The Power of Voice: An Artist in the Midst of War
By Dr. Maxine Thompson
“Those who commit the murders, write the reports.” Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells was an activist and a journalist. According to Wikipedia: She was born into slavery in 1862, but as an adult, she documented lynching in the United States in the 1890s, showing that it was often used as a way to control or punish blacks who competed with whites, rather than being based on criminal acts by blacks, as was usually claimed by whites. Needless to say, she had a voice at a time when it was dangerous for a black person, a woman at that, to have a voice.
In that vein, I never realized how important my voice was until I lost mine after a thyroid surgery in 2008…. We’re not talking laryngitis, either. Have you ever tried to ask for directions when you sound like a fog horn, and the mailman can’t understand you? Or, have you tried to order a fast-food take-out over the drive-through window speaker when your voice won’t go up enough decibels for the person on the other end to hear you? Or, better yet, have you ever hosted an Internet radio show where you sound horrible, and you know it, but you have to move on because this is part of your calling? Talk about frustrating, and that was only my literal voice. How about my voice in the world?
Well, it started me to thinking about how so many African American authors, who weren’t given a chance to get published back through the years, even up through the 80s, and early 90s, (I was one of them), have now been given a voice. Many have self-published to get their words, their voice, so to speak, out to the world. I know I did. Eventually, I sold 6 books to other publishers, but now I’m relaunching my books under my own company.
Anyhow, some African Americans have been published through traditional, mainstream publishers, but the point is, we now have a voice. The Internet and social media have opened a lot of doors, too. Over the past 8 years, with President Barack Obama as our first African American Chief of Staff, we saw how important the voice of the people can be when we united.
Now we are living in an even more treacherous time, much of which is being documented through technology and social media. But as writers, we need to document. The power of the pen still reigns.
Whether the media forgets, we should never forget. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Alva Braziel, Delrawn Smalls Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and on the anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death, everything is the same. Let’s not forget Trayvon Martin, either. Do you recall any convictions for these murder victims? Do you expect to see any convictions for the more recent murder victims, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, which were captured on video and live streamed for the world to see? Or more recently, Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist, who was shot by police Monday, 7-18-16, with his hands held up in the air. Will there be any conviction?
What should we do as writers? We write. My business philosophy, taken from my old job at the Los Angeles County Department of Children Services, is, “If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” For example, if a child was injured or killed in a foster home, or in its parent’s home, and the authorities couldn’t find any documentation in your case, indicating you had made all reasonable efforts to supervise and protect that child, you were in deep trouble.
Likewise, if you don’t write what you are seeing happening here in the United States, you are just as involved in the complicity of these crimes we see around us.
Our job, as a writer, involves taking a stand. What is going on in America is wrong. Systemic racism is wrong. This involves all of its offshoots—mass incarceration of Blacks, poverty, redlining, racial profiling, police brutality, miseducation, and lack of reparations for our ancestors who provided the free labor which built the wealth of this country.
On my last radio show, 7-18-16, where I interviewed 21-year-old author, Terrence R. McCrae, who penned the book, “What Should We All do After the Trayvon Martin Trial?” I’ve cited other books which, (along with the Underground Railroad, abolitionists, and the fact slavery was morally wrong,) helped end slavery. These books include, but are not limited to, David Walker’s Appeal (written in 1829,) Frederick Douglass’s narrative, My Bondage and My Freedom, and even a white writer’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the 20th century, another white writer, the late Harper Lee, addressed racism in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in the brilliant summation given by the attorney’s character, Atticus Finch. One of the best books of the 20th Century, which addressed the internal devastation (yet the triumph of the human spirit) of slavery, was Pulitzer Prize-Winning novel, Beloved, by Toni Morrison.
Let’s face it. We’re in a war. A war on our community. As artists, this is definitely a time that the power of the written word is just as powerful as YouTube, Periscope, and other social media outlets.
Let us never forget. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. I always see it on a deeper level. Without writing our passage down, “we,” as a people, didn’t happen.
About the Blogger: Dr. Maxine Thompson is a novelist, poet, columnist, short story writer, book reviewer, an editor, ghostwriter, Internet Radio Show Host, and a Literary Agent. As an editor, she has edited numerous best-selling books for African Americans, including many books for men and women who are incarcerated in the prison system. In a down economy, as a literary agent, she has negotiated over 100 book deals for African Americans. She is the author of Novels, The Ebony Tree, Hostage of Lies, LA Blues, LA Blues 2, and LA Blues 3, A Place Called Home (A Short Story Collection), The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell, a contributor to bestselling anthologies Secret Lovers, (A Black Expression Bestseller) All in The Family, and Never Knew Love Like This Before, (Also a Black Expression Book Club best-seller, and Kindle Bestseller).
She is also an ebook author of The Hush Hush Secrets of Writing Fiction That Sell 1, 2, The Hush Hush Secrets of Making Money as a Writer, The Hush Hush Secrets of Creating a Life You Love, Novellas, The Katrina Blues, Capri’s Second Chance, and Summer of Salvation, contributor to Proverbs for the People, and Editor/Contributor to anthology, Saturday Morning.
Her novels, The Ebony Tree, (Won a small Pen Award in 1997), Hostage of Lies, (Voted a Best Book of 2009), LA Blues, (2011), and LA Blues II, (2012), which were featured in Black Expressions’ Catalog in August 2012. LA Blues 3 was published in August 2013.