“We Negro writers, just by being black, have been on the blacklist all our lives. Censorship for us begins at the color line.”
The first time I read that line by Langston Hughes, I was a senior in high school. I was about to finish a 13-year stint as one of the few Black boys in predominantly white Catholic schools. For years, my life was black and white. I woke up on the Black side off a block in Northwest Detroit, drove into a quaint white suburb for school, and slipped back into the Black side before dinner was on the table. I was a chameleon. The concern of appearing “too Black” had passed; mom taught me the graces of code-switching young. I knew when “ain’t” transformed to “am not” and when “store” could echo like “sto.” Back then, the lines were clear.
College colored in those lines. Lines started to blend, solids became gradients, and a new expanded worldview began to complement my affinity for pastel t-shirts. I started writing for my college blog—someone wanted to pay me for my thoughts. I was exonerated. All the times I tweeted “Black Lives Matter” in high school to the dismay of my suburban classmates, someone wanted to pay me for my opinion. The opportunity to rip the tape of civility, subordination, and fear had finally come.
So I wrote, I wrote, and I kept writing. I wrote for everything I could: a teen news website I found on Twitter, Oberlin’s alumni magazine, The New York Times. I found freedom in rhetoric and love in composition; the freedom to write without reservation, its universality, and an inherent bend towards truth moved me. What to many on my transcript was just a minor was for me a major vehicle in which I could drive my defining passions.
I found my voice in complexities, navigating between a Black and white world and turning into full color. I embraced the rainbow inside of me. My power is derived from the pen—it’s ink speaks for me. It has made me smile, cry, laugh, lust, and ponder. It has made me whole.
Language transformed my life; I didn’t know who I was until I found the words to express my own being.
James Baldwin once said “I just want to be an honest man and a good writer.”
I do, too. That’s where I want to go. Me, myself, and my pen.