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#PenPOSSE: What Cultural Barriers Black Non-Fiction Authors Had to Unlearn to Grow as Writers

Podcast recap from this month’s #PenPOSSE Roundtable on the topic Non-Fiction Writers — Healing, Inspiring & Educating the Black Community One Book at a Time

During July’s Black Writers Workspace #PenPOSSE Roundtable, I spoke with eight non-fiction writers about their journey to unlearn cultural stigmas that hinder personal and professional growth and stagnate healing within the Black community.

Described as ‘cultural barriers of care,’ these beliefs and rituals, passed down from generation to generation, include stereotypical ideas and theories about how we should connect with the world outside our communities, handle mental and physical health challenges, pursue careers, raise kids, and exemplify strength within the family dynamic.

It is customary in Black communities for our elders, particularly those who lived through monumental periods of racial discrimination, to pass down stigmas, taboos, and urban folklore, to help protect the community from the pain of the past. By viewing and interpreting these experiences through an Afrocentric lens, our elders work to control the narrative and expose the outcomes of inequity, racial injustice, and poverty.

But these barriers force many people within the Black community to move through life under a cloud of suspicion and caution. We often hear our grandparents and parents repeat things like Black folks shouldn’t tell family secrets (never talk about your trauma or the trauma of other family members outside the home); Black folks don’t need mental health therapy (we must trust that God will work it out); and Black folks should be content in the workplace (we must learn to be satisfied with whatever job/salary we have). Coupled with the weight and responsibilities of living in a world that is too often biased and struggling to live up to the unrealistic expectations of Black strength (Black folks must always exemplify strength and fortitude), Black manhood (Real men don’t cry or show vulnerabilities) and Black womanhood (Black women can handle anything), many of us are crumbling under the weight of unhealthy goals.

The foundation for these stigmas and cultural barriers of care is rooted in our ancestor’s experiences surviving the horrid embattlement of slavery, racial discrimination, and the poverty and marginalization that remained after slavery ended. The unfortunate impact is fear and mistrust of a world that has been historically unfair and unjust to people of color.

The eight panelists who participated in the #PenPOSSE Roundtable included writers and published authors Natima Sheree, Mel Vanderpool, Paul Thornton, Winifred Summer, Dr. Tammy Lewis Wilborn, Emerald Fowler, Keesha Ha, and Ty Salvant. Each writer described the stigma they had to unlearn to pursue Black excellence in their writing and personal life. They discussed workforce toxicity, the fear of not being black enough, telling family secrets, mental health, and Black motherhood. Each panelist conceded that although the continual passing down of these cultural barriers of care isn’t meant to hurt the Black community, it leaves us stagnant, anxious, and overly cautious to move forward in certain areas of our lives.

During the discussion, I learned the importance of loving who we are, embracing Black joy, and moving toward greatness without the limits set forth by cultural barriers or our past. While we understand these cautionary tales, we must be authentic and embrace our truth so that we can control the narrative about the Black experience and move the community towards healing.

To view or listen to the discussion, click the link below.

YouTube Video:

Discussion Topics / Timestamp

Defining our Cultural Barriers of Care 38:20

Being Black in the Workplace and Learning to be Content in Our Jobs 38:57

The Cost of ‘Playing the Game’ in the Workforce 39:56

Black Motherhood and Homeschooling 44:08

The ‘Black Survival’ Mode 46:15

Am I Black Enough? 47:26

Disclosing Black Family Secrets 50:22

Discussing Trauma in the Black Family 53:10

Urban Myths 55:41

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