I’m sitting at my computer, but my fingers have lost their rhythm. They’re rigid. Mechanical. Impotent. It’s as if they know or have been here before and recognize the shackles that bound my Black ancestors are the same ones we wear today.
History lacks originality, always emerging in new skin encasing the same old terror.
I’m a writer and I’m supposed to bring eloquence to our coarse dialogue, a balm to our pain, beauty to our ashes. But there’s nothing new to say, nothing but what’s been said before and will be said again.
The world knows Kenosha, Wisconsin now, and news anchors nationwide stumble over its pronunciation. I grew up not too far away in Chicago, and my first job as a television news reporter was with a small, independent station in Kenosha. The town fell silent about six years before I moved there when the Chrysler plant closed, and thousands of jobs disappeared. I remember the gaping hole of despair in that community with an empty assembly plant sitting in the heart of town, its hum silenced.
I also distinctly remember one photographer at my station who greeted me loudly every time I entered the newsroom: “Here comes Nancy, there goes the neighborhood.” Attempting to sweeten his venom, he often chased his insult with a chuckle. Decades later, in that same town, seven state-sanctioned bullets pierced the back of Jacob Blake and I can’t say I’m surprised about the devaluing of Black life. It’s in the DNA of Kenosha and every other corner of America.
I’m formally and professionally trained as a writer, but my real education comes from living in a Black body. That daily reality informs what I write, how I write, and why I write.
In my fiction, Black bodies tense in police encounters and face oppressive systems. Yet those same bodies allow muscle memory to transport them to the hand-clapping games and double-dutch rope of their youth. They slam their cards and trash talk at the Spades table. They live. They’re more than their pain. And I’m uniquely suited to bring them to life on the page.
I want my writing to be a guiding light of education and understanding, a bridge connecting Black and brown people with our white neighbors. Writing can be a lofty, altruistic endeavor, but it can also be hazardous. Living while Black and then writing about it can be injurious. Truth-telling costs. The emotional labor of justifying my outrage and explaining my humanity is exhausting.
The importance of this work complicates everything. People say this is the largest multiracial movement for change ever in the history of America. After a string of deaths of unarmed Black people this year, white folks began reading about the Black experience in this country. That is a good thing. Yet for the Black writer, there’s a price to pay even for that good thing. [Read more…]