How I Whitewashed and Silenced My Own Blackness By Writing on Wattpad
At 23, I just had the epiphany that I've been idealizing White stories and beauty standards for the majority of my life. I'd never seen Blacks be written about in a positive light, so I rejected their existence, smothered my own identity, and found comfort in telling stories that were not made for me.
In the ninth grade, a close friend of mine and I opened our first Wattpad accounts on a school field trip on a cold, sunny December afternoon. While the purpose of the field trip was to learn about the ever-changing world of news, how to cover hard topics, censorship, and the documentation of history, my friend and I were glued to our phones. We'd both been to the museum before, and plus we were fifteen -- our minds were more focused on the latest Divergent book and not the traumatic and disturbing things at this museum, which still haunt me today, but is necessary to see.
I remember sitting on the bus with her, using my mom's cellular data, typing away on our phones until our fingers were numb, struggling and laughing at the same time because we really couldn't see what we were typing because the bus was so bouncy. Though, we prevailed through blurry vision and many misspellings. (Back then, the Wattpad app wasn't too advanced and autocorrect didn't exist on it, so you'd end up having a jumble of words and have to go back and retype everything. Such a First World problem, but it was frustrating.) The ride to the museum was about an hour each way, which meant plenty of writing time.
I penned away at a story called Chasing Rain, which has long been deleted at the expense of my friend's repulsion for removing what felt like "decent writing" as it dragged on the coattails of an overly angsty and drab version of Shiver mixed with If I Stay. I remember my heart racing as the ideas flowed and flowed, literary gold just oozing from my fingers. I imagined it getting published, visualizing what the front cover would look like and what the pages would smell like. Though Chasing Rain would never see the light of day in the publishing industry, it was the first time I was truly passionate about writing. In agreeance with my friend, to this day, I do wish that I hadn't deleted Chasing Rain from the Wattpad-verse.
But then again, what is the point of forcing Blackness into Whiteness?
It's important to note here, that back in 2011 when my friend and I first discovered Wattpad, there were little to no Black narratives on the site. Frankly, there were no Black narratives around other than the ones that chronicled stories of slavery and racism. It took many years for me to understand my Blackness and come into selfhood as a Black writer.
I grew up in a whitewashed suburban Maryland town, where Black stories were just never prioritized unless during Black History Month. However, I didn't really have a problem with that, sadly enough, at the time. There was no blatant racism or discrimination that I'd experienced in my school. We all just went to school together, and because so many of us had known each other since elementary or middle school, we all just really viewed each other as individuals. Color, race, or creed was hardly ever an issue to the point of oppression. I had a lot of White friends through my young schooling years and so did everyone else. Though it was normal to have the majority of my friends be White, it caused me to be very ignorant, unaware, and in some cases reject my own identity by following White culture so closely. Fortunately, from my recollection, I don't think I was ever treated any differently because of my Blackness. Unfortunately, my Blackness was not an issue until college, where I least expected it to be.
Because there wasn't much representation for Black stories on Wattpad, I resorted to writing a story about a White teenage girl named Rain. And nope, I don't remember her last name. Rain was living with her dad because her mom passed away at a young age. She craved independence, aspiring to go to the big city of New York to attend NYU. She never felt like she fit in, and enjoyed making art over going to parties. She had a boy best friend (who's name I forced to be something aesthetically pleasing, but can't remember the exact name. However, I clearly recall basing him off of Macaulay Culkin.) She also had an alcoholic boyfriend that was unpredictable and their relationship was binding and tumultuous.
I knew deep down that this was the story I had to write. This was the story that was going to get me a publishing contract. I could feel it. The cover for my story was created and droned over on an app called Phonto, featuring a White girl with a drape of curly brown hair, hugging her knees with her face buried into them, dressed a drenched cardigan that hung over her shoulders. (To this day, I still don't know who that girl is.) While I wouldn't consider myself "Wattpad Famous", Chasing Rain did manage to rack up over 2K reads and about 70 comments during its short life on Wattpad.
My passion soon faded for the story. I got rid of the story because it was too inauthentic, and emotionally draining to read. I didn't enjoy writing on Wattpad anymore for many reasons that pertained to the dropping engagement as the number of users on Wattpad grew, the influx of Harry Styles fanfiction, and the unspoken competition between my friend and I to see who could get the most reads. But the biggest issue of all was because I was silencing myself by writing a story about a White girl. I tried to create a character that was roughly based on myself that was only appealing to teen writers of the early 2010s: a one-sided, raging, pale White girl seeking approval from unhealthy relationships by pushing away her own family and fleeing from her own traumas (i.e. Bella Swan from Twilight).
Now the title, Chasing Rain makes sense. Ironic how it took me over 10 years to put that puzzle together.
I do think that Wattpad is a valid starting point for writers in their teens, but man, am I grateful I didn't end my writing career there.
At 23, I just had the epiphany that I've been idealizing White stories and beauty standards for the majority of my life. I'd never seen Blacks be written about in a positive light, so I rejected their existence, smothered my own identity, and found comfort in telling stories that were not made for me. Now more than ever, do young Black people need to have their voices heard. Platforms that only cater to White stories deny us the ability and confidence to hold space there as Black writers. I admit that I hid my Blackness on Wattpad because I was afraid that if I wrote a story about a Black character, then I wouldn't get any reads, votes, or comments…and my publishing dreams would never come true.
It is unnerving to think I had to suppress myself in order to get pats on the head from White, privileged teen writers when now, I wouldn't even dare ever come across Wattpad again. There is no amount of internet clout nowadays that will encourage me to hide behind a screen and pretend to be something I'm not. I can only hope that Wattpad has done something to elevate Black stories not because it feels right for them at this time to do so, but because they genuinely want to hear what we have to say.
Update: I think Rain's last name was Carrigan, by the way.