Opinion: Black writers write more than Black stuff


Photo credit: Mikayla Ferro

Breanna Henry

The “Black Is Art” event that happened in February was absolutely fantastic. It was a great platform for Black artists to come together and express their talents. As a creative writer, I submitted a piece I wrote a few days before the event, called “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars.” It talks about the conventions of Black beauty and how it is put in a box when really our beauty is vaster than that. It’s a beautiful piece (if I do say so myself) and I received a bunch of compliments. It was so much fun to see people read my piece and react the way they did.

After the event was over, I couldn’t help but think why I felt like I needed to write a ‘Black’ piece. Sure, I am Black, but I’m more than that. I could have written about anxiety, or my faith in God, or that one time I embarrassed myself in my English class, and the list goes on. But I chose to talk about some aspect of Blackness because I assumed that kind of work was expected out of me.

In a way, this makes sense. Since the Civil Rights Era, Black people have been fighting for their voices to be heard in all avenues; writing, TV, in segregated areas. Pioneers like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and countless others have written pieces beautifully articulating the struggle of Black folks from the perspective of Black folks and how we overcame. These writings were needed, as Black people have been censored and ignored. Our experiences need to be known. Since the precedent has been set, I soon realized in high school, and even here at Loyola, whenever we are reading something from a Black author outside of a history class (contemporary or not), it is always writing describing the Black experience, specifically racism and discrimination. I understand the Black experience is important, and racism is a huge issue to put forth, but that’s not all Black authors have to offer (or at least it shouldn’t be the only thing they have to offer). What about love, and all its forms? Faith? Talking animals? Delights (as the eloquent Ross Gay has published)? Anxiety? Elevator music? Fantasy? Imagination?

Before I am a Black person, I am a person, with random thoughts. I don’t always think about my struggle, or how my Blackness makes me different from those around me. Yes, these are valid thoughts, but I don’t want my writing to communicate these thoughts all the time. Oftentimes Black people are put in a box and are automatically expected (whether by others or their own selves) to write or produce something about their Blackness, erasing their personhood.

To clarify, I don’t regret submitting the piece I did in the “Black Is Art” showcase. It was beautiful, and in fact, I have it posted on my wall in my dorm room. But no longer will I tell myself that I should write something because I was born with a particular pigment. Our creativity doesn’t have to just be influenced by the skin we are in. I’m way more interesting than my skin color, I promise.