It was exciting, at first, when February would roll around and I would find myself tagged in a post or few. An image of my book on someone’s page or website. An image of my book, usually in the company of several others, along with a caption containing some variation of the words: “Read These Books by Black Authors” or “Black Horror Recommendations.” How could I not be excited? My name was getting out there, my books were alongside a few traditionally published giants. These influencers were reading my work and detailing their most honest and intimate thoughts… Except that last part rarely ever seemed to happen. And thus my excitement ended.
Since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent calls for racial equality, I’ve noticed how much effort people have put into pretending they care about minority voices in fiction (and other avenues), and how little effort they have put into actually supporting the minorities they purport to care about. Over the years, in sections of the online book community, I’ve seen a lot of recommendations with very few reviews of those recommended books by the people recommending them. I’ve noticed the same books repeatedly on these lists of “Black Books to Read” because people Google, search hash tags. Copy and paste. Copy and paste. I’ve seen the image of my books, as well as that of my face, my brown skin, being used by white authors and influencers to tell their followers that they have a Black author as a friend. That they support me. And then I hear nothing from them thereafter. No friendship. No support. Just me being their prop for likes and shares, and for the benefit of their social media presence. And when I think of these false friends, I remember William Shakespeare, and how he said that “All the world’s a stage…”
While I’m aware that Mr. Shakespeare wasn’t talking about the insincerity of social media, I feel that, with all the performative posts out there, his words are fitting in this context.
Are you an actor, or are you authentic? Is it about inclusion or the illusion of it? Are you about equality or exploitation? Do you care about the things you say, or do you say these things simply so people believe you care? These are the questions that plague me when I look at the abovementioned types of posts. As a result, I’ve become less trusting, more cynical. And that’s not the way I want to be. I want to believe people when they say they aim to diversify their shelves, when they say they are allies, when they assert that progress is a priority of theirs. But so often these are simply buzzwords, terms people say publicly because they know these are things that “should” be said. But pretty words with no action have rarely resulted in progress. Though, of course, if it’s all a performance, then progress, to these people, doesn’t truly matter.
There I go being cynical again. If you’re reading this after having posted a collage or reel of Black authored books and you think I’ve mischaracterized you, then you can feel free to prove me wrong. Instead of simply Googling or searching hashtags for a list of Black authors to flippantly post about in February, I challenge you to challenge yourself to read a couple of books by Black authors throughout the year, review them as you go, and perhaps give an honest summary of them when next February comes around. That would be more sincere, and people coming across a post like that are more likely to appreciate your recommendations, or appreciate you telling them which books you disliked. Because *gasp* not all books by Black authors are good. And its okay to treat Black authors like you would treat our white counterparts. Googling a list of books to recommend and having no idea whether or not they’re good isn’t really helping. It only allows otherwise independent, unique authors with a variety of messages to become one large indiscernible Black mass; a blur in the eye of the follower as they scroll past collage after collage of covers of books by Black authors.
I’m not angry about this. I’m not upset or outraged. I understand how the world works. If anything, I’m just a teensy bit bummed out. I found February dwindling away and I was relieved by that. Which shouldn’t be the case, but it was. I was relieved about not having to be concerned with who is being genuine or fake. And I was especially relieved to be able to soon see who would continue supporting me and other Black authors for the remainder of the year. By writing this post, I just wanted to try to put that feeling of relief, which was at first confusing to me, into words. And maybe reach a person or two who might change how they’ve gone about things when it comes to talking about the works of Black authors.
If you’ve read this far along and you’re offended, please don’t be. That is not my intention. Why would I want to offend you when I would eventually like your money… er… I mean, your support… I’m honestly just trying to articulate how I and other Black creative types feel when Black History Month comes to a close, and we, along with our wares, are placed back on the shelf.
These Are The Things That Keep Me Up At Night