It’s all in there. It just hasn’t been able to get out.
I wouldn’t quite describe it as writer’s block. There is so much I want to say, and I actually spent a lot of time saying it yesterday, in my first-ever radio interview. Articulation hasn’t really been a problem, either. Time is an issue. I’ve started my new job and I work all day and all night, it’s true, but still…
I think the honest-to-God truth is that I’ve just been afraid.
Last week, I celebrated (and by that, I mean I worked like a dog) my birthday, as now that I am firmly in my late-20s (and by THAT, I mean, hanging on them by a thread), I am forced to really take stock of who I am and who I want to be–and how those realities and ideals up with the realities where I am and what I’m doing.
I’ve been busy learning hard, hard lessons about what is expected of me as a lawyer, as a woman, as a young woman, as a young black woman, as a young black American woman, what I’m responsible for, and what I’m not supposed to achieve. I’m prone to some things and deserving of others. Marked and invisible. Anonymous and notorious.
The Marissa Alexander article jolted me out of my comfort zone in ways I did not quite expect. I never expected to write the article. It just came out, in a period of maybe four or five hours, apparently eloquent with rage and frustration and resignation at having returned to my country from someone else’s and realizing that I was still worth nothing–less than nothing–in the eyes of the law, and too many of my own so-called “Sistas” and “Brothas”. People sent the article to me, often saying “I think you’d really like this piece!” not having realized that there was another Marissa in the by-line. And suddenly, too many eyes were on me.
There is so much responsibility that comes with writing. I know that. I want that responsibility, but what I have been wondering for the last several weeks is “am I ready for it?” Can I stand hateful, anonymous commentary and thoughtless rebukes? And what if…what if I am ever wrong?
I am an active participant in the progressive community of outraged liberal slacktivists who use new media to spread information, to help it “go viral.” I don’t mind when a couple of people de-friend me on Facebook because of the frequency of my postings, because I do honestly try to give attention to stories and ideas that too many people find unimportant despite their very real value. Since mid-July, however, I’ve noticed that I am more inclined to post or forward something with little or no personal commentary because I realize that I have to answer for that commentary. Finally, I realize that I’m super judgmental and should probably be less judgey if I want anyone to ever show me mercy. Not that mercy is something one can much hope for on the internet.
Yeah, I rolled my eyes (and gagged) when I read about Mindy Budgor’s presumptuous and horrifying (self) appointment as a Maasai warrior–along with all of my “conscious” friends, but I also have been silently cringing at the vitriolic backlash she’s receiving. I don’t doubt that she deserves it, and I doubt that she’s fazed, much less ready to learn anything meaningful about the evils of cultural appropriation, but still… I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I shifted uncomfortably in my seat reading everyone’s disgust at her use of her Western privilege when I knew that I, too, am writing about my experiences as a feminist activist in Senegal.
Mindy Budgor can afford to have people think she’s racist and obnoxious and arrogant because Glamour magazine thinks she’s wonderful enough to profile and photograph (dressed in Ferragamo and a buffalo spear, no less). I know that if I’m not careful with my phrasing, if my biting humour ever comes off the wrong way, if I ever make too broad an assumption and if that error happens to stumble upon a post-happy eye, that I could be rendered uncredible, forever and ever. I don’t have a book agent who will tell me “all press is good press.” As a matter of fact, I’m a little too afraid to write a book. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written a chapter. If I ever finish it, if it ever sees the light of day, someone will hate me. That much is sure.
I don’t know if I can survive it. I don’t know if I should have to.
In the end, it all boils down to courage. Do I have the courage to speak up, or the courage to stay silent. More importantly, do I have the wisdom to discern between which courage I should employ from day to day, from post to post, chapter to chapter? Because at a certain point, my skin can only become so tough before I become a rhinoceros…