Black authors are on full display on this year’s list of Pulitzer prize winners as the understanding that the only people who can write about various aspects of the Black experience are Black people continues to increase.
Our stories and struggles have been poorly told, distorted or down-right destroyed by others who think that just because they took a few African Studies classes or have some Black friends that our stories are theirs to tell. This is the furthest thing from the truth. The Black community can play a major role in making sure that our melanated brothers and sisters keep telling our narratives and are celebrated for it.
This round of Pulitzer Prize winners is a triumph for people of color. But the question is, will this lead to more opportunities for Black creatives to be recognized for their talent and innate ability to describe the Black experience? It should and this is where we as a community will play a vital role. When we support these writers, artists and directors by buying their books, talking about their work on social media and rallying behind those who want to give a proper portrayal of who we are as a people, we will then have a more cohesive written and visual documentation of what it means to be Black. This is how we can make sure that these kinds of accolades continue to be given to our own and doors continue to be opened.
Now that our unique storytelling abilities are being praised in television, film, literature and artistry at a level we’ve never seen before, this is the time to encourage more of our own to create. In my opinion, you can’t talk about what it feels or means to be Black if you aren’t that. This is the reason why stories told by us are so poignant and touch us in a way that we can’t describe. This is the reason why we are able to see ourselves, families, friends, teachers and coaches in these depictions because all of the little nuances that make us who we are are not missed. The way we react to situations, the issues we speak about in our homes, the way we take out our braids … all of these things matter when it comes to describing the Black experience.
Our legends such as Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Harry Belafonte, Lorraine Hansberry, Gwendolyn Brooks, August Wilson and countless others created a blueprint to follow on the importance of telling our stories our way. Although it is a different time, we are still fighting to get every dimension of what we know to be Black told with a high level of excellence and integrity. They knew that we couldn’t depend on anyone else to create any art form that represented our people. Today, Black people have enough buying power to ensure that the right people tell our stories. We also have the power to block those who want to do away with the parts of the Black experience they just don’t like or don’t feel the need to highlight.
Every layer of being Black needs to be explored. There’s more to us than the ratchet and the comical. We are more than slaves, maids and entertainers. “Atlanta,” “Queen Sugar,” “Fences,” “black-ish” and the many books written by Black authors are necessary for showing the complexities and importance of who we are as a people.
(Side note: We also shouldn’t only revel in our accomplishments and awards when they are recognized or given by White people.)
We should continue to push to have our stories in the conversation about impactful, legendary depictions. Black creatives should dominate the space created to talk about our traditions, families, history, neighborhoods, schools, etc. These are the stories that future generations will refer to when they want to better understand the Black experience or seek out relatable narratives. Let’s make sure they consume factual depictions that make us, and them, proud.