Unbought & Unbossed: Writing to Self-Author

5 – 7 MINUTE READ

Writing is a hard and valuable practice. At the end of the day, what makes it so hard is not the exercises in grammar, the content creation, or the edits. The hardest part is learning to actually own your thoughts. Author & blogger, Allison Vesterfelt, constantly address writing as a practice that is internally healing & challenging. The arts (creative, written, or performance) has a way of exposing our deepest thoughts and truths; in these ways we can physically see our thoughts exposed ‘on paper’. It is about naming and claiming: writing down thoughts and saying, “Yes… I take responsibility. Those are mine.”

Often times, it’s a lot easier to let someone else speak for us. We can hide behind their words, choose the bits we agree with, and criticize / deconstruct the bits that we don’t. But when it’s our work, there is a sense of stepping up to the plate… “Here I am… with my words.”

If you watch Scandal, you’ll remember a particular scene between Papa Pope & Olivia Pope, as he tries to convince her to leave D.C. He spoke the sentiments and realities of many people within marginalized communities: you’ve got to do twice as much, you’ve got to be twice as good… to get half the credit. Papa Pope’s advice was all too familiar. As a Black woman, growing up in Philadelphia, both parents taught me the same lesson, while insisting I master Standard American English and navigate the systems of academia with excellence. I thank them for that, because it’s real. In her book, Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay (2014) cites a similar message in her own upbringing. Research explains:

“Solorzano et al. (2002) found that one response of students who had their abilities doubted was to work doubly hard and show their peers and professors that they belonged. Successful Black students interviewed by Fries-Britt and Turner (2002) shared that they often encountered students who made comments based on stereotypical images of Blacks, and that they felt that they repeatedly engaged in a “proving process” to establish themselves as worthy and academically able both in and outside of the classroom.” (Fries Britt & Griffin, 2007, p. 511-512)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This phenomena extends past the halls of colleges and universities institutions. It finds me when I sit down to write. There are the all too familiar, “clutch your pearls moment”:
Will what I write be brilliant enough to actually be cited and recognized, especially when a man is interpreting / presenting on my work?
Will what I write be brilliant enough to establish professional status, when I am marginalized by age?
Will what I write be so brilliant that I cannot be denied?
As someone who carries a few marginalized identities… this stuff can get complicated.

And then, dear Allison Vesterfelt tells me that “writing is not an exercise of the mind. It is an exercise of the heart.” (I believe her and I don’t believe her at the same time. I think she’d be alright with that).  In my experience, writing is an exercise in self-authorship. It’s a clarify my thoughts, understand what is important to me, and then stay true in owning that (Baxter-Magolda, 2008). Writing is an exercise that compels me, encourages me: Own your thoughts. Own their brilliance. Own their shadows. Own your story. Unbossed. Unbought. It requires me to be different from even the people that I look up to in a variety of fields. It requires me to be an active participate in my own process.

When I was in graduate school, my professors led me to a similar lesson: Own your work. Defend it. Protect it. Grow from it and grow through it. Learning to freelance is that Lesson 2.0.

Image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Resources:
Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2008). Three elements of self-authorship. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 269-284. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0016

Chisholm, S. (2010). Unbought and unbossed (Exp. 40th anniversary ed.). Washington, D.C.: Take Root Media.

Fries-Britt, Sharon, and Griffin, K. (2007). “The Black box: How high-achieving Blacks resist stereotypes about Black Americans.” Journal of College Student Development 48.5: 509-524.

Fries-Britt, S., & Turner, B. (2002). Uneven stories: Successful Black collegians at a Black and a White campus. The Review of Higher Education, 25(3), 315-330.

Solorzano, D. G., Allen, W. R., & Carroll, G. (2002). Keeping race in place: Racial microaggressions and campus racial climate at the University of California Berkeley. Chicano Latino Law Review, 23(Spring), 15-112.

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Unbossed & Unbought: Writing to Self Author by Jade Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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