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Writing While Black

After being in the publishing industry for nearly two decades, the inequities are hard to miss. Whether self-publishing or having a traditional publisher, there’s obvious favoritism: from the readers choosing the authors that they are more familiar with or who have publishers over independently published works, and the publishers giving preferential treatment to their more successful authors. So, logging into social media and seeing the #BlackAuthorsMatter posts, I would like to say that I was shocked, but sadly, I wasn’t. I’m a quadruple minority: Black, a woman, a single mother, and an entrepreneur. In my world, discrimination is expected. Minorities get the short end of the stick in so many arenas, I didn’t expect publishing to be any different. It seems that any ambition that people of African-American descent take on is an uphill battle.

In its June article "#PublishingPaidMe: Authors Share Their Advances To Expose Racial Disparities," NPR reported on the disparities in payment between Black and Non-black authors. The movement swept the internet with the PublishingPaidMe hashtag.

Watching entire situation unfold was disheartening. Personally, I’ve never had a desire to publish traditionally. However, the frustration with the inequalities and second-class treatment was something that could be felt across the board. There are large gap in advances, payment, and even author rankings. Blacks truly don’t have a fair shot in life, and the only discerning factor is our skin color. It’s unsettling that you can tell your children to pursue their dreams, but have to add the disclaimer that being Black will make the playing field uneven, offer less pay for better written stories, and that they run the risk of not being published at all.

To even be considered, you must play by the rules. Rules that aren’t made for you to win. And even if you do win, your prize won’t be as big, pretty, or shiny as your counterparts of other races. This is the Black condition, even in the realm of literature. Your work has to appeal to a mass audience. Don’t write anything that could be considered “too Black,” “too opinionated,” or “too discriminatory”. Use covers with images that do not represent your characters— especially if they’re Black. Use a pen name that doesn’t reveal your ethnicity right away. Consider using a logo instead of an author photo. These rules are spelled out for us and the limitations are strict on our creativity. But we’re expected to excel.

It’s difficult to accept that you can’t even create a fictional representation of yourself that will get a fair shake in an industry that thrives off of fictional tales and characters. That your creativity has boundaries. That you can’t even dream of a world where melanated individuals are successful. They want drug dealers, soothsayers, criminals. They’re forced into niche markets of genre fiction, and there’s no space for Black mermaids, fairies, even vampires— unless they are written by a white author.

This is another strike to add to our existences. You cannot successfully breathe while Black, drive while Black, exercise while Black, nor write while Black. But, just like we’re known to do, Blacks are coming together and refusing to accept these imposed norms anymore. We are showing that we’re capable of doing what they said we couldn’t— and better than they ever could have imagined. Pen in hand, we have chosen to fight by crafting stories of galaxies of Black androids, oceans full of Black mermaids, Black kings, queens, princes and princesses riding unicorns, Black CEOs, supermodels, performers, and everyday people. We’re writing the beautiful diversity that is being Black in a world that’s trying to make everything about us so ugly and undesirable. We’re writing Blacks winning in a world that set them up to lose. Chronicling the present discrimination so that we’ll be able to see how far we’ve come. Writing the future as a road map to where we’re going. We are writing the world that we’re creating for our children— today.

We’re writing ourselves unapologetically. Writing our worlds— real and imagined. Writing on our terms. Writing outside their lines. Writing while black— fearlessly. Writing revolutionary.

We’re taking back our power, one pen stroke at a time.

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