Dumbing Down Black Stories

I consider myself a #BlackAF reader. I highly enjoy the stories by Black authors. I prefer reading the works of Black authors because I feel like they get it and they get me. Regardless of the cultural lens (African, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, or African American) Black authors are able to frame and tell stories in ways that feels relatable and understood. There is a magic that some of these authors are able to generate in their stories. 

My issue is when these stories get dumbed down. A sort of simplification of Black stories to a level that makes it so watered down, that I’m looking around like, did yall read this? 

I think that Black stories have transcended the norm so far, that to read something today that is like “Black stories for Beginners”, feels disrespectful. So when I somehow read the types of stories that are in many ways bland and unoriginal, it feels like they’re doing more harm than good.

I was recently on my first live on my Instagram (@ashreadsbooks_) and one of the topics that came up was mainstream books. We all basically agreed that you can’t really trust mainstream stories as much as we’d like to. The reason being, those who are reading and promoting the stories sometimes either don’t look like us or are so far removed, hearing a Black story at any level feels like an “ah-ha” moment. The most basic of basic stories is now some profound, life-altering, “you’ve got to read this” story. How?

A particularly interesting topic that also came up for us was the top seller’s list. I am sure, making it to the New York Times’ Best Sellers List is an honor. It is a huge and legitimate honor. I could only imagine if writing was my passion, and I wrote a book, and I published it, and it got to the list?! Wow. I would probably cry.

But for consumers like me. I feel like the mainstream sometimes doesn’t know how to listen to Black stories that are truly transformative. And then sometimes, they either produce this work that is so simple at its core, it feels watered down. Or it’s so elitist in its jargon, it’s for no one, or only for the sophisticates that are “above it all”. So when I see these lists or I go into a book store and there’s the one book by a Black author I see everywhere…Madam Doubt comes out. 

Some might say, “Girl the book must be really good, that’s why you see it everywhere!” But my mind goes to, is this gonna be “that book”? The one tooted as the best book by a “coincidentally” Black author that’s all the rave? Or is this literary genius?? And so I’ll pick it up. Scrutinize the cover. Read the description. And remember to look it up later…lingering doubt of the book’s “realness”. Yet hopeful.

One of the reasons I don’t write negative reviews on my blog is because there is enough good work out there. There are enough great stories that you can go read! Some are mainstream and some are indie. And regardless of the type, I’m still going to support Black authors. I’m going to continue to invest in the mainstream authors and the indie ones because a vast amount of their work clearly demonstrates the brilliance of Black authors. So neither you nor I should use our time discussing/promoting books that are not good. We can just go read the ones that are great. 

I think my purpose for this post is really to vent my thoughts on how our stories are told. I am not okay with folks dumbing down our stories, and I am not okay with folks slapping a great cover on a story that lacks passion and effort. I really hope that some of the publishing companies diversify their companies so that these weak af stories can have a seat. And I also hope that writers who are really committed to being great authors, continue to work at their passion. We, your readers are not test-dummies for your hobbies. We customers are not pawns for dollars. Nor can you continue to diminish our stories. Cause if this ish keeps up, the most beautiful parts of this thing called storytelling, of telling our stories, will get buried amongst the rubble of everything else. And that’s just not okay.

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