And, it doesn’t require me to log on or go off…
DISCLAIMER: This is my personal journey through navigating activism and social justice culture. While I strongly advise every Black person who’s involved with activism to begin alternative practices that are not as emotionally and physically strenuous, this advice is null and void to non-Black folks. Y’all should be using your privilege, your picket signs, your voices, and your white dominance to bring about change. All day. Every day.
For the past decade, the bulk of my written work has been dedicated to the causes and issues that affected me and the world I live in. In 2009, I started a blog that documented my journey with depression, a mental illness I’ve battled since I’m seven years old. What followed was a series of projects that focused on everything from promoting healthy body image to advocating for Black people living with HIV. It wasn’t until after the 2016 election that I began writing about broader issues, specifically feminism, politics, and race.
It seemed as though the angrier I got, the more traction my work received. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the new found fanfare — I’m the kind of writer who writes best when I know my words are being read. Suddenly, simple Twitter rants blossomed into college lectures about feminism and podcast interviews on intersectionality. It was cool. It was also a fucking drag to constantly exist in a creative space that thrived off of my anger and oppression. Not to mention the fact that I became an overnight target to white supremacists, white feminists, and respectable Black folks. The reality for Black women daring to provide commentary on anything outside of Black Twitter is… unfortunate.
I am hyper-aware of my constantly-increasing chances of dying from my hair care products, giving birth, smoking a cigarette while driving, or simply standing in my backyard. Still, my work became a reminder of these risks, weighing on my spirit, tampering every happy thought that crossed my mind. I was constantly tagged in trauma porn videos where the bodies of Black people were being violated. When I did brave to speak on issues that mattered to me outside of my own oppression, I was asked to re-route my attention so I could speak about things that mattered to others. When I would post about an episode of Love and Hip Hop I would lose followers. A post yelling at white women would garner a few hundred likes. A post with the latest body count of murdered Black trans women in the country, maybe for or five sad faces.
Existing on American soil is a political act for Black women and this country never passes on the opportunity to remind us. White women get to write about how they shook up Hollywood by stealing the Me Too movement. Meanwhile, I’m here, explaining, again, why supporting R. Kelly is a bad idea or why maternal mortality is not just a Black woman’s issue, not just a feminist issue, but a motherfucking human rights crisis that is snatching the life out the bodies of expectant Black women.
I want nothing more than to find that sweet spot in the intersection of activism and Black art. I want that Lorraine Hansberry kind of liberation. In the 2018 biography, Looking for Lorraine, Imani Perry writes about Hansberry’s life in stunning, passionate detail. Hansberry married a white man when interracial marriage was illegal, only to continue living aloud as a queer Black radical. Her dedication to the liberation of Black people was as unwavering as her devotion to writing. When she wasn’t creating, she was standing tall with Paul Robeson, James Baldwin, and other Black revolutionaries. Five years after debuting one of America’s finest plays, A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry could be found giving the Bobby Kennedy the business when he tried to pull that ‘be civil’ card.
Hansberry never short-changed her work, and she never half-assed her activism. She also died at thirty-four. I want to be more like Lorraine, but, don’t want to be sad all the time. I want more time to live, and I want my work to reflect my natural spirit, the parts of me that are light and inspired. I don’t want to have to run on a hamster wheel of injustice and violation. I want to be a voice for my people, but, I’m also afraid that my involvement will speed up my chances of dying an early death from weathering. Thirty-seven is a lot older than it should be in Black-woman-years.
I knew that my days of battling over my social justice beliefs in the comment sections were numbered, but I also knew that I wouldn’t survive going back to the ignorant bliss I wrote myself out of. After a minor pre-mature mid-life crisis (well, maybe not mid-life, but at 37, it sure ain’t quarter-life), I decided that, instead of trying to reinvent myself from the bottom up, I would begin paying attention to the Black women who were living life beyond their activism. When Sandy Broadus isn’t facilitating an online space that provides information and resources pertaining to social justice, she is in total momager mode, lost in her children’s world of ice skating and catching sunsets. And, when my friend Linda Martin isn’t using her humor and her space to dismantle the white supremacy that gets in her way, she’s mixing and baking in the kitchen, creating innovative edibles that brighten up my timeline. Even Ijeoma Oluo has found her pleasure activism, as adrienne marree brown refers to it, in practicing the art form that is makeup application.
What the hell is my pleasure activism? I thought to myself. Slowly, I began to unwind from the stresses that were haunting me and found solace in the written work of other Black writers. It was refreshing to explore the words of brilliant Black minds, many of who provided affirmation, community, and a blueprint on navigating life in Black skin. Their words were uninterrupted by what aboutisms, centering, and reports and bans. Reading provided comfort and empowerment — two feelings I was in desperate need of. The more I read, the better my taste in books became. At first, I tried to digest as much Black feminist literature I could get my hands on. Soon enough I became completely obsessed with historical non-fiction, then newly-released street lit, then suspense. Eventually, I was reading anything written by a Black person I could get my hands on (forgetting a book on a train ride only meant it was time to catch up on The Glow and Rachel Cargle articles).
It wasn’t long before I was reading books that were so good I felt compelled to write about them. Next thing you know I’m writing… and it feels good.
Writing book reviews has been one of the most cathartic healing activities I’ve experienced outside of a therapist’s office. Not only does it help me as a writer, but, it also helps the writer of whatever book I’m reviewing (so long as I liked it). Black writers aren’t being offered the same platforms and opportunities as non-Black writers. Shout out to the Roxane Gay’s and the Tayari Jones’ and them, because their words deserve to be amplified and celebrated. But American bookshelves need to also make room for the Feminista Jones’, the Dani McClain’s, and the Jayne Allen’s. All Black writers matter, including the self-published, the incarcerated writer, and the street lit author. Our work is more relevant than anything the New York Times bestsellers list is pushing. I’d like to think that my reviews are, in some way, tilting the odds in the favor of Black writers who go unnoticed.
In essence, my book reviews and reading goals are my new form of activism. There’s more than one way to resist, and I choose to do it with a good book. In my jammies.
*For more on pleasure activism, purchase a copy of adrienne maree brown’s ‘Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good’