The Black Experience 2.0: The Dehumanisation of Black Characters

Hello and welcome to The Black Experience 2.0: Giving White Comfort The Backseat.

The Black Experience 2.0 is the second edition of The Black Experience which was held last year in February. The Black Experience is a month long blog series held in honour of Black History Month, which features Black authors and Black bookish content creators and aims at highlighting Black stories and experiences.

TBE 2.0 is especially about giving Black people the space to be fully them and share their stories while centring themselves and their experience of Blackness and without care for the white gaze.

Today on TBE 2.0, I talk about something I’ve wanted to discuss for a long time and it’s the dehumanisation of Black characters and the casual anti blackness in the book community.

A common call in book spaces, in relation to characters, is the call for messy, imperfect characters. There is a nearly constant call for human, imperfect, messy characters  but after spending a while in the book community, I’ve noticed that this call doesn’t apply to characters of certain races, specifically Black characters.

Like with other trends developing in publishing, this need is being met, albeit slowly, we have a little more messy characters now. But the reception of these characters are vastly different.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised or as frustrated when I noticed the disparity between the way non Black imperfect characters and Black ones are received.  

I shouldn’t be shocked or angry whenever I see a Black character being bashed for the same thing a non Black character gets sympathy for. I shouldn’t be shocked when Black teen characters going through life are called ‘troublesome’ or ‘awful’ and their non Black counterparts are called ‘struggling poor dears’.

The lack of empathy for and constant dehumanisation of Black characters shouldn’t be surprising since it’s reminiscent of the real life treatment of Black people.

Black people don’t get to be messy in real life, Black characters in fiction can’t too. Black people don’t get to go through rough times in real life; Black characters can’t too. Black people don’t get to have lapses of judgement in real life; Black characters can’t too. Black people don’t get to make honest mistakes or be ignorant in real life; Black characters can’t too.

Black people and Black characters have to be perfect. Messiness, imperfection is not for us. Those concepts aren’t relatable in us. Complex realities don’t exist for us. We’re either really good or we’re not.

Humanity and it’s complexity is not for us.

So excuse me whenever I feel slightly irritated when people ask for imperfect characters but cannot accept imperfect Black characters.

Because I see y’all bashing that Black teen character’s experience is reminiscent of an actual Black person’s teenhood struggles and trying to figure out right from wrong, and then in the same breath empathising with a White character for doing the same.

I see y’all looking for redemption in White antiheroes and villains and in the same breath rage at Black antiheroes and villains and claim there’s no redemption for them.

I see y’all love and coddle character A (or W) and despise character B.

I see your casual and projected anti blackness, and I’m tired of it.

“We need messy characters” “Less put together characters and more hot messes”

These are all great requests but until you can accept less than perfect Black characters, and in extension Black people, don’t ask that.

Solve your antiblackness, it’s glaring and Black folks are tired.

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3 thoughts on “The Black Experience 2.0: The Dehumanisation of Black Characters

  1. Enjoyed the post. It’s been interesting hearing other readers talk about what’s widely considered “relatable.” I feel most validated by/ relate most to the Black characters who are more selfish/ probably considered unsavory or flawed by general readership.


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