When Women Speak: Justina Ireland

Posted on 15 November 2017 Wednesday

Whether we’re speaking out to change laws, practices in our communities or to make space for our children it’s necessary work and necessary isn’t always easy or pretty, but it’s done with love, dignity and integrity. I’m thinking over the essays I’ve read thus far, and those I have yet to post, and I see a future so bright that is shines. I believe these women have strong, clear and impassioned voices that ought to be heard. Are you listening?

Kelly Starlings Lyon: How Do Women Use Art As Resistance?
Zetta Elliott: Nice Is Not Enough
Traci Sorell: Why Do You Speak Out?
Ambelin Kwaymullina: On Being Loud and Hopeful
Cheryl Willis Hudson: Women Lead the Independent Publishing Movement
Laura Jiménez: Static Bodies in Motion: Representations of Girls in Graphic Novels
Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez: Don’t Call Me Strong
Maya Gonzalez: What Do I Speak Out? True Power Rises
Sujei Lugo: When Women Speak
Neesha Meminger: I Want to Talk About Power

“There is A Minefield and You Will Become a Demolitions Expert”

There is no good way to disagree with someone when you are a Woman of Color. Even more so when you are a Black woman.

This is something you learn when you dare to exist as a Woman of Color in a majority white space, which is exactly what publishing and the rest of the bookish world is. Entering any conversation is like jumping feet first willingly into a minefield and you will have to learn to navigate it.

The first thing you should know is that it is impossible to navigate a minefield with soft words and platitudes. Probing for mines takes work. It’s terrifying and stressful. You will spend much of the time wondering if it’s worth it. But it’s necessary for survival.

This is what we must be mindful of when we speak out as women of color. Anything youScreen Shot 2017-11-15 at 9.19.41 AM say or do will be taken as hostile, as provocation. Any little thing could set off a chain reaction. Discussing your multiple identities and your experiences will be taken as an attack. Even your gentlest critiques will be read by others as an assault.

It doesn’t really matter what you’re talking about, your words will be catalogued, critiqued, dismissed. People may smile and nod but what they’re really doing is considering their own opinion and response, their feelings over yours. They see you in the minefield, but why would they bother to cross such a dangerous expanse? They’ve already moved onto the next thing.

The second thing you will learn is that it’s foolhardy to ask the people who seeded the minefield with explosives for help from where they stand on the edge of danger. They cannot see the landmines, not until they kneel down next to you and get to work.

“Instead we chastise, we tone police in order to make everyone, especially those in power, comfortable. But that isn’t any kind of kindness to those fighting for their survival.”

Even then, some will dismiss the message out of hand because a Woman of Color is the messenger. Because we refuse to recognize the unspoken rule of “kindness first, everything else second” that dictates that we in the kidlit community don’t critique each other. Instead we chastise, we tone police in order to make everyone, especially those in power, comfortable. But that isn’t any kind of kindness to those fighting for their survival.

This is why I laugh when people ask me why I speak out, why I am loud and vocal and unapologetic. “What if people don’t like you? What if they don’t want to work with you?”

When you are in a minefield this must be the least of your concerns. Why are we more afraid of potential defense than disarming the explosives around us? Why are we more worried about grown ass adults than we are children? Kids who are being culturally erased or ingesting toxic stereotypes? At what point do we put the emotional development of the children we write for ahead of our own comfort and the comfort of our friends?

We should all want to do better for the children we write for, so that they don’t have to navigate the same minefields we do.

Justina Ireland is the author of the teen novels Dread Nation, Vengeance Bound, and Promise of Shadows. She enjoys dark chocolate and dark humor and is not too proud to admit that she’s still afraid of the dark. She lives with her husband, kid, and dog in Pennsylvania. You can visit her online at www.justinaireland.com.

Posted in: Me Being Me