I. I had so many disclaimers when this topic wouldn’t leave me alone (and if you’re a writer, you know exactly how it feels to be gently pursued by – or completely annoyed by – a topic or idea):
What would I write about if our dreams of justice were realized and I didn’t need to write specifically about (insert social justice issue here)? Why would that thing be important to say?
My first disclaimers served as comfort blankies… faux “brand protections” for a landscape that’s already so shaped by the think-piece culture.
Here’s how that story goes: a) See instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully), c) Be ‘yaaaas-ed’, d) Likes and shares, and e) More work comes until… a) Next instance, b) Write on instance… first (hopefully).
To be clear, it is important to write specifically about social justice – now more than ever. It is important for us to respond to the ways that this capitalist state, this militarized and increasingly militarizing state, impacts the lives of those who are marginalized. It is important for us to respond when patriarchy threatens to crush our dreams, regulate our reproduction, mansplain us away, and stalk us into silence. It is important for us to call out the system of racism for what it is – White supremacy. Now, more than ever, with the threatening rhetoric AND action (let’s be clear) of 45 – we’ve got to resist.
But it is also important for us to continue telling our stories… to our audiences. It is important for us to take respites from the White gaze that pursues us upon each waking moment – especially in the realm of our writing & dreaming spaces.
II. I think about Toni Morrison whenever I’m hopelessly stuck with writer’s block. I have no shortage of things to write about. There is no shortage of things to say. It’s just that there’s so much noise: links subtly dropped into my inbox with the not-so-subtle hints to do more, work harder, “Say both your words AND mine-for-me. Give me digestible works that I can quickly share with my (racist, ableist, homo-antagonistic) facebook friends”. Chile…
This has only increased with the rise of DT aka 45 aka “Trumplethinskin”.
But I know that balance is important – especially if we’re going to find sustainable ways forward. I know there’s another way to exist in my creative & dreaming space – largely because Toni Morrison already said there was:
“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”– Toni Morrison, “Black Studies Center public dialogue,” Portland State University, May 30, 1975
You can literally google the words Toni Morrison and ‘white gaze’. It won’t be long until you realize that she’s not here for it. She’s not here to write under it. She’s not here for it to hang over her head, endlessly bossing her into writing. If we could have coffee, I think she would tell me that I could do better than chaining my writing to such a rickety carriage – heading down such a dead-end road.
I want to advocate here, kinfolk, for us to continue sharing our stories and realities. This doesn’t mean that the landscape of those stories won’t include the social justice issues of our time – but it is important to also resist being denied the space to tell the fullness of our stories – imagining, as Toni Morrison did, our creative works without speaking directly to an all-consuming gaze. It’s a petrifying and exhilarating exercise… but if I did it…
III. If I did it…
I wouldn’t worry about standard grammar. Seriously. I wouldn’t. I try not to police my writing on this platform, as it is. But after this point, I would give negative fuxx.
Because the speech that comes from my bones, while socioculturally informed, sounds just like music, has different rules altogether, and sits somewhere between the verbal and the nonverbal. It’s the side-eye that tells us what the deal is. It’s the spot between text and
I would talk with Toni Morrison, August Wilson, and Zora Neale Hurston about writing in dialect, studying how to write Philadelphian AAVE dialect with both precision and beauty. I would diagram North Philly dialects, using Philly rappers like “It’s a cold winter, ya’ll ***** bettah bundoo up” . Then, I would do an analysis of how my speech morphed from:
LAWUHN (Philadelphia) to
[lawn?!?!] (living in the Southeast. I was sociolinguistically all over the place) to
I would tell more of my stories. I come from a long line of Black American storytellers. My aunts, uncles, and father can roll their trip to the grocery store into 45 minutes of entertainment with a life lesson at the end. For example…
My family was fighting at the 2008-2009ish reunion. I don’t remember why. I do remember that my cousin processed this issue by telling a story about friends who enjoyed waffles, friends who enjoyed pancakes, and how both of those breakfast dishes needed syrup. Therefore, it’s wise to share your syrup if both parties want to stay away from dry ass breakfast dishes. It’s also wise to choose your fights when it comes to family, if you can help it.
I would tell ya’ll the stories – in my own tongue – about how I’m always doing the most. This is not self-deprecation. I’ve taken a poll and most of my friends… and coworkers… agree. Doing the most… is what I do. You want a report? Chile, you’re getting report, graphics, and a sequined outfit when I present the report to you. I could literally have a series of “Doing the Most” Chronicles. I would always have something to write about and we would both be cackling.
I would talk about how my students are always teaching me. Last week, I learned that references to the popular 90’s / early 2000s group 112 don’t go over well with younger millenials. Last quarter, I learned about a student’s analysis on the process of gentrification to the ethos of Manifest Destiny. (Chile, my students come the f*** through with an analysis).
I would take one week to do an ethnography of nail fashion trends in all the places that I’ve lived. Because, this is how I do. Also, my nail tech and I are tired of ya’ll asking for French manicures and boxy ass filed nails (nells– as we call them in Philadelphia).
And outside of the gaze, and if my Momma slash employers didn’t also read this blog (I think?? Chile, idk) – I would write more readily about how I went from purity culture chastity maven to throw it in a circle ten times past Sunday life. And still get blessed.
So, #52essays2017 is an exercise to “build my writing muscle” indeed. It’s also a chance for me to stretch into the fullness of my human experience, tell my stories, and resist 45 taking up all of the creative oxygen in the damn place.
Featured image credit: Createherstock.com