An old typewriter with a “shift freedom” key. Photo by Martin Nelson.
As an act of solidarity with Black men or white women, Black women often play into what Audre Lorde referred to as “male models of power.” We’re silent on the topics that pertain to us specifically, out of fear that what we’re saying might annoy, offend or give us less room to work.
When it comes to writing, our difference often takes a back seat because we don’t want to call attention to ourselves. Our difference is, after all, the reason Black men often dictate what our advocacy should look like or white women attack us or our narratives get written for us by non-Black people, in half-hearted displays of inclusion.
Instead of being ignored, Black women’s difference needs to be explored and centered as it pertains to our writing lives. On February 25th, I hosted a conversation on Twitter about Black women writers, using the hashtag #BWWriting. More than 40 people participated in the conversation, which is collected here as a Storify. The goal of the conversation was to recognize the various perspectives Black women write from. Without conflating craft and career, participants shared personal anecdotes and tips.
As a result of #BWWriting, I feel energized to center myself in my writing work, to be more tender, and to create more supportive, nurturing writing spaces. Below are some highlights of the connections we made, the wounds we healed and the space we gave each other to exist. Follow our Twitter list #BWWriting for more from these writers.
What does self-care look like for you?
Black women writers should pay close attention to the ways we disempower ourselves. Sometimes that disempowerment can mean forgoing meals, sleeping less, or never scheduling time to relax. For this reason, participants agreed that self-care should be an integral part of the writing life.
How do accessibility and representation issues affect your writing life?
On a near-daily basis, I read a news story about Black womanhood being disregarded, ignored, or maligned in some form or another. As writers writing at the margins we fight back against attacks by making our voices heard. Unfortunately, sometimes, the barriers still impact our lives tremendously.
How do you balance a desire to be visible, acknowledged, and approved with a desire to remain authentic to yourself?
When one does not fit into the dominant white, straight, patriarchal culture completely, one’s life experiences are colored by the irony of being hyper-visible in the dominant culture while simultaneously inhabiting society’s blind spot. This experience is often then internalized, resulting in silence. Thus, self-recognition is radical. It is only through this radical acknowledgement, this visibility, that we endure and survive the brute forces and remain authentic to ourselves in a way that also helps other people. Unfortunately, self-recognition sometimes toxically intertwines with white approval. This is when things can get dicey.
What does your writing community—your networks, mentors, etc.—look like?
Connections are a huge part of success, especially when the connections are with other black women. Those connections can come in the form of coffee dates to discuss the creative process, personal mentors to guide us on our journeys as well as peers that help us keep our eye on the prize: supporting each other.
How do you negotiate pay, identity and space at the same time?
We’re constantly negotiating our identities. That negotiation, for me, usually means connecting the immigrant in me to the African to the black American to the writer and so and so forth. I embody contradictions and to reconcile those contradictions, I negotiate. I do the same with my writing and with my spaces. Occasionally, I ask for more money than I’m offered. This is how it is how I exist; that is how we exist.
Together, we’ve realized that we can build each other up. We knew this before, but this conversation has recommitted us to our stories and ourselves. This commitment looks like unconditional support, less competition and recognizing each other’s strengths and accomplishments. For me, #BWWriting has been a cathartic and constructive exercise. I look forward to more opportunities to keep the conversation going.
Related Reading: Black Girls Hunger for Heroes, Too.
Safy-Hallan Farah is a Minneapolis-based writer for Pitchfork. You can follow her on Twitter @SafyHallanFarah.