Second Draft Share: The Hell I Burn Through (Chapter One: Part One)

Second Draft Share: The Hell I Burn Through (Chapter One: Part One)

Continuing with the Southern Gothic theme of the last post, here is the current opening of the novelette I mentioned, The Hell I Burn Through.

Chapter One: Part One

Incense mingled with the smell of soil, salt, roses, and graveyard dust, filling Sula’s nostrils, as She sat in the darkness of the parlor. She exhaled, holding her hands out over the water bowl in front of her with her eyes closed. She inhaled again, and got a strong whiff of the graveyard, mossy, yet almost like rotten thyme and cooked spinach. Maybe it was strange she’d come to like it, but growing up around goofer dust,taken from old cemeteries, had that effect on those who’d grown up in that world. Miss Faye hated that word, goofer. Apparently it sounded far too low country for her tastes. No matter what you called it, Sula found its comfort. Somehow it still didn’t feel like she could breathe the air, despite this being her element, her birthright. The tension in the house was already thick, and it felt all the thicker when Miss Faye gave her work. But that was simply what life in the house entailed, and always had.

In her mind, Sula saw the room as though her eyes were wide open. Sula knew which way the flame of each of the twenty seven white and black candles around the room flickered, and she knew what direction Miss Faye, in her ocean blue headscarf and yellow flowers chose to pace. She could see herself too, sitting at the little table at the center of the room with the bowl in front of her, the woven dime bag satchel of whatever bodily matter brought to use to the right of the bowl, and the burning incense in front of the bowl. The bowl held filtered rain water and her reflection, which was almost perfectly still due to the bowls construction. Supposedly, according to Miss Faye, it’d been a gift for Sula though Sula was only allowed to use it when Miss Faye asked. Some people called helping themselves a gift, Sula knew, and Miss Faye had always been one of those. Well, at least, as long as Sula had been alive. Sula peered directly at herself, and realized she still had some sleep dust in the corner of her eye and that if the shoulder of her blouse fell you could see where Miss Faye had taken a switch to her shoulder yesterday. The bruise was a deep purple against her brown skin.

If Sula couldn’t do what Miss Faye wanted today? Well, then she’d be in for a world of hurtin. She had to focus. She had to breathe. There was nowhere else. No one else. There was life and there was death. There were no borders except the ones she’d been taught, and she’d been taught to break them down to find the universal connections between past and present; here and there. Somewhere a distant ancestor’s breath matched her own. Somewhere a flower blossomed. Somewhere became everywhere, and Sula breathed. From the recesses of her mind her grandfather whispered “Let yourself fall,” and she, ever the obedient girl, slipped down into everything. Before her eyes, in the dark, glitter began to flicker and there came her target, Mr. Johnson. He was a kind man to children, and often gave Sula fresh fudge from his cart for free every Christmas, and whenever he’d been by to see Miss Faye. His bald held gleamed, his once muscular body stretched from a yawn so big his fifty year old round belly jiggled. Once upon a time Miss Faye had been crazy about him, but she’d been crazier about the social club Mrs. Johnson headed.

Sula was gonna miss that chocolate and gooey fudge.

**Chapter One Part One of Draft 2**
The Hell I Burn Through is a southern gothic of intriguing whimsy and fascination with the world of southern high society, african american conjure, mojo, sensuous affairs, innocent loves, and good down home  cooking. 

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The promotional cover! Coming this Fall to a Kindle near you.
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Dark Literature, Somber Stories, and the Innate Appeal of Melancholy.

Dark Literature, Somber Stories, and the Innate Appeal of Melancholy.

Literature is about experiences and being able to experience the depth of human feeling, and because of that there is this sensual appeal of the darkness. There is something uniquely human about exploring the darker aspects of humanity that I only find in literature (and very rarely film and television). As a person who likes to explore society and the human conscious, works with dark and somber tones have quite the appeal. Maybe part of this goes with my suffering from some form of depression or my temperamental upbringing, but I think it is more than that. In my perfectly normal childhood I still found myself drawn to the darkness and its inherent drama.

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From Edgar Allan Poe to he works of Shirley Jackson; from the longstanding popularity of shows like The Wire to Game of Thrones darkness reigns. These works and authors carry depressing, and even shocking themes for their time and in general. Yet these themes are handled with care, resulting in a legion of loyal readers. They are talked about and gushed over despite containing themes that, if oberserved in real life, make us not just uneasy, but queasy. Themes, which haunt our nightmares. Themes which haunt our waking hours. Themes we always fun back to for more, so much so that I simply do not have the capacity to understand people who don’t want any type of darker media ever. It is simply beyond my understanding, but that media is simply undeniably part of what I and so many others thrive on.

There is something irresistibly sensual about the feeling a melancholy ending gives you and the way somber scenes flow from one to the next. This is the underside of seduction. It gives you a taste, a lingering desire for hope, and then like a lover’s teasing it leaves you wanting what you may never have. Sometimes it can still end in a cathartic release, but so often we are left ruined, unsatisfied and yet satisfied in the strangest paradox we can fathom.

 

dark_romance_wedding_51pp_w880_h880I often say the reason I write great sex scenes is because I write great food scenes, and have since I was young. I’ve always found eating and cooking an intensely sensory experience that evokes elements of the intensely sensual. Smooth textures along the tongue, sharp and juicy bites into fruit, chocolate drizzles, and more are inherently physical acts calling for physical descriptions that evoke the same mental dance as anything else. Conveying it is a matter of capturing feeling. In much the same way, darker stories lure us in and then begin to court our sensibilities like Fabio circa 1997 or Ryan Reynolds circa his whole existence. The torture of living, loss, and the drudgery of unhappiness are experiences that captivate your whole being. Like eating or having sex, dreadful bouts of ennui, of unreasonable and frightening anger, and wrenching sorrow evoke an intense emotional response that captures the physical, the pain of what we experience. The rush of chemicals to our brains is the opposite of a high, and yet no less enjoyable, no less sensual.

Yet unlike eating or having sex, the vicarious nature of it makes it so much easier to experience the feeling without a total emotional drop off or consequence. For me, it isn’t that I don’t feel a character’s hurt, but that I do feel it and can recover. Dangerously empathetic people may fee it too much even, and sometimes you get so invested you never recover. Regardless it triggers this romanticism, a feeling that great nobility, sympathy, and empathy comes in those situations of great tragedy; the feeling that uncontrollable rage is igniting our most human and primal fires; and that crippling ennui or melancholy evokes a languished truthful beauty in an otherwise over reactive world.

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The amazing thing is this isn’t unique to adults. Youth exhibit this instinct towards the darkness as well. It’s not so strange one of my favorite movies was Robocop…

This isn’t all blood stains and scattered roses. Sometimes people take the romanticism too far and make genuine personal problems, such as depression and a lack of satisfaction in life, into grand dramas and sour the lives of all around them. I’ve been that teen and I’ve been that friend to those young adults. Both are equally flawed and equally self-harming. Those individuals should get help. I hope that they do. However this fact won’t stop human nature. We make the dark romantic, enticing, wonderfully dramatic. 13 Reasons Why made be a poor reflection of suicide in some ways, but it helped many…and provided that melancholy darkness humans seek out to others. Black Mirror is viciously dark in critiquing modern society, but it sates our deepest need to romanticise the dark, tragic, somber, melancholic, and just plain terrifying aspects of human life.

For better or worse, humans like to explore.
It is simply what we do whether it is on the page or in our lives.

Top 10 Most Depressing Books

When I started writing stories four years ago, I knew, in a very vague but urgent way that I wanted to tell “my story,” or at least the stories that were important to me: stories about the people I knew and loved, black and brown people, first-generation kids and our parents, poor people and working-class people and barely-middle class people trying to find meaning and connection and comfort.

So when I was presented with the chance to write Blacktop, a book series about a group of teenage misfits who find each other through basketball, I felt excited and ready. I’d written about basketball before, and I’ve played since I could walk. One of my earliest memories is of my six-foot father blocking my shot into a patch of wet grass.

The trouble started on the first page. I sat down, ready to catch all the great ideas coming down the creative flume, and instead I got a bunch of questions: Who was this story for, this story about a black kid playing basketball? And isn’t this kind of cliché? Or maybe the assumption here is that black kids will only read if there’s a ball involved? And so am I, by extension, by writing this series, encouraging the idea that black people are only interesting or important or valuable in relationship to our athletic skills?

This kind of thinking isn’t unique to me. Writers are natural parsers and over-thinkers. Plus I’ve known for a long time that as a black person, some white people expect a performance from me, something that might confirm what they think they know about my identity. That’s why “You don’t really sound black” actually means “I’m measuring everything you do and say against my very dim understanding of blackness.” Take all of this as understood. What surprised me was that these questions took up so much imaginative space, and did it so quickly, and were in fact so large and puzzling that they stopped me from writing anything.

Read More

 

This article addresses something that has been heavily on my mind as I engage with writing interracial love stories and contemporary fiction.

Closer to Heaven

Let there be a memory for her, that’s what they’d say when Damian would bring her body back the temple. They’d dress her body in white, paint over her wounds, and lay her to rest in laurels in the golden fields of tulips just beyond her childhood home. The thought made him sick, as he tried to cover her fun shot wound with her hands and a towel. Blood soaked through the cloth, turning it from white to pink to red in seconds, and then coating his dirtied fingers.

“You can’t, ya know. You just can’t!” Megara was in hysterics beside him. She turned to the men they’d bargained with who seemed just as shocked as they were. One with a mouth open like a tunnel to hell, stood with his shotgun pointed taunt.  “She was giving you what you wanted!”

They looked at the girl in front of them, now covered in blood, and shaking, gagging. The girl was born with a keen sense but unsound mind. They thought the priestess of the Blue Lady would be able to ease her spirit…she did. She helped everyone and now?

The girls father grabbed the gun, and the group’s leader, a tall red wood like man, grabbed the boy. He looked about 17 next to the bearded grown men. Why did they bring him?

“What the fuck did you do?” he asked

“I-I thought the priestess was going to use her…her weird voodoo powers!” The boy stammered. Damian turned away, not bothering to hide his grimace behind a stoic or rage filled face. He felt so tired. These people feared the church of the blue lady, and they feared the “deviants” the church saved, called it strange…wicked except when useful.

“She was supposed to help…” Damian said. His hands trembled, and he pressed down until she gasped. “Honey?”

Her mouth moved, her eyes rolled back and then back to him. She looked like a strange and feral thing when she’d always been so elegant. Long black braids, perfect, flowing gowns, blouses. She looked…mythical. Her eyes were glazed, a vision. The lesser of the powers that boy feared.

“Megara who slayed the child,”  and as though her words were prophecy Megara stood and ran, she bolted through the men, knocking them down like dolls. Damian watched as Cassandra  pushed the group leader away and fired her pistol against the boys stomach. “And sowed the fields and…will always survive.”

“Stop,” Damian said. And she did and her eyes began to roll. “Stay with me.”

She grabbed his collar and pulled herself up, urgency coming.
“Athena will come to luna. They will not listen.” She chuckled and shook her head. “I’ll die. I wanted to not though.”

“Did you know?”

“No…but others did. I told them…they liked my conviction. I don’t know. It was important. Fuck this hurts” The church. The church!

They always knew!

“I’ll kill them all,” Damian whispered.
“There will be war. Ares on chariot, weeping for the innocent in vulgar wars with no honor: Nicomachaen Ethics…” Her blood felt so hot, and she began to look pale. “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
He wouldn’t bring her to that church. To those vultures who wanted a martyr. He heard Megara being restrained, and the boy shrieking as though he’d seen the spectre of death looming over him. He should’ve suffered. He deserved no tulips. No white. Nothing, but who was he but them? His people? Who was he but their fear?

“Am I good?” She asked.

“Yes, Cassandra…perhaps I am not.”

—Not gonna continue unless asked, but this isn’t a complete story or proofread or anything…but stray thoughts.

Why Does Blackness have to be Separated from Science Fiction?

Why Does Blackness have to be Separated from Science Fiction?

Why must black authored and black created science fiction so compelled to separate itself from race or be only about race? This question seems like one perfectly crafted in the minds of far too many otherwise smart and interesting people. I say otherwise because the dichotomy is a false one. A few years ago I came across Andre Seewood’s article Freeing (Black) Science Fiction from the Chains of Race , and it has taken me this long to put what bothers me about this perspective into words. My race doesn’t simply stop being because I’m coding, because I’m researching, because I’m cooking. Who I am and how I engage in both activities and relationships is related to my upbringing and education both formally and socially. My being a black author, a black artist, and a sci-fi fan fits together. So why then is my race, my gender, or something else about me so anti-thetical to the science fiction elements or the “story” I tell?

Because for some reason we’ve been taught that “whiteness”, and in America whiteness without the accent, is neutrality. As a result non-whiteness or ethnic displays are outside of neutrality. To be black, to write black, is to be examined for that blackness. This can be a serious problem. Seewood argues  in this essay that “placing the racial frame upon the science fiction/fantasy/or futurist work of African-Americans hastily discard[s] the genuine scientific, fantasy or futurist aspects of the work, which in turn, weakens and /or perverts the author’s original intent.”

While others have addressed the more technical problems of his analysis, I find Seewood takes this a step too far, and asks the wrong questions. The idea that we can just pull race out of experience is one that simply does not make sense and can only be supported by the notion that there are stories independent of race(gender, orientation, etc.) and then there are “racial (gender, orientation, etc) stories”. It relies on this assumption that race doesn’t effect stories in which race isn’t an overt concern, which relies on the assumption that white writers and creators who aren’t examined through a racial lense don’t tell racial stories or stories from a white perspective. That simply isn’t true. Everyone from everywhere has an ethnic perspective.

Lovecraft and Tolkien told “race” stories. Star Trek told “race” stories. Planet of the Apes has overt racial connotations due to the very history of its creation. Nothing is made in a vacuum, and the influences are there. But for some reason race is seen as an other type of analysis beneath the fantasy, the horror, the science, and the dystopia. The ethnic and racial elements of these stories are acknowledged, but they’re never called white science fiction. These stories aren’t chained to race, enslaved to it, or otherwise. While black science fiction and fantasy is somehow othered, as though every black centered story is categorically different and somehow of lesser interest than its white counterparts. Seewood reflects a very real irritation with the world of pop culture, anthropological, and literary analysis. He is right to question where a black centered story must be a race story. But it is the wrong question he is asking, and that has very real consequences to the conversation he tries to start.

6c123b022b82b6431b90fe07de2fab30With all that said I do understand why the question is being asked. The question is why are black stories somehow inherently more about race than other white films. The answer is because people have been defined as white(and primarily straight, anglo saxon, and attractive), and white is universal while anything else isn’t considered so. As a writer, I ask myself what will my story be viewed as? A black story? A race story? OR just a love story between a waitress and a stranger? The desire to have our stories just seen as stories is incredibly valid because often our stories are only filtered through a racial lens. But removing the black from a character’s experience won’t solve that.

Seewood offers a concept to film makers, saying

Alternately, if you do not want to carry racial inequities forward into the future of your story context you just simply have to cast an African-American in the lead role and concentrate on the dynamics of the central “scientific” themes within the story. “

Great.

Cool.

But why does race have to separate? Why do we create this incompatibility where writers and creatives have to choose between blackness and science? It simply feels a lot like when people called me an oreo in high school, as though blackness was separated from me. The thinking was that reading comics wasn’t racial…but it wasn’t something people thought black kids did. That sure as hell sounds racial to me. My race had nothing to do with my comics, but I was black while reading comics. So why do we keep using this language, as though race is only a factor or exists when the story is about race. I think Seewood’s suggestion is awesome, but the fact is the framing of this arguement is so often predicated on the wrong question.

400px-BrainCloud-and-scientist_mango_concept-art_04It isn’t why must this be about race. It’s why is my race so anti-thetical to just telling a story? It’s why is the story assumed to be “racial” for latinxs, asians, blacks, and others but not for (just guessing) 99.9% of whites? The Irish have very ethnic stories, but I’ve very rarely heard Irish centered works in science fiction only viewed or considered ethnically. Black and other POC need to stop letting this be gotten away with. Whites need to stop letting this be gotten away with and accept that they and their ancestors created and were supported by a world where they have been taught to be seen as neutral/universal/default without ethnicity except with convenient.

A few years ago the film The Best Man Holiday was called a “race” film  by USA Today and shocked people that it topped the box office. It’s a romantic comedy. Why was it a race film? Because it concerned the culture, lives, and experiences of black characters played by black actors. Alyssa Rosenberg had a brilliant response in this article If ‘The Best Man Holiday’ Is ‘Race-Themed,’ So Are These Ten Other Movies:

“[…] the idea that culture about characters of color is necessarily about race also creates the assumption that stories about white characters are inherently deracinated. Some white people, like Jews, are exempt from this, and the recent spike in Boston movies has put more Irish-American characters and Irish-American humor to the fore. But for the most part, the experiences of white characters are treated like they’re neutral, rather than representative of their whole race, or revealing in some ways of the pathologies and problems of various subsets of white America.

[…]
So with all of that in mind, if The Best Man Holiday is a “race-themed” movie, so are these ten other movies released in 2013:

1. Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen’s latest, which follows Cate Blanchett as the widow of a man she believed was a wealthy financier, but who actually turned out to be a Ponzi schemer, is a study in the ways in which the performance of whiteness are inflicted by class. […]

2. The Heat: Paul Feig’s buddy-cop comedy is set in Boston, and in Boston Police Department Detective Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) and her extended family, Feig has endless opportunities to riff on the very particular culture of Boston Irish-American families. It’s a milieu, in Feig’s reading, that demands a strong code of loyalty, even in the face of minor criminality, […]

3. The Bling Ring: Based on the real-life story of a group of California teenagers who began stealing clothes, handbags, and jewelry from celebrities’ often less-than-closely-guarded homes, Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is substantially about the ways that white (and Asian) people view black culture as a symbol of affluence. […] Coppola lets their posing speak volumes about the intersections they perceive between race and class, and their attempts to appropriate cultural cachet that isn’t available to them as the children of middle-class and affluent Hollywood operators.

4. Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a screenwriter and director follows the misadventures of Jon (Gordon-Levitt), who is simultaneously an Italian-American bartender, a regular Catholic church-goer, and a porn addict. […]one of the movie’s virtues is the way it demonstrates how Italian-American traditions persist and interact with the conventions of modern life. Like everything else in Don Jon, the glimpses of ethnic life are turned up to eleven, but that doesn’t mean the movie isn’t perceptive about the compromises young white people who want to honor their roots but enjoy the pleasures, sinful and otherwise, of contemporary life make all the time.

5. Pacific Rim:  […]

6. Star Trek: Into Darkness:[…]If Pacific Rim and Ender’s Game are about how quickly humans will put aside their animosities to destroy a species that doesn’t look like them, Star Trek: Into Darkness asks how far we’re willing to trust people just because they look like us, particularly when they look like privileged, physically perfected versions of us. […]

7. Pain and Gain: […]

8. Admission: […] Admission does some very funny things with the way race is both minimized and played up in the college admissions process.

9. The Great Gatsby: In its juxtaposition of old money to new money, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s linking of new money to Jewish criminality, The Great Gatsby is all about whiteness and status, and what kind of privilege and acceptance money can or can’t buy. […]

10. The East: The white guilt movie of the year. […]

I shortened this excerpt for length and really recommend you check out the article because overall it touches on how if black stories are “Racial” every story about white folk is too even if we choose not to recognize it.

The only reason a black author of science fiction’s rich worlds, gripping stories, and exciting characters would hindered by the racial elements is if the whole of those worlds, stories, and characters is ONLY analyzed through race. Blackness is considered so separate from simply existing. It may shock some people but…a person can be black and just exist. They can exist, be in a story entirely unrelated to their race, and still be black. Take the man from Seewood’s example, cast the movie just like that, and then don’t go around in interviews saying “It’s not a race story! It’s a story about humanity” as though somehow my race or ethnicity or anything isn’t part of humanity and the character’s experience with it.

The very premise of the idea of “Freeing” science fiction by black authors is that African Americans, and ultimately other POC, are stuck with their works being framed by race alone where it is simply not appropriate to do so. That requires comparatives to other work, the suggestion that other works can be viewed in isolation and that the viewer can simply turn off their racial and ethnic backgrounds. We cannot. Plenty have tried. What we can do is begin acknowledging that a story told by a white author featuring mainly (and far too often almost only) white charact

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ers isn’t some universal story.  I often explain to people, usually white friends, that I’m black but that’s not all that I am but don’t act color blind. Somehow they don’t get it a lot of the time. but it’s really not that hard.

I am black.
I live a black life with black experiences.
Don’t pretend you don’t see race.
Don’t pretend you don’t see my race.
I am black, and just because I am in my role as a researcher or a scientist those aren’t categorically incompatible aspects of me or anyone.

telemmglpict000131613999-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqpvlberwd9egfpztclimqfyf2a9a6i9ychsjmeadba08The worst that can happen with a black character just “being” is an insincere story that feels less like a thought experiment or just the character, but progressiveness that just chooses not to address race. It feels like bullshit color blindness. As forward thinking and refreshing as it can be to have a black soldier talk about his white sweetheart without it being a race thing in Doctor Who, removing the real world context can be both subversive and obscure reality. This character was just a soldier, but ignoring his race was impossible in the context of a Victorian army. But just as impossible to ignore was the that he was a prime example of a good soldier paying the consequences of terrible leadership. He had multiple aspects to him, but he felt like a check off box. Not because he was black, as some suggest, but because he was black and the reality of being a black Victorian  was ignored. He still could have been just a soldier, and his comrades could have treated him well…but he was a black man from the 1800s. I liked the character, but I just couldn’t fully get on bored with the way this was handled.

Somehow my existence as a African American author is one that both confirms and confuses the expectations of those around me, and I am not alone. When you’re a science fiction writer of any kind you always encounter two camps, one praising “hard” scientifically focused sci-fi and one praising the “soft” social commentary and aesthetic elements. But as a black woman in this genre and fantasy I encounter a very different cross sections of these camps both eager to regard and disregard racial elements in my work. Race plays a role, or we focus on the story. Somehow even other black folk have been taught this frame of thinking, and while the conversations about it are helpful and healthy for the black and science fiction communities in general…it is inherently problematic because it derails what the discussion needs to really be about. It asserts that science fiction, fantasy, etc. shouldn’t be viewed via race when the conversation should be about why the hell a story about black folk is somehow only about race.

So often I feel as though people like to make markers, separating blackness from anything perceived as neutral. No race should be neutral before others. No black centered story should be talked about like its a “Race film” or viewed as only racial when there are a thousand more complex science fiction elements happening. Of course  not all stories and experiences and interchangeable. It’d be inauthentic to say race, gender, etc. never mattered just as it would be inauthentic to say those were the only things that made black centered or authored science fiction intriguing. Yet it doesn’t matter either way so long as we keep saying white science fiction is just science fiction and black science fiction can’t just exist as science fiction. In the end we have to reconcile those facts to move forward in the genre and begin building new exciting worlds and stories, black or otherwise.

*****Check Out Works by Black authors here and here******

****Also check out my short science fiction The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One ****

For the Last Time, Not all Blacks are Christian.

Why?

Why do I need to say this again and again? It drives my agnostic spiritualist ass batty. The hardest thing about being a black writer, often on a good day, is looking for groups/blogs/meetups for other black authors. I have joined plenty of white majority workshops, but I want to also hear from people of cultural backgrounds like myself. Why? Because maybe they’ll fall in love with fantasy or know someone who wishes they had books in speculative genres that look like themselves. Also because I just want to. But time and again black writing is associated with black Christendom. Plenty of Christians will read my stuff regardless, but there’s this unspoken expectation that if you’re a black writer who doesn’t write about “urban” things then you’re a Christian and your books will have Christian themes. Black women are the single most religious group in the USA, according to Jamila Bey. of host of The Sex Politics and Religion Hour: SPAR With Jamila  Even if the book has nothing to do with religion people expect that your story will still have those themes, much like a Nicholas Sparks novel.

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“Where’s your church home?” 

Black agnostics and atheists have always been an unspoken hot topic, unspoken because as I was once told, “Atheism is for white folk and Asians”. Yet more and more African Americans and blacks all over the world as getting turned off by church. Black atheists have always existed and always been part of Black social movements, but their beliefs like others homosexuality or non-black spouses were downplayed for the comfort of their comrades. Yet through art it survives…

I remember being in high school and finding myself jaw dropped as I watched Raisin in the Sun, which featured an African American woman, Beneatha, who rejected Christianity as another idea that she simply couldn’t believe in. This moment changes the dynamic between her and her mother forever. Lorraine Hansbury captured the struggle between up and coming black women rejecting the traditions of her mother and the reactions to it in one pivotal slap. The matriarch doesn’t care about belief. She cares about pretending, about beating god into her “uppity” daughter who, shocked and teary eyed, relents. It isn’t just about control, but a mother who loves her daughter…and loses that daughters respect in an attempt to save her soul. That moment encapsulates so much of the black non-Christians experience. The secular beliefs of black authors writing for black people can, for no good reason, become the barrier to advancing our scholarship.

As Siviku Hutchinson said,

“As Lena’s violent rebuke of Beneatha is a caveat to all the uppity Black female atheists who’ve been rendered invisible Lena’s violent rebuke of Beneatha is a caveat to all the uppity Black female atheists who’ve been rendered invisible — both by a white secular culture that only sees atheism through the Islamophobic lens of Richard Dawkins, and a black religious culture that uses heteronormative Christian respectability politics to silence and police women. Decades after the literary slap heard around Black America, to be female, beyond belief and Black (to recast Hansberry’s iconic phrase) is still the ultimate betrayal of the race.”

To be black and voice doubt, sedition, in faith is to be a traitor or seen as abdicating a right to be a voice for black people. I’m sorry but that’s bullshit, and I’m sick of it. The assumption that all black folk are Christian has got to stop. Don’t make me awkwardly nod as you talk about god. Don’t make me coon for other black folk because they think if something isn’t overtly christian somehow its less black…

And stop thinking black authors are black Christians.

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Ellen Weinstein

I respect the church in theory. I respect all religions in theory. I just have a profound lack of respect for the institutions of religions and how they’re run. See Rev. Creflo Dollar, a con artist to black Americans everywhere as to a reason why. But there’s a particular irritation that comes with people putting another identity on to you because black atheists have been systematically erased, ignored, or rewritten throughout black history usually by those in the churches because those were where black history and interests were cultivated over the last century.

This isn’t about resenting the church or being hurt by anybody as other blacks have suggested to me. Truthfully this attitude is why these Black Christian Authors groups turn me off besides making me wonder why everything in black culture is forcibly tied to religion in 2017(which is also the problem with modern activism, where black LGBTQA+ and women refuse to step down). A lot of black culture has promoted this belief that an atheist or agnostic is broken, and just needs the right home, and is alienated from good black folk. I’m not.  That’s the nicer story than simply black folk like me aren’t black and hate being black. Even typing those words makes me feel sick.

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This is about how hurt I am by the church or someone in the church. See the tension?

Black success should not be tied only to the opinions of church folk, relationships to a church, or expectations that black people are black Christians….but they often are. The church is the place where book clubs meet, and where black authors are often invited to read. The church has always been the heart of the black community, launching careers long before Oprah or In Living Color ever got a platform. Tyler Perry would never be big if it weren’t for black churches and Oprah, his ham fisted religious ( and sexist and colorism filled) themes reinforce the traditions of the black community for better or (mostly) for worst. It is worth noting Mr. Perry is also a giant undercover nerd, who seemingly has shown no interest in truly supporting other black creators in making their visions or battling color the barrier by producing black science fiction or black fantasy. I can’t help but wonder if this is in no small part because he knows many in his audience would say it wasn’t “black” and far too many others would say it was “too black”. Why make millions when you could make billions? The chruch fuels his billions even if he doesn’t really pay it forward.

 

Also because so many non-black spaces don’t give black authors the same opportunities as whites the  church is where the most opportunity to present yourself and your work can be found…so long as you keep that Christian context. To the secular person, this feels like a total shut out…to a game of trying to hold your tongue until you earn approval. It feels like black secular writers are pushed even further towards the margins. And when we make our own spaces so often blackness comes into question, our relationship to the black community at large becomes suspect.

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All Athieists

The assumption itself creates a distance, often hidden, but very real. It isn’t Christianity, but the inherent racism of assuming ones beliefs based on race.
As Jenee Desmond-Harris of The Root noted:

Your frustration is a reminder that being stereotyped doesn’t feel any better just because the offender thinks the assumption he or she is making about you is a positive one (even the most positive one possible, as Christianity likely is to many Americans). And it doesn’t make it any better when the offender is the same race, either.

It isn’t Christianity, but the inherent gate keeping creating this false divide between black and atheist/agnostic. It isn’t Christianity, but Christians who come to invite me to their writing groups expecting Christian literature or themes only to find I write about dystopian space epics, psychological thrillers, and African, Haitian, and African american influenced fantasy far more often than traditional literary black stories. I tell them what I write. Their cheeks thin, their mouth jobs, their eyes glaze to disinterest, and I see them thinking “that’s not really black, but ok” before they remember Chronicles of Narnia or something more Christian…and when I say I’m not a Christian their mouths close, they cut the conversation short, and say–to be polite– “You’re still welcome”….

So they can convert me.

And Heaven forbid I tell them about conjure or voodoo or any alternative that is available to black people to try.

I know they mean well, but seeing every other writers group of facebook be labeled simply “Black” and it’s overwhelming books, posts, and expectations be about Christianity is tiresome. It’s disheartening. It’s annoying because you know it will be just that much harder for you, and that you’ll have to justify that Christ doesn’t necessarily fit into your themes or beliefs or life. Their eyes will glaze over, and you’ll feel exhausted.

So stop assuming all colored folk are Christian in America.

That’s all I ask.

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Resources for black non-religious folk?

Christianity Ain’t For Everybody: Resources to Navigate Being Black and Non-Christian  

Living Openly Secular in Black Communities: A Resource for African Americans

Black and Not Baptist by Donald Barbera 

African American’s For Humanism

Black Non-Believers

The Black Agnostic

** A fair warning the AA Athieists and Agnostics group on Facebook is honestly massive and filled with homophobic hotep ashy misognegroes who use atheism as an excuse for their bigotry and stupidity. I do not recommend it. The foolishness of it is stifling.

 

The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One

The Bestiary and Life of SVX99: Part One

Luna. That is what they named the colony on SVX99, a robust planet known for its silver and grey flora which were the diets of equally robust fauna. Instead of insects as Earthborn knew them there were these butterfly sized birds with wings with as many colors as the human eye could see. They’d nip the pollen from the plants with snouts, tongues, beaks, or suckers of all kinds and would drop them as they went. There were actual butterflies and moths, massive, but Dr. BJ Martinez had proved they were mamlian and at the time had theorized they were simply a bird varient. There were seven legged exceptionally tall creatures with silver backs and black legs, which were somewhere between the noble elk and the adorably goofy giraffe. They had a habit of trying to eat human tints, and ate these lavender bushes that seemed to grow everywhere from the mountains to the snowyplains far down south. I’d see all of them during my stay, and I intended to see many more, but there was one I was quite fond of.

My favorite was the Dalaxia, named for its discoverers Mia Dalan and Joon Xia, it resembled a moomin type creature. It’s medium sized hippo like body had large floppy ears on the side of its head and then another set of multi-directional hippo like ears on top. There round faces had many whiskers and their swatting tails were beaver like. They were the first creatures I saw, and though I’d been instructed to stay in the camp to merely document their habits before being escorted to Luna. Perhaps it was because we were the first ship in range, or perhaps it was because we’d brought food, but within 30 minutes the Dalaxia had begun inspecting the camp. They ate a whole canister of economy sized dried green beans, two sugar filled canisters, and one baby Dalaxia befriended Captain Edgar’s dog Maxine. The baby kept making these whimpering and honking noises until poor old Maxine had to indulge it and they ran around for what seemed to poor Maxine to be hours. The old girl kept looking back at me like “Are we done yet? This youngin is making grandma tired”. The sixty of us must have looked quite comical as we handled these creatures.

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Moomin

I could not put pen to paper, or pen to tablet of course…I was too busy laughing as Dalaxians began trying to sniff each of us, and mouth our hands. The beasts were almost unnaturally gentle, and reminded me of the seals make-a-wish took me to see before my miraculous recovery. The seals had surrounded me, and seemed to sense exactly the right amount of play I could endure. One simply decided to lay on my tummy, and another tried to share its frozen fish Popsicle with me. The handlers had laughed and said I must have a way about me. I didn’t know what that meant back then. Even on SVX99 I didn’t know.

Really I didn’t know why I was there, or why I had signed up for the four year long mission. There was no tragic backstory though plenty of my friends died on Earth, but that was to be expected. My first love died too. Maybe that’s tragic. We had the same problem, chronic asthma due to a degenerate environment. Earth’s atmosphere was too thick for our lungs and laden with fumes and particulates. As a little girl a breath for me felt like swallowing both cinnamon and broken shrapnel; lungs would be filled, corked, choked, and I’d imagine new holes forming, arteries being torn asunder. My chest would expand and I’d be ravaged by pain my childlike mind could not process. At 14 I still could not, and Dylan would sit in my room with me during my attacks and we’d be lost together. It was the best of the worst time. We weren’t the strong ones, and we couldn’t adapt. Maybe that was the sad or tragic part to some, but “that’s just been how its been” as my father would say.

My life was one of millions, and only significant in my sudden recovery from both the slow cancer discovered shortly after my asthma was diagnosed as terminal. I was just a glorified documentarian really; good at drawing, describing, and with some training in both anthropology and biology. Yet it didn’t take training to figure out the Dalaxians enjoyed head pats and side tummy rubs.

I stood in the center of a ring of sniffing snorting Dalaxians, trying to make sure snot didn’t get on my face as one unceremoniously sniffed my hair.

“Aren’t you friendly?” I laughed.

“They are very curious creatures,” Captain Edgar said, giving a large old Dalaxia a solid head pat. The Dalaxia had a large scar across its front leg, rather odd sense they had no known predators and we certainly didn’t intend on becoming any. “They’ve been watching the camp and colony every time I come back.”

The Dalaxia sniffing my head suddenly dragged its long tongue up my cheek, leaving sweet sticky saliva, and I shuddered. It must have been one of the ones to eat a sugar canister. Three small babies popped up from between their mother’s legs and began sniffing my knees and hands before I could wipe off the stickiness. I suspect the big Dalaxia who’d licked me used that act to signal I was ok because the youngsters began to gently butt my thighs.

“They want you to play with them,” Captain Edgar said.

“Do they now? Do they do this with everyone?”

“No, but they do it with people who meet their exacting standards like Maxine” He pointed to his dog, barking and yapping as an adolescent Dalaxian began to head butt the other before rolling onto the ground submissively at Maxine. Maxine licked its face and the Dalaxian licked back. MAxine’s tail wagged and the Dalaxian’s did the same.

“How can they speak the same language when they’re galaxies apart in development?”

“I suppose because they’re a lot better than we are. We can barely understand our selves let alone each other,” Captain edgar suddenly pulled a handful of edamame from his vest pocket and fed the Dalaxian. “I met this fellow when he was just a young bull trying to impress the ladies. He stole a whole canister and rolled it to lady after lady. The first simply wasn’t interested-”

“The second was probably insulted,” I said,  patting the Dalaxians heads softly one after another, as though I were learning to play bongos. “No girl wants another’s bouquet. It’s like being an after thought…though personally for dinner I’d make an exception”

Part One End.

I love old descriptions of creatures and places. It’s a required taste, but its so exciting and adventurous even in the meticulous detail. I think I’ll try painting some of these scenes or at least drawing some doodles for next time. Also I love hippos…they’re great.

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