The Black Experience 2.0: The Devaluation and Consumerism of Black Pain

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, author Laila Sabreen (she/her) talks about the devaluation and consumerism of Black pain and Black trauma. 

The role that Black pain plays in the publishing industry is one that I’ve had to think about a lot as both a reader and writer of YA.

Pain, like any other emotion, has its place in the Black community– as it does in pretty much all communities. The problem that is present is how stories centered around Black pain are able to make it further past the gatekeepers of the publishing industry compared to stories centered around Black joy or Black love. A parallel problem that sometimes arises when examining how Black pain is devalued and consumed can be seen when books that feature Black pain, as well as Black joy and/or Black love, only receive attention for the former aspect rather than any of the latter. This is because publishing often places more value on Black pain compared to the Black joy or Black love, which leads to a greater consumption of Black pain which then leads to its devaluation and the cycle continues. Black pain does, and should continue to, have a space in publishing, but it is not what defines us as a community. It is not all that we are.

Though Black pain, Black joy, Black love, etc are all equally important, I believe that Black pain is more consumed by the publishing industry because it’s often thought to teach or act as an educational tool for readers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning something from books, in fact it’s pretty great, but a problem sometimes arises when stories about Black pain are expected to educate readers. Black pain can educate those that don’t experience it, but that’s not its function. Our pain doesn’t exist to educate or serve others, and the expectation for it to do so lends its devaluation and consummation.

There are stories that I look to, especially as a writer, that include Black pain in ways that I found really engaging and insightful. In Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, Bree, learns about her lineage and family history especially as it relates to growing up in the South. In Slay by Brittney Morris, Kierra, has to learn how to navigate and celebrate her Blackness in both the real world and a virtual one. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, is both a love story and a story about how Felix, a Black trans boy, faces transphobia, classism, and racism. There are many more examples, but these are three where the Black protagonists do face pain because of their identity at some point on their journey, but facing that pain is not the eternity of their stories.

It’s only a part.

About Laila Sabreen

Laila Sabreen is a young adult contemporary author based in the Washington DC area. She currently attends Emory University where she is double majoring in Sociology and English. Her love of writing began as a love of reading, which started when she used to take weekly trips to her local library. There she fell in love with the Angelina Ballerina series, so much so that she started to write Angelina Ballerina fanfiction at the age of five (though she did not know it was fanfiction at the time). Today, she writes novels about the Black Muslim characters she wanted to see growing up. Her debut novel, You Truly Assumed, will be published by Inkyard Press/HarperCollins in Winter 2022.






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