The other night I was up watching a re-run of The Dave Chappelle Show and the opening skit resonated with me so much so, that even though I was drifting off to sleep I popped right up to fully take in the message which represented what it is we African American writers have been complaining about.
The skit began with Dave explaining that even though he says some pretty outrageous things on his show, there are many more thoughts swirling in his head that his producers and more importantly his sponsors and white audience members would find offensive - simply because he is black.
So to get around that Dave brought out a beautiful white woman, handed her a set of cue cards where he had written some of his most bizarre thoughts and she proceeded to voice those thoughts through song.
Even though the words that came from her mouth were still Dave’s thoughts and feelings, it was deemed acceptable coming from a white woman.
This is exactly what happened with Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Publishing decided that they could take these stories that were essentially stories of the Black experience and deem them acceptable titles to be marketed to black, but more importantly to the larger, whiter reading audience not just because these stories were written by white women, who were writing from a place of white privilege (outside looking in) but because those white women were able to deliver a story about the black experience minus the “grit and edge” which most often brings about feelings of “white guilt.”
These two books have received respect; adulation and awards while the equivalent (similar books written by AF-Am writers) have gone ignored.
The Help and The Secret Life of Bees have been translated into multiple languages and are available in just as many countries including a number of African countries. Yes, Africa.
I checked with a number of African American authors that I know and not one of them (except Terry McMillan’s novel, Waiting to Exhale) has had a book published in Africa. In fact Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help won the highly coveted South African Boeke literary award.
For my work to be marginalized in the country of my birth (a stinging slap to my face) is one thing - but for my work not to be made available on the continent of my ancestors? Well that's a blow to the very core of my existence.
Let's just call like it is: We Af-Am writers are devalued in comparison to our white counterparts!
But things are about to change (as they always do) and while the publishing industry scrambles to acquire the e-book rights on a thousands of backlist titles thwarting the effects of the announcement made by Amazon.com that they will offer authors a 70% roylaty on e-books published through them - and so I quietly prepare myself to bask in some long awaited glory.
I suspect the e-book phenomena will be similar to heaven, where the the color of my skin will be irrelevant, only the content of my “work” will matter.
Causes Bernice McFadden Supports
Hurston Wright Foundation
Girls Write Now
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)