I’ve been yelling about racism for the past 3 years of my life. I know that’s not very long, but it feels like an eternity. I cannot remember who I was before I started yelling about racism. I’m nostalgic for the time, in a detached sort of way.
I see myself watching Reservoir Dogs, True Romance or Clerks 2 and not caring about the way white people use racial slurs. I can see myself listening to alternative rap acts like Odd Future Wolf Gang and not flinching at the rampant misogynoir. I see myself watching clips from Birth of a Nation in film class, pocketing my discomfort and performing Cool Post-Racial blackness to impress my white peers. I view all this the fascination and curiosity of a stranger.
I don’t know that girl anymore. I don’t know that artist. Sometimes I wonder if I can call the writing I produced during that time art, because so much of it feels dishonest now. I wasn’t honest about the isolation I felt and the pressure I felt to perform for my white professors and peers.
It’s bizarre to me that I am able to look back at myself from age 25 and have any useful insight. I’ve barely lived, people have told me. I used to internalize this marginalization of youth, as if the young do not suffer. But the truth is, I have suffered. And it is that suffering that brought me to a place three years ago where I realized that I could no longer actively try to ignore race. I could no longer ignore the ways that my gender, coupled with my identity as a disabled black woman, strongly affected my life.
I woke up with a reckless disregard for what my newfound ideology would do to my many relationships built on the foundation of my oppression– of body, of mind, of race of soul. I said goodbye to anyone and everyone that could not see that I had suffered, that I had done it in silence, and it was my right to scream now. It became my responsibility to stand up for myself and anyone else who had suffered for the same reasons that I had suffered. I had spent my life folding myself pushing down my emotions, sanding down my edges, running around with an eagerness to forgive and compromise that I know now was overwhelmingly masochistic.
I rode the Angry Intersectional Feminist train all the way through grad school, punctuating every piece of writing I turned in with the righteous anger and fury that rumbled through me every second of every hour of every day.
After graduating I continued my work, creating this site and using it to write through my frustration with short-sighted racial representation in films like American Honey and shows like Archer. As I did so, I felt myself slowing down. I began to feel like I was losing the ability to be eloquent. I spent 2 years getting my graduate education, which pushed me every day to express my thoughts concisely, eloquently and to maximum affect. But a few months out of grad school I felt myself losing my spark. I began to give more space on this site to other writers like the increasingly passionate Krystal Valentine.
I began to spend more time writing on Medium, repeating myself more and more with each piece trying to contextualize my past and present and feeling as if I failed over and over again. The thought appeared to me that maybe criticism was no longer for me. My fire had left me, and perhaps it was time to turn my focus entirely to scripts. I cheered myself up by assuring myself that my true artistry lied in telling fictional stories. Maybe my fire for criticism had burned out before I could even become good at it.
Then came the 2016 election. And I went numb.
There were sputters here and there. Logan angered me to the point of tears. Upon revisiting Save the Last Dance for a humor piece I was working on, I found myself overwhelmingly anger. So much so that I had to address it. But for the most part, I was burned out by critiquing race in television and film.
Every new controversy, from Guerrilla, The Bad Batch, The Beguiled to Detroit began to interest me less and less. The common thread between all these controversies (with the exception of The Bad Batch, which is a more complex situation) was the erasure of black women in media, but many still refuse to see the connection. As we as a country moved closer and closer to a white supremacist nation, white film and television critics continued to turn a blind eye to the way white supremacy colored our media. All year, I’ve been watching as gifted writers I once looked up to one by one showed me who they were and how little they cared about the representation of black people in media.
Worse still, shallow “race wars” played out with the Moonlight vs. La La Land debate that both trivialized the dominate whiteness in the film industry AND tried to color black critics as overly emotional and illogical for caring about Moonlight so deeply. As fate would have it, the controversy ended with one of the most meta moments in entertainment history. Still, the game began for critics to overly legitimize their criticism as a means to separate themselves from the perceived “overly emotional” and “race-obsessed” batch of critics. Blatant hit pieces were congratulated for “telling it like it is” and championing “unbiased” (see: white) criticism.
I reacted by moving my writing away from race, discussing SpongeBob, superhero films and the premiere of Wonder Woman. Then last month, in the middle of writing pieces on Daria, Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why, I sputtered out. Weeks later, I started making promises to write about “fun” media like Rough Night and Girls Trip, but couldn’t find the words to write about them either.
All around me, the discussion of racism was rising. White people were talking about it, screaming about it, protesting, making references to “the Resistance” and getting “energized” (as Susan Sarandon would say). Meanwhile, I found myself reverting further and further inward. I began opting out of debates, muting conversations on Twitter and actively disengaging with the national conversation around the rise of white supremacy.
For a while, I’ve felt like a bad person for that. I spent years screaming at the top of my lungs and now finally the conversations I wanted to have are happening, and I wanted nothing to do with them. All I began to feel was an overwhelming desire to be left alone and revert to a catatonic state.
Which brings me to now. I have arisen from the warmth of my security blanket to say this:
I’m bitter because it took too long for us to have these conversations about race. I’m bitter because I lost friends and lovers in my effort to become aware and try to be a voice for change. I am bitter that my classmates who once rolled their eyes at my racial commentary can’t get enough of talking about race now. I’m bitter that my work has been brushed off by some for being “race-obsessed” when some of the very things I have pointed out in my work are large talking points now.
But most of all I am bitter that the conversation around racism and bigotry overwhelming centers whiteness, when we are in a time in which that mode of thinking must be addressed, challenged and dismantled (as well as the system that birthed it).
America began its “resistance” by gifting an obscene amount of money to Jill Stein for a recount. This set the tone for our short-sighted, white-centric “revolution”. Years long problems such as the Flint Water Crisis have yet to be solved as the #resistance marches on. News coverage that once glamorized white supremacists with slick misdirecting names like “alt-right” have now devoted their energy and resources to creating a sob story narrative for those “dapper young” racists.
Meanwhile in entertainment, rich white liberals are being lionized for doing and saying the bare minimum. Worthwhile criticisms of their inaction are callously referred to as “attacks” and “lacerations”, eschewing the concerns of the most marginalized among us, including myself. I have been accosted for not feeling sympathetic to the “fall” of powerful white liberals such as Joss Whedon and Bill Maher. I have been told that entertainment shouldn’t be taken as seriously as politics. In the same breathe I have been told that entertainment is politically relevant, specifically entertainment cultivated by “good-intentioned” white voices.
And now, more than half-way through the year, my desire to speak up continues to wane. I am not moved by white supremacists and Nazis demonstrating all over the country. I am not moved by the Trump administration and their barrage of terrible legislation that is dismantling the very fabric of American Democracy. I am not moved by the debate over Confederate monuments. I am not moved by the platitudes of white people insisting they will “stand with me” because I’m still beaten and broken from all the times they didn’t.
Every moment I have been silenced. Every moment I have been laughed at. Every moment that I have been ignored, stays with me. And the truth is, there isn’t much that I have seen this year that indicates to me that things are going to get any better.
I am trying to gather the energy to light the fire for justice within me again.
But at the present moment… I am numb.