Protagonists With Melanin

It’s inevitable that the Black writer will encounter caution on the author journey; warning that it will be harder for us to succeed in this medium (much like everywhere else). The logic behind this slant is particularly transparent to me.

While I don’t have as much time as I did in earlier years to rapidly devour books on a regular basis, the trend I’ve noticed is that Black authors have two categories:

The “urban” or “hood” category that generally tells a tale of the projects, drugs, sex, and some sort of downfall and/or escape from an illegally extravagant lifestyle, e.g. Zane, Noire, Tracy Brown. I have fond memories of attempting to read every sort of book like this I could get my hands on when I was still in school, attempting to hide the cover on the train or in public because those covers screamed “I’M READING A HOOD BOOK WITH JUICY SEX SCENES” and e-readers were not yet a thing.

Then there’s the “Black consciousness” category that actively addresses race and focuses on the Black struggle throughout the story. So your Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, etc…

I have yet to encounter a well-known Black novelist whose content doesn’t fit into either of those niches (but if you have, I’d love to hear about them!). Where are they? And even when Black characters are introduced to plotlines outside of these niches, it can still feel kitschy. Ernie Cline pulled it off with respectable shock value. Suzanne Collins seemed to get it right, until the Hunger Games movie came out and Rue’s big-screen appearance caused ridiculous controversy. Even though Collins described Rue’s complexion in the book as dark-skinned, Hunger Games devotees (who you’d assume had read this) lashed out against Rue’s actress, Amandla Stenberg, 14-years-old at the time, mind you, in hatefully insulting ways. I was shocked that the young reading community could be so dense and close-minded. The millennial generation is supposed to be an incredibly accepting one. I wrongly assumed it could only carry on and get better from there. For people to say that a character being Black ruined the movie for them, made the character’s death less sad…for it to supremely shake their core like that, that a character they’d come to love turned out to be Black and they missed it due to their own lack of reading comprehension, it’s a significant #TruthTreble.

In Chaos (un)Controlled, Rixa and Azurre are Black. Is it an “urban” tale? Well, the realistic setting is New York City and that’s the extent of it. Does it incorporate themes of “living Black”? Not particularly. From my experience, Black churches tend to have a different vibe than the rest, so some readers who recognize those elements may pick up on the cultural connection. Is there an underlying implied interracial romantic theme? Yessir. But Rixa’s race has no bearing on the plotline whatsoever. I simply chose a main character with skin color in my own likeness.

In today’s world of boxed genres, is there a place for an indie author of color with a YA Science Fantasy novel that features a female protagonist with melanin in a non-urban or inherently “black” setting?

We’ll see.

~Tael

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