In honor of Black History Month, I'm excited for an interview series with several lovely black women. My hope is that this series with be able to inspire black girls like myself by providing stories, advice, and emotional honesty from successful women. Their courage, determination, and all around badass-ness inspires me to do my best, and I'm sure that it'll do the same for you.
Next, I spoke with Jacqueline Woodson, author of books such as Miracle's Boys, winner of the Coretta Scott King Award in 2001, Newbery Honor winners After Tupac & D Foster, Feathers, and the National Book Award winning Brown Girl Dreaming.
How different are racism and homophobia? Have they ever intersected, in your experience, or are they always separate?
Racism can be more visible for some, I think. It's not like you walk into a room and people know you're queer but your color is often evident -- at least my dark brown is! Both racism and homophobia come from a sense of the presumed and the unknown.
How different are things now than they were when you were growing up?
I think there is much more queer visibility than there was when I was a kid. There's is marriage, more trans visibility and many more celebrities who are open about the sexuality. This was SO not the case when I was a kid. I think even though homophobia still exists, there is much more of a dialogue and a taboo around being homophobic.
As for racism, I think with social media, many people are [bearing] witness to what people of color go through on a daily basis - everything from micro aggressions to police brutality to innocent young people being killed by racist strangers. Never I heard the N word used so much by white folks than I have in social media -- and not in a 'rap' way but in a hate way. So the world is different -- There is SO much work to be done.
What do you think about when you hear "Black History Month?"
I think I'm glad it exists but why do we get the shortest month, and why can't we be celebrated every month?
Is there a specific black woman from history who inspires you? What about a black woman from today?
There are so many Audre Lorde, Madame CJ Walker, Odetta, Toni Morrison, the Grimke sisters, Virginia Hamilton... My list goes on.
What does being a black woman mean to you?
What advice do you have for young girls who might feel that their beauty isn't "good enough?"
We were brought to this country enslaved and we were not meant to survive. Not only did we survive but we went on to change the world. Every part of us is celebrated -- our full lips, our thick hair, our stunning eyes, the depth of color to our skin. And while we get celebrated for this or not, how could we not know we're beautiful and amazing.
Where do you get your courage?
From the above answer.
What would you say to a girl who isn't sure about speaking out on what she believes in?
What do you have to lose? Do we really want to walk through this world living a half-life. Think of all the young people speaking out and how that outspokenness is changing the world. Be a part of that movement. Be brilliant and brave.
Was there ever a point that you were ashamed or embarrassed of being black?
I think as a kid, turning on the television and seeing that everyone seemed to be wealthy and white made me feel like an outsider, lesser than. I was not wealthy. I was not white. But I'm grateful as hell for that experience because it informs so much of what I do -- I AM an outsider -- and that's what makes me amazing and thoughtful and empathetic and wise.
Why is it difficult to be a black woman today? Why is being a black woman amazing?
I think it's difficult if we're looking through the wrong lens -- It's definitely a journey that means a lot of explaining on the way but I find it far more awesome to walk through the world in this skin today.
What role do you think black women have played in history?
Oh man -- so many! All of them! Everything! We were/are so Everywhere.
Is there anything specific that you would say to your teenage self?
I would except, as of yesterday, I put the final edits on my adult book, ANOTHER BROOKLYN, which deeply addresses what it means to be a black teenage girl coming of age in America in the 70s and 80s -- and I think, in this novel, I say it all. :)