Writing Black

As some of you may or may not know, I’m Haitian-American.

I’m black.

I don’t make this proclamation to be facetious or sarcastic.  I make it as merely a statement of fact:  I’m black.

It is what it is.

But I do bring it up because when I write, my race is not always evident.  The person that I am is not always easily seen.

I usually prefer it that way.

But it is interesting, because strangers who are just becoming familiar with my work and getting to know me have said to me on more than one occasion after having read my writing, they didn’t realize that I was black.

As if that’s a problem.  Thank goodness I have a thick skin, otherwise I might be offended.

I’ve written about this before, but I’ll say it again:  I don’t think my race should define my writing.  My writing should define my writing.  My stories should speak for themselves, and my verses should sing their own songs.  It is always my goal to tell a good story, as prose or as poetry, and I succeed at this objective as I can.  I try to leave myself out of it as much as possible.

However, every once in a while,  a little bit of me will peek through, and a little bit of my history, my person, my culture, my thoughts or my beliefs will make their way onto the page.  I don’t think that this is unusual.  I think it would be hard to write otherwise if I didn’t leave some of myself behind, exposed for the world to see.

But it is telling when someone reads something I’ve written, and make the connection between my words and my race, and they are surprised as a result.

I bring this up because my good friend, Francis F. Keating, (who, through two posts now, I hope you are getting to know), is also African-American.

Francis is also black.

But I think to the casual reader, many people wouldn’t know it by the poems he’s shared thus far.

In the work we’ve seen to date, Francis presents verses with an old-world, very classically structured styles and rhymes. In my opinion, they read like great literature and have a sense of timelessness about them.

Plus, it’s just a great voice that he uses to spin his verses.

I’ve told him on occasion that I expect to see these poems in high school English textbooks somewhere, being memorized and recited by thousands of students. He likes to laugh and disagree (he’s too humble to say otherwise) but I believe what I’m saying is true. His poems transcend race to focus only on a story, to speak only about the human condition, to espouse the many trials and tribulations to which we as individuals can all relate and understand.  What English teacher wouldn’t flock to that theme?

As writers, I think there is value at being able to write about a variety of topics in a myriad of styles that move beyond who you are in order to capture an experience common to everyone.  Following Francis’ lead, I’ve written many poems where I have tried to do just that.  I like to think I’ve hit the mark once or twice on that account, and certainly I believe Francis has it in the bag.

However, sometimes you have to write to share your unique self to the world, the common experience be damned.  Sometimes it is all about you, about sharing your story or your history and conveying those words that are an extension of you as a person.

In this case, I’m talking about writing black.

I don’t think this would be any different if I were Jewish or Hispanic or Chinese.  I believe this wouldn’t matter if I were a northerner, a southerner, from the East Coast or the West.  This would be the same if I my native tongue were English, French, Russian or Farsi, or if I were tall or short, fat or skinny, full of happiness or full of grief.  No matter what I could be, my own life experience, whatever it is, however I perceive it, would eventually appear on the page.  Of course, I have my own ideas about what I want to address when I write about topics that are afro-centric in nature, but that is the nature of the human experience:  it is unique to everyone.  Even when we share the experience, our perspectives will make it singular to who we are.

Certainly, I believe this is true when Francis writes; he has authored quite a few poems where he addresses his own experiences and perspectives as a black man, and creates a voice and a style to reflect that.  In one of his newer poems, Ghetto Smoke, he shows just how diverse and broad his range can be.  It speaks not only to the breadth of skill that he possesses with his mighty pen, but also to who he is and what he sees are problems and ills that our community faces.  Always literary, always poetic, but very raw and gritty, very streetwise and urban.

Ghetto Smoke is like that.  It flows almost like a song—a hip-hop anthem, if you will—but forever dark in both the reality it presents and the story he tells.  But it is as much as part of him as is the rest of his poetry—as it should be, since we all like to share a part of ourselves in the stories we write.

And as a black man, he sometimes likes to write black.

 GHETTO SMOKE

 

JoJo was born smokin’.

Soon as he come out his mommas womb

His daddy popped a cigarette in his mouth

And said,

“Smoke up mutha fucka

You ain’t got time for mother’s milk.

Hope you like sleepin’ on broken glass

Cuz we don’t know shit about silk.

The way of the devil is all that we have.

So buck up my nigga, hold tight to your brass.

The wheelin’ and dealin’ so thick

That the smoke makes you choke.

Our burdens a bitch on the yoke.”

So JoJo behaved like a young nigga should.

He smoked up dem smokes

And gave love to the hood.

By ten he was smokin’

Two packs of fuck you every day.

Young JoJo’s a player that way.

By twelve he was cuttin’ the yoyo for slice.

By twenty that nigga was rollin’ in ice.

The roll of the dice

The smell of the kill on the steel

Joe smoked up that shit with appeal.

Pop! Pop! In the head for a fool talkin’ shit.

Mad hate to his God for the fate that he spit

“No shame in my game”

Was the blunt that he hit with a smile

Ghetto style

JoJo smoked on that shit for a while.

In the cut

With a strut

“Gotta problem with me!

Nigga what!”

COPYRIGHT 2012 ©  FRANCIS F. KEATING.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Writing Black

  1. I never did understand that…I can imagine it is upsetting to get comments like that, as if race is supposed to bleed through in words. It never even crossed my mind to try and guess what background an author has, what region they might live in, or what skin color they might have. Black, white, yellow, purple…honestly, what difference does it make? I read for enjoyment and people from all walks of life and all corners of the world are capable of providing such in ample waves!
    Now, I will admit to being shocked a time or two to finding out an author was male or female after reading them write from the oppositie sex’s POV so well! It just goes to show the diversity and depth of talent that is out there. 🙂
    Your friend has an incredible range, indeed. And a very talented vein for prose. Please thank him for allowing you to share his work with us.

    1. Hi Adri!

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yea, it’s a little weird at times, I have to admit. I don’t like when people put me in a box and say I have to write this or I have to write that because of who or what I am. Seems ridiculous to me, and is also very constricting, very limiting. I believe that the testament to an author’s talent is both great depth and range, the broader the better. I think that this has happened to Francis as well, certainly we have had our conversations about it in the past. Also, you’re right about the gender thing! I’ve made that mistake a time or two! But you’re right, it really is a evidence of great skill…and isn’t that what we all strive for???? 🙂

  2. Elizabeth, you come across as a well educated woman. I don’t see how “white” or “black” plays into it. Personally, I think that this is a good thing. Do people who read my work think “scottish”. Probably not. Also a good thing!

    Anyway, this has been an excellent post. I will continue to return to your blog.

    1. Hi Wendy!

      Thank you very much! I’d like to hope that both my writing writing move beyond race to focus only on the story, because that’s what is important. But, that said, people have questioned me about it. It’s weird but true. But we live, we learn, and we move on, to write again another day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s