Yes, I’m A Black Writer — But I Can’t Write About Race Anymore
Living and documenting Black pain is too much of an ask
Black writers are expected to write about pain.
We’re regularly asked to suffer on the page for a voyeuristic White gaze, that feeds off cathartic writing from people of color.
It allows the reader to consume pain without feeling guilty. This is a trend. These are words on a page. This is not real. Our stories, and the trauma that births them, manufacture high demand for stories that only see us through the lens of pain.
It further incentivizes editors, publishers, and even Hollywood to demand people of color root out their pain and hold it up for everyone to see — often with insufficient compensation for the emotional labor required, and a boatload of profit for the industries that exploit us.
I’ll keep doing the quiet work, but right now, I’m unable to write about race, and I can’t keep trying to beat it out of me. I’m exhausted.
In light of this dynamic between my Blackness, my pain, and a wider audience due to the global uprisings around police brutality, I asked myself if I could only write about race. Is my worth as a writer tied to how compellingly I can showcase my pain? This question led me to come up with a writing principle: The pain within the confines of my body will not be the sole component of the ink I spill on the page. I will not numb the pain that overlaps many aspects of my life to the point where my story isn’t in the narrative.
Now, in hindsight, I see that I failed to imagine a follow-up question: What happens when a Black writer can’t write about race anymore?
George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police happened in May. It spearheaded another reckoning over race and police brutality in America and the world over. It is now September, and I haven’t done shit. As hundreds of thousands of people marched, protested, and burned racist institutions to the ground, I stayed quarantined in my apartment, playing video games, sheltered. As journalists reported on the frontlines of one of the largest movements for Black lives and reminded the…