust in always being considered an “angry” black woman. I am more than just that paradigm, even if that’s how an African-American woman of my size and stature is usually shown in media. (Oh yes, and the Aunt Jamima, who loves to cook and always has some gems of wisdom.)  I need to write about anger, sadness, betrayal, happiness, intrigue, etc. I wanted to show that I am a many-faceted woman. Just focusing in on my anger, denies me my humanity. What kind of person is angry ALL the time? Yet I, like anyone else, am justified to feel anger. It doesn’t have to be the only side I show.

Are these issues that writers of other races face? How do you deal with race issues in your writing? Do you avoid them? Tell me more in the comments. 

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13 Comments

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13 Responses to Being a Black Writer in a Post-Racism Society

  1. This is a great article and I enjoyed reading the comments too. To answer your question, as I white person, with white privilege, I don’t feel the need to write about my race. But, six years ago, we adopted our first son from China. Now we have three Chinese children. Race issues became something we needed to at least bring to the forefront of our minds for the sake of our children. I’ve only written one post on racism. Ironically, it was in response to people staring at our family at a McDonalds in West Virginia. There were many reasons the people could have been staring at us and it probably wasn’t because my kids are Chinese, but because they are Chinese and my husband and I are white, or because all of my kids were born with cleft lip/palate and have visible scarring. Either way, I was on high alert and didn’t want these people staring at my family.

    My kids have dealt with racism on the playground already, so I know it will be something we will have to fight against for at least a long while to come, if not their whole lives.
    Kate Hall recently posted..Follow Me On Bloglovin’My Profile

    • T.A. Woods

      Kate, I remember reading your post about the anniversary of your daughter’s adoption. It sounds like you’ve made a lot of strides with her. The stares you mention reminds me of growing up there. I’m glad that you’re addressing race, and thinking about it. Ideally, you wouldn’t have to talk about it, but as we all know, it’s important to address it.

  2. Tamara, you are a great writer, wonderful person and a beautiful woman as fas as I’m concerned. I think you do everyone a service by this discussion on racism.

    Unfortunately I believe it’s true that so many disguise their political take on Obama as something other than racism when, of course, that is what it plainly is. This enrages me. There is a part of this country that thrives on misinformation, lies and conspiracy theories. And I believe it has intensified since Obama has been president. Why? I do not have research but my feeling is because society has the ability to burn holes in the souls of people. And I think this results in misguided thinking, to say the least.

    Life is not easy and I don’t think it’s supposed to be but to go around attempting to destroy people different than one’s self is a sure recipe for disaster. I believe we are better than that and I always will. Civilizations do change and evolve; let’s hope ours is on the path to a higher understanding.

  3. Someone once told me that to create true art, you need to work with what you know. They applied that concept to drawing, painting, and writing. I kind of agree with that – I wrote a letter to my mom as a blog post once about how I finally “get it” now that I’m a mom, dealing with three little girls and giving up pretty much everything I am a dozen times a day in order to give them what they need or want.

    There are SO many things that people just can NOT comprehend unless they have experienced them first hand – being pregnant, being a mom, being a dad, having a disability, and experiencing discrimination. I have the unfortunate luck to be a blood relative of someone who is SO entrenched in her bigotry and racism that she felt free to spew it all over my Facebook page one time. She outright insulted, with disgusting slurs, a gay friend of mine. And then only half-heartedly apologized when she realized my friend was gay – as if saying it to someone directly is the only thing wrong with what she said.

    Having never been in the receiving end of discrimination, I don’t think I could write very well about it. But I could write about what I see, and how it makes me feel.

    I think you are a very talented writer, and you should write whatever is in your heart – whether it’s about being black or being a woman, or being stigmatized by your size – or a combo of that. I also don’t see any of that being in the “loser” category – every single thing about us gives us stories to tell.

    I am more overweight now than I have ever been, but I really don’t put a lot of that into my writing because so far it hasn’t affected me enough to write about it. I putter along in my day and eat what I want because right now, that’s what keeps me sane.

    I don’t always comment, but I love reading your stuff – so just keep putting it out there.
    The Next Step recently posted..Signs You Might be a Helicopter Parent – or a MermaidMy Profile

  4. Shouldn’t we all consider ourselves writers, despite the pimples on our noses, the bend to our backs or the color of our skin? I write about a post-apocolyptic Britain where most of the survivors have dark skin and those who are paler need to stay covered up from the sun’s rays. Nothing to do with the fact that I’m of European descent with blue eyes–the scenario is the way I envisage the future.
    Francene Stanley recently posted..March 8thMy Profile

  5. Very moving post. Whoever called you a triple loser is one of those unfortunates who are both stupid and mean – shame on them only. I hope you realise that your trifecta is actually beautiful talented lady. I think that you should write about whatever moves you. In my book African Me & Satellite TV I’ve written “as” a black man growing up in apartheid South Africa, as well as “as” a white woman of Afrikaaner heritage born to an extremely rascist family. Hot potato for me who is neither, but racism is alive and well all over the world, and I think that everything that brings it to the attention of people who don’t seem to notice is good. Everyone needs to be aware of hatred and do their own bits to stop it. We don’t need it in our world. I’m looking forward to reading all that you write, no matter “who” you write as. It will all be good, I’m sure.
    Jo Robinson recently posted..Life On HeadMy Profile

    • T.A. Woods

      Jo, you made my heart really happy. That was a lovely thing to say, and it felt like putting a healing balm on a healing wound. It’s amazing what people will say, isn’t it? You book sounds absolutely fascinating, and I would like to check it out. You’re right, anyone can write about anything they want. As Shannon Hood had written on my G+ post, it’s the beauty in the flexibility of the literature world.

  6. Well, Tamara, being a Chinese writer, convincing others, whoever they may be that I can write in English certainly has its challenges. I might not actually classify this as racism…perhaps misguided perception that indeed makes us a little miffed.I just keep focusing, and will always, on the quality of my work and the belief that it can be done! Please keep writing!

    • T.A. Woods

      Michelle, I hadn’t thought about your perspective, and I’m glad that you mentioned this. It must be really frustrated to have people asking if you can speech English. I think it is a form of racism. It’s an assumption based entirely on race. Thank you so much for stopping by, and believe nothing could stop me from writing.

  7. I totally agree. I think all the time about how my mother drank from separae water fountains from your mother. It’s too soon to realistically think we are post-racial. Too soon. And too sad.

    • T.A. Woods

      Isn’t it? I think it’s important to keep these conversations fresh and happening. So that we can work toward a post-racial society. I want that more than anything. Where my skin color and you skin color is little more than showing us what colors look good on us during the summer, instead of our worth. thank you so much for commenting Elizabeth. I hope to see you around here again.

  8. great post, tamara!

    i’m a white dude. i know i don’t dwell on race issues on a regular basis, if ever, really. i accept that it’s simply an issue i have not had to deal with in my life. i certainly see the overt racism toward our president, however, which i find tragic and enraging.

    but as far as racial issues in writing, honestly, the topic does not really cross my radar. i know there are experiences i will never know or have to go through. but i don’t think that makes me better or worse than those who do or vice versa.

    i admit when i write fiction, most of my characters are envisioned in my head as having a lighter complexion. but i think that has to do with the fact that i’m a white dude. i approach my work and life from that perspective initially. doesn’t mean i can’t step back and look at something from another angle; it’s merely my default because, well, i’m a white dude.
    tim gallen recently posted..A letter to my unborn childMy Profile

    • T.A. Woods

      I definitely appreciate that even though this may not directly effect you, you still read and commented. However, since race isn’t something you have necessarily played with before in your writing, maybe your view would have something new to say? I think race can be dealt with in a way that’s not necessarily political, or confrontational. That is the beauty of writing, that flexibility. Thanks for stopping by Tim!

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