Category Archives: Black girls rock

For a black girl

A few years ago I took a creative writing course. It was an attempt to light a fire under me, since I had a habit of abandoning every story that I ever started. While I was writing, I was feeling a bit stuck… as usual. I knew that if I didn’t make it clear that my protagonist was black, that everyone would assume she was white by default. I wanted to make it clear, but I didn’t want to drum it into people’s heads (as you often have to do to get the point across). So I decided to acknowledge the race of the non-black characters. I received my assignment back with a line through the word white and a note on the side that read something like: “Unneccesary. We don’t need to know what race s/he is.” I waited until after class to speak with her about it, I asked her why she had crossed out the word white. I thought it was hypocritical; how many times had I read a story that defined its (secondary,) characters by their races? “The old black man”, and so on. Luckily, she recognized the fault in her white gaze and apologized.

I may not have been told the words, “White is right.” but I definitely knew it, from a very young age. How could I not? In all the stories I read people of color  were forever delegated to the background or were completely invisible. I was used to reading about white characters. I was used to watching them on my television set. I was used to seeing white people on the covers of ALL of the magazines. White was default. White was normal. White was the norm. White was beautiful. I grew up hearing things like: “You’re pretty for a black girl.” It was supposed to be a compliment, but it felt more like a punch to the gut. No matter how many times I heard that phrase, I never grew immune. It cut deep. It was evident that the standard of beauty was not someone who looked like me, and it angered me. It baffled me. I watched movies and television shows and willed people of color into being. I remember watching Boy Meets world and thinking, Shawn Hunter should date a black girl. And when he fell in love with Angela, my voice grew hoarse from yelling “Whaaaaaaaat.”. It had worked! When I read books I’d ignore descriptions and imagine characters as black. I craved color because the overwhelmingly white world that I lived in was just that. Overwhelming. I brownwashed to maintain balance.

I remember having a friend over to my house as a kid and coloring scenes from The Little Mermaid or some other popular Disney film. It would be twenty years before Disney produced a black princess but with the help of my trusty brown crayon (not even Burnt Sienna would do), I had that covered. There was something so satisfying about seeing a black Mermaid. And hell, she’d still have the red hair, just like my friend Carly who had dark skin like me and hair the color of a shiny penny. I remember asking a friend who was sleeping over, “Why are you using PEACH?” She had stayed true to the Alice in Wonderland that we were all familiar with. I was baffled, weren’t there enough white, blond haired, blue eyed Alices in the world? If you had a chance to make Wonderland reflect the world that you lived in, why wouldn’t you take it?

So back to the grindstone for me. I’ve been trying to focus on reading romances featuring characters of color, but I find that a lot of them are still written with the white gaze in mind. It’s soul crushing. It’s exhausting. I’m tired of reading what appeals to white readers. I’ve got a couple of stories that I’m working on featuring Black, Mexican and Korean main characters. I’m going to write what I want to read, and hopefully do it well.

Always and Forever by Farrah Rochon

Always and Forever is the story of Phylicia and Jamal who are first introduced in A Forever Kind of Love as the best friends of the protagonists (you won’t be lost if you haven’t read the first book). The story is set in Gauthier, Louisiana, the cutest little town this side of Stars Hollow: It looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with its brightly colored storefronts sporting striped awnings and hand-painted We’re Open signs hanging in the windows. Jamal hadn’t known towns like this still existed, especially with predominantly black populations.

Basically, I want to go to there.

Jamal is converting a Victorian home into a green B&B and needs Phil’s assistance as she is “one of the most sought after restoration specialists in the entire region”. Problem is that Phil wants nothing to do with Jamal. See, even though they both felt an immediate attraction and completely bonded at their best friends’ wedding, the next day Phil was like: “And you are?” Ouch. The reason why is completely believable and understandable, but I still felt for Jamal who is, by the way, THE BEST. He’s such a wonderful character. Sweet, sincere, sexy. And so sensitive!

“Good morning,” Jamal said.
“Good morning,” she answered and moved right past him.
Jamal closed his eyes and let his chin fall to his chest. So much for that.

He just drops nuggets like this one, making me swoooon:

“…I dread even going to the house in the morning, because it’s so damn hard to work near you and not touch you. To have you ignore me. Do you know how much that kills me?”

DUDE.

He also…plays the saxophone. I think I’ve watched The Lost Boys one too many times to find that romantic. All I can come up with is cornball. Other things that I quirked my eyebrow at: there’s a bit where “the thought of being mistaken for Phylicia’s husband didn’t scare him as much as he thought it would.” He and Phil are in ARIZONA to go to his sister’s wedding, two seconds after they started dating. So um, you’re in it to win it Jamal. Relax. If anyone should be scared it’s Phil. And Jamal’s actions were a bit too much to swallow at the end. Not that I didn’t get how he could be angry, but the level of anger raised these old eyebrows a bit. No worries though, I welcomed him back with loving arms.

Phil is just as swoon-worthy. She’s hard-working and strong and passionate. It was wonderful watching her finally let her guard down with Jamal. I loved that he didn’t try to solve all of her problems for her and that the obvious “easy fix” was never an option for either of them. Also? Her relationship with her mother brought tears to my eyes.

Love this book. So, so satisfying.

ALL THE STARS!!!!

Tagged

Cover Love

Andy just texted me at work.

Andy: Google Max Gladstone Three Parts Dead

So I did.

Me: Oh, HELL YEAH.

Book, prepare to be read.