Recently, I read about Tarana Burke when Time released their Person of the Year. The magazine praised women called the Silence Breakers, women who publicly shared their experiences with sexual assault. Those women have been, and still are, overwhelmingly white. Even the #metoo movement, specifically started by Tarana Burke ten years ago to include the stories of women of color, was co-opted into twitter movement that focuses on the experiences of white women.
The Women’s March, the Pussyhat, and the current #metoo movement continue to magnify the chasm that exists between the experiences of white women and black women in America. Nowhere is that more noticeable than in the 94 percent of black women who voted for Clinton and the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump. Obviously, our views of the world and our experiences in it are a difference of 41 percent. When has it ever been otherwise?
As I watch more women step forward with their claims of rape and sexual assault, I certainly don’t want to see more black women claim their victimhood because that means they, we, are victims. I don’t want their voices to join the hundreds of white women speaking out not because I desire their silence, but because I hate the knowledge that sexual violence has been a foundational part of our experience in America since slavery. But I also know that there is a broader issue here. Namely, in this, the year of the woman—where is the black female voice?
The exclusion of black women from narratives of gender and race is not new, however. The Civil Rights Movement was a movement of, by and for black men. Even though women were the powerhouses—Daisy Bates in Little Rock. Joann Robinson in Montgomery, Septima Clark in South Carolina—the men garnered the national attention. The Women’s Movement was no different. Though we praise the work of women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, we cannot dismiss the racism that pulsed through the suffrage movement. While black women have always been at the center, their stories have always been marginalized.
The most recent criticism has been levied against the Los Angeles Times for their melanin-blind cover photo featuring all white actresses. The actresses supposedly call for Hollywood stories to be redefined, but one can guess that the redefinition includes gender inclusion but not racial diversity. And why should any of us be surprised? Black women have often held up the floor, provided protection from the ceiling, supported on the walls and all while waiting in the wings. Even when black women demand to be included, there is a long line because the door can only let one black woman walk through at a time.
I think of this as I write these stories of two beautiful, strong black women—one an Immortal eighteen-year old and the other a seventy-year-old boss. I wrote Neema because I needed Neema. I wrote Raina because I needed Raina. Black Woman Strong whether young or ageless. I have always loved stories of powerful, supernaturally strong women. I absolutely loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was a die-hard fan of Xenia, Warrior Princess. I read urban fantasy with abundant white heroines kicking butt in worlds of witches and vampires and shapeshifters. I watched Blade and Spawn,and I absolutely cannot wait to see Black Panther. But I cannot deny the need to see a story where a black woman is not a victim, not a sidekick, not waiting in the freaking wings. Why couldn’t a black woman, though born in slavery, evolve into a bad-ass immortal being? I wrote Neema into existence because she represented everything I wasn’t seeing, but all that I knew a black woman could be.
The deeper I become immersed in Neema’s world, the more I realize that womanhood in Hollywood and in novels is still too often defined by whiteness. But the only way to see that change is to create a space for the women we want to see and the stories we want to be told. Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” The stories of black women should exist across the genre spectrum. They shouldn’t just be told and shelved in Literature and Fiction. They should exist in romance, in paranormal fiction, in mystery, in thriller, in horror, in fantasy and in science fiction. Our stories should be told in every form imaginable because every genre should be enriched with the experiences of the many racial and ethnic groups that make up our world.
I’ve determined that even if my novels only reach a few, at least I have told a story from a perspective that matters, a perspective that is real, a perspective that is mine. No one will ever have to change Neema’s race to fit the audience of an ever-changing, ever-widening world. Neema’s experience as a black woman is integral to who she is because her story, like the stories of white women and black men, also deserves to be told.