I Am an Imperfect Black Girl and So Is My Main Character
There need to be more imperfect black girls in books. Unapologetically messy, angry, sad, or whatever they want to be while expressing themselves in any way they desire.
As human beings, we are inherently imperfect. It is what it is. But as black women, society says we can’t be that way. We are supposed to contain ourselves and keep it together. If not, we are called all sorts of names. One of the popular ones has to be the “angry black woman” narrative. People are quick to throw that one on you.
Be too assertive: “Oh, her right there, that’s an angry black woman.”
Be too passionate: “She’s a bit too aggressive.”
Have a tone a little too stern: “She’s just so rude.”
But have your white counterpart act the same way? “Ooh, I like her passion.”
There have been SO many times where I have been called an angry black woman. More often than not, my passion for something is often misconstrued to be aggression. But there are times when I am angry, and rightfully so.
Because let me tell you, being both black and a woman, I have many things I am and should be mad about. But that stereotype used to linger over my head for so long the idea of showing my anger felt wrong. It felt like I was playing right into those stereotypes that society wanted me to be.
It took a while for me to realize a few things;
1. Trying to suppress my feelings will only make things worse
2. I should be allowed to feel any of my emotions at any time, especially when they are evoked
3. Some people will always stereotype me and are just racist
When it comes to writing, there were times when I felt as though I was holding back on my characters, specifically my black characters, because I didn’t want them stereotyped. I was struggling with the idea of just making them who they are but also trying to be conscious of how black people are seen in the world. But then I had this ah-ha moment when I saw a quote from Issa Rae. In an interview with The Guardian, Issa is quoted as saying, “So much of the media presents blackness as fierce and flawless. I’m not.”
Like much of Issa Rae’s work, this quote resonated with me as a black creative and writer. It made me realize that I am an imperfect black girl, and that’s okay. And actually, being able to admit that is even more freeing. You know what is also okay? My black characters are imperfect, especially Nova (my main black FMC). My black characters are also allowed to be anything they want to be. I remember taking out a quote in Part One when Nova talks about how she tries to present at school a certain way, so people don’t stereotype her. I wrote Part One of The Rifters a while back, and since then, I’ve come more into my own understanding of my place in the world as a black girl and author. Now, I don’t care if people see my characters as messy or angry because that is normal. It is normal to feel emotions.
When I got to Part Two, I had this quote come to me and immediately wrote it down in my notes app. I didn’t know where it was going to be placed in the book at the time. But I knew the importance of it as it related not only to the book’s themes but to the overall feeling I wanted people to be left with at the end of it.
Media plays a vital role in determining the perceptions of specific communities. Therefore, I think that if we normalized black characters being in tune with their feelings, it would normalize actual black people expressing their emotions without being criticized. Other people will be able to see our humanity. So let black characters live in their truest form. Publishing companies NEED to give more space to books with main black characters that are angry, sad, make bad decisions, annoyed, messy, sarcastic, etc., etc., etc. All in all, let black characters be unapologetically imperfect and let them exist without all the Twitter dissertations and BookTok discourses. Hope to see more of these characters soon.
Signing off for now,