The Best Writing from Black Writers in 2016

Read more Black writers in 2017

Bridget Todd
Jan 3, 2017 · 14 min read

2016 was a doozy of a year and I can’t say I’m sad to see it go. From Donald Trump becoming our next president to Prince’s death, this year was a lot. The one thing 2016 had going for it was the amount of art, writing, music, and film from Black creators. While you’re putting the final nail in the c0fin of the past year, look back at some of the best writing from Black writers in 2016.

“A Woman In a White Pantsuit Will Beat Your Ass” by Paul A. Bromley

We all know that Hillary Clinton didn’t end up winning the election, but at least we got the funniest piece of political writing of 2k16. Name-checking greats like Lisa Raye and Dr. Joyce Meyer, Bromely traces the history of the white pantsuit and posits that Clinton’s outfit choice at the Democratic National Convention was inspired by the limo scene in the classic Tina Turner movie What’s Love Got To Do With It.

Mrs. Clinton took the stage to not only bring a word from above, but to accept the nomination to be America’s first woman Commander in Chief. She spoke about the highs and lows of being in the political spotlight. The need for the family that is America to deliver a mighty blow and be that fist like Mama Joe said in Soul Food. The need to shake the devil that is Donald Trump off. And how unified, we as a country are stronger together.

And she did it all in the finest Joyce Meyer Ministries Summer collection white pantsuit money can buy.

Mary J Blige

“Breaking Down, Breaking Through” by Feminista Jones

Jones’ words are like a gut-punch as she weaves together Black women, mental health, and R&B music and the “hyper consumption” of pain.

But when Black women sing, we seem to be given permission to perform pain for others to consume. People demand that Black women singers emote suffering and go so far as to call it their “best” music. Happiness and joy don’t sell as well as suffering and crawling our ways up seemingly insurmountable hills. No, people are incredibly entertained by Black women’s suffering to the point of wishing ill upon us to see what the output will be.

One example is the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself, Mary J. Blige. Whenever it gets out that she is having personal struggles, be it with substance abuse, depression, or relationship drama, we immediately go to anticipating her next album because we know it’s going to be a great one. Joyful, elated Blige? No love. Check the album sales. The audience simply isn’t here for smiles and heart eyes and the hyper-consumption of the pain of artists like Blige has, ironically, created a space for Black women to openly express their brokenness, instability, and lose our tenuous grasps on reality.

“Safety pins, symbolism, and why I was like “naw, Son”’ by Yeah Charleston

In the wake of Trump winning the presidential election, some started wearing safety pins on their jackets to distinguish themselves from Trump voters. Charleston wasn’t feeling it:

To me, these pins were nothing but a way for White people who didn’t vote for Trump to let Blacks/Muslims/LGBTQs know “Hey, I didn’t vote for Trump”. It was an avenue for White people to avoid getting lumped into a monolith complied of other White people who were being considered “hate-mongers that overlooked sexual assault and racist rhetoric”, or at minimum, “White people that wanted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” (whatever that means).

If I can be honest, that’s the aspect of the safety pins pissed me off the most.

Part of what sucks about being a minority in this country is getting lumped into negative monoliths (aka stereotypes) ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME. For the first time, White people were getting a taste of that castor oil and immediately decided that they wanted noooooo parts of that.

I thought “That’s what this whole ‘ally’ thing is really about” and that’s why I dismissed its very existence.

Why Lemonade Is For Black Women” by Dominique Matti

Matti’s poetic ode to Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is a beautiful read and an important reminder of the power of art and Black womanhood.

Every Black woman in Lemonade has been robbed of something. Every Black girl, too. And they are owed accountability. They are owed healing. They are owed more than what the world has granted them. Lemonade sends the message that we must be vocal about this. We must not assist the world in erasing our suffering. We must honor ourselves. We must perform magic tricks. We must pull ourselves out of our own bones and help ourselves along. We must find communion in our reflections in each other. We must say: I see us.

Lemonade is for Black women because the world treats Black women as though they are difficult daughters, difficult mothers, difficult lovers, difficult friends, difficult workers, difficult strangers. They treat us like we are difficult, because it makes us easy targets. They treat us like we are difficult so that no one in the world will defend us. But now we are defending ourselves. Lemonade was an act of self-defense.

How To Write About Black Women” by Mikki Kendall

Originally a lecture given at Nerdcon, Kendall says she wrote this biting satirical piece after “a series of unfortunate thinkpieces about Black women written by people who clearly had no clue.”

Contrast them with women of other races, always making sure to highlight that other women are real women, while black women are simply black.Feel free to make blanket statements about their religious beliefs, educational levels, income levels, and family dynamics. All of it is true because you say it is, and you are the expert in black women, not any actual black women. If they are offended by your words, remind them of your credentials and refuse to engage in a conversation with them until they can be less emotional. Point to their tone as a reason to doubt the veracity of their experiences. After all they are only black women and thus they know nothing, own nothing, and are worth nothing but what you say they are.

How Vine Overlooked the People of Color Who Made It Amazing” by Latoya Peterson

RIP Vine, the video blogging platform that gave us such classics as “Do it for the Vine” and “Back at it again at Krispy Kreme.”

Peterson points out the bizarre beauty of the platform and how it failed the creators of color that made it popular:

Vine was a Seinfeld for the internet era: bizarre slices of life amplified to ridiculous conclusions. The most popular Viners came up with sketches and concepts based on banality. Many of those creators were people of color. As Vine flourished, small subgroups started to form: aspiring singers, not-yet-discovered comedians, visual effects artists in training, beatmakers, dancers, producers, chefs, and designers all found homes for their work on Vine. The intense mix of people provided the kind of robust ecosystem only found through diversity. Even as Vine grew in popularity and celebrities discovered the platform, it remained aggressively strange.

Why Don’t Black Brit R&B Artist Blow-up in the US Anymore?” by mauludSADIQ

Sadiq’s meticulously researched deep dive into Black British R&B artists and why they never seem to get very popular in the United States when compared to white artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele is a must-read for any music fan.

We celebrate the white artist singing R&B much in the same way that we go nuts over a white person counting-by-the-number-dancing in their best Black dancer mode. (Remember how Black folk lost their shit over young, Alyson Stoner dancing in Missy’s video?) If the package is white and gives us a Black-like, Black-esque product, all the better. The industry will always back the white artist in the way that they have since the days of Elvis.

Sam Phillips, who ran Sun Records, is known for famously saying, “If I could only find a white man that had the Negro sound and Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Although that proved more prophetic than fact, the formula has remained the same.

So a Black British R&B artist? They don’t stand a chance. Lianne La Havas can steal away a little niche of people who are looking for her, but she’s not going to be on your Hot or V stations. Most people will never hear of her or any of the other artist mentioned and even if they did, maybe the average Black person won’t be able to get with the eclectic style of Dornik. Maybe they’ll find Samm Henshaw too “classic.” Maybe if they listen to Izzy Bizu, aside from being turned off from anyone with the name Izzy, perhaps Cool Beanz is folksy to them. We have very fickle, trained taste now.

Seinfeld, and the Tale of the White Lunchroom” by Joel Leon.

Both at school and in the workplace, lunchrooms can be a place where races and cultures clash. Leon recalls how television fits into that:

You grew up watching White counterparts interact with other White ones, and you witness what appears to be the token Asian or token Black, or token Latix with them, hanging on, hanging on to their words and choice in art and choice in fashion and their silence when those choices all feel very stolen and very appropriated. Everyone is a token here, everyone a transfer — all of us paying fares to make melting pots, to soak up a semblance of change and progress. I walk into lunch rooms as an adult and enjoy partaking in the game of Race Olympics, with tables and coffee machines and water coolers spread and scattered, a milieu of voices stretching across high vaulted ceilings, conversations fluttering about. We are all adding to the sounds, the tones of Power and Game of Thrones and The Bachelor and Emmy’s talk — we are all playing parts of ourselves in the marathon that is who can master the art of code switching?

You listen to the talk, and listen for the gaps, you listen for the awkward that ensues when you recognize the Black ones talk Power and Empire, the White one’s talk Game of Thrones and Stranger Things…the Asian ones talk Narco with the White ones. The lunch room becomes less of a room of voices, and takes leanings towards a cacophony of one sound drowning out the sound of the lesser. When the faces and voices do not resemble yours, you will either assimilate to meet the flavor of the pack or you thirst yourself to find the herd model that will fit your need for water. We will find who and what is in closest proximity to that in which is most aligned with our values, our biases, our histories.

Men loving men” by Bianca Vivion

Vivion’s take on Black men and intimacy is a poetic ode to the quiet love Black men share with each other:

Perhaps the most tragic and sacred thing about love between men is that it can only be recognized in its absence. Love letters that only exist in eulogies. Love songs only sung as rap memoriam. When I was in the tenth grade I saw my classmate Jamani bury his best friend Raymen, whom he had lost to gun violence. When asked how he felt about it, all he could say was “That was my brother, man. That was my brother.”

I recognized then what I had always known; men love men. But in this culture, men must love men silently. You won’t see it written down in love letters. You won’t hear it in a ballad or find it hung up in MOMA. If you do not pay close attention, you might miss it all together.

But if you look closely you may find it — a quiet but legitimate picture of men loving men, of men splitting themselves open to bleed for one another, with one another, over one another. If this is not true love, it is the truest love they have. And love, all love, can evolve. Perhaps splitting open for one another is the first step men must take before they can fall apart for another, grow into one another, grow for one another. I surely hope it is.

White People Are A Little Too Damn Happy About Trevor Noah vs. Tomi Lahren” by David Dennis, Jr.

Fox News’ Tomi Lahren and Daily Show’s Trevor Noah came together to hash out their political differences. Dennis wasn’t impressed.

But to white people, whose lives aren’t in danger in the way Trevor Noah’s is, this was an entertaining joust that reaffirmed whatever stances they have on a multitude of issues and made them feel good about the belief that we can just talk away hatred without doing anything to actually deter it. Andonce again, the onus is placed on the black person to defend himself. If liberal white people are so delighted by the “demolition,” then they should feel just as happy to speak up and quell Lahren and her followers before she’s able to drop propaganda on a national TV audience. And damn sure before she says anything to a black person. The fact Trevor Noah was able to face Lahren on his show wasn’t as much a celebration of his ability to cordially talk to her as it was a failure by the same white people so delighted in the debate to check her and her hatred before it became a national phenomenon.

My Open Letter to Conservatives” by Conservative Black Man

In his honest piece, a Black conservative pleads with the Republican Party to come to a better understanding of racism in America.

Conservatives need to try to understand why black people feel the way we feel about some of these things. Would it hurt for you to show compassion for a mother who has lost her son to a derelict police officer, rather than pointing out the black on black crime statistics in Chicago? Why is the first reaction to the mentioning of the KKK a pivot to the Black Panthers as if the Black Panthers were ever at the top of that figurative mountain? Have you ever tried to understand what most black people feel when they see the Confederate flag? Have you taken the time to ask any?

My White Boss Talked About Race in America and This is What Happened” by Mandela Schumacher-Hodge

After a wave of policing shootings involving unarmed Black men this summer, Schumacher-Hodge provides a how-to for white bosses to be empathetic toward Black employees.

So yesterday, when my boss — a White woman in tech — empathized with me, a Black woman, that was A.VERY.BIG.DEAL. In fact, it was the first time a White colleague (and I’ve had many) has ever said anything to me aboutthe killing of a Black person in America by a White police officer — and there’s unfortunately been several opportunities for them to speak up.

The fact that a White colleague in a work setting made it a point to make a point about racial injustice in America and acknowledge the Black community’s pain, hurt, and anger over it…the fact that she didn’t just act like today was “business as usual” — that meant more to me than any free lunches, office perks, or holiday bonuses ever could.

She saw me, she saw my people, she acknowledged our pain, and she offered to help.

That means something.

Tyra and the Cheesecake: Making Space for Black Girl Anger” by deria.

In the video for Child’s Play, Aubrey Graham aka Drake, tries to court an angry Tyra Banks only to have cake smushed in his face. Deria masterfully sketches what this scene means about Black women, Black men, police violence, and the policing of Black women’s anger.

Aubrey’s attempt to tone-police Tyra also feels familiar. Tyra is too loud, taking up too much space, and she is making those around her uncomfortable by doing so. So what?! My main concern is why the hell Drake feels the need to lie and do my girl Tyra dirty like this?! Black women and femmes can march up and down streets shouting “fuck these racist ass police” in protest of the extrajudicial killings of Black men by police and vigilantes, our rhythmic expression of rage can be the fire that keeps the movement going, but if we start shouting “fuck yo tired ass lies” in protest to the male-entitled bull, we are a problem, we are childish.

Why I Can’t Stop Defending Azealia Banks” by Ezinne Ukoha

After controversial rapper Azealia Banks made headlines for an altercation in actor Russell Crowe’s hotel room many dismissed her as “crazy.” But Ukoah saw her own vulnerability in Banks.

In the meantime, it is hard for me not to feel empathy for the troubled rapper even though my feelings may be displaced.

I was admittedly comforted — even excited by the prospect that she was once again having a very bad day. It’s not that I enjoy to see her suffer, it’s really the chance to confront her vulnerability as my own.

Her anger is righteous. Her pain is my opportunity to see her though it as if I am healing the physical betrayals and mental onslaught of the girl within me — who never allowed the seduction of the dark side to infect her.

Until now.

Reclaiming My Power From White Women” by Sara Haile-Mariam

In her heartbreaking essay, Haile-Mariam recalls her early encounters with white girls, the pitfalls of sisterhood, and how she’s worked to un-learn their lessons.

I’m describing privilege — the belief ingrained in white girls and white boys, from a young age, that they are the center of the human universe. They are the sun that the rest of us circle around. When we try to form our own constellations — they don’t know how to react. They throw asteroids at our stars and anxiously count our planets to make sure they still have more. This has been my experience even among white friends with obvious goodness and grace in their hearts. This has been my experience even among spiritual circles who preach love and connection from panels and events that feature exclusively white speakers.

For me, notions of girl power and sisterhood have always come with a caveat from white women: don’t make us too uncomfortable or we’ll revoke your invitation. I learned to adapt. I’d bite my tongue. I’d hide my shine. I’d downplay my good grades and the things that came naturally to me. I learned to repress what I wanted, what I needed, and what I *really* thought. I’ve been unlearning these lessons for the better part of the last decade.

We Were Never Friends, We Just Grew Up Together” by Terrance Thomas

Thomas uses social media to come to the painful realization that his white classmates and neighbors were never actually his friends.

Some where between the re-election of Barack Obama and the murders of black and brown bodies at the hands of law enforcement, I saw my white friends grow comfortable in their anti-blackness. I watched them share racist right wing articles and argue who was worthy of life and humanity.

I watched my friends who I played, went to school, laughed and even occasionally got in trouble with devalue my life and reality. That hurt, it still hurts, and it will continue to hurt. I hurt most of all for that little boy who was reassured that the casual racism and discrimination he experienced was just the ignorance of few.

I now understand that there was no way we were ever friends, we just grew up together.

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