DiversifYA: Brandi M Ziegler

BrandiBrandi M Ziegler joins us at DiversifYA today! Brandi was my (Marieke’s) PitchWars 2014 mentee and she’s a extremely talented writer and all-round wonderful person. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog!

1. How do you identify yourself?

The short answer is black. But I also identify as a woman, a mom, and a writer. I suppose the politically correct answer (the one I put a check next to) is African-American.

2. What did it feel like growing up being black?

I was not a typical black child. My father worked hard serving his country and was a high ranking officer in the US Army before I came along. So the majority of my neighbors were white, including the general and his kids who lived down the street. I was definitely an “oreo” growing up. But it’s not just that. In the military, at least when I was a military brat, if you were racist, you were shunned. As far as the officer housing… yeah, those little boxes on the hillside were pretty much full of white people. Everywhere else though? The diversity was beautiful. So many men and women from so many backgrounds serving their country. I didn’t really feel connected to my heritage growing up because I lived in a community that didn’t see color. We were all there to honorably support our troops, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There were moments in my life where being black was brought to the front of my mind though. When pen ink tattoos were serious business and my friends would say, Oh. That probably won’t show up on your skin. Or when my friends wanted to dye and braid hair and say, Is this okay to put in your hair? Well, at least yours is already braided. Frankly, my mom would have killed me for trying to do anything to my hair anyway. Or when Spice Girls was the girl band, I was always Scary Spice even though I really wanted to be Posh Spice. So even as an embraced oreo I was still the token black girl.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

The greatest challenge for me today is embracing my heritage. I’m pregnant with a girl, I have a toddler son, and I don’t want them to be as out of touch as I was. They’re half black, and through literature and my extended family, I want them to understand what that means. I challenge myself to bring diversity to my work so my kids, so all diverse kids, can see themselves in what they read and feel represented.

Living in a primarily white area, it’s interesting to run across another black person. They do a double-take like I’m a dodo in the wild, and ask where our people hang out. And I’m like, you tell me. I need to find my kids some black friends.

4. What do you wish people knew about being black?

I want to say it’s the same as being any other color. But I know when anyone thinks back on the history of their people, there are moments that make them choke up with dismay, moments that make them swell with pride. I think this is especially true for black people. Over the years I’ve considered being black a privilege. My heritage, my people’s history, is deep in my bones, pumping through my veins, and exhaling through each breath. We might all bleed the same, but we come from different places, and we all want that place to be shared and recognized and valued. So being black is just like you being  you, wanting to make sure people remember the place you came from. And let’s be honest, we all feel our place is cooler than everyone else’s. Pride is a real thing, and people are driven by their right to be heard.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

That I want to throw slavery in your face to justify my actions. That I’ll go ghetto on your ass if you look at me sideways.  That I know how to dance like a bamf.  None of these are true about me. Especially the dancing.

The biggest I’ve seen are usually on TV. That we’re all super athletic. That we all love dope, fried chicken, watermelon, etc. That we’re ignorant and on welfare. That we voted for President Obama simply because he’s black.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Don’t be afraid to try. You’re not going to get everything right. Someone is going to raise an eyebrow and say you’re wrong, wrong, wrong. You do you, do your best to represent thoughtfully and  thoroughly (with research from the internet to in-person interviews) and make sure your beta-readers are diverse and real with you.

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