oh, write
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oh, write

Why Black Representation in Writing Matters

As a child, it took a near miracle to get me to believe my story mattered.

Photo from RF._.studio on Pexels

Ever since I was a child slathered in Just for Me relaxer, I’ve had difficulty finding Black girls who wrote. Black representation in writing was non-existent everywhere from school to popular media. It took a near miracle to get me to start writing as a kid.

Black Girl in a Eurocentric World

My English classes in public school worshiped the “classics”: Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc. They would occasionally throw in Harper Lee or Emily Dickenson for funsies.

I can’t remember reading many authors in the entirety of my public school career who weren’t white. The only book by a Black author I remember reading is Richard Wright’s Native Son in the 11th grade. (If you haven’t read it, it’s not the most fun book about the Black experience.)

Writing felt like an untouchable task only meant for “the greats”. Since I didn’t look like those “greats”, I didn’t make the connection between me and the possibility of being a writer.

Instead, I directed my dreams where I felt most represented: the music industry.

“Mommy, I Want to be a Singer!”

Music was my first love. Mom likes to tell me that the first song that I ever sang as a baby was Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart”.

As I grew older, I was in awe of the abundance of successful, talented Black women in the music industry.

I loved Beyoncé. I loved Brandy. I loved Raven Symone. I loved Alicia Keys. I felt way more seen watching MTV than I ever did within the covers of a book. Thus, my loveless pursuit of singing began.

Amidst endless hours of choir practices and Karaoke Revolution sessions, I accidentally fell into writing. In fact, my interest in writing stemmed from my love of music.

♪All I Do Is Write About You♪

In the mid-2000s, I started listening to an R&B boy band named B5. I fell in love…along with millions of other screaming girls across the nation. They were a group of five brothers who could sing and dance their asses off. Their popular songs include “All I Do”, “U Got Me, and “Hydrolics”.

One Thanksgiving, I connected with a cousin about our shared love for the group. She showed me their fan site: breeding5.com. Once I was introduced to the site’s fanfiction section my life was forever changed. I had found what I had always yearned for: representation. It gave me the validation I needed to finally begin writing.

Fanfiction is Lit

I wrote fanfiction online for four to five years. Even after my love for B5 waned a few short years later, I centered my stories around other celebrities.

In real life, I told no one about it.

I was living a Hannah Montana-esque double life. I’d go to school and play the role of the quiet, timid Black girl. Then, I’d come home and unload my unfiltered, wild creativity into my fanfiction.

I wasn’t comfortable with my love of writing. Everything about me, from my race to my personality, had othered me within my local community. My interest in writing would have been just another thing to add to the pile.

I wasn’t willing to give up a chance at acceptance to be my authentic self. In middle school or high school, who is willing to make that sacrifice?

It wasn’t until many years later, college and beyond, that I became more comfortable with talking about writing. To this day, I still feel weird when people ask me, “So, what do you do?”

The last thing I would want is for other Black girl writers to feel the same loneliness I did as a child.

A Message For Black Girls Who Write

Being a proud Black girl in America is a courageous act. It’s also extremely difficult. It took a long road for me to come to terms with my Blackness and all the things that make me, me — writing included. Don’t be afraid to let your authentic self flow through your writing. Don’t filter yourself for anyone.

These high-art “gatekeepers” are non-existent…and they’re haters. If you need validation (just as I did so many years ago), here it is: Writing is for you too. Your experiences are real, valid, and deserve to be immortalized through your words. So…get to writing sis!

Have you ever felt othered by the writing community? What introduced you to writing? Let me know what’s up in the comments section.

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Nia Simone McLeod is a writer, content creator, and pop culture enthusiast from Richmond, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram for more dope digital content.

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