I haven’t seen Orange is the New Black, but gimme a break, I’m homeless.
I only see what they play on the stations above the treadmills at Planet Fitness and even then, there’s no volume.
However, I wasn’t surprised to discover that the show has no Black writers, zero, despite what I understand to be a plethora of not only popular but strongly represented Black characters.
— Orange Writers Room (@OrangeWriters) June 2, 2015
Now I’m reading that for the first time ever, Marvel’s about to come out with a depiction of Iron Man as a teenage Black female but that they’ll be no Black writers involved.
Some people are offended.
I don’t know why.
Before my first book was published back in ’95, I got a rejection letter from an editor – I’m guessing – telling me that the book was “unrealistic”.
The letter sent on to say that there were simply “no Black people” like the ones described in my book and that I should read about Black people if I intended to write about them, the editor suggesting Richard Wright and I forget who else, maybe Baldwin.
I saved the letter for as long as I could until I lost it.
Part of me wanted to find this editor just to tell him or her that not only was I Black, but also both my parents were, all my friends, and I had just graduated from a HBCU for Christ’s sake!
More of me didn’t want to, though.
More of me knew better.
The idea that I should have to defend and by defending, define myself for this one simple minded soul who’d bothered to read a couple of books by Black authors and because of this would no longer allow for any other “types” of Black people is one of the greatest traps any person, writer or not, can fall into.
Of course, this left me in what Clyde Frazier would call “a bit of a quandary.”
Should I “Negro up” my work to make in more in line with what I had now learned to be “acceptable” Black writing?
Luckily, soon after, I found a Black publisher so all the changes that ended up being made were not only agreed upon, but organic.
Still, I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart.
I also knew that I was great.
But what about all the unfortunate talents without my degree of certainly?
How many of them had been doomed for all eternity by similar editors with power but neither the compulsion nor direction as to how to use it?
Moreover, since book recommendations are most often shared, the likelihood is that many non-Blacks have all read the same books by and about Black people and therefore feel they know all there is to or at least need to know.
So no, it never surprises me when just because an artistic representation decides to depict Black people, it never feels an overwhelming need for authenticity via Black authorship.
Odds are the white writers on board have already read or book or two by a Black writer.
They may have even seen a movie.
That, or listened to a whole Hip Hop album.