Why the World Needs Black and Brown Writers
Few of us would challenge the power of the written word. Throughout history, literature has helped to shape the climate of the world. Politically, socially, spiritually; in every way that society can be shaped, literature has helped to shape it. So much so that our children cannot graduate without first diving into the greats. In fact, not only are they expected to read them but they are graded on how well they can articulate their effect on the world.
Literature, whether intended to educate, inspire or entertain, has power to both interpret and to shift the climate of any and every given generation. Some of the greatest movements in history—whether for the good or for the detriment of humanity—were strengthened, spread and immortalized by the writers who helped to birth them.
Movements of faith, of progress, of liberation and healing have been carried by the pens of men and women who dared to keep speaking when the world so desperately fought to silence them. Alternatively, movements of tyranny and pain have been spread by the authoritative pens of the powerful. Which brings me to one of the greatest shames of our generation: why are most of us reading only the words of the powerful?
The Power of Marginalized Writers
In the United States of America, we like to suggest that a person’s success is only limited by their willingness to work. As an American who happens to be Black, I would like to correct that suggestion. A person’s humanity. is only limited by their access to their voice.
I grew up in crippling poverty. Not the kind of poverty that you see represented on television sitcoms, where Mom and Dad look depressingly at the bills but manage to figure it out in the last few minutes of the episode. The kind of poverty where you don’t figure it out. The kind of poverty where you go without and fear anyone ever knowing what your life looks like.
The kind of poverty where you fill up water bottles at school so that you and your Mother can drink that night. Where you cover up holes in your floor rather than fix them. Where you wash your body with a boiled pot of water and go to sleep when the sun—the only light you have—retires for the night. That kind of poverty. And as someone who has “pulled myself up by my bootstraps”, I want you to know that the American dream was not built with us in mind.
I have worked in restaurants, churches, office buildings and major corporations, and in each of them, that dream—that cursed dream—remained out of reach. However, my voice… my voice—and the voices of my ancestors—has been my liberation. Our world will not see change so long as the voices of its marginalized people remain on unread pages and behind silenced microphones. Change will not happen until we take the pens of the powerful and place them into the hands of the resilient. Black and Brown healing cannot happen until we refuse to allow our art… our power to go unnoticed.
Challenges for Black and Brown Voices
However, quite a few obstacles stand in our way. And not just more powerful voices. Industries and systems that were not only built to cater to the pens of the mighty, but built to resist ours. Industries and systems that have been built on the graves of our ancestors and desperately cling to their right to grow on the graves of our children. We must not let them.
Black and Brown healing cannot ever be full until the pens, microphones, canvases and brushes of our people are lifted with pride again. Not just in the cry of resistance. But in all of their beauty and glory. Black and Brown healing cannot be full as long as our story is always one being told from our backs; as long as our pictures are always being taken from our death beds.
I refuse to be a voice crying out in the void.
I refuse to spend my life fighting to be heard in a room where only I exist.
And I refuse to have my only contribution to the world be my pleading for the compassion of more powerful pens.
Healing & Liberation Through Storytelling
Literature has always had and will always have the power to change the world. So it is time to interrupt the pens of the powerful. And we do that by fighting to be seen in the worlds that our oppressors’ children escape to.
We do that by littering the walls of Massa’s mansion with the pictures of our children. By penning our joy onto the minds of our nation. By telling our own stories and refusing to cater to the one that was written by our ancestor’s murderers.
Our liberation has always been carried by the voices of our own people. And they know this. Which is why they have designed a world that keeps us too poor, too afraid, and too busy to use our voices. No more. It’s time to use them.
Pick up your pen. This is me picking up mine.
Michael LaBorn is a midwestern author who is dedicated to asking questions, finding answers and crafting space for other marginalized voices in the world. Check out more of his writings and books at michaellaborn.com or his content on TikTok @WriteaBookWithMichael.