EXCUSE ME WHILE I BURN A FEW BRIDGES

                             

People, we have a huge problem more insidious than COVID-19. It’s a virus that’s been dividing us and replicating itself during the course of four centuries. And yes, this is a blog about racism. If you’re tired of reading about this topic, stop right here. If you’re curious, keep going.

I don’t know if this is true for you, but the older I become, the more I want to learn. I have so many unasked questions. Some may sound naïve or child-like, but I assure you, I’m asking from a place of sincere curiosity.

For those of you who are historians, when and where did white people first have a negative visceral reaction to black people? Did this negative reaction feel like fear, loathing, anger? We need to talk about this.

For the psychologists in our midst, why did/does fear express itself as an aggressive need to belittle, destroy, or dominate those who are feared? Why, in spite of truths to the contrary, do some white people continue to believe they are superior in every way to people of color? We need to have several conversations about this.

From my perspective, there are as many threads woven into racism as there are in the AIDS Quilt. Because I steer my boat toward pragmatism, and because racism is so pervasive, I figure it’s best to tackle this dilemma one thread at a time. The thread that comes to mind in this setting is the one tenuously connecting lesbian literature to ALL of its writers, readers, and producers. This thread is thin and it’s fraying, especially for the forty years-old and up among us. We’ve stood on a few bridges far too long.

Here’s the first one to which I bring a torch.

If you’re a publisher, how many books written by writers of color (WOC) have you published? How many content editors, copy editors, book cover artists, promotion-tasked folks of color have you employed? Do you accept or reject book covers that reveal the protagonists are POC? How many minority-owned bookstores/book clubs/book fairs do you contact in an effort to promote the books you publish? How many manuscripts written by authors of color have you rejected because of the manuscripts’ characters of color, not because of the quality of the work? Can we please talk about this?

On a personal note, there’s an issue that continues to smolder under my feet… My first book was self-published. The manuscript for my second book was praised for its literary merit but rejected by a lesbian-owned publishing house because, “no one will be interested in reading about a black girl’s coming out.” That happened only thirteen years ago, decades after the Jim Crow era.

 

Please know these names. Stephanie A. Allen, Nikki Baker, LaShonda Barnett, Samiya Bashir, Renée Bess, Becky Birtha, Dionne Brand, Sharon Bridgforth, Laurinda Brown, Shonia Brown, Octavia Butler. 

 

Onto the next bridge that awaits immolation.

If you’re a lesfic reader, have you bought any books written by WOC? When you’re shopping for books online or in person, do you tend to pass by those whose covers illustrate characters of color? When you’ve read books authored by WOC, have you felt surprised to discover the characters and plot details might represent life experiences that differ from yours, but the themes are universal? We need to listen to each other about this.

 

Please become acquainted with these names. Staceyann Chin, Cheril N. Clarke, Cheryl Clarke, Michelle Cliff, Lucille Clifton, Angela Davis, Alexis DeVeaux, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Mari Evans, Jessie Fauset, Jewelle Gomez, Sheree L. Greer, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Rosa Guy. 

 

And now, as gently as I can, I’ll strike a match and set it down on this last bridge, one upon which I’ve seen a few WOC stand quietly, as if they’re asking permission to offer the world diverse characters, as if writing about white characters only will ensure greater book sales and popularity.

This bridge’s lane markings are faded. Its signage and support columns are rusted and weakened by the passage of time and the progress we’ve made. Why not write your reality? Why not write stories about the range of black people’s experiences? Why write your books for the white gaze only?

Those of us who have grown up living in racially diverse communities, attended schools with students of different races and ethnicities, and as adults have entered interracial relationships/marriages know first-hand the complexities, subtle and not, of the gumbo in which we exist. We are constantly aware of how the world sees and perceives us. Our survival depends upon it. I am suggesting there’s a readership eager to meet all kinds of black characters and explore their stories.

 

Angelina Weld Grimké, Lorraine Hansberry, Nikki Harmon, JP Howard, Cheryl Head, Bell Hooks, Zora Neale Hurston, N. K. Jemisin, June Jordan, Gayle Jones, Nella Larson, Ana-Maurine Lara, Audre Lorde, Penny Mickelbury, Mia McKenzie, Lisa C. Moore, Nik Nicholson, Chinelo Okparanta, Pat Parker, Nikki Rashan, Sapphire, Ann Allen Shockly, Makeda Silvera, Barbara Smith, Linda Villarosa, Alice Walker, Ida B. Wells, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Anondra Williams, KD Williamson, Jacqueline Woodson, Shay Youngblood, Fiona Zedde. Please know their names.*

 

We cannot continue to fear, fight, and diminish one another while # 45 is drawing targets on our backs and the reality of 8 minutes, forty-six seconds assaults us head-on.

In memory of Sherry Mills who always sought to help people, no matter their race, gender identity, age, or sexuality. We miss you already, Sherry.

 

*My sincerest apologies to any lesbian writer of color whose name I’ve not included.

© Renée Bess, 2020

 

Renée Bess is the author of five novels published by Regal Crest Enterprises, whose owner didn’t hesitate to offer a contract to a writer of color. Along with Lee Lynch and Patty Schramm, who didn’t hesitate to accept Renée’s invitation to help create a book, she’s the co-story collector of the 2018 Goldie winning anthology, OUR HAPPY HOURS, LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS, (Flashpoint Publications). Renée is one of the winners of the 2019 Alice B Readers Award. You’ll find her blog posts here at Women and Words each month, because Andi Marquette and Jove Belle never hesitated to welcome her words.

 

conference photo (2)

 

38 comments

  1. Renee, thank you for your courageous and oh so necessary blog post. I’ve been reading some of the critiques on Facebook and I’m hoping that GCLS and the lesfic publishers are listening and are working to publicly address these issues.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cindy, thank you for reading and appreciating the post. I know that GCLS has been working and continues to do so. Stay well.

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  2. Thank you, Renee! You’ve named many of my favorite authors, and added some names to my TBR list. I know Barbara Neely isn’t in the LGBTQ community, but she’s one of my favorite mystery authors, who recently passed. I appreciate your calling out the publishers, and I hope they are listening hard!!! All best to you. Sandra de Helen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comments, Sandra. And thank you for introducing me to Barbara Neely. I enjoy reading good mysteries. Stay well.

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  3. Damn Renee. I like the fire in your blood. I love that it’s there even as you are (over 40). Excellent way to burn bridges my friend with knowledge, ire and tons of questioning regarding the status quo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading my blog, Lainie. And thanks for adding Gabe’s and Beverly’s names and links. Viv and I miss seeing you and Lee as well. Let’s hope our path cross in the near future.

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  4. You have surpassed your own eloquence, Renee. Your words make many points tragically clear. How could it have taken me this long to understand that our Civil War never ended?

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    • Lee, as my contemporaries used to say (back in the day,) “The struggle is real.” It’s not only real, it’s constant, unrelenting. We are more aware of the struggle right now because trump pokes at racism’s embers almost daily and cell phone cameras verify the cruelty that is visited upon POC with impunity. Thank goodness for people like you, Lee. When we first met years ago, you had me at, “Do you know Becky Birtha?” Stay well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There are some names there I didn’t know – thank you for the recommendations. Which reminds me, I’ve got ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ waiting to be read…

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  6. You have given us so much to consider in your eloquent blog. Burning bridges for all the humane, compassionate, necessary reasons doesn’t need to begin with “excuse me” because if you look around our community, you’ll see that we’re all holding torches. Thank you

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    • Thank you for your response, Caffiore. Let’s continue holding our torches until we put them down long enough to vote for Joe Biden in November. Stay well.

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  7. Thank you Renee for a great blog post. We must all do better.

    I’d like to add J.P Haynes, a Sapphire author who has a wonderful book out, The Closet Chronicles. She’s a producer that created – Selma the Musical and just created her own TV station call ICTV – Infecting Change Television. You can follower her and her amazing work at jphaynes31 on instagram and ictelevision.

    Isabella

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    • Thanks for reading my post, Isabella, and for sharing the information about J.P. Haynes and her book, The Closet Chronicles. BTW, I’m aware of the disappointment your wife feels when she attends conferences and finds she’s either the only Asian woman or one of two or three in attendance. And yes, we must all do better.

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  8. Renée, I am so honored you blog with us. I know I speak for Jove in that regard, too. Thank you so much for sharing your words, your wisdom, and your wit. Much love and support to you.

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    • Andi, I am so glad you and Jove offered me the opportunity to try a different genre. I appreciate your knowledge, your scholarship, your loving support, and all that you do for the benefit of our community. Continue to stay well.

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  9. I never check the “race” of the wirter, if the book is good well written I will look for more books of the same writer. If a book is good publishers should publish it, regardless of the color of the writer’s skin. It can be purple for all I care.

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    • Haya, thanks for your honest reply. Unfortunately, a gap exists between our opinion of what publishers “should” publish, and what publishers actually “do” publish. I must admit I often check the writer’s race as representation important to me. Stay well.

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  10. I was excited. I love to read, I have a degree in history, so I got this, I thought. Renee, wow. I took your test, and I can’t say that I passed. Yes, I have read work written by some, some, of the names you list. I have some work to do. Thank you so much for this eloquent piece, and for pointing me toward writers I have missed.

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    • Thanks for responding, Bett. Although I’m a former teacher, I didn’t intend to offer the list of authors’ names as a test. I wanted readers to be/become aware of our voices. Stay well.

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    • Thanks for suggesting your readers take a look at my blog, Karin. I appreciate your support. Stay well.

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  11. Renee,

    The best blogs leave us uncomfortable. You are lucky, I have a Dr appointment online in a few moments and must be brief maybe I’ll comment again later! but for now I will say while i have favorite names on your list far, far too many of the names I have never seen let alone heard. I will rectify that. Thank you for your courage and for living a life of bold curiosity. I will miss seeing you and your partner this summer, and probably in Orlando, but Denver is coming!

    Ona

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  12. Renee, you are an amazing human being, my friend. Thanks for sharing this with us. And your sweet words about Sherry. Hugs, Patty

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    • Thanks, Patty. I don’t consider myself amazing. What has amazed me for the last few days is the depth of my sadness about Sherry. I didn’t know her very well, but I was aware of how kind she was.

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  13. Thank you for this! So happy to see Audre Lorde on your list. And Zora Neal Hurston. Looking forward to learning more about the other women writers listed.

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  14. Not necessarily lesbian writers, but excellent scifi writers: Octavia Butler & NK Jemisin, on your list — I’ll add Nisi Shawl, & Nnedi Okorafor & Rivers Solomon.

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    • Thanks for sharing the names of these two additional writers, Allison. I appreciate your knowing them.

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