When I first started to write and self publish I did so under different pen names. How many nom-du-plumes do I have? The answer is two. I have two pen names that I’ve used over the years. How is this relevant to racism you may be wondering, and even if you’re not I shall answer. Because I’ve always been aware of the unconscious bias that exists, geared against black people.
I did a twitter experiment to test positive interaction of a pen name vs my real name. I tweeted the exact same things from each account for a few weeks, the difference being one had my name and image on, and the other had that of a random slogan’d image with the pen name. Neither were** linked to any other accounts. I found that Jamie received twice the follower and engagement count as Fifi. The only difference between the two accounts, back in 2012, were the image and name of the profile. That was the unconscious bias that warranted a pen name. If two accounts, started on the same day, tweeting the exact same stuff have different results, there’s more at play than just the message. The messenger matters.
The messenger matters. That is one of the problem with racism. It’s not just what is said, but who says it. I can say the exact same thing, but based on who the reader thinks I am, makes a difference. Obviously, women are familiar with this because it’s not just a racial issue because it’s also a feminist and other unrepresented and ignored peoples. Trying to be heard, seen and understood.
So let me go back to my initial point, unconscious bias. This is something I’ve battled with my whole life. To be fair, it is something everyone has had to deal with their whole lives. However, in my case; to take a huge achievement, to finish writing a book, something that at most 3% who start finish, and not be able to shout about it because of your skin colour is yet another example of systematic racism. The fact that of all the books I’ve self-published, it has only been this year that I’m attributing my name to my work, should speak volumes. One could argue that the quality wasn’t good enough, or that I was trying to keep a separate & distinct persona between professional work and the social self. That was never the case. In one of my roles, to promote my product and increase my personal sales, I had my writing published under my boss’s name regularly in national press. It wasn’t about separation but about acceptance for my art. I wanted each piece to be seen as it was, and not a piece written by a black author.
How utterly terrible is that. That art, a piece of creativity, an expression of the soul, something that is made to transcend the norm, can so simply be broken down to who created it. From everything created, it’s then split into the creator rather than the work. The messenger rather than the message. The artist rather than the art. From being an author, you are a black author. You are a black writer, a black actor, black musician, black painter. The white hegemony has infiltrated everything so that one’s work is measured not by the work, but by the maker. It is in understanding this that I chose my pen names carefully. I wanted my written works to be judged, as all creative works should be, by themselves rather than who I am.
What’s changed might be your next question. The answer is me. I’ve spent too long being afraid to be me, to accept that I am not just my skin and that I shouldn’t make myself smaller for the comfort of others. May I take just a few more moments of your time. Will you think of your greatest achievements, moments of pride in which you have been able to shout and boast about. I’m going to presume that these moments filled you with immense joy. You’re smiling remembering them! I’m proud of you simply because you achieved them.
What systematic racism has done to me, is that I have had to be aware of how proud-full I am. Each of my own achievements have to tempered to those around, for how dare I have the audacity to break more than one stereotype. How dare I step outside boundaries created to subjugate people like me. It’s my fault that you might be uncomfortable. The audacity.
The audacity. That’s something I’ve heard my whole life. The audacity of that child, the audacity of that girl, the audacity of that woman, that black person; the audacity. What’s worse about implicit bias, is the overcompensation people have often used to prove their own views. This has taught me that just by living, by existing, I’m an offence to so many people. Unconscious bias is dehumanising and just being comfortable in myself shouldn’t cause anger, mistrust or negative judgement from others.
It took me a long time to accept that other people’s opinions of me are often nothing to do with who I am.
If you’re looking to read more about unconscious bias (something that everyone does btw) may I suggest the following:
*The books written then have the same premise but that’s the only similarity. As the honourable Sir Terry Pratchett said- “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story”. I self published under Jamie prematurely, because I’d done a thing. The doing was enough for me. I’ve since learnt there is so much more involved in doing justice to a tale.
**This was just a matter of language. I could have just as easily used the term was vs were. This is to highlight the nuances of text. Were is used in this rather than was because it’s referring to plural actors despite them both being singular, in that they are both me.