Liberation and Power as a Black Writer
The older I get the more I am convinced that my ancestors speak through me. This does not mean I am special. In fact it is the opposite. It means that I am only who I am because of who I belong to, who I come from.
As a writer this means I produce what we now call “work” that is sometimes odd in shape or form. Work that does things you’re not supposed to do in professional writing, work that randomly ignores narrative expectations, addresses the reader in ways you’re taught not to; work that is unnecessarily positive or negative, dour or optimistic, work that calls on itself , quotes itself, references itself, work that does not know where it is going even as it gets there. I make work that is explicit and opaque, woo-woo and cynical, earnest and sarcastic.
Trying to do this work professionally means that sometimes people who pay me for my work want to tell me that I’m doing it incorrectly. And by “incorrectly” they mean “not like my limited and specific cultural experience tells me it should be done” But of course they don’t know that they mean that. This is because we live in a nation that treats money as the only real source of value. So people who have access to money believe that they must be right about most things, otherwise why would they have so much money?
Over my nearly five decades, one experience I’ve seen that unites almost all oppressed people I’ve met is the experience of having the person with the most power in the room being the person who least understands what is going on, and the people who most understand what is going on have the least amount of power. Here, I would define power as the mathematical intersection of one’s ability to make things happen and the force required to make it happen. If you can make things happen with little force, you have great power. If you can make things happen but only with tremendous force, then you have lesser power. Most oppressed people I’ve met, been in community with, loved, have had the experience of having to apply tremendous force, especially in professional settings, to make things happen. We must argue, advocate, protest, complain, accuse, risk, challenge, confront, and threaten, just have our work treated with care and respect.