Writing About Race
My first feature article on The Bold Italic, Your Curiosity About My Bi-Racial Child Isn’t Cute, went live yesterday, and it got a huge response. I was pretty nervous about it, since the piece is about strangers’ ignorant responses to my interracial family, and here I was, putting our personal experiences out into the world for further ignorance to be thrown our way. But I wrote the piece with the knowledge that not everyone would understand it, and that is the reason I needed to write it. I edited it countless times, with help from my fellow Wayward Writers in the Lit Kitchen, as well as my gifted editor from The Bold Italic, and when I was sure that what I had to say was clear and true, I let it go.
I had one simple rule: don’t read the comments on the site. My favorite article that has ever been published on The Bold Italic is I’m Not Your Black Friend by Crystal Sykes, but I learned from reading the comments on that piece that some folks are just itching for a place to absolve themselves of racial guilt, and they will do so as a response to your personal story, with no compunction at all about it.
So, while I have gotten a lot of feedback from strangers and friends alike, I am doing a good job of isolating myself from the more random reactions. I read this quote in an interview with Kathleen Hanna last year, and it has stayed with me as a reminder not to give people who don’t know me the right to tell me who I am:
“Beyoncé isn’t Beyoncé because she reads comments on the internet. Beyoncé is in Ibiza, wearing a stomach necklace, walking hand in hand with her hot boyfriend. She’s going on the yacht and having a mimosa. She’s not reading shitty comments about herself on the internet, and we shouldn’t either. I just think, Would Beyoncé be reading this? No, she would just delete it, or somebody would delete it for her. What I really need to do is close the computer and then talk back to that voice and say,Fuck you. I don’t give a shit what you think. I’m Beyoncé. I’m going to Ibiza with Jay-Z now, fuck off. Being criticized is part of the job, but seeking it out isn’t. That’s our piece to let go.”
I mean, obviously, I’m not so self-aggrandizing to think that I’m Beyoncé, but it’s important to have icons of self-confidence to draw upon in times of vulnerability, to help you not lose yourself in the midst of it. So yeah, “Just be Beyoncé” is a helpful mantra for me sometimes.
The other mantra I’m fond of using as a writer who publishes work out in the wild world of sites with unmediated comments is, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” This is also really helpful advice as a parent.
Overall, I have received lovely responses to my piece, and I am feeling relieved by that, and grateful for the outpouring of people who have said, “I really resonated with this,” “I learned a lot from reading this,” or simply “I’m proud of you for writing this.” My conversations about race are already deepening, just by opening the door to the discussion.
I also appreciated the more ambivalent responses, from the people who have said, “I’m really bad at talking about race. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m scared.” I deeply respect that admission, and think it is a step in the right direction in the dialogue about race in this culture. A common misconception is that you need to be an expert in order to say something about race. If that were the case, none of us would ever speak up, and we wouldn’t grow.
So, I’m going to keep writing about race, and talking about it, even when I feel awkward, put on the spot, vulnerable or just plain angry. I’ve had some practice, and I’m getting better, slowly but surely. Here are just a few of the other pieces that I’ve written about race, which have helped me hone my voice and clarify the conversations I need to be a part of:
On Thirty Threadbare Mercies, March 2012: Talking to Your Kids About Race
On MUTHA Magazine, August 2013: That Hair
On Cinapse, July 2013: Fruitvale Station Review