The Truth About "Pro-Black" YA Fiction
Both the literary world, and the movie industry need to write the truths of all black people, and not just create stories that they think white people will be interested in reading/seeing in order to educate themselves on black life.
I think there’s a misconception about writers: either that we all sit in cafes in berets, sipping lattes. Or that we’re all overly emotional, still in high school, and wear turtleneck sweaters.
But that’s far from the truth.
I’ve been writing novels since I was young. Everything I’ve written is pretty much unpublished, and archived on a computer in a dumpster somewhere, the Notes app on first-generation iPhones, tattered journals, and (more recently) abandoned Google Drive accounts.
My novels were never extravagant, and were rarely ever finished. They were usually from the first person perspective of a white middle-class girl in a suburban neighborhood—very unrelated to myself. I hardly ever wrote from the perspective of a black girl. I think that was because growing up, there were little to no novels written by black women, from the perspective of a black woman.
The only book I remember reading about black people was The Color Purple, an authentic chronicle about the realities of slavery. It wasn’t until early college that I found more modern books told from the black perspective, written by black writers. Two YA books written by black female authors that are important to note are The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.
The plot of these novels is on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. Everything, Everything tells the story of a young biracial girl who never went outside in fear she’d become so intoxicated with germs that she’d die. Yet, when a white boy-next-door moves into her neighborhood, they instantly fall in love, and she hardly ever goes back inside. In the end, she finds out her mom has been lying to her, and she runs away to be with said love interest. The Hate U Give, inspired by Tupac’s tattoo, is narrated by Starr. Growing up in a gang-driven neighborhood, Starr has to balance her “white life,” and her “black life.” “White life” consists of attending private school, dating a white boy, and trying not to express her blackness too much. “Black life” consists of running from gangs, protecting her father’s convenience store, and protesting against police brutality in honor of her late friend Khalil.
In both Everything, Everything and The Hate U Give, the main characters are young black girls dating white boys. And I would just like to know why. Why aren’t there more all-black narratives, where two beautiful black people fall in love? Or why can’t the black girl fall in love with another minority? For me, this defeats the purpose of creating pro-black novels. Nonetheless, Thomas’ and Yoon’s intentions are valid, and this may be someone else’s life that I’m just not familiar with.
Ironically, both film adaptations of the book star Amandla Stenberg as the main character, and I’m beginning to feel as if she’s Hollywood’s go-to black girl for all teen films. While her acting gets the job done, I’m sort of tired of looking at her. If you read The Hate U Give closely (and stare at the book’s cover), you’ll see that Starr is a dark-skinned girl. Yet, she is played by Stenberg, who also plays half-black half Japanese (in the movie, she’s half white and half black, go figure) Maddy in Everything, Everything.
More thought needs to be put into, not only who gets cast for film adaptations about black narratives, but the novels about black narratives themselves. There need to be more stories other than those just about police brutality, because yes, that is an aspect of black life, but that’s not all of our lives—all of the time. Also, we need to see more dark skin representation in movies and films. Luckily, the film Black Panther helped rear us away from the typical light-skinned, partially white-passing curly haired girls being generalized to tell the stories of all black people. But still, it is not enough. Both the literary world, and the movie industry need to write the truths of all black people, and not just create stories that they think white people will be interested in reading/seeing in order to educate themselves on black life. Black people need something that's relatable for us; for us, by us (Remember FUBU?)
But in order to get there, I will start with myself. I realized that I have been writing for the white audience for far too long. From now on, I will write from the experiences of myself and my friends, telling our story in the only way it should be told.