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A BLACK WRITER’S BURNOUT IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS

Expectations of Black ingenuity in times of chaos is enough to break any writer. We are worn down by years of digital media instability and now, a pandemic.

I actually don’t know how to start this shit off. Which is so interesting to me, because I don’t usually struggle with openings or closings. It’s always the middle shit—the meat of it all—that throws me off. But this time around… it’s an issue. I mean, I kinda want to come out and say that burnout fucking sucks and I’m tired of every-fucking-thing at this point and then end it by blaming it all on Miss Rona. But that wouldn’t be quite as eloquent.

So I’ll start with this instead:

At this moment of time, I hate writing.

I know, I know. Scandalous, right? How the fuck can that be when my whole identity is based on such a thing? I mean, my Twitter @ is IWriteAllDay_ for crying out loud. How oxymoronic is that?

Quite, I’ll admit, but think about it from my point of view for a second. Digital media has always been… interesting to me. Not kind at all, but quite interesting. And like many other Black writers and creatives that fight to stay afloat in this hellscape, I had to scrap for every inch that I got. Mainstream digital media locked me out, so the wave was blogging… until it wasn’t. Then came freelance writing for two long years. One year was so fucking bonkers that I produced anywhere from 80 to 100 freelance pieces. And if you’ve ever done any freelancing as anyone who is not white or not male, you already know how unhinged that sounds.

Fast forward like seven years in total and I can… finally breathe in the type of staff position I always coveted and dreamed would end my suffering as a miserable freelancer. It’s also the kind of position I can feel my complete [writerly] self in without any self-policing or egregious censorship in favor of white sensibilities.

For all intents and purposes, I have found myself in a place where the ills of the digital media landscape (the constant hustling, the shitty freelance rates, insulting emails from [white] editors, and STRESS) aren’t actively choking me out now.

So why am I so fucking tired? Why does the thought of picking up a pen or opening a Word document make me want to projectile vomit now?

There are several reasons. Loads of them actually. But if I were to be on my Inspector Gadget shit and meticulously narrow it all down to the two big ones… I’d probably attribute it to the expectation of Black ingenuity during times of great turmoil and the fact that digital media has been unstable for a very long time, and that lack of security is enough to make any writer give up their last remaining fuck.

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There’s no denying it. Black people are cool as fuck. Smart as fuck. Inventive as fuck. And always seem to make sweet ass lemonade out of the piles and piles of horseshit that this country loves handing us as consolation prizes. And, if we’re being honest, we tend to create some of our best pieces of art and experience our best periods of creativity while simultaneously being under greater siege than usual by these United States. The times that immediately come to mind are that of, say, The Harlem Renaissance or like, more recently, the Black media renaissance (particularly with sitcoms) during the 1990s—which was happening currently with The Rodney King Trial and the LA Uprising. It’s weird, but it’s a thing as much as water is a thing. But of course, that thing can become particularly stressful when it then becomes… an expectation. Particularly during, you guessed it, a global pandemic. I’m thinking about some of the tweets and pieces I initially saw during the beginning of many of these stay-at-home orders and how some were curious to see what kind of “art” would be produced during this uncertain time. But what happens when you don’t want to create? Or what happens when you are literally in too much distress to create?

It’s funny. My brain has declared existential terrorism on itself every day since COVID-19 became a thing and the thing that is at the forefront of my mind is still my purported responsibility (and gift, I suppose) as a Black creative and how I’m failing that calling right now.

And then there’s the anxiousness that merely comes hand-in-hand with working in digital media right about now. The industry’s recent ill-advised “pivot to video” (which, as we all know, flopped because someone—Facebook—decided to inflate some numbers) gutted the business and unjustly put so many excellent writers on their out on their ass… and back into the shit-fire that is freelancing. In the last couple of years, two publications that I loved freelancing for—both of them aimed at catering to LGBTQIA+ audiences and audiences of color—folded quite violently due to “budgetary” reasons. And that same kind of shit is happening aggressively thanks to even more budget cuts that were prompted by the stronghold that COVID-19 has on the planet right now.

In truth, I feel like I live in some weird, bizarro version of Survivor meets The Challenge. And, at any moment, another publication that I love and enjoy will fold, again. And me and more of my friends will be unemployed, again. Left to wonder, again, where our next source of income will come from.

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So where, tell me, does that leave any headspace for writing. Or even thinking about writing? Or even liking writing, for that matter?

I don’t know if it does. It doesn’t seem like it to me. The joy for it now alludes me, but for survival purposes, the writing—and the burnout—continues.

Clarkisha Kent is a Nigerian-American writer, culture critic, former columnist, and up and coming author. Committed to telling inclusive stories via unique viewpoints from nigh-infancy, she is fascinated with using storytelling and cultural criticism not as a way to “overcome” or “transcend” her unique identities (as a fat and queer Black African woman), but as a way to explore them, celebrate them, affirm them, and most importantly, normalize them and make the world safe enough for people who share them to exist. As a University of Chicago graduate with a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and English, she brings with her over five years of pop culture analysis experience, four years of film theory training, and a healthy appetite for change. Her writing has been featured in outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Essence, The Root, BET, HuffPost, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and more. She is also the creator of #TheKentTest, a media litmus test designed to evaluate the quality of representation that exists for women of color in film and other media. Currently, Kent is working on finishing a novel about a Black female outlaw and a TV comedy pilot about an immortal familiar.

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