When I started taking this writing stuff seriously the goals weren’t at all driven by the need to get paid well for my efforts, and that was definitely an error in judgment.
I was still in the bubble of that much-needed “exposure” and the thrill of viewing my published words that carried the desired value to warrant comments, praises and curses from readers who evidently took the time to do something that fewer and fewer folks are willing to do these days.
Even when the Medium Partner Program made its grand debut a couple of years ago, I was reluctant to make major revisions to my writing schedule. It took the personal email from a member of the marketing team to coax me into giving it a try.
I had spent the previous four years brushing up on my skills, and learning the ropes of the editorial world in ways that elevated my game.
After joining the platform by invitation in the summer of 2013, my beloved editor of the best “Collection” featured on Medium — Culture Club, before it became Those People — endearingly took me under her wing and unearthed the truth teller that I always strive to be — without filters.
Suddenly, I was given permission to exert the fearlessness that was waiting to be nurtured through the testimonies of personal struggles and the analysis of a suffocating climate of injustice that has inevitably become the mainstay of my extended portfolio.
Once I was free to curate the chapters that didn’t need to be approved by any outside parties, I decided to view my daily entries as scripts to the talk show that hosts hot button issues that need to be thoroughly highlighted and dissected.
The joy of self-expression didn’t require a price tag, although it would’ve been nice to have that bonus, and so I spent all those years doing what I do best with minimal compensation. I relied mostly on the instant gratification of applause from a growing audience, and the attention from recognizable brands like Huffington Post — that reposted my work for free until the rebranding to “HuffPost” left bloggers like me in the dark — in favor of White writers who are now getting paid to populate the pages of Black Voices.
When that disrespectful email from Huff Post arrived at my inbox, it was the jarring alarm that signaled the downward spiral of an industry that was direly failing Black writers at every turn.
I was already experiencing the woes of a hostile job market that was and still is attacking the honorable pursuits of job seekers, who are punished for the crime of being helplessly dependent on the basic 9 to 5 formula, that’s hopefully accompanied by the benefits package and the contract that goes beyond six months.
If you’re lucky to garner the meaningless “temp-to-perm” gig, that rarely makes that leap to “perm,” you can expect your job duties to increase substantially as the weeks goes by.
The trick is to be assigned way more than you can reasonably handle, and that usually occurs when co-workers start to make their abrupt exits after surveying the pitiful landscape of disarray, before making their dismal forecasts.
And of course you’re more than willing to pick up the slack as the trusted team player, who doesn’t mind doing the impossible until a new sucker sweeps in to relieve the strain.
But of course that day never comes, and when you expectedly drop the ball, management brushes it off as “no big deal,” but before you can heave a sigh of relief, a call from your agency informs about why your position has been terminated.
You know that it has zero to do with “structural changes within the department” and everything to do with the dysfunctional cycle that employers are hooked on, that allows the systemic abuse of desperate employees who are over-burdened until they are worn and tattered, and unable to maintain the momentum they displayed when their job duties were manageable.
The next phase is to discard the victimized and recruit fresher meat who will end up suffering the exact same fate.
This deplorable treatment by employers with “stellar reputations” in their respective industries is allowed to thrive without issue because of the terrible state of the workforce, and how the incentive to fete potential employees with the dignity and consideration they deserve has all but vanished.
So here we are with the splendid arrival of summer, and the unchanged virus of distrust and resentment between my station as a Black journalist on the hunt, and the fading options that only serve as the reminder of why the chances of scoring a full-time editorial gig that matches my skill set and aligns with my overall trajectory is non-existent.
Aside from the sham of job postings that are really just stale litter that are meant to keep job boards barely breathing, there’s also the great expectations of “excellence before you have the chance to prove excellence,” that unpublished and unverified authors have to contend with.
The competitive mechanisms of social media have made it mandatory for you to have that blue check mark next to the profile that can barely contain the mind-blowing achievements that usually revolve around the book(s) that you’ve spent a year, touring around the country to celebrate.
It’s against the law for employers to infuse their specifications for the “perfect candidate” with outright demands that are suspiciously biased, but at this point it’s also maddening to scan the postings, armed with the acute radar that reveals what the naked eye will can’t miss.
It’s become routine to unveil how the positions that seemed like a great fit, were ultimately awarded to winners who didn’t even have to go through the buzzkill of creating usernames and passwords, with the headache-inducing exercise of uploading materials, and providing the additional points of personal and professional references.
These influencers were contacted directly, based on their high visibility and the guarantee that their prized presence will draw more traffic, which is essentially more than half of the job function.
This debilitating era of journalism is even more harrowing in this nationalized chaos that features the bigoted messaging of Trump’s White House, and how as a Black woman who uses words to communicate to the masses, it’s impossible to exclude the potency of emotions from the narratives that capture the ongoing nightmare of our lives.
It has crossed my mind that when White editors check out links to my work, they most likely will not be inspired enough to give me a call. Especially since I have a tendency to shame the audacity of White privilege and the supremacy that keeps reputable newsrooms shamelessly devoid of diverse talents.
I’m also quite vocal about the atrocity of White women writers at recognizable outlets, who are committed to furnishing bi-monthly puff pieces about Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, that tend to cleanse away the filth of their co-conspirator roles in a toxic and criminalized administration that they both firmly support — whole-heartedly.
When you’re forced to greet each day with the breaking news of how the president’s henchman, Attorney General William Barr callously made the ill-fated decision not to pursue federal civil rights charges against the killer cop who choked Eric Garner to death; while still consuming the confirmation that the sheriff’s deputies who witnessed one of their own tasering Chinedu Okobi to death, despite his fragile mental state and being unarmed, have been cleared of all charges — you have to swiftly figure out where to channel the all that rage and frustration.
So I guess I am the Black writer who will never stop writing about the issues that matter even if it translates into the limbo of being unemployable due to the graphic nature of my delivery, that reeks of the militant status that won’t blend well with the vibes of journalists who are too White to relate.
And for the record, even your own will betray you in ways that are upsettingly traitorous; as I have discovered through the notable entanglement that was borne out of the innocence of wanting to create an homage to a Black creative, who believed that the Black women handling her story would protect her integrity.
The code of salaciousness is embedded in every structure of communication, and even I have had the weak moments when the big pay day blurs my vision long enough to frighten me.
There’s a rebellious pride that comes with the assessment of knowing that you really don’t belong anywhere.
You’re not the easily identifiable placement who’s considered “a good catch” for ravenous recruiters at employment agencies, who are also confused about the evolving market that no longer relies on their expertise in the same manner that recalls the boom of more than a decade ago.
As long as the shit continues to shit, Black writers like me, who are compelled to speak our truth, on our own terms, will continue to do so at the risk of being viewed as societal renegades with angry temperaments that will sour the mood of sought-after editorial outfits.
It’s a no win situation for those of us who aren’t flexible enough to pledge allegiance to the click-bait factory that involves even throwing our own under the bus.
Trump’s presidency has infected everything in its path with the falsehood of how the rules of decency and compassion can be manipulated for the benefit of amassing profits that are fleeting and venomous.
And so I’ve given up hunting because writing fiction is actually a lot more fun than I anticipated, and most importantly, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the best thing is to let it find you.
I think…I hope!