Hat tip, Medieval POC blog, for digging through the N.K. Jemisin blog archives. Nora Jemisin, far more articulate than I explained the name of my blog in 2012!:
“There is a strange emptiness to life without myths.
I am African American — by which I mean, a descendant of slaves, rather than a descendant of immigrants who came here willingly and with lives more or less intact. My ancestors were the unwilling, unintact ones: children torn from parents, parents torn from elders, people torn from roots, stories torn from language. Past a certain point, my family’s history just… stops. As if there was nothing there.
I could do what others have done, and attempt to reconstruct this lost past. I could research genealogy and genetics, search for the traces of myself in moldering old sale documents and scanned images on microfiche. I could also do what members of other cultures lacking myths have done: steal. A little BS about Atlantis here, some appropriation of other cultures’ intellectual property there, and bam! Instant historically-justified superiority. Worked great for the Nazis, new and old. Even today, white people in my neck of the woods call themselves “Caucasian”, most of them little realizing that the term and its history are as constructed as anything sold in the fantasy section of a bookstore.
These are proven strategies, but I have no interest in them. They’ll tell me where I came from, but not what I really want to know: where I’m going. To figure that out, I make shit up.”
- Fantasy author N.K. Jemisin in “Dreaming Awake”, a essay from her blog.
When I was a child, I didn’t want the mythology that was constructed for me, out of snippets of Encyclopedia Britannica, pictures of The Middle Passage and the Ebony Magazine three volume compendium called Black History. I didn’t want any of that. I wanted what it seemed like everyone else had – family stories that spanned hundreds of years. And, I didn’t have it. I have zero idea who my great-great grandparents are on one side – even my grandfather on one side. On the other, my great-great grandparents literally walked out of the swamp and… walked back in again, and history faded. They didn’t speak English. They didn’t live in a “normal” house. And, nobody thought to write much down. Gone. That’s … all of me. Gone. One of my best friends lives in a house surrounded by her ancestor’s possessions, and sometimes, it all gets to be a little much. To feel yourself cut off – well, I’ve mentioned before the Welsh and the Portuguese have a word for that. The Welsh say hiraeth , and the Portuguese say saudade. An incoherent sadness, a profound longing for a …different self. A different past. Something that never was, so you can never have it, nor ever did. A grief over a lost history.
“Throughout my life as I’ve sought to become a published writer of speculative fiction, my strongest detractors and discouragers have been other African Americans. These were people who had, like generations before them, bought into the mythology of racism: black people don’t read. Black people can’t write. Black people have no talents other than singing and dancing and sports and crime. No one wants to read about black people, so don’t write about them. No one wants to write about black people, which is why you never see a black protagonist. Even if you self-publish, black people won’t support you. And if you aim for traditional publication, no one who matters — that is, white people — will buy your work.
(A corollary of all this: there is only black and white. Nothing else matters.)”
Aaaaargh. Her whole essay made me tear up; I hope you find time to read it. Putting these words in the context of myself and my experiences — and within the context of the conversation about YA lit and how having people of color on book covers creates such a deleterious effect, and how even seeing that there are stories written by and about people of color allegedly kill sales and how guys – and guys of color, especially — don’t read anyway — wow. Wow. I think I need to type this essay on my skin in all caps and remember that the myths of my own life that others try to feed me are lies; to remember that I MATTER. And my stories. And that it’s PERSONAL, and I need to give up the idiocy of trying to be kind to people who say they “don’t see color.”
I am giving up disingenuousness for Lent.
So, yeah. Fiction, instead of lies. My own chosen myths, instead of the myths of others. Man, the freedom in that – it’s a helluva thing, folks.