Hey, all. I just wanted to share this short reflective essay that I wrote to Beth a few days ago, detailing some thoughts on my self-identity in relation to Toni Morrison’s works and the upcoming semester:
Toni Morrison writes for black people. I’ve been thinking about this statement over and over again since the first day of class. It wasn’t until the end of my first fiction workshop that I had considered using my narrative voice to talk about the black experience. I wrote a short story about the creation of the notorious Bloods and Crips; gangs that have been tainted by media and corrupted social structures; gangs that began as clubs and fraternities for underprivileged minorities who couldn’t join white clubs in the community. That story still haunts me to this day.
By the time I had dabbled in poetry and left the world of fiction behind—albeit temporarily—I had already written a myriad of pieces about what it meant to be black in America; poems ranging from topics like Emmett Till to the slave trade. At the time, I was still a novice when it came to discovering my voice: what did I want to talk about? what was I using my poetry to do? was I writing for myself or for others? I also didn’t want to limit myself to one topic of discussion; in other words, I didn’t want to be the black male writer—because I was definitely the only one in all of my workshops—who specifically wrote about the black struggle. The thought of this troubled me; it made me feel stagnant. I was afraid that those around me thought that I was cliché and was only using my voice for shock value or guilt tripping. I think about this now, and maybe I was indeed right to do those things. Perhaps those who had felt guilt or were perturbed were ultimately made aware of their privilege. Better yet, perhaps my spontaneous and, to this day, unending need to write about the black experience will be forever tethered to my own understanding of my skin color and the way the world undoubtedly reacts to it. This all sounds obvious, but it angers me that my people aren’t represented in positive lights within all spectrums of art. And in spite of this, I take responsibility for what I want others to see; what I want others to acknowledge.
Toni Morrison writes for black people and, in a way, so do I. I’ve never truly read a single work of hers and because of this I feel guilty—but, better now than never, right? I’m nervous because not only will I be a student seemingly unaware of the experiences ahead, I will also be a TA, helping to mold others’ experiences in small ways. But my hopes for this class outweigh my constant fears. I wish to fully come to terms with my own identity on the page. I want to “steal” from Morrison to help shape my mercurial narrative voice. I want to better understand the black experience through a veteran who has dedicated her life to it; like the members of the Bloods and the Crips, I want to find a place where I truly belong.