I’ve had enough. I’m tired of TV shows set in fantasy lands where no black people exist and seeing it played off as if that’s somehow realistic. I’ve had enough of the token black person (usually a handsome, “respectable-looking” black man) thrown in at the edge of cast photo as an obvious ploy for diversity. I’ve had enough of a film industry where the most popular black female characters were men in dresses, because the only big black woman popular society will accept is one who’s a joke.
If you’re anything like me, you get, well, fatigued with it all. The never-ending sea of white faces isn’t just exasperating; the inundation of white viewpoints normalizes white supremacy in a way that’s subtle and sickening. As a POC, I’m just tired of it. Because what’s scary is that, for a while there, I stopped noticing. If you keep consuming something that tells you, however indirectly, that you don’t matter, then that can seep into you, no matter how careful you think you’re being.
I like popular media as much as the next person, but it’s time for a change. I want authentic black stories, and I’ll take it in any form I can get. If you’re with me on this, this is what you can do.
Get on Goodreads and start keeping a list of black-authored books to check out. Make a Youtube playlist of new music to check out. Leave a comment on that black person’s blog you browse on the train every morning. When someone you don’t know tries to sell you their CD in the grocery store parking lot, give the man five dollars and listen to that shit on the way home. He’s hustling out here and you don’t know – it might be good. I’ll admit that I’m picky when it comes to rap but I’d rather give my hard-earned dollars to Jerome out here in the Kmart parking lot grinding all day with just a trunk full’a CDs and a dream than people and companies who have a documented history of not giving the tiniest shit about black people.
This makes sense to me – some would even say that it’s obvious – and yet it took me longer than I’d like to admit to get to this point, and that’s because I was complacent.
White media is easy. It’s in front of us. It’s on the cover of magazines in line at the grocery store. It’s on at damn near ever hour when you’re flipping through channels after work. It’s in every Netflix category. It’s every book on the front display in your local Barnes and Noble when it’s not the month of February.
If you want to start supporting black creators, you’re going to have to work. You’re going to have to work in a way that you’re not used to doing, and that’s because this is intentional. It will always be easier to find things that say black people aren’t shit because that’s the dominant narrative. But if you want the truth? You’re gonna have to look harder.
But it’s worth it. It’s so worth it, and it doesn’t really feel like work at all once you get into the habit of ignoring the mainstream. (And it is a habit, because in college I was all for anything counter-culture, and then I got busy and lost touch and just like that, I forgot that there was so much goodness in the world that I’d never know about if I didn’t look in the right places.)
When you hear or read or watch something brilliant and you know that someone like you created it, someone who didn’t fit in and wasn’t supported but said fuck it and did the damn thing anyway, out of love and passion and just plain fire, you can feel it. You can feel it in the words. It wasn’t easy but they got it done, and that inspires me. Their hard work and success makes me want to work harder so that I can help someone feel that fire in their own lives and see it in their own art.
And this goes farther than media that’s already finished. It’s about supporting others in the creation stage too. If you have a cousin who’s always taking about writing a book, stop rolling your eyes and encourage them. Every time you see them, ask them how it’s coming along. Email them links to resources for writers. If they let you read something of theirs, read it like you’re going to be tested on it in the morning and talk with them about it like it matters to you. Their stories matter, and they need to hear that from the people they care about most.
It’s harder for black artists because there will be people telling you that what you want to create doesn’t matter, that you need to major in business and put away your guitar or your sketchbook or whatever else. But art matters. It can change lives, it can help us in the every day, and if you’re reading this you probably already know all this. So lift up the creators you know, whether they’re rapping or painting or writing or drawing comics. We’ll never have more black-centered art if we don’t continuously tell each other that what we have to offer is valued – and ignore what tells us otherwise.
As they say, money talks. You may hear it all the time but that’s because it’s true. So let’s take those dollars and invest them into people and projects who actually do care about us – who work hard for pennies or even for free because they want to fill the world with the kinds of stories we deserve, that tells us our existence matters, that we are not alone, and that our stories are worth sharing. Black creators can tell stories that explore our humanity and lift us up by giving us that mirror to look into, and that’s the kind of media I want to support.
So try to do a little bit whenever you can, because what’s little to you probably isn’t to them, and it certainly adds up. Donate to kickstarters, buy self-published books, attend independent events that support black art and artists, add your voice to the conversation. If you can spend five dollars to see a crappy movie at a theater that you knew wasn’t going to be any good before you even bought the ticket, then why not spend that to support a black artist who’s doing good work? Many authors who write stories about POC self-publish, which means they’re hustling hard out here trying to get their work out there and change the media landscape. Even just talking about it and spreading the world helps.
Do you have a favorite independent black artist who’s out here making media for black people instead of just shoving them into the background? Share their info in the comments. And if you’re a black artist creating, now’s the time to get in some shameless self-promotion! Help us find you. Whether you’ve ever been part of any black community of creators, it’s never too late to start supporting each other or even creating yourself. We’ve all got a story to tell, and each one matters.
(originally posted on afropunk.com)