Who's telling stories?

And whose stories are they telling?

Welcome to the first issue of the Millennial Black newsletter - thank you so much for subscribing and coming on this new adventure with me! I hope to make this a space where I can share the things I want to talk about, amplify the artists and creatives I want to uplift, and to build a community with you - the people who want to be a part of this force for change that we’ve been working together to build this year.

I can’t wait to get to know you better!

A post shared by REYNA NORIEGA 🇨🇺🇧🇸 (@reynanoriega_)
Image by @reynonoriega_ - find more work here.

Hot Takes

The revolution will not be published?

What a week to be a Black female author (still very much not used to saying or thinking that - I’m an author, wow, 2020, what a ride!) and to decide to launch a newsletter. It feels like a week in which so many of the things that have been bubbling under the surface, or spoken about in hushed tones at the back of the room, have erupted - pushing conversations that people have avoided for too long into the light and hopefully leading to a long overdue reckoning.

The main conversation I’ve been tuning into this week is the unfolding story of Chidera Eggerue (AKA The Slumflower) and Florence Given, which is, at it’s base, a conversation about Black voices - and particularly Black women’s voices - in publishing. In short, Chidera Eggerue, a Black woman feels that Florence’s work is a mass market repackaging of her first two books - taking a Black woman’s work, labour, and knowledge, and putting the credit (and profits) from it into white pockets, as happens so much with Black creative work.

This discussion about Blackness in publishing, or rather the lack of it, is one that I’ve been having a lot of private, and a bit in public this year, since embarking on this journey of becoming an author, and getting my first glimpse into the world of publishing. (I’ve spoken publically at Primadonna Festival and Hay Literary Festival about the lack of inclusion and representation in my experience of publishing, so far, and it’s a conversation I keep high on the agenda in conversations with my publisher). I’ll talk more about this in future issues of this newsletter, but suffice to say, I’ve found publishing so far to be both extremely white and extremely middle class. My background is in advertising, another white middle-class industry, and to me the only real difference has been that whilst advertising is very male, publishing seems to be very female driven.

The reason I bring this up is that both of these industries, advertising and publishing, have a real impact - not only on the stories that we collectively see, and hear, but also on who gets to tell those stories. If we have only one group of people acting as gatekeepers, commissioners, editors, and tastemakers, we’re going to end up retelling the same stories, and repacking the same narratives, with different covers. We’re going to overlook some of the most important and richest stories out there, in favour of continuing to make the same safe bets, and uplifting the same people who have always been heard.

The conversation between Chidera Eggerue and Florence Given is continuing to evolve, with more receipts being shared, and more parties having their say - and so we don’t know where this story will end, but as Gal-Dem points out - the real winner in this looks set to be the Publishing industry.


Blackfishing

This grappling with the authenticity of lived experience in the voices that we hear has not been limited to traditional media, like publishing. In fact, in the last few weeks we’ve also seen a reckoning in new media - Instagram in particular (I don’t have Twitter, it seems like a scary place!), as it’s come to light that the people behind several large accounts might not be quite who we imagined.

First, it came to light, in true Dolezal style, that the person behind the popular @IndependantBlackBusinesses Instagram account (which I went to link to, but it seems that the account has now been deleted) is a white woman. This might seem harmless enough until you consider her use of Black skin tone emoji (literal online black face), and the inclusion of a PayPal link in the account’s bio. Though it was never explicitly stated, it’s fair to assume that people making donations believed they were donating to a Black creator, rather than the true, hidden, poster.

We’ve also seen a light shone onto the team of white cis men at Contagious, who have been running @feminist (6.5million followers) @itsfeminism (546k followers), @march (327k followers), and @chnge (2.1million followers), amongst other high profile, large following accounts, seemingly as a way to drive sales of their clothing line. They confirmed their ownership of the @feminist account via an open letter shared 4 days ago, at time of writing, after public pressure on several fronts.

Some might say that it doesn’t matter - if the result of these pages existing is an increased awareness or the spread of a message we believe in then what’s the difference who the messenger is? To my mind, there is a huge difference between cause-driven activism run by people who want to make a change, and those seeking to exploit an opportunity for their own financial gain, by masquerading as part of a marginalised group that they don’t belong to - profiting in real terms from their pain and hardships, even if some good is done along the way. Non-marginalised people can of course exist in these spaces, but I think we’d ask that they be upfront about who they are, and what their aims are, so people can make considered and conscientious choices about who the recipients of their money, and support, are.


‘These are our stories’

(Not an ad!) I was lucky enough to be invited by Netflix to a premiere screening of Ma Raineys Black Bottom, which ended with a Q&A with the cast, hosted by Samuel L Jackson. As the cast were talking about their experiences, as Black actors, performing in plays written by Black playwright August Wilson, Jackson spoke about the familiarity of the texts, even on their first reading:

We all know that story, because we're all in that story. It's everyones shared story. I start telling a story and before I get there, you're there too, because they're all shared. Your stories are my stories - and these are our stories.

Because, of course, you know the real thing when you feel it. You feel it on a deeper level. You feel it on your skin, and in your bones, and in that place at the very pit of your stomach, where the truth lives. Because the stories we tell, and the people who tell them matter - maybe even more than we imagined.


Slow Burns

I’ve been reading:

Black Joy

I’m taking my joy where I can get it right now, in the long nights and dark, wet, days. Here are a few of my faves.


I’m Amplifying


My Projects

  • You can interact with me over on my Instagram, @OfficialMillennialBlack.

  • You can buy my book Anti-Racist Ally (coming out in the US and Canada in Feb 2021).

  • You can pre-order my book Millennial Black on Amazon, it’s coming out in April 2021 (more buying options coming closer to publication).

  • You can check out this book I contributed to - This is How We Come Back Stronger, knowing that 20% of the price of every book sold goes direct to Women’s Aid and Imkaan, as did my contributor’s fee.


Happy Holidays!

All that’s left to wrap up this first issue of the Millennial Black newsletter is to say bye, thanks for having me, I hope to see you again soon, aaannndd, Happy Holidays!

A post shared by British Memes 🇬🇧 (@britishmemes)

It’s goodbye, for now

As always, I’ll leave you with Alex the parrot’s last words

‘You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you’

If this newsletter was forwarded to you by your cool friend, why not subscribe, so you never miss an issue?