An Analysis on the Imperative Marketing Theories for African-American Authors in the Genres of Fiction/Fantasy: Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

For Writers

Definition and Overview

Marketing Plans refer to the strategies for market of a product (in this case, a novel) to their core demographic. The goal is to not only maximize the awareness of the product’s existence, but to persuade consumers to purchase the product. In the case of this case study, research will look at the strategies applied to African-American authors, and how the strategies have succeeded in the past ten-to-twenty years, or what specifically caused failures for authors not in the sells, but in reaching the maximum audience possible.

 

Whether an author is self-publishing their novel or going through traditional publishers, a marketing plan is almost more important than the novel itself.

 

However, an important factor one should consider before diving into marketing strategies at all is the marketing strategy of the Publisher. It’s pivotal to consider which Publishing path an author wants to take early, because this step will not only decide available resources for the author, but the variables of control and hierarchy of agreement between the author must anticipate before action. A self-published author will have less middle men to weed through, but less resources and more financial liability, whereas a traditionally published author might have more resources given to them, but little to no self-control over the novel’s plan. Success for one novel in a single path can mean failure in another.

 

But, before we can establish the Publishing paths an author must consider, it’s necessary to consider what is Success and Failure for an author?

 

Success v. Failures

 

For Authors, success has a wide range of definitions and characteristics. Some authors pursue a monetary growth as an estimation of pivotal success within their field. Other measure their success through: accolades, cult following, critical acclaim or the parameters of academic criticism. However, an author’s work can have all of these things, but be considered a failure if a variety of variables are positioned into a negative connotation, such as a book receiving wide sales in the first six months and then yielding wide returns following as a result of bad press or public reaction. Thus, measuring success for authors and their works is truly dependent on individual criticism of what qualifies “success” for an author. For the purpose of this study, we will allow readers to critique a sense of success by their own criteria, but the study will analyze success based on the success of the marketing strategy to appeal to the core demographics overall. Specifically, we analyze traditional publishing and Indie publishing (digital) meeting the criteria with minimum cost from the author professionally and financially.

 

However, while success is subject to opinion, failure is a bit more emboldened. For Traditional Publishers, failures are established when an author’s work is “pulled” or discontinued within the first two years of publication. This is largely a concern of Returns and how many of them are executed. A majority of books are discontinued within the first two years and whole series are often terminated with no ending. Further, as the contractual rights of the series belongs to a publisher until the publisher goes out of business, there is little to no hope of taking the series to a new publisher unless a contract specifically stipulates this. For this reason, some writers prefer the fluency of an independent career.

 

Need-To-Know: Traditional Publishers

 

According to Judith Applebaum, there is a clear dichotomy between the kinds of Traditional Publishers: small and large. The difference is in the expectations between not only approach, but theory. Large Publishers target audiences interested in a general prose — voices that suitable for larger audience sizes; thus, the marketing is in the branding. Large Publishers tend to infer prestige due to the recognition of their names and will likely pay larger in advances, yet offer little to no promotion lest your author’s platform (the visibility of the author) is sizeable, like a Celebrity or influencer (Youtubers have been known to be successful with their platforms). There is an impersonal stigma associated with these publications, and there is some truth to this approach. Many authors are expected to be the driving force behind their own marketing strategies, leaning against their platforms or enhancing it to the best of their abilities.

 

Smaller Publications are known to put out little product yearly. However, the more personal touch of these publications are more attractive to some readers. Further, smaller publications are notorious for applying literature to “niche” as in releasing materials that will cater more to a specific flavor of audience. New and emerging writers are suggested to begin with Smaller Publications due to the tendency to bolster the “self” of the author within the involvement of the publishing process. And yet, this is not to suggest that Smaller Publications are a stepping stone or less critical of the manuscript they accept. In truth, a Smaller Pub might be just as fickle of the Manuscripts they will publish (though, they are known to offer lower advance rates, if any at all, and prioritize a longer net worth over the course of the novel’s performance). Smaller Pubs and Larger Pubs should only be chosen in accordance to how much faith they have in an author’s work. Thus, we find ourselves within discussion of a fairly new topic that completely inverts this established truth:

 

Co-publishing is a topic of discussion between the publishers of some houses where the author and publisher share the costs of release and often the author will yield higher shares of the book itself. This could be an option for writers who seek success outside of financial gratification immediately (advances) or believe their stories will yield low returns. However, this strategy has been criticized as any publication expected to do well for the sake of an author should believe in the work enough to not expect a larger upfront contribution. For authors, it’s the story that’s being sold and not the vanity of distribution. This is often referred to as “Hybrid Publishing” as well. While it is considered an aspect of “indie publishing” or Independent Publishing, it is still largely the same marketing impact as traditional publishing and thus, will be considered the same category.

 

Overall, Traditional Publishing is varied not only by the kind of publication accepted, but is uniformly different from Independent Publishers because the author cannot decide a variety of factors considered in the marketing of the novel. Authors do not decide release dates for the novel, nor do the decide the cover art. They also have zero control over “brick-and-mortar” sales of the work, meaning they cannot decide who will sell their material and to what demographic?

 

Further, because Traditional Publishing cannot guarantee critical successes even in the form outlined in this study, the only thing guaranteed within the control of the author or the publisher is the respect and experience of Traditional Publishing. If a book contains little expectation for success, a Publisher can release a book during a “dead” month for income and perform mediocre amounts of editing and/or delay a release.

 

One alternate strategy of contention is the concept of “catch-and-kill”, or purchasing a product for the sole purpose of neglecting it, reflecting the major trouble with Traditional Publishing: the interests of a publisher might not always reflect the interests of the author.

 

In any case, all Traditional Publishers should offer a version of the following:

 

Need-To-Know: Independent Publishers

 

Otherwise known as Self-Publishing, or Indie Publishing, these Publishers provide an absolute control over every step and detail of the works and marketing strategy. The author is in-charge of everything from the line editors, the designers, the marketing plan, etc. There is nothing the author does not touch. However, one crucial issue with Self-Publishing’s dynamics is that it’s dependent on constant hustle and grind from the Author. Without the wider acclaim or advertising of a Publishing house, success is a matter of more variables than just the few considered for Traditional platforms.

 

For instance, how does one yield massive royalties for an independent market without a budget? The answer is you can’t. Thus, an author necessarily becomes their own Publishing start-up. Thus, if your Publishing business that has nothing to do with the author business you’ve just launched isn’t successful, your business as an author will not be neither.

 

Further, with the onset of Digital publishing, indie authors have had to deal with the stigma of Amazon/Kindle publishing. Antoine Bandele, author of the Kishi (Tales of Eshowon), has had issue getting his novel onto the shelves of Indie bookstores due to the fact Amazon/Kindle puts independent bookstores out of business. However, much financial success can be reaped by digital releases like those offered by Kindle bookstores. For instance, Quan Millz, a prolific Urban Fiction/Romance writer mentioned in interview the financial success of Indie books can read up to $140,000 a year. This concept was explained at large by Indie authors

 

Black Authors compose 71% of the Indie novels released in 2017.

 

What Publishers Think

In a 2018 interview by Diane Patrick for Publisher Weekly, several African-American editors, market strategists and agents were asked what they looked for when consulting what books to publish and back, they answered with an overwhelming focus on not only current trends, but focuses on contradictory attention towards demographics:

 

“Johns: Even as a person of color, I cannot assume I know the full span of the black/minority experience. I read a lot, from books to magazines. I pay attention to viewership of programs, blockbusters, new media platforms, and more examples that seem to be creating and shaping culture for ethnic audiences. Who’s winning awards? What social justice issues are shaping conversations and the next years ahead? It helps inform not only what’s on trend, but maybe even an overlooked area that could benefit from exposure.

Coleman: Another crucial part of my job entails critically reading Beacon’s books to suss out target audiences and what they may want from the books. In other words, this is about getting into their heads. From there, I come up with proposed marketing activities to reach these readers.

Stewart: Our main mission statement is to make comics for everyone—and that really means everyone. You can’t have that goal if you aren’t open to reading and learning about stories outside of your own, or outside of what you’re used to. In my opinion, knowledge about a variety of marginalized creators, in addition to those who have been working for years, is what makes you a well-rounded editor.

Funches: Lion Forge has the luxury of having a very diverse range of staff and freelancers who can speak authentically and passionately directly to marginalized groups without pandering or creating heavy-handed marketing campaigns that feel disingenuous. For us, it’s not an agenda but simply who we are.

Ladelle: My job will always involve engaging diverse readership, because it’s why I came into publishing in the first place. It’s downright depressing to look at your list of titles you have to market and not see one person who looks like you. It sends the message that your story isn’t valid or deserving. So I had to be strategic in finding a job that I felt had a list of authors who came from diverse backgrounds, in order to work and engage with diverse authors and content, which was what I was able to find in the YA department at HarperCollins.

 

Clark: By virtue of the types of books I publish, I engage with an ethnic readership. I don’t know that I’m always an expert, but my authors are.” (Patrick, 2018).

 

Many of the observations on marketing for a bit of literature at these publications is strategic consider a diverse audience for the material, engaging the readership. While many consider voices that come from a diverse background, they appeal the story to a larger demographic at large. It is implied that these titles are sold based on themes, rather than purely the “African-American interest” group that has become sensationalized to mean “Black only,” as seen when dissecting media trends for African-American films and tv shows that have been marketed over the last 20 years.

 

Further, we also see editors like Clark invoking the same principles as Maggie Langrick, but diluting the approach through the lens of ethnicity as an element of publication, relying on the author’s knowledge of the material to sell the novel to the target audience. One editor in particular, Zakia Henderson-Brown, seemed to suggest a similar point of view:


Brown: If it’s a black author, we want to make sure we research media that speak to that audience. Going after the same traditional media is lazy. Part of my job is to dissect a book to make sure that we are targeting the readers that will pick up and buy that book. (Patrick, 2018)

 

The key point in Brown’s strategy is to lean on the demographic as an entity that the author should possibly understand. In this, guess work is a given, but all marketing is a guess work.

 

 

Marketing Strategies: Print

According to the Pocket Guide to Publishing by John Koehler and Joe Coccaro, Print publishing marketing strategies are primarily attempts to decrease the amount of returns within publishing. Despite the fact most authors want to be in brick and mortar bookstores, bigger chains are far more aggressive in their sales tactics but increase in the amount of returns that they execute within a given space of time and receive their money back entirely from the return if done within the proper time frame. They take on minimum risk while the publisher takes on maximum with this exchange. For Black authors, it becomes important to release during dates where the Print will perform best and stores can maximize on seasonal purchases. For Black writers, stories like Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and Angie Thomas’ On the Come Up were released during Black History Month. However, hese novels did not receive equal treatments within set ups. Angie Thomas’ book was largely featured on the New Releases sections of Barnes and Noble while Marlon James’ novel was placed strategically on its own board separate from the New Releases despite Marlon James’ novel having a one week release age. This marketing strategy seemed to be a result of Marlon James’ novel expense when juxtaposed to Angie Thomas’. Further, Marlon James’ novel stands as a best seller, meaning there is less demand to exhaust the novel’s returns than for Angie Thomas’ novel. However, this marketing strategy is highly troublesome, as during a season where their stories — one coming off the hype of the Hate U Give’s film debut, a story created by Angie Thomas — there is a involuntary competition between novels to out pace one another in terms of “success” (strictly in low returns, in the case of print performance). Rather than positioning Angie Thomas’ release around the release of the Hate U Give the marketing was to invoke the exclusive attention of audiences during a time they deem the market will be focusing on Black writers. Marlon James’ strategy may seem to have invoked similar acclaim, however it was also positioned during a time where advertising for Game of Thrones would be highest, an excellent ploy as Black Leopard, Red Wolf has been compared to an “African Game of Thrones”.

 

This is likely what helped Black Leopard, Red Wolf yield higher pre-orders which pushed Marlon James’ novel onto three different best seller lists, which in itself is a powerful marketing tag-line that cannot be ignored. This implied vanity is marketing in itself. Unfortunately, Indie novels cannot invoke similar strength and often book returns bring great harm not only to books and to publishing companies. This is twice so for African-American Independent authors (see also: “Need-to-Know: Independent Publishers”, Antoine Bandele). Indie authors cannot lean on the vanity of a traditional publication or the press tactics and knowledge of a Publisher to ensure faithful effort from brick and mortar or massive bookstores to yield high sales and low returns. In fact, depending on the method of self-publication, a writer may not be capable of getting an independent bookstore to purchase books at all.

 

Marketing Strategies: Digital

However, Koehler and Coccaro do have much to say about online booksellers for Independent Publishers. Most online sales count for 90 percent of print sales with very few returns. This is largely because digital marketing being far more lucrative and simpler to execute than in-person sales of books and literature. Social Media Marketing reveals a healthy percentage of consumers prefer a quick-and-easy method of purchase, and thanks to the culture established by Amazon,  readers are prepared to order books that they’ve been recently sold upon before leaving the comforts of secluded environment. Further, online and digital consumers are more willing to experiment with interests, such as emerging authors and writers. This is established by the overall marketing tactics of Urban Fiction.

 

Quan Millz, a prolific urban fiction author, is a completely fabricated entity known for putting out materials essentially less than genre fiction or smut. However, he has among the largest catalogs of African-American novels on Kindle publishing and the corporation behind Quan Millz is explicitly powering the sales of his novel by social media marketing. The novel’s raunchy nature and shock is mass released and produced to his audience, allowing purchase by impulse alone, and allowing the viral nature of his platform to carry the sales. Explicitly, Quan Millz does not give attention to the quality of work that he is putting you, and is more concerned with the fact that the material is available for release at all: three novels minimum for a series at 25,000 words each book for anywhere between 3.99 to 7.99 a novel, not including the likeliness that Kindle readers will go through the Catalogue and binge all other series in the Millz Catalogue, purchasing maybe 10 different series along with anything else being released by Millz in the future. Thus, there are minimum returns. Further, all print copies of Millz’s novels are made-to-order, dramatically lowering the amount of returns necessary for release. Due to the marketing strategy of social media being minimum at best, Quan Millz is constantly generating his own resources to increase his marketing effectiveness. This process is so lucrative that Quan Millz’s author is quoted as projecting annual income somewhere near $140,000 a year annually. While some other Urban Fiction authors utilize press releases and physical marketing ploys for their work — it’s the effectiveness of these strategies on social media that yields the best results for Black authors, particularly when applied to furthering niche markets within the African-American social demographics.

 

In Traditional Publishing, Authors often send reviews to blogs and other influencers who possess a demographic that matches their goal demos and either have the promise of review, or simply the offer to do so for the reviewer and the heartfelt thanks if they’re willing. This method of publication has both its pros and its cons, largely being that there is no guarantee that a review will compel purchase — whether the review is positive or negative. For African-American authors, this option is further skewed as a majority of book reviewers skewed to “Diversity” are specific to Young Adult fiction — as those who primarily access these markets are millennials.

 

However, one method Traditional Black authors like Tomi Adeyemi and L. L. McKinney have employed is launching their Author Platforms onto social media accounts like Twitter or Instagram. They engage with readers, trends and even enhance the community overall rather than merely existing for the purpose of branding. One important alternative to this is realizing the wider market of Facebook and applying it, such as Quan Millz has. The flaw with this is that these markets typically require authors to have an established platform BEFORE the release or even the book deal. When looking at Ryan Douglas, a writer releasing a YA social thriller Jake in the Box with Putnam at Penguin Teen, he’s done exclusively all of the promotions on his social media (@ryandouglassw) to his following of 2,586 (February 14th, 2019) so far for a book sleighted for a 2020 released. Further, he continues his day job in retail and has spoken little on an advance. Jake in the Box’s Goodreads account sleights 6 ratings and 11 reviews total.One good and healthier alternative suggested is apply advances or marketing budgets (if one receives one at all, as it is rare for an author to be given a marketing budget) to reach out to influencers for the opportunity to project their marketing campaigns, leaning on pre-established platforms to reach out to niche audiences.

 

African-American Author Stats

Figure 1.1: Successful African-American Authors Who Released Titles Between 2018-2019 in Traditional Publishing within Fiction/Fantasy (Digital Units only)

 

AUTHOR TITLE PRIMARY STRATEGY AMAZON

RATING

GOODREADS

RATING

Price RELEASE DATE
Marlon James Black Leopard,

Red Wolf

Reviews/ Author Platform

“African Game of Thrones”

3.1 (24 ratings) 3.81 (634 ratings) 17.99 2/05/2018
N.K. Jemisin How Long Till Black Future Month Social Media/Author Platform/Good Reads 4.5 (48 ratings) 4.41 (1641 ratings) $13.99 11/27/2018
Tomi Adeyemi Children of Blood and Bone Social Media/

“The Black Harry Potter”

4.5 (1,820 ratings) 4.2 (68,437 ratings) $18.99 3/06/2018
P. Djeli Clark The Black God’s Drums Reviews/Author Platform/Social Media 4.7 (90 ratings) 4.12 (1,274) ratings) $3.99 8/21/2018
L. L. McKinney A Blade So Black Social Media/Reviews 4.1 (56 ratings) 3.59 (1,490 ratings) $9.99 9/25/2018

SOURCES: AMAZON, TWITTER,  GOODREADS

 

Figure 1.2: Successful African-American Authors Who Released Titles Between 2018-2019 in Independent Release within Fiction/Fantasy (Digital Units only)

 

AUTHOR TITLE PRIMARY STRATEGY AMAZON

RATING

GOODREADS

RATING

Price RELEASE DATE
Natavia Beasts Unleashed Social Media/ Kindle Unlimited 5.0 (131 ratings) 4.91 (249 ratings) 7.99 1/20/2019
Neicy P. Alphas & Angels: the Royal Pack of Louisiana Social Media 5.0 (35 ratings) 4.75 (69 ratings) $0.99 2/03/2019
Edwina Fort Redemption: Earth’s Cry Social Media 5.0 (38 ratings) 4.92 (72 ratings) $3.99 3/06/2018
Antoine Bandele The Kishi (Tales of Esowon Book 1) Social Media: Live streams/Youtube/Kickstarter 4.6 (33 ratings) 4.19 (47 ratings) $4.99 1/28/2018

SOURCE(S): AMAZON, TWITTER, GOODREADS, KICKSTARTER

 

References

 

African-Amercan literature sold predominantly by indie authors. (2017, January 21). Retrieved from https://teleread.org/2017/01/21/african-amercan-literature-sold-predominately-by-indie-authors/

 

Appelbaum, J. (1989). How to get happily published. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin Books.

 

Fabris, M. (2008, May 01). Focusing your message for the African American market. Retrieved from https://www.targetmarketingmag.com/article/focusing-your-message-african-american-market-98162/all/

 

Haugen, D. M., & Musser, S. (2012). Are books becoming extinct? Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

 

Ho, J. (2016, August 09). Diversity In Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers – Marketing Matters, Too. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/09/483875698/diversity-in-book-publishing-isnt-just-about-writers-marketing-matters-too

 

Langrick, M. (2015, May 16). What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include. Retrieved from https://thewritelife.com/book-marketing-plan-steps/

 

The Next Black Publishing Generation Speaks. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/78668-the-next-black-publishing-generation-speaks.html

 

Black Boys and Bird-Chests: The Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia

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Black Boys and Bird-Chests, or the Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia in African-American Men

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

The burn in my chest the first and last time a friend’s mom punched me was the final time I allowed myself to be okay with having a “bird-chest” and lanky arms. I remember the thought crossing my mind followed solely by the immediate regret of showing up over this house at all, and I should’ve demanded such a thing the day white friend told me he was blacker than me because he could dunk on a full-sized rim and I couldn’t.
However, the catalyst for this sudden change today came somewhere between the push-ups and sit-ups, and everything she thought was a favor to build me into a more suitable image of what she deemed acceptable for a young Black man to be when I realized that anyone speaking of my body or forcing themselves upon my body’s right to exist was not okay. Perhaps if I made such a stance for myself sooner, I would have a prouder self-image that doesn’t equate my body’s lack of athletic hardiness to a failure to live up to my cultural pride.

The world is obsessed with the Black male body image, in a way that often crosses into the gross. Not only in how these bodies can perform as a tool or commodity, as we often find in sports but in how one should conduct itself within parameters of Blackness. In the last year alone, we’ve seen Terry Crews having to defend his body against other high-profile Black men about what he did or didn’t do to protect himself during a sexual assault. The power isn’t with Terry Crews, however, and while it is also with these other celebrities, it speaks to a culture surrounding Black bodies; it’s rooted in a traumatizing experience that many Black men go through in their youth that not only pressures Black boys that dictate Black identity only as an extension of our bodies’ physical worth — and more specifically, only when we abuse it.
To be frail in a Black space is to be seen as less than Black. This was the case for me even before that day at my friend’s house in Ohio; it was like this before I was old enough to know, everything I did at a young age was dedicated to hardening my body to the same icy stone that one might expect of Black men.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

At six years old, I was expected to know how to play basketball, I was expected to race and run laps, and fight and be struck square in my chest without crying, caving on flinching because I had a ‘bird-chest” and that, in the world of West Philadelphia was not okay. The fantasy of my future involved a sport, and only a sport — and somewhere down the line basketball, and the revulsion of anything feminine, but the over-consumption of anything female. There were even dreams of what my first tattoo might be.

Imagine my mother’s disappointments when despite all of this, I still lacked all repulsion with anything athletic. And honestly, to this day I’ve never had little more than an ear piercing.

It was not my mother’s disappointments that concerned me or continues to do so, but the point of view of my family — both young and old — that somehow I tarnished my sense of Blackness by not dedicating myself to physical achievements. No matter the academic or emotional milestones I hurdle, we can always come back to the failure on my part to end up Strong in this one real way which counts to them — even if I no longer have a “bird-chest”. It always ends with an expectation to hit a gym sooner or later.

Infamous image of Gordon, or “Whipped Pete” (1863) depicting his scarred back

And, it wasn’t until that eventful night where a punch took it steps too far that I realized this was not regionally specific behavior — this was behavior canonized across Blackness and where I rebelled against it, it became the basis of my peer’s masculinity to the point it ostracized me from my Blackness and, in truth, there’s no reason for that to have been.

Yet, to this day, when I look upon my own Black form and how it fails to conform to this image I have now grown to expect of myself, I feel an involuntary revulsion. I feel beautiful, but at the same time, I am forced to feel incomplete, because the brownness of my skin is supposedly meant to be accompanied by a hardiness, and not a softness. I’m incapable of seeing even the curves I’ve developed as anything as my own way of escaping the whiteness and weakness my bird-chest once implied.

The history of Black bodies as commodity isn’t unknown to our understanding of what America is and it is ahistorical to discuss Black male bodies and not mention this. Slavery was all about reducing a whole culture’s human spectrum — their emotions, memories, their habits, and happiness — into a disgusting price tag to be tossed out on a wooden chopping block.

Ken Norton as Mede posing for slaver inspection, formulating one of the earliest forms of the fetishization of Black male physique.

The mind held little worth, though it could be marketed as a profitable gift with purchase, and the idea of a greased up mass of muscle who could only react, and never act (and therefore exist) became the model of Black men. Thus, we can note the beginning of the fetishization of Black male bodies.

This legacy continues throughout American fiction. In 1975, the graphic adaptation of Kyle Onstot novel of the same name, Mandingo was released by Paramount Pictures. The film, starring boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton, depicted the sexual victimization of male and female Black slaves and the gross physical exploitation of the Black male form. In the film, Mede (Ken Norton) is a prizefighter forced to physical extremities such as bathing in cauldrons of hot salt water to toughen his skin. His worth is placed solely in the fact that as a Mandingo (of the Mandinka ethnic group) he is of superior physical virtue, and thus more suitable for breeding. The film ends with the murder of Mede after the Woman of the House extorts sex from Mede, culminating in his execution due solely to attracting the unrequited sexual desire due to his biology.

The stakes Black boys face today are nowhere as comparable as these moments of extreme brutality in reality, or fiction, but the line of succession passes itself forward. Today, only the conduct is different; Terry Crews has to defend his choices to not assault his sexual aggressors to other high-profile Black men who in some sense of a world are challenging his sense of Blackness for his decisions to not use his body — which is apparently his physically imposing — to fight.

Some might suggest that this is a case of Machismo, and while it is similar, as both concepts can be attributed to hypermasculinity, the extreme racial fetishization by both Black and White cultures makes the concept feel as unique as the other systematic structures imposed upon Black existence.
In any case, Black men are expected to resolve conflict violently or not at all, and this narrative has become a dangerous entity — a caustic cancer that has ended in the routine and systematic execution of Black youths. The narrative of the Black male form as monstrous have followed us further back than the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown or the prolific exposure of social media.

Public Domain Clip Art of Trayvon Martin, black minor executed in 2012

Yet, there is always the expectation to perform our strength and to fit into this idea of our bodies as a vehicle of aggression. It’s not an uncommon part of my day for a stranger to waste sixty whole seconds of my time guessing which sport I play — and it’s never soccer, tennis or track: football, or basketball, only.

And if I were to investigate the effects of this trauma inward onto myself, I find the ways that this trauma manifests itself routinely in my behavior: the sudden pauses and obsession with my image in the mirror, or the peculiar ways my self-image prioritizes the same arms, chest, and torso that alienated me culturally from a sense of Blackness that has no origin within Blackness.

In 2018, Javaugn “Javie’ Young-White (@jyoungwhite) penned a thread which poignantly explored the body dysmorphia suffered by African-American men due to this phenomena. “A lot of Black men struggle with body dysmorphia [because] of the emphasis that is placed on our athleticism [and] physical stature throughout childhood [and] adolescence,” he says. “It’s especially confusing because the body types we’re told to aim for also serve as justification for profiling and unarmed murders”

When our bodies are used to clock the mileage for our race and culture, it becomes the weapon by which others oppress us. How else could in the case of those less than athletic do our forms become synonymous to whiteness, or in cases of racial brutality, our physical intimidation become juxtaposes to the barbaric imagery?

The middle ground between these two ideas speaks only to the extreme ways race factors into our bodies, and the demands expected of these bodies in our youth. It speaks to the false realities we shove onto children to appeal to a standard that is as toxic as it is hypermasculine, and the traumas which haunt these youths — and have for generations

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Steven Underwood is an award-winning writer and essayist from Columbus, Ohio. Multifaceted, He has expanded his range deep into the recesses of Black speculative fiction and poetry. In the past, Steven has published essays with MTV News, Essence, Le Reine Noire, Comicsverse and Banango Street on identity and culture. He cites his writing style as the intersection between Toni Morrison and Fredrick Douglass. Follow him on social media @Blaqueword.

On this Black History Month, We Will Not Run from the Truth: Nicki Minaj Moves like a Meglomaniac…

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Let me be candid in that I actively root against Nicki Minaj’s success. The only way a Black man like me — the child of a femme-C, a former fan of her works, one of the many who accepted ridicule for speaking her name in conversation with the top 5 rappers of our generation — could possibly do so is by looking at the darkest truth of this rap-pop icon, she is obsessed with her own power.

I don’t mean she pursues power for the sake of having some for the sake of good— in which, I’d support her whole sale. Rather, like Cersei Lannister, pillaging and brutalizing all in front of her, attacking any vulnerability of another’s humanity and weaponizing acts of charity to deflect accusation and criticism, Nicki Minaj has power simply for the sake of destroying those whom disfavor her. She’s the child-king, or “Queen”, on the throne beheading her educators for demanding better work.

Meglomania is defined quite definitively as obsession with the exercise of power, especially in the domination of others. Now, let’s discuss Nicki Minaj.

Earlier last year, Nicki Minaj saw to it the systemic destruction of a young Wanna for simply suggesting a better quality of music. Wanna, a music writer and critique, was well within her rights to voice such a simple observation. Music, as an artform, exists for criticism. It must be juxtaposed, and responded to for the craftsman to agree or disagree and move forward in their craft with this experience reaffirming the intent of the creator, whether positive or negative. However, what is not invited is the solicitation of a mob to threaten, haunt and harm. In on swoop, Nicki Minaj weaponized her fan-base to attack this woman after persuading the enterprise in-charge of her internship to fire her for “breaches of contract”.

This example was terrible in of itself. However, it is a far cry from the worst transgressions across the board. There is a recurring pattern of Nicki Minaj bashing and destroying women she perceives as weaker than her — an action that is a far cry from the feminism the Stupid Hoe rapper has transformed into a branding talisman, all without actually realizing a crucial element of feminism is the empowerment of fellow women, and not only the ones who kiss your ring finger.

Should we expect much more from the rapper whose greatest childhood story was attacking another girl in the middle of a sleepover? The answer is hell yes.

The problem with Nicki Minaj isn’t in anger or wrath in itself. Outrage is a formative response to the world rejecting the reality carefully plotted based on your observations of social presences. What is a problem is the fact Nicki Minaj doesn’t just go for realigning her reality with her observations — Ms. Minaj runs nose first into sapping the power from others.

She takes the power from her increasingly fans, of whom she is entitled to the support and championship no matter if their actions can and would result in the chillingly abrupt demise of their future.

She takes the power from her peers, as she rants on social media against the very women she refers to as sister — She takes the guise of the same women who refused to share the crown of female rap with her, and then deepens the divide within the genre.

She takes power from a lack of accountability. For when you can date a sex offender, and hop onto a platform to call the girl not only approving of her sexual abuse at her young age, but call her mother’s ethics into question, and still have a career, there is no accountability.

If it was up to me, after that? Nicki Minaj wouldn’t have a career. She wouldn’t be welcome on any streaming service. And sure, I’d have gone after everyone else who equally deserves this, but I’m talking about Nicki Minaj right now — the woman I can’t hear the voice of without remembering her habit of championing pedophiles and sex offenders: Tekashi 69, her current beau, and, particularly, her Brother. I cut her slack for her brother (the messiness of family and mothers), but three is a damn pattern.

Yet, at the same time, Nicki Minaj has somehow tried to play both the villain and the victim in more than one account. Victim during the previous NYFW where suddenly a Black woman cares what a room full of white men think of her and the lack of decorum present, when your entire platform is built on the streets and its energy. Victim when you lose out on an award, or chart-topping accolade that, in reality, shouldn’t count because you conveniently refuse to acknowledge the ways your same chart stats reveal you to underperform in all conservative estimations of your performance.

Villain in…well, we all should know the reasons Onika Maraj has been in the news, and it’s not because Queen Radio is winning a Pulitzer, a Grammy win or because Billboard peeped a #1 Album.

The last year alone has seen Nicki Minaj destroy no less than five of the Black woman she pro-ports to champion, all while complaining of misogynoiry inherent within the industry surrounding her.

Age, or intent means less to her than the power to attack someone, anyone who disfavors her. Frankly, I even remember Nicki performing this bit of power flexing during the Pulse tragedy where she showed just how little she cares for even her most loyal fans criticizing her more problematic decision making skills. She doesn’t lob this energy at anyone on her level; and while it isn’t any Black woman’s prerogative to do so,she doesn’t take the lengths to uplift or endorse. She just dedicates herself to crushing any caterpillar that chomps at her garden — taking great pleasure in skinning it and propping its carcass onto sharpened tree branches.

We suspected there was a reason no other high-tier female rapper messes with her, yet shows such love and generosity to newer girls who show up on to the scene. We blamed them for the behavior, attributing a lack of respect to a sense of jealousy. What we didn’t consider was that if you walk into a party and everyone there don’t fuck with you, perhaps its something that you did.

True, there are plenty of situations where Nicki did nothing wrong. Most recently, that BET social media jab comes to mind. However, putting a Black girl at risk? Mocking her to several million followers? Giving your fan base permission to harm this person for doing what is effectively her job and is (actually) encouraged to do by the brand?

Let’s play a game.

(TW: Suicide, Murder)

Imagine if this person committed suicide. Imagine if Wannasworld had. Or, let’s go further. Imagine if one of your fans — who have a history of fighting battles for you, throwing hands in the streets and more in your name — found these Black girls addresses and harmed them out of some sick fascination to your every word and will.

Months ago, Nicki Minaj bucked at her “sis” Ariana Grande for undermining mental health and attracting negative, harmful attention at Pete Davidson. Citing the risk of self-harm and a bunch of other odd things. Yet, here we see Nicki Minaj completely shucking that precedence as her rabid collective of teenagers are gearing up to mercilessly taunt this girl into a headspace no one should have in their psychic station.

If we ignore the laws that were instated due to the rampant cases of cyberbullying and suicide in the mid-2000s, RICO states you can be charged too. I mean, what is celebrity other than a brand or enterprise conveniently circulating around an entity? Celebrities are nothing but a widely regarded, glorified freelancer who has grown entitled to their fanbase, their image and the power thrust in everyone hearing of your brand and inexplicably feeling good things though your every action points to the contrary.

Maybe things would be different if you were capable of exhibiting guilt for any of this. But you don’t.

You just release a mediocre remix, or do a half-assed job at scholarship without understanding exactly how academics work or do a string of weird Queen radio shows that fail to meet even the subpar criteria of a podcast, and then let the masses keke while the people you’ve decimated are left to meet with law enforcement to protect themselves from DOX attacks and other bits of cyber terrorism brought on by your fans in their service to your name and whims.

We expected much more of Nicki Minaj. Sure, controversy exists in rappers. Particularly, I am quite critical of a lot of the misogyny and homophobia within rap. I am further critical of even female rappers who buck against the misogyny within rap, but uplift the homophobia — like City Girls and Cardi B in the past (to be fair, though, it does seem the Bronx rapper was authentically sorry and has taken time to learn. Though, whether any of us should forgive her is between the Trans community). However, my ability to be okay with any of it begins and ends at pedophilia and bullying (the irony of me having to say this the day that Nicki Minaj comes forward about Grammy producers bullying her is remarkable).

Shockingly though, this is all “Queen behavior”.

After all, a Queen can be a Tyrant too.

Ebony Antebellum: First Chapter Excerpt

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Young Ty DuBeau would be a genius if he wasn’t born on his side of the Wall. In the magickal metropolis of Antebellum, Ty has struggled every day to save his mother from eminent death. But when a traumatic attack leaves him without the power to save her, Ty’s hero, Quinto, makes an offer to spare him the greatest loss of his young life — all he must do is betray his People. Out of options, Ty abandons everyone he loves in time to enroll on the wrong side of a rising war at the deadliest school in all of magick: the Orthodoxy. The wealthy students of the Orthodox understand victory is not a question of can you succeed, but a question of what you will kill to do it; and if its them or him, Ty soon learns what little value a Brown boy truly holds in a world on the brink of destruction.

ONE: Boy in the Browns

The Letter fell from nowhere, and Ty wished it’d go away. He burned it, he flushed it, he shredded the paper and haggled with spirits of the Old World, America, to whisk it away.

Like the crimes of the nation, however, it never went away for long.

Maybe Black Boy Magic wasn’t that strong. Ty should’ve known better: if he dreamed he had the power to make the impossible real, his mother wouldn’t be on her deathbed.

He had no one to blame, but himself.

Just a few days ago, during his Binding Ceremony, where THEY presented his implement unceremoniously in a paper box bound with a white ribbon. With this, the totemic representation of his Faustian pact with the city-nation, Antebellum, Ty thought he could spare himself the inevitability of the thing set into motion.

Ty spent hours in his kitchen, from sundown to sunup, leafing through stolen books and records. The long nights never bothered him anymore, not since he turned 17 and transitioned from a boy to man. The difference wasn’t just in his attitude, but in his thin blade chin and sunblessed brown skin, and in the crown of carrowed curls that dangled just above his flat forehead.

Ty toyed with his implement — tapped at it with a spoon, performing one-handed sleight tricks: now you see it, now you don’t. It shined indigo and mauve, a sugilite stone, that he had not fashioned into a shape — not into a wand, or a bracelet, anything; what point was there? He’d sacrifice it soon, when he abandoned being a member of Antebellum and gave himself to the Community, to the Browns, for his Mother — always for her.

But, first, he had to at least try to save her.

This implement held his portion of the Tontine. His wealth. His Power. And with it, Ty could spin any spell that he could reasonably afford the cost off.

Maybe if I was Richer, Bluer, I could just pay someone to invent this spell for me, Ty thought. After all, you never see any Blues with this monstrosity of a disease.

Ty wished they’d just die.

No you don’t, Teetee, his grandfather’s voice trembled soft, yet strict. All Life is sacred, to take it is to fail at every possible turn. Do Better.

Still, it was the way of the Blue Bloods, who lived in opulent ease and prosperity across the wall, to remove any and all obstacles they were concerned with through their magic. In just two decades of the City’s history, the Blues cured death itself. Yet, the disease of Taint escaped them?

Trash.

The wonders of the 21st century were laughable compared to the enchantment of the 23rd, none of these Blue Bloods were free of the smut of their excess and indifference.

Sure, Ty understood spellwork held complexities. Three-times more so for Brown folk who could not sup on generational wealth and education to power spells.

With the Blue Bloods controlling the rules to guide and control magick, waving a wand or whispering a phrase only worked for the most independently powerful of sorcerers. Ty only needed the right series of incantations before the Binding, but now he needed legerdemain: sigil and simulation — he was a Deeper sorcerer.

The Binding Ceremony said difficult magicks required a steep price and it all called for Power in exchange for service. But, Ty didn’t have the time to work: Letter day was coming.

Ty fell into his research, he barely noticed the days after his Binding exhaust themselves. The kitchen became a mess. A different page hung from every cupboard. He failed another practice run of his spell — rendering a cancer cell malignant — when his Letter manifested on his tabletop (it had a habit of doing that if Ty ignored it for too long)

It plopped down on an open page of his Healer’s grimoire, a chapter called the Long Gasp.

It felt dense with a lavender binder. A gravity shimmered around it, an attraction charm of expensive design, twisting a sirenic desire to pull it open: a bad sign. On the back was a wax seal with an ostrich biting a long-rod with two scales on either side with a flame on one side and a skull on the other.

Ty leaned back, and gave a sinister wide eye. He expected this moment, but seeing it in all reality, it made Ty slowly crack. He sat staring at the thing for a few minutes, shivering in his seat, his future on the decision in a pink slip.

The kitchen door swung open behind Ty.

“Ayo, Tee — ” It was Victor.

Ty palmed a steak knife off the table and flicked it through the air at Victor’s head.

Halt,” Victor’s Presence exploded around him, sending a minor tremor through the room. His eyes fixated upon the knife, slowing it to an abrupt stop as if the kinetic energy was stolen in the batting of an eye. It should’ve been a wasteful display, but Victor’s Presence was supernaturally seismic.

Just as Ty planned. Ty swallowed his burst of jealousy at the ease Victor employed his raw sorcery and jumped, slamming the book closed.

“The fuck, Ty?” Victor asked. He stepped completely into their six-by-six size kitchen, barely larger than a closet, ducking his head to accommodate his height. Six feet of a golden copper brown with spotted freckles peeking from a teal tank and a whole head taller than Ty himself.

A golden jaguar with a coat of shimmering moonlight and red pigmented paws trailed after Victor. It called itself Aeropasti, one of Victor’s Ashe — his spiritual familiars.

Aeropasti growled at Ty, clearly vocalizing something Ty couldn’t understand — probably a threat; Aeropasti hated Ty and he never cared to dig deep enough to ask why a manifested fragment of Victor’s personality hated his so-called best friend: such a weird bit of psychology.

“No Aeropasti, We ain’t doing that,” Victor said, glaring at Ty. “It was an accident.”

Ty shrugged. “You can’t be sneaking up on people on this block, V. You know that.”

Victor’s spell ended, sending the knife along its orchestrated path. The blade pierced the plaster behind Victor’s head several inches deep. Ty took the time to slam the book closed and leapt to his feet.

“What got you going so much that you got that thing prowling around my Mama’s floors?” Ty asked, eying that vicious, tiny demon.

“What? Aeropasti’s a good mouser.”

“Aeropasti probably the reason we got mice.”

“I don’t know about — ”

“Vee, mice aren’t covered in sewer waste and as fat as bread loafs. Those aren’t mice, those are rats. Aeropasti brings rats into the house.”

Victor considered fighting back, but he knew better — Ty didn’t surrender arguments, or battles, easily. Aeropasti sat in the corner, licking his bloody paws.

“My letter came,” Victor shrugged, sauntering to a kitchen counter. He picked up one of his Ma’s old mason jars of ground tobacco — one of her many ingredients. “Seven rejections in a row. No leagues for me.”

“You were trying to go?” Ty smirked, a playful glint on his face. “Brown Blood.”

“Keep talking out the side of yah mouth and we gonna have a problem.”

“You think you can beat me?”

Victor scoffed. They left the problem there. Graham and Quinto took over their training from a young age — drilled them in many of the military tactics of Gang warfare in the Browns. Ty still felt his aching bones as he dragged himself onto the Rail every week. The acrid stench of Graham’s poisons before she spoon-fed Ty a ladle full. He remembered every lie he told his Ma about why he looked so sunken and exhausted.

“I’m saying it’d be a fair fight.” Victor glanced at the grimoire. “Your Letter come?”

Ty shook his head. “Nah.”

“What’re yah going to do? Our Ordeal is coming up in like…soon.”

Ty shrugged. “I can fake it. S’not like anyone expects either of us to fail.”

“But the important part of the test is sacrificing the Letter — removing yahself from the influence of the Blue Bloods — rejecting their ways, their Elegant Art, for the superior pride of the Ancestral Art, of the Browns.” Victor frowned. “Kinda weird for the Blue Bloods to take so long with yah Letter. How’d yah do on your Literacy test?”

Ty tapped the tabletop with his index finger. Even absently, he founds a subtle rhythm to his work. He mauled that question over for a few breathes, despite knowing the answer to Victor’s question.

He did how he always did on tests: phenomenally. There wasn’t a lot of the Elegant Arts Ty didn’t know — despite the active obstacles thrown his way by the Blue Bloods.

And yet, Quinto and the rest of the Allegiance expected Ty to fail it, as all Allegiance have.

For Brownies, like Ty and Victor and everyone else living on this side of the Wall, passing that test meant escape: the only way to leave the world of poverty and death behind you and crossover to the Blues. You’ll never return after that happened. And the Seven Leagues — schools of sorcery and etiquette — would do its very best to help you forget everything on the dark side of the Wall. Victor and Ty knew only a handful of people a year who got that honor — and it all began with the Letter.

Thus, they’d all fail, or be punished as any traitor would…

Ty had every intention of going into that dank, dusty little basement and putting himself on the pyre. But, Quinto didn’t say anything about the delicious enticements in that booklet.

Those who score in the top 10 of the Literacy test will be rewarded with one-free casting. Any spell on the dime of the Tontine and the Senate 66 who control it.

In that moment, staring at that page and all of the odd things he’d need to do as a prerequisite to quality — presenting spittle, blood, and his complete star chart — he knew it was worth it to save her. To save his mother, the woman who woke up late at night and made Ty sandwiches for his day.

She. Was. Worth it.

“I’m gonna go for a walk.” Ty said, rising from his seat.

Victor started to get up, but Ty held his hand up.

“Alone. Maybe they’ll send my Letter faster if they don’t see me surrounded all the time.”

Victor frowned, “Yah think they watching?”

“They wealthy control freaks — they always watching us. “He scooped the grimoire up in his arms.

“And, yah need that?”

“Gotta take it to the vault.” Ty lied. “It’s customary to give an offering before an Ordeal.”

“Ah, damn. I forgot to go poach something from the Grande Marketplace,” Victor groaned. What he meant was Ty forgot — Victor didn’t have the subtlety to get past the Grande Marketplace’s detection spells. Ty was the best Assimilator in the Allegiance, perfecting the art of suppressing himself, his ego and his identity enough to become entirely undetectable to all forms of detection save the detection of the naked eye.

There wasn’t a lot of people he couldn’t kill.

In the past, when Victor couldn’t muster the Presence, Ty would take the things they needed for the house: cans of vegetables and fruit, blankets, hearth charms, warm boiling https://publishizer.com/ebony-antebellum/?utm_medium=short-links&utm_source=NDLoV&utm_campaign=ebony-antebellum, and, of course, the odd books. Now that Victor had more than enough Presence, and their tasks for Allegiance came with a bit of pocket money, Ty and Victor only stole as a wild statement of discomfort with the way the Grande Market operated.

“I’ll make sure to tell the Ancestors it was a joint project.” Ty said calmly. Victor scoffed.

“Like I’ma believe yah’d share credit. We going together, and then we can go straight to the Ordeal. Cool, right?”

Ty frowned. “Great.”

They rushed out the house, darting down the three cement steps leading to their screen door, only after Ty excused himself to check on his Ma in the furthest room in the back. Ty dabbed his finger in lavender and peppermint oil and touched her forehead and she flinched, but Ty persisted. He drew the awakening glyph and blew onto it with a breath of Presence. It fizzed like soda suds and she burst awake, her chest heaving.

Sweat caked across her forehead as her hair cascaded about into a messy distortion of knots and split ends. What was once a crown, was now matted mane?

At first her eyes were disoriented, filled with a creamy fog. Moments passed and her eyes flashed with recognition and she remembered. She licked her lips, flicking a purple tongue.

“Tee-tee,” she said with a smile.

“Ma, I’m going out now.”

She surrendered another smile, consuming what remained of her energy, and fell back into slumber, despite Ty’s every desire to tell her he’d save her.

Outside, the Browns was the same crowded grid of low-rising housing projects his Ma remembered. It was largely built with an exterior of dusty red bricks, and an interior of sad white paint and wooden cabinets. Ty’s part of the Browns, nicknamed the Stocks, was home to the majority Black populace and were usually crawling with families. Many slave mages, men and women who worked in service to another too good to learn the essential domestic magicks, were heading out to their night shifts. Some stopped by to give Victor good fortune, whispering blessings over his head.

Ty got nothing and was thankful, they’d need all their Presence and Power over there in the Blues.

For many of the Brownies, like Ty and Victor, there wasn’t a real reason to cross the Wall outside of work. Quinto worked hard to make their Community self-sufficient. Fishburne grew the community gardens with the aid of her gopher Ashe’s Prosperity Mojo. Quinto even led an initiative of reclaiming the Browns — swapping out all Elegant enchantments for the authority of the Ancestry, the power of the Browns.

There wasn’t a place anyone could walk where he couldn’t find people. No matter where Ty wandered, vivid color flourished — brown, yellow, auburn, red.

Unless, you were heading north. The brown buildings darkened as he went. Soot marks stained the concrete stone and cement. Cold wind whistled into his ears and the buildings — or the pitch skeletal structures that were once tall buildings — a market district with condos above every shop, center and facility.

Ty and Victor approached the line cautiously. A ribbon of black, green and red spray painted veves and prints to dissuade crossing. Apotropaismic mojo, designed to turn malice and evil back whenever it approached. Ty didn’t know if this ward would last forever — not without dedication. He could feel it waning, the collective Presence fortifying the Ancestral Art fading with the steady surrender of the Browns to the Blues.

A shrine of portraits, stuffed animals and burned candles heralded Ty up to the line’s limits. Some men and women only had one candle, whereas celebrities and legends had four or five. Ty stopped by one of the portraits — a yellowing image of a tall, middle aged man cradling a brown baby with a head of hair. Behind him were his two prized treasures: two daggers crossed beneath a large black mask.

One of the daggers matched Ty’s own. A two-foot length of cool spirit metal, a specific alien material that appeared more like glass, with a hilt wrapped in black and indigo electrical tape. Dozens of candles crowded the sidewalk leading to his image. Ty removed his grandfather’s dagger from his back belt hem and narrowed his sight onto the tip of the blade. Carefully, Ty tapped the tip of his finger against the blade and incised a minor cut. The blood swelled to the precipice.

Blood offering, Ty thought, recalling Quinto lessons in rituals and rites. He was kind enough to teach Ty how to do it, after his grandfather passed. With Ty’s affliction, it was necessary. One of the oldest rituals in the book. The most personal of sacrifices for the most personal of magicks.

Ty circled the glass candle container’s rim with his finger over every single candle and fed three drops of blood directly onto the burnt, black wicks. His Presence vibrated in his ears, filling his soul with vigor. “Light,” Tyree whispered.

Nothing. Of course, he wasn’t Victor. It’d never be that easy.

Incantations were all about inviting specific emotional reactions to guide the magick. Ty had something that’d work. He summoned his Presence and felt its sticky aluminum shiver on his tongue.

“Flicker, flicker little bic, come now and dance upon the wick, flicker flicker, writhe and wreath, Flicker Flicker, burning steep,” Ty sketched a sigil into the dirt and exhaled a long breathe into it. Ty could feel the time upon the wicks slowly roll back, as the memories of the world around him enforced themselves upon reality. At once, the candles sucked in the air hungrily until a smoke rolled off their tip until they lit with, of course, a flicker.

This was Deeper sorcery’s thaumaturgy — accessing the re-memory of an object and manifesting its past miracles upon the present. Ty could remind air of being trapped in iron, or liquids of their solid forms. The strongest could even dial back the clock of life — return life upon the departed. Though, most Deepers prioritized the arts of metamagic.

With his candles ablaze, Ty prayed thanks to his Grandfather — to his Ancestors, and imparted that they watch over and protect him. Misdirect the eyes of the Blues, blind the Adversary from his magicks and, most importantly, keep the Coven Marshalls away.

They say the Warrior should always impart the Father and the Sage — in that order. But, Ty didn’t possess a shrine to his father to invoke. They could only be made by people who knew the deceased.

Ty tried to rise, but quickly teetered over to his left. He barely caught himself with his forearm, propping himself up awkwardly. The room was spinning and —

Not worth it…

The voice chattered for half of a second. Ty held his breath and closed his eyes, conjuring memories of the people who mattered to him until, finally, the voice subsided and he could stand.

A candle, Ty thought bitterly. I overextended my Presence lighting a fucking candle…

Ty walked to a different shrine, baring a small Dominican family. The father wore a factory mage’s robe of tanned leather and his wife a fuchsia beautician shawl. A thin Dominican boy sat at a stoop beside them, a petite girl with pink gums where her two front teeth should be cradled in his arms.

There, Victor stood. He snapped his finger. “Light!””

An emerald bell fire leapt up and lit the soft blue candle beneath him in one strong stream. Twirling in the wind. Victor watched them, his strong jaw clenched.

“If they could see me now,” Victor whispered as he watched.

“Better they can’t,” Ty said, loftily.

“Why?”

“We’re about to become gangsters,” Ty offered.

Victor shrugged his shoulders. “Pledges, you mean. We’re a fraternity.”

“I think my dad rather himself a criminal son than a traitor.”

“Better than a dead one.”

Ty’s frown deepened. “Vick,” Ty started. “For the Ordeal…we might have to kill someone.”

Victor gestured at the candles. “THEY started it.”

Together, they crossed the boundary, but as two different people.

Grey particles danced on the window, gathering in gutters and rain spouts. Ty told himself it was only snow, but the lies you tell yourself only go so far, before Truth wares that journey to a complete stop.

It was ashes.

The night hissed at Victor, but left Ty alone.

“Why does it always do that?” Victor frowned.

“I don’t know,” Ty said. “Maybe it just don’t like the way you smell?”

“Everybody like the way I smell,” Victor laughed. “Don’t you.

Ty licked his lips and pushed on. This place was a ghost town, but with literal ghosts. Poltergeists of the defenseless whom the City betrayed. If Ty had the heart — and he had plenty — he could open any door and find scores of corpses, some inanimate, others…

Something dashed in the corner of his eye. Ty’s head twisted to catch it, but it moved too quickly. Another hand reached at him. Ty turned again, and it was gone. Victor growled at the darkness. Another rush of wind. Ty felt their aberrant nature coiling around him, the foul stink of adversity and trauma.

“They’re surrounding us, Vick” Ty hissed. Victor nodded, he knew what Ty meant without his skill for detection.

“Aeropasti!” The jaguar leapt out of Victor’s unfurled hands and padded down the street into the darkness. It leapt up and shoved something. Ty felt unnerved — most people could only access a single Ashe at a time — Victor just left them wide open.

You wouldn’t be wide open if you could conjure one, Trickless, said a voice in the back of Ty’s mind. Ty shook it off — it was just the shadows speaking to him: the nature of the Adversary, peeling back his psyche like a tangerine until it go to the succulent, juicy self-doubt and anguish.

Aeropasti came prancing back to their side, an arm like a wild tree branch clenched in its predatory jaws. The wildcat nuzzled Victor’s leg and flicked a tail at Ty.

The beast earned Ty’s respect again — even if it was a little jackass.

Ty inspected the limb of the dispatched Adversary with a close eye before scrutinizing it with his every critical sense, his Awareness.

“What was it, Tee?”

Fair question. With Adversary, some slithered, some soared — and some lurked in your mind and heart. But they were always dangers: they were always threats to all things mundane and magical. And this one…

“I’m…not sure.” Ty said cautiously. “It must be new, slipped out of the Wall or something because it doesn’t even feel like fire. Most Adversary native at the Back-of-the-Wall smell or taste like soot, or coal, or ash. They’re Fire court, released from the…er,”

“The Great Fire,” Victor frowned.

“Yeah. This seems way too foreign — drenched in terror and fear, like the Redcap or the Tallman,” Ty shivered. He hated the Tall Man, it reminded him of the Goliath Grande Adversary that his Ma would tell him about as a kid. “Anyways, unless Aeropasti has had a change of appetites recently, I don’t think he got the thing 100% dead. We should keep going before it comes back for the limb it lost.”

Victor nodded and they walked on and on and on until their feet got tired and their eyes got heavy, and the very idea of walking another step, another stride, in this ugly world, seemed a violence in itself…

And then…they just weren’t outside anymore. The scene bled away like the existence of those who lived here and perished to the fires. They’re in a lobby with leaning, patchy chairs and sofas, a rustic iron door and a few Tainted jittery and shaking.

One of them, a dazey eyed hag, drools as she watches Ty and Victor walk up to the door.

“Bum a spell?” she slurred.

“Hell no,” Ty hissed.

“Tee!” Victor jumped. He walked over to the woman and pulled out a lump of granite. He summoned his Presence, the warm sonic squeal of it all, and transmuted the material into a cozy warm platinum, stone. He placed it into her hand. “Cast with that, I think it’s good for a few Fifth Degree healing spells.”

Victor mugged Ty as he walked past him to the gate. Ty rolled his eyes and followed. Someone slid the peephole open.

“What?”

Victor sniffed. “Our chains have a cost.”

The words on his lips were like magic. The bolts in the door unscrewed before bursting open. Ty and Victor stepped through. A thousand colors flashed in Ty’s eyes. It was a basement with shelves lined with mason jars. Scorpions, small rodents, a colorful butterfly, birdlings, and — to Ty’s disgust — spiders, along with dozens of other smaller animals suspended in glass chambers. They made excellent bargaining tools — so many natural beasts were wiped out when America fell. The Browns’ tunneled, however, were flushed with them.

When Ty’s grandfather ran this place, the facility was never empty. Brownies from every culture with a drop of Blackness came to learn the heritage and power of the Ancestral Arts. Ty remembered the fiery hammer of the drums in heated darkness, their hammering rhythm and how it enticed Pawpaw’s spirit dancers to twist upon the air. The shadows of the wall twisted and stretched unnaturally until beasts were thrown upon the wall. The drums dared not stop and the men, women and all in-between or excluded were joined by a manner of fantastical Others.

Their Ashe, given human form.

Ty’s pawpaw carried him home in his rough, tired hands, guarded at either side by his loyal soldiers.

“What were you doing, Pawpaw?” Ty asked.

“A curse,” he said nervously. He didn’t want to tell Ty these things. In his age, kids got to be kids, but Ty was just too curious, and he swore to never lie to his favorite boy.

“Why?”

“They hurt someone they shouldn’t have hurt.”

Ty frowned. “Whose They?”

His pawpaw looked grim. “The Blue Bloods,” he muttered. “And the Coven Marshalls who served them.”

Now, Ty didn’t think there was enough in their numbers to Call the Mysteres — to give the long departed Ancestors limited agency to do earthly things: eat, bullshit, rut, bind negativity: all of the great liberties of life.

Still, the street shaman greeted Ty and Victor with the respect they were owed. Today their drudged rags of denim and fatigues were replaced by scarlet, onyx and forest body paint and straw skirts — for the men and women alike.

Victor smirked at Ty as the men and women took Ty by his hands and led him through a doorless frame.

“Gonna get pretty for me?” Victor asked. Ty didn’t get a chance to respond.

A basin of warm water lined with veves waited for him. Cleansing mojo and Purification mojo gave the water a milky white hue and if one looked close enough, a shimmering koi fish poked its head out. Gross. Ty could’ve replicated the same effect with a few expensive cantrips. Or, maybe not. Ancestry was such a confusing style of sorcery — unlike Elegance, sorcerers didn’t ever even know what they were doing. It was as a miracle to a scientist, or doubt to a bishop.

They scrubbed Ty until the sunkissed brown of his abs were covered in suds and hours of dirt dropped off into the water, tainting the pull to Ty’s chagrin. Another vat of purity sullied by Ty’s own inaction.

Just like her.

They dressed Ty in white robes and led him through a long dark hallway. A constant drumming filled the darkness, invoking a deep danger within Ty.

“Where are we going? I’ve never been this deep.”

They said nothing. The drumming grew louder. Ty frowned, were they really doing the ceremonial silence bullshit? Ty got ritual — if he had a major in anything it’d be that — but this?

“You know I could just sense what’s going on right? Your ominous silence bit is pointless and — ”

“Jeez Trickless, can’t you just go along with the friggin’ ambience for one?”

Ty nodded his head. It was a fair request. They came into a dingy black chamber

The room was a perfect octagon and built of browning bricks. Paper talismans hung from every wall. Eleven other shamans lined the room — each one of them dressed in the same shade of white as Ty. Victor was there, and had been for so long his clothes stuck to the sweat on his chest. A girl, Emilia, kept staring at him, familiarizing herself with his every angle. In the center of the room was a burning copper brazier filled with molten red coal.

Out of the darkness, came a frail old man adorned with a carrowed cloak of warm fur, lined with mudcloth, knitted from the hide of the last known Panther found in the Browns. It was a significantly sized shawl, passed from hand-to-hand through the ages.

The frail, thin old man beneath the costume was the fiery and fierce warlock of the age, Quinto Glover, leader of the Allegiance and the dancing flames made his eyes feel more bloody and ferocious than the beast on his back.

The air was steamy. Ty felt his heart dancing in his throat. There were a lot of contenders this year. That meant bad things. Not only were shamans outside of this room probably taking bets, but they’d definitely sneak the red stone in.

Ty’s grandfather invented the blood sport tradition. Someone would have to die, and for once, it would be someone on the other side of the Wall. The selected could choose to reject this request, but to do so would call into question your commitment to the Allegiance. Still, there were important rules here about accepting an Ordeal. Ty knew his grandfather would never reject someone for saying no. Quinto shared less in common with his grandfather than Ty himself.

And this year, Ty had an inkling on who it’d be. The one hint: a Brown Blood.

When the flame’s heat filled the room finally, Quinto began his tale.

“In the beginning, the Saviors founded Antebellum on the idea that the Old World failed in unity and put a collar on the magic we all need to survive the Adversary. At that time, our people knew we required our own world, and Allegiance linked our chains.” Quinto folded his hands. “As the spear, it’s my duty to strengthen our people here and now with a test of your resolve, and your stability: to prove your strength by surviving the same pain our Ancestors did.”

Quinto eyed the brazier. “The Spirits are here, filling the heat around us. Let them steel you. Reach into the pit and discover your burden to bare.”

Ty looked into the brazier. There were forty-three stones. Theft, stamina, spectacle, courage, intellect. All virtues exhibited by the Ancestors. Ty had his eye on Intellect. But, Victor? Ty could practically hear him praying for the Red Stone.

Everyone took their steps forward. As his bare feet met the hot graphite beneath him, he recalled the letter’s contents. He read it, of course he did, but it was still begging him for a rebuttal.

Today was the final day for an admission request. It was his final day to leave the horrible Browns forever.

Congratulations, Tyree DuBeau! We welcome you to the fold! The Covenant proudly presents you pledge sponsorship amongst the most elite of the Seven Leagues, the Orthodoxy of Magic, Academy for the civics, servitude and the vanquisher’s arts.

Should you accept, we invite you to sign away your service –

Everyone shoved their hands into the fire. Ty sucked his teeth in and fought back the urge to resist the burn. His lips quivered, and spittle flurried from his lips. Victor patiently turned his head to Ty, concerned, but unwilling to snitch on his best friend. No one else seemed to notice Ty’s anguish and agony — then again, what else was new? If he did this right, no one would know Ty didn’t have an Ashe, he’d receive his Ordeal, and he’d —

“Ty,” Quinto observed. “Are you…in pain?”

Everyone turned to Ty as they pulled their hands away from the braziers. Ty pulled his own hand back, scald marks searing him from digit to forearm. Ty’s eyes were bloodshot and filled with salted tears. He tried to blink it back, but to no avail.

Worse, Ty thought he’d grabbed a stone, but it was only his imagination — or the pain.

“Ty… what are you doing?”

“I — ”

“You’ve no Ashe, and you’ve tried to take part in the Ordeal? That was incredible reckless.”

Ty’s eyes flicked about. Everyone clinched a stone: Victor included. Nothing looked close to red.

“I can go back in, I can get my stone.”

“Ty — you should’ve have come if you don’t have one. I’m sorry. Others, give us a moment as we call the soldiers in to escort Ty out. I’m sorry child, I’m declaring this — ”

Ty’s tongue twitched.

“I take the Red Stone!”

***

BLACK MONA’ LISA, SMILE

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I was born to be the Mona’ Lisa.

I think about her when I’m on my back beneath him.

Or on my belly, because of him.

Revered and Beautiful. Rather than a second mat, under my husband– collecting checks just to spend them on a right to keep on breathing.

She has flaws, and she is not the most beautiful. But, millions flock to her virtue and give love to the flawed beauty of this white woman with the brunette hair.

Blacks ain’t even likened to brunettes.

Ain’t that something? So beautiful they find other words to describe her blackness. Raven. Brunette. Onyx.

But Black girls only know Black.

Black knees. Black hair. Black eyes and Black lives.

That’s how ugly they think we are. Liken if Ms. Lisa were ever subject to a Black eye, they’d call it something prettier.

Though, none of that keep me from thinking thoughts no Black girl should. That my skin is like caramel after generations of baring half-milk black babies we never asked for.

Maybe If I avoid the sun, I could be her: take her place: wear her paint chips like lotion.

Ain’t that a sight?

A Black Mona’ Lisa.

Black Art, made manifest.

Dream about it.

Never mind. I’ll do more than dream.

I pack my bags and buy the ticket under the cover of night — the darkness hugging me so close, and flee my husband, hootin’ when I outpace him onto the flight. He call me a mean name: “Black Ugly Cow!” The Ugly part doesn’t make me wince, but how he call me Black… why, it’s as if he ain’t realize he Black himself. His Mama Black, too. Makes me think all his hate he got for me, must be the hate he instead feels for his reflection.

I lay my head low on the flight and swallow my demon-shaped worries. I’ve got a lot to fret about. Barely a nickel to my name, but I’ve a passport. I’ve intent, and that’s more than most Black Women got.

I’ve a dream to be better than a fly on the wall in the Louvre: to be a painting before their eyes. And the Louvre will simply be another place surrounding my greatness.

I land. I make do in the hostels never far from Black-loving white children on a cocaine relay from one conqueror’s nation to another. I stay months too long and –

Well, conquerors have no charity. But I’ve a job; I’ve a dream. Now, I’ve a home too.

And the day I get the key, I get a tiny picture and pin it above my pillow. I gotta be on my tippy toes to kiss it up there, but I do every day: my face cut oval and glued to the Mona’ Lisa’s neck. Mustard neck, Golden-Black face. The Mona’ Lisa never looked so good.

I sway the mop around the porcelain floors, of the porcelain temple to the Porcelain Gods. The Louvre isn’t around me, I’m in it — devoured whole, I sway that mop in my sections and I watch the kids sneak a selfie of Mona’ Lisa and her smile that haunts you.

I smile back and a guard I cannot see shrieks.

He’s pretending: I’m not that ugly. He’s just French, and rude.

I pay them no mine: Mona’ Lisa can’t be ugly.

A Black cherub approaches me. She ain’t got two front teeth to cut with.

“Picture?” Her finger points back to the old Mona’ Lisa.

I smile. Of course dear. I take one with her, holding it up and getting close. I hand it back.

She looks disappointed, but I gave her my best smile.

My teeth radiate. “I’ma be Mona’ Lisa!”

She giggles and hugs me, and as the girl skips off, I keep on smiling. I smile so wide, my cheeks burn!

Mona’ Lisa made me like that, once.

Mona’ Lisa made her like that, now.

Black Art made manifest.

It’s not about showing what you could be — setting a mold for someone else to fit into.

It’s about showing them they can break a mold for themselves.

Black Art ain’t a guideline.

Black Art is an example!

Night fall. The guards are here, but I don’t care.

I stomp through the palace like I run it, because I do.

Land of conquerors — It’s mine!

Little Miss Louvre temple think she impenetrable?

I’ma raid it. This my temple, now. The God ain’t Porcelain! I find the Mona’ Lisa — oh, Girlfriend ugly now.

Guards are coming. The scissors I snuck in my stocking goes snip-snip. I cut a hole where Mona’ Lisa is — the smile and the brunette locks. I shove myself in her place.

Bright light!

“Huh, Mona’ est surement plus mignon maintenant!”

They’ll get my name right eventually.

This Monet’s Smile.

Black and Beautiful.

#THECRAFT: 6 Things Artists Need to Know About Social Media

Art, Articles, Essays, Non-Fiction

By: Steven Underwood

What’s Güd?

A lot of you guys have been asking me for advice on this pro-art thing so I decided why not turn this into a series?

Today, we will be covering social media in this steadily rising landscape. All artists know that exposure is important, but how to use it is kind of a hit-or-miss. What’s SEO? Are metrics important? Should I have a high follower count?

Read sweet babies. Let me guide you.

  1. Twitter vs. Instagram: social media platforms are as diverse as they are specific in execution. The main question artists ask is what they should be on? Maybe you know you should be on social media, but you’ve heard conflicting success stories about both. Essentially, it’s important to look at these mediums for what they prioritize. Writers have gained a lot of success on Twitter due to its idea and written based format; careers are literally defined based on how successful your thoughts are and that’s why it’s so important to apply this to your work. Instagram is far more visual. Just think about it, we’ve all heard the term IG model before, not Twitter Model. Brands and clients pay more attention to what they can see on a platform designed to make what you see better! Graphic designers should pay special heed to this, but not too much. Twitter has a need for Design as a form of meme generation and gif processing. I hear the older folk asking “What about Facebook?” Eh… Facebook as a brand is good for getting news out, or posting updates, but you can get better reach with these other two. It has a use, but as a support to these other two formats.
  2. Network Groups: Networking is 80% of the job. If you don’t know anyone, you won’t get far– no matter your talent. In writing, this means you should be hunting for the DM group chat on Twitter and doing whatever you can to stand out and participate. This includes online Forums and FB groups. Keep your name in their mouthes and betaread! Giving criticism and doing reviews for other writers will not only get your name out, but that translates into more Social Media advocacy. Followers are closely watched by publications. They matter! What matters more is if your posts are being shared by others who might have a larger network than you, or if you’re interacting with someone who has a better standing socially. This doesn’t mean be fake, or lie about what you review, but authentically these people share the same passion you do. The rest is simple to iron out. Visual Artists on IG should go to Meet-Ups, and frequent groupchats as well. Also, don’t be afraid to spam!
  3. Metrics/Avoid Purchasing Followers: This is a big one, and it isn’t top priority because now most people know its bad. Essentially, your follower count is only as good as a Thesis statement in an essay: it’s vital, but not as good as your body paragraph. Metrics are fat superior. For Example, my twitter account @Blaqueword, boasts a pretty 1k in followers, pretty average. However, my impressions range into the 40,000s. How? My followers are frequent and avid users and my tweets “go in”. Basically, more of my followers interact and share my content AND they have a larger follower count than me (boasting 100 active followers with a blue check mark works out soooo well). As long as I use this, my posts and shares will always guarantee me an upward trajectory! However, purchasing followers works out worse for you. If your followers are all not interacting, clients/brands will notice and hold it against you. It makes you a creative catfish. Sure, they should be interested in you because they like your work, but that’s not a good bottomline. They want someone who can guarantee sells or interest. You just don’t. Organically generating followers always works out.
  4. Scheduled Posts: This is probably the most difficult feat. Staying on top of your social media is important and draining. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough hours in a day. Well, not postinf frequently enough in one day can drastically harm your impressions and therefore your metrics. If every 10,000 impressions gets you 2 followers and they afford you 300 bonus impressions with whether they like/share your posts, you miss out on a lot of potential reach. But, being online limits how much art you actually get to do. Ergo, scheduling. For @Blaqueword, I use Hootsuite. It allows me to not only schedule posts, but knowing my analytics, I can better understand what I should be posting about via knowing my audience. CMS (Content Management Systems) is an important factor in all of this. Know your tools of your craft (or pay someone else to).
  5. Analytics: SMM or Social Media Marketing is all about knowing what your numbers are. This is categorized in so much. For instance, my IG: @Blaqueword holds a humble amount of followers. However, I can increase my range of likes and follows by applying posts at the time specific audience members interact. Most of my followers are from Columbus, OH and like Culturally mindful content on Fridays at 9 PM. So, I post those things at the exact time AND include hashtags to appeal to those groups! Starting off, this is difficult and requires a lot of base-setting. You’ll end up using random hashtags just to see which stick and which do not, but it is a necessary step, so if you’re self-concious about a step, feel free to delete and try again. After all, if you failed that means no one saw, right? (Wrong, god and Beyoncé saw, but they forgive you)
  6. Hire a Writer: Not a self-plug, though I do run several Social Media accounts for brands at a retainer fee. You need to know your medium well enough to pull this off and most of it involves proper writing technique. Writers thrive on social media because we can coordinate our thoughts for the platforms. If you can’t, it’s going to take a lot of footwork to get Followers to fall in. And, honestly, that means you’re depending solely on luck. Don’t do that. If you are incapable of reading trends and knowing what to say at the moment, you probably won’t get a tweet that sticks like grits. Take it from me, a man with 7 viral tweets under his belt, knowing when to say the right combination of words is key!

If this all sounds very business-like, welcome to Art: it’s 60% business. You just got to know how to play it to your advantage. If

Any more questions? Comment! I’m happy to answer.

Steven Underwood (@Blaqueword) is a writer from Columbus, Ohio, where he reigns supreme as the original Urban Bohemian. He received his Bachelor’s in English: Creative Writing and now wanders fiction shelves employing his academic powers to investigate where it says exactly that Black kids can’t be wizards.

#UPDATES: September 18th

Culture

By: Steven Underwood

 

What’s Good,

For those of you who’re in the unknown, this is the owner of this wonderful website, Steve. After some months, I thought it prudent to keep everyone up to date on what I’ll be doing with the site, kind of a short term goals. While this blog is primarily a host for my portfolio and professional writing career, it is also a place I want to push as a platform for Black Art, and Black Artists (because those things are the topics I tend to talk about in MY art).

With that being said, I think it prudent that I list some things that will be rolling on soon onto the platform:

1.) I am going to pull back from the “take-downs”. A lot of people traffic my read of Luka Sabbat, and while I stand by a lot of what I say, I don’t agree with participating in negativity as a means to promote my career. It was an honest moment and necessary, but I don’t believe in holding grudges, or chaining someone to my opinion of them. If something happens that warrants it, I’ll do it again, but Luka Sabbat is a Black artist doing his thing, and this is a place for uplifting that. So… do with that as you will.

2.) Patreon! I have one. It’s pretty damn great, and I cherish it. On there, I will be releasing some of my cutting edge fiction work, like my screenplays, my short stories, etc. Now that I’ve finished something exciting, I can’t wait to roll out more things for you guys. Following this post, I will put a link to my work you guys might love.

3.) Artist Directory. This is something I think will help a lot with my work. Keeping a tab on specific Black Artists, it will allow me to provide the content here that I think will most help. So, PLEASE submit to me artists you’ve come across in any area and I will look into their work. Hell, send me work they’ve posted online: I’ll review it! This includes:

  • Music (Hip Hop, R&B, Pop, Blues, Pop Rock, etc.)
  • Literature
  • Painting
  • Graphic Design
  • Film
  • Videos (YouTube, instagram, etc.)
  • Fashion
  • Modelling
  • Dance

4.) My Novel is Done. Yeah, I finished a Novel. Soon, you will see a few pitches and a summary of it, but until then  just know a Black Guy wrote a whole 150k+ Fantasy Novel starring ghetto black kids.

5. Blow-by-Blow on Internships, Travel and Art Lifestyle: I’ll start blogging about a lot of things. I work for OUT MAGAZINE to expand my background in Fashion Editorial, I travel to different places for great shows and experiences and participate in a bit of Travel Journalism and, most importantly, I have involved myself in exposing the REAL LIFE of the Black Millennial Artist, so I’ll be doing my part in showcasing what that looks like.

 

So, there’s everything.

If you see something that interests you, or you have any questions, feel free to comment. I don’t bite; I just quip.

 

–Steven

#TRENDSETTER: KASHMIR.VIII

#TRENDSETTER, Fashion

By: Steven Underwood

Cop a bold hit of Black Magic for your accessory drawer from Kashmir.VIII digital shop at KasmirVIII.bigcartel.com

NYC: Where Rich White Kids Play Poverty

Uncategorized

Photo by Hugh Han on Unsplash

A friend of mine from Columbus, OH can’t afford tape for his cleats, let alone new cleats. At home, there is a surplus of duct tape. The shiny material winds immortally down the concrete pavements. It’s trafficked and cherished with more reverence than the familiars of the homeless. It is the holy grail of livelihood.
This friend was always wealthy by our standards. His household had two cars, two parents, and shiny smiles that turned out liberal thinkers who never had to worry what drugs would do to them. And he doesn’t. He does cocaine off-handedly, but he doesn’t “do-do” cocaine. Just when he’s at Bars. Just when he’s about to do something athletic. Just anytime he needs a thrill.
In the same vein, he is thrilled to be in New York, on the Lower East Side. He can’t afford to tape his cleats, but he is thrilled, because he is poor now too. This inescapable phantom lurking in the Blues — the tearstained muse of every artist, revered for her savagery and the pain and the panic she summons — is now his greatest prize.
New York, the grand equalizer of fantasies. Where the rich and white come to play at Poverty.
My friend isn’t the first I’ve come across with the bizarre observation of economic struggle as a gilded treasure.
In fact, it’s too common. The Nosferatu by the name of Gentrification assures us that it will be here eternally, feeding on the blood of the poor, sustaining itself on a bleeding wheel of oppression. It’ll cast out the weak and broken-backed many and then it’ll dance in our homes. 
I walk these same streets with people who hold more wealth in their phones than my entire family has sustained for generations. My shoes are well catered and cleaned.
I ensure that they are. I scuff them during the day, I polish them during the night. I shine my sneakers bleach white and raw with my washcloth.
I’ve been trained by my hood to watch the ground. At first, it was always an attempt at invisibility. And now, it’s to measure Power in strides.
New York is filled with such ugly feet.
So much money.
Such poor feet.
I’m surprised that I just walked past a very affluent painter in the Lower East Side. Their shoes are clunky and ugly. In my hood, Sketchers are disgusting. As condemnable as Shaq’s. Balenciaga sold the same designs to wealthy whites, and now they’re everywhere. I can’t tell if they’re well kept or horribly attended.
The fact there is now unobtainable price-tag on something I once ran from in my past thanks to a brand is infuriating to me.
In Columbus, the Poor are leveraged to companies. We’re the Amazon factory workers that lug boxes so big they set our lifespans back a decade with one lug. How else can we clean our shoes? How else can we shine our own status?
Drugs are remedies for mental instability because we can’t afford the actual medication. I’ve met anxious people on Molly and the oddest strands of natural kush mixed with something extra perky. They’re not for fun. They’re for necessity.
We’re poor for real. We’re so poor, that the concept of brushing shoulder to shoulder on Public Transport with a millionaire is inconceivable.
And yet, in New York City, they make memes about it. The advertisements here market goods and services no one traveling among common-folk should be able to dream of!
Luxury is flaunted in front of the un-luxurious. 
These shoes aren’t the only thing reminded me of this contempt.

Hip Hop Concerts are too expensive for the demographic they once embodied. I’m told Nas’ Illmatic is the best album of all time on Television by a white boy. On Twitter, a YT gatekeeps Caribbean culture. Basquiat hangs in the den of Trump Tower businesses men. A white man in a Café asks me if I’ve ever even heard of Toni Morrison. A white woman rejects me from their Marginalized writer initiatives because my Black work just isn’t literary enough, It’s not speculative enough, I mean, a Black man writing about the magic inherent in Blackness? What? I should be more like Octavia Spencer, that’s a Black who did it!
And the Vampires lurk just outside of Harlem, sniffing at my Schomburg Center. They want to raid that temple, trample on Langston’s revered grave.
Post-post Modernism is white people loathing their whiteness. They shed it like the cicada sheds its carcass. It flicks its wet wings, soaked in the blood of so many ancestors and dries them with purpose. But, what escapes is only the illusion of a post-racial entity, a chimera. A creature of parts and pieces stolen from so many other worlds that it shouldn’t be its own thing.
It is an Anathema, disgusting and unnatural.
I wish I could be hopeful.
As I write, German barista eyes the Black boy and Dominican teen — discussing nudes and sexual conquest they’ve probably have had but understand very little about — as they walk in. He threatens to throw them out, despite this being an open Café. They’re loud, arrogant and vicious. I like them, they remind me of me and my friends, when we were loud, arrogant and vicious. They’re not Lower East Side, maybe, but certainly New Yorkers. A “Proud to serve the Community” sign hangs just beside a sign discussing the effects of gentrification in New York as he speaks to them.
I want to be hopeful.
But in New York, the Whites will suck that dry, too.

I’m too Black to not conduct myself better.

Being Black and an emerging writer resisting Trump’s America presents interesting challenges.

Uncategorized

Being Black and an emerging writer resisting Trump’s America presents interesting challenges. You’re rising in an industry that claims to value your voice, and want to incorporate your narrative in a bid for diversity and rebellion, yet refuses to employ you.

It’s not a secret to Black writers — both radical and tame — that Editorial and Publishing is secretly thrush with covert corporate racism. You can actually count on a single hand how many writers of color at all are discovered before they’ve built their own platforms to an extent they very likely do not need the assistance of publishing houses who knock at their doors for a handout. Black Writers are seldom employed to use our nuance and navigation of our complicated lives and the translation of our bodies across the human experience — we are mitigated to a specific seat on specific staffs, many without more than one or two faces that look like ours.

Recently, many companies have made a bid for individuals to speak on POC and Marginalized Community-related politics, but rather than being a challenge to involve voices that aren’t heard, we find that unless we have a specific following behind us, we cannot even get a seat at the kiddy table, let alone an entry-level position with very little income.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I had the irony of sitting in the backseat of an LYFT with a woman who had the fortune of working for a Big 5 Publishing House, one I’ve recently been rejected from for whatever reason. She had very little to say about her previous place of employment that I have not heard about many similar places who pay crumbs and ashes to the POC working amongst them while glorifying the pursuits and agendas of whiter, straighter counterparts.
I didn’t propose that this reflects on the BIG 5 publishing house not employing me, because honestly? It could be that I didn’t fit their no qualifications necessary bylines on the job description, and somehow me — a supposedly radical black queer writer with strong feelings on social justice and politics — didn’t fit their search for a writer who feels strongly about “marginalized communities, politics, and social justice).

However, this conversation on experience in writers is ridiculous in itself, because in a community that voices the problem amongst media being that it doesn’t give POC representation of our narratives or stories in any format, how is it that a Writer of Color is able to have any experience?

How do you have experience when you’re not able to be employed?

Quite easily: by working for free. By allowing yourself to be taken advantage of like this is a greasy Motown recording studio, and you’re looking for sounds that can “Cross-over” without that nasty glorification of the dark-skinned talent who made this art.

Photo by Matthew Spiteri on Unsplash

Black Writers have not had the opportunity to contribute the substance that we deserve to be able to contribute in this new age of digital content. There are platforms, but it’s limited and niched. And if we audace to self-publish: we are punished fo rit by those same Publishers; called not “good enough” for literary pursuits. That’s not to say that it was any better before — that’s to say that the current environment is just a different head of the hydra.

I wish I was the only writer of color — the only BLACK Writer with this issue, but I have counted 15 peers who have hit the same roadblocks, and we have all found our defeat at the hands of a Starry-Eyed White Girl with the Mid-West with a Sylvia Plath button on her backpack and a can-do spirit she wants to impart to the “Poor Blacks” she’s read all about on her friend’s blog.
Your NYU/New School Admission Letter and Democratic Party sticker doesn’t make you better than any of us. It makes you more privileged and it makes you more palatable to the audiences that the Publisher and Editors want money from.

Photo by Andrew Vickers on Unsplash

Ergo, it makes you almost as bad as the Gentrification you’re likely contributing to.

And Yes. I do come off as angry or wrathful in this particular piece/excerpt/chapter about the issues of marginalization I encounter. Maybe, it’s because I’m angry and wrathful, Lindsey?

At one point, I had dreams of working for GQ. As a Fashion enthusiast, a menswear advocate and a lover of a good fashion blog, It thrilled me to find a magazine that fit my personality. It became the thing I marked my career trajectory with.

I had dreams of also working for Marvel, and writing for the X-Men gave me hopes of sharing something with my father who gave me my first comic despite losing him to a mutation of his own genes. I had many other aspirations of becoming an editor — or becoming a content creator — or a novelist. So many things, but each and every industry has found its way to slam its doors closed at Black writers!

Photo by Julian Howard on Unsplash

And the few journals and magazines catering specifically to Black writers, or writers of color, are so congested with writers fighting for their voices to be heard, that it’s a mound of talented individuals clawing at each other to get to the top.

This is not the fault of Black Writers trying to be heard in a world that has silenced us since the Harlem Renaissance: this is the fault of the major companies and corporations who do not want to admit their inherent biases enough to realize that their Diversity initiatives have turned Black writers and creators into TOKENS.

I invite you to prove me wrong: search any of the Big 5 Companies — hell, search any editorial staff that isn’t Blavity or LATINX. Count how many Black Writers are on staff. Expand your search. Count how many Writers of Color are on their board.

Now, look at all “diverse” stories they’ve published. Will you notice a consistent trend among what’s being published?
Will you notice that the diversity initiatives by these companies are heavily white washed or place a glorifying eye onto whiteness in a way that makes them seem “troubled, but by golly — they don’t know any better!”

The particular Blackness depicted in all of these stories and narratives are structured counter-culturally against the issues and culture of poverty and class. You will never find a story of ghetto, slum or hood lifestyles, or even symmetrical comparisons — because the elitism being pushed forward heavily leans to drowning specific kinds of blackness and uplifting the more “tolerable” versions of it by the fault of the publications.

Refer to my Motown metaphor, you will notice a recurring theme in the performance.

“Four young people smiling while talking near a staircase outside a building” by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Diversity is just the newest incarnation of the Mainstream Cross-Over culture of the 1960s — it’s not that original. It’s saying we can only be accepted by an artform when our art matches a certain tone. It’s saying we can’t all make it, so only the ones that they can accept will do it.

It’s troubling, and unless these companies are willing to confront this directly, they are hypocrites.

And there is very little as disgusting asa liberal hypocrite.

#TRENDSETTER: NICKI MINAJ’S QUEEN ALBUM COVER IS A CELEBRATION OF BLACK ROYALTY

#TRENDSETTER, Art, Music, Non-Fiction

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By: Steven Underwood

According to the Fader, Nicki Minaj released a look at her album cover for her widely anticipated fourth album, QUEEN, this afternoon. While many fans expected a look more standard to a eurocentric ideal of royalty, Nicki Minaj went into a direction that would make Cleopatra in awe. This Egyptian aesthetic mashes up both a visage of sexuality and power while still inspiring an sub-Saharan idealism with the color choice.

This is bound to be a new defining era for the “Chun-Li” rapper and we are ecstatic.

Do you like the cover? Comment below!

Nicki Minaj’s fourth album QUEEN debuts on August 10th. Pre-orders are available next week. 

Luka Sabbat, We Need to Talk…

#TRENDSETTER, Art, Articles, Culture, Essays, Non-Fiction

Dear Luka Sabbat,

I am speaking directly to you.

No word limit.

No hashtags.

Luka Sabbat, you have had quite a career despite your age. You are the child of greatness and you walk circles of fashion and prestige that I have never dreamed of being able to even touch growing up in hovels where trauma and poverty was the only thing guaranteed to me. Yet, I still rooted for you, because you’re black, and because I know no matter the walk of life, we all have troubles.

Until, you opened the ashtray you call a mouth to talk down to the hatefully proclaimed “SJWs” and activists. Because, you’re so beyond all of these things that you can criticize them – that you can poke holes in their logic because you float on a plane of ascended philosophy where scrutiny is hobby of the low and uncultured.

You, my brother, with blood not too many generations free of the shackles of the same victimization these people you criticize face everyday they stand up for something, have the audacity to sit there with your pencil thin mustache and SCRUTINIZE the people you mock for scrutiny?

I’m not going to call you stupid.

Stupid people don’t get as far as you do – not without wealthy connections and family’s legacy to stand on top of; Stupid people don’t contribute immensely to philanthropic pursuits – unless they’re going to brag about it later for clout. Stupid people leap to defend abusers and present problematic antics as a hallmark of true vision; Stupid people speak without knowing what they want to say; stupid people are meek; stupid people are hypocrites; stupid people, foolish people, who seem to make it the furthest and get the highest platforms in their pointy leather boots (likely sewn by people who can’t even afford to feel how uncomfortable they are) don’t listen when people let them know WHY they do something: they just brag about how they’re going to make a video, eventually, explaining how THEY think, and how THEY feel, and how IMPORTANT they think they are.

Of course, because NOT EVERYONE IS A VICTIM.

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Luka Sabbat, you are not stupid. You are an idiot. A dilettante. An amateur in thought, theory and execution who got ahold of his parent’s soapbox and thought himself a Cicero! But, honey, Cicero was executed and he changed nothing, because he lacked Understanding. Luka, like him, you will fix nothing the way you are, and the way you think, and the way you carry yourself with utter repugnance. (By the time Cicero was discovered as “influential” his civilization was already dead).

Not Everyone is a Victim, Luka? And that’s why SJWs are wrong? And that’s what’s so heinous about our generation?

Erase your self-righteousness like you erase the allegations against your bros.

No, Luka. Not everyone is a victim, but most people have been victimized, and that’s why insensitive assholes who hype the foolish things you say, and Kanye said, and Trump perpetuates painted SJWs in such a brand.

No activist whom I have ever met has ever stopped at the internet. That’s because the internet is a tool to SHARE information, to experience new thoughts and then to test them in real life – dummy. But hey, you did only one semester of College before you realized anything you could get there your family already had, ain’t that right Mr. Fallback? Your co-star, Yara Shahidi, knows how formidable the internet is in inspiring people to make lasting decisions and choose to dedicate themselves to these issues and — so many rail against, abuse her, trash her as a SJW. I’m sure she feels your sympathies. A great woman, that Yara, and she will inspire many, through the internet, most likely.

Being an activist isn’t counter-culture anymore because you say so? Because you’re SOOOO counter culture? You peel my tuition off flings and hook-ups. What’s really good, my nigga?

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I see right through what you were doing here. Implying our struggles are done with because it’s not like how it “used to be”. And the “old days were better”. Bro, allusions are the tools of real artists, not the playthings of socialites. Keep it real, or keep it in your Balenciagas.

By the way, you’re out here criticizing the “fake” activists, as if they’re the ones who criticized you and your idols. It’s the real activists who be pounding the pavements who are on your ass, and the ass of your friends who do these terrible shit.

Yet, you persist on making it about how people are mean to you for speaking your mind. That it’s this PC culture and other Alt-Right buzzwords. That everyone is just so sensitive: WAH, WHY CANT I BE FRIENDS WITH A RAPIST?

WAH, WHY CAN’T KANYE WEST DISRESPECT AN ENTIRE GROUP OF MARGINALIZED PEOPLE?

WAH, WHY IS IT WHEN I SAY THINGS PEOPLE DISAGREE WITH THEY DON’T LIKE ME ANYMORE? IT’S LIKE PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO AGREE WITH ME BECAUSE THEY DISAGREE WITH ME!

(Bitch, you’re a little baby).

You complain about people being politically correct, and that it’s toxic and harmful to your humanity, when in reality, you’re just angry that no one wants to play in your playpen because you’re mean, and a bully, and no one wants to listen about how you saved those poor unfortunate black(er) people because you’re okay with sexual abuse and racial misconduct — NIGGA!

Grow up, Luka.

Be about more than your image you want people to care about.

Be about more than the echo chamber you squat and shit in and actually realize people are saying these things for other reasons than clout — unlike you.

Be about actually realizing where you stand in this culture and how your actions contradict your intentions.

Then, maybe the criticism you will mean nothing to you, because you know where you stand in the moral swing of things.

 

Steven Underwood

Bachelor’s of Arts in English

 

 

More of Luka’s poignant observations:

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