This is a reflection on a brief but recent misunderstanding that I had with Nnedi Okorafor at the Black Nerds Network Group on Facebook.
I would like to share a personal experience.
Now, when I was an undergrad at Seattle University, I was mandated to take a British lit course. I didn’t want to do it. I had to do it to graduate. So I did. The professor was a Black woman who spent about 75% of class time sitting on a stool in front of us in a very uncomfortable auditorium, talking about…herself. Dressed in her fashionably Europeanesque clothes and boots, having come from her European-styled, pink-painted office. She’s the only Black woman in her field in the country, apparently. And she really, really, really, really liked to talk about herself, namely how great it was that 1) she was in her position and, 2) how awesome a person she was to be in her position. She had the nerve to claim, with all her issues with her internalized racism, that she was going to be “the Morpheus to my Neo”.
Why are so many of my so-called “elders” like this? Of course, I can only speak from my own experiences and my experiences aren’t the same as everyone else’s.
It seems all around the Black community, and this is particularly true of academics and writers, those elders who “make it” as academics or writers think the most important contribution that they make to our people is “making it”. They get a book deal or make enough to self-publish, and/or they get certain amounts of recognition. Then they sit on their lofty laurels and act all offended when they get challenged. They look down their noses at all young people as we are naughty, insolent young brats whose work, thoughts, opinions, and feelings are far inferior to their own. They “make it” and they want a cheer section, suddenly the reality for the rest of us who are struggling to live, to become published, to get degrees, to become professors, etc. becomes very, very far away
The discussion on the Black Nerds Network Group was interesting to me because people kept throwing around the names of the same, like 18 or so, Black science fiction writers (mostly science fiction but fantasy fiction, too, I think, apparently) every post. Like Octavia Butler. I don’t have anything against her, but no matter how many times people suggest her to me, no matter how great her style and depth is, or how many times I try to pick up her books and get into them, Octavia Butler’s writing just isn’t my flow. That’s me being honest.
A Creative Writing professor at Chicago State University and novelist, Nnedi Okorafor happened to be posting on the group and got downright indignant when I used the word “token”. I don’t get what her deal was, smdh. I criticized the publishing market that only allows so many Black writers in, and even fewer Black fantasy fiction and sci-fi writers, and she just took it way too personally. Yes, she is tokenized whether she knows that or not. I have a copy of the conversation if anyone wants to see how few words can convey a lot.
When did it become so much about the individual? Has there always been this degree of a lack of unity and support in the Black community because of individualism?
evermore confused and disappointed,