I Don’t Write Dystopia: A Reaction to the Philando Castile Injustice.
Philando Castile’s murderer was found not guilty today, adding his name to a growing list of injustices expected to be swallowed by Black communities everywhere.
This list of injustices is the reason I can’t allow my writing to be categorized as dystopian.
I write young adult novels that imagine near future outcomes based on past atrocities and present crimes against humanity. Specifically, I write what will happen if America continues bullshitting about anti-blackness.
That’s not dystopian; it’s real and present danger. Confusing the two is a sign of privilege.
When I describe the plots of my books to people they’ll often say, “Oh! You write dystopia.”
Honestly, I never considered this when I sat down to write my first manuscript. I thought, “How long will this go on?”
This referred to the physical violence of police shootings; the geographical and economic violence of gentrification; the legislative violence of the criminal justice system, and all other forms of violence perpetuated by systemic racism. It was fall of 2015. At that time we were still communally grieving the loss Sandra Bland and many others.
My writing began to center around a counter question: “What will it take to make this stop?” For my own sanity I needed to brainstorm ways to create the justice Black people have been denied in this country and abroad, while reminding us that our ancestors NEVER surrendered; we’ve ALWAYS rebelled.
While the likes of Katniss Everdeen are championed as leaders of rebellion, those of us facing similar circumstances as the fictional citizens of District 12 are often silenced because the face of revolution is only heroic when it’s white and/or occurring in an unknown place and time. The current face of American rebellion is a black woman, from the leaders of Black Lives Matter organizing from a place of Love, to Congresswoman Maxine Waters speaking truth to power, to Beyoncé and Serena Williams dominating mediums that have excluded and/or exploited our bodies. Writing main characters that embody OUR story as Black women and leaders of social change isn’t dystopian; it’s historically accurate.
On days like today when another police officer is acquitted for killing someone who could be my blood relative, and is my ancestral kin, I recommit to writing stories that challenge oppressed communities to reimagine what revolution looks like, and to envision life without their oppressors. The terrorists in my stories aren’t brown. I write them in the white skin I know them to wear and dress them in hoods no matter how many badges or suits they own. I remind white America of their November 2016 exit polling numbers with the hope that they’ll claim their ancestors and the legacy of violence they’ve inherited and continue to perpetuate. That’s not dystopian; it’s strategic.
One day I may write about something else, like butterflies or some shit like that. Sadly, I can’t see that day in my lifetime and I’m reminded with every not guilty verdict that my role in this fight will only shift when society does. As long as folks in America have Wi-Fi and air conditioning the majority of Americans will remain convinced that the water isn’t poisoned, that tax paying citizens aren’t being targeted by police states and murdered, that justice is for all, and that if we wait patiently, discuss race politely, and turn more cheeks than God gave us, we will become a perfect union. That’s not dystopian; it’s delusional.
My commitment isn’t to being provocative or fulfilling the stereotype of an angry black woman by engaging these essential questions. My commitment is to writing my people out of the dystopian novel we were written into against our will.
So long as the list of names continues to grow I will resist being narrowed to a genre that relegates the real struggles of my people to a fictional what if.
Some of us don’t write dystopia, we survive it.