DiversifYA: Brandy Colbert

We’re back! Hooray!

brandyWe’re starting off our spring quarter with a fantastic interviewee, and I’m so delighted to have her here: Brandy Colbert. Brandy is a tap dancer, copy editor, and author of POINTE, one of my most anticipated reads of the year. And what’s more, POINTE just happens to release today! So check it out on Goodreads, fall in love with the sound of it, go forth and buy.

And then come back to the interview, because Brandy is also a lovely person, who has very insightful things to say about diversity, Cabbage Patch Kids, and no-win situations. Follow Brandy on Twitter here, and find her website here.

 1. How do you identify yourself?

Black. Or, Black American, to be more specific. Beyond that: woman, writer, editor, and pseudo-hermit.

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

This is sort of a funny question for me, because I didn’t feel all that “black” growing up. I was raised in a predominantly white town in Southwest Missouri, where I was one of about six black kids in my graduating class. I never quite felt like I fit in on one side. I spent the majority of my time with white people, but I was often reminded that I was different, both purposely and inadvertently. I also never felt like I fit in with black people. We went to a black church, and I was comfortable there because the people there had known me my whole life. But in general, I got teased quite a bit for the way I talked (“too white,” “too Valley Girl”), which wasn’t so easy to shake off when I was younger.

But because my parents raised us in a town where we were noticeably different, they always made a conscious effort to expose us to black music, art, and literature, whenever possible. As for toys, I remember having white dolls, especially Barbies, because there weren’t many choices there. But if a black version existed (like my talking Cricket doll with curly hair and brown skin; and Cabbage Patch Kids were surprisingly diverse) I was given that one over the blond-haired, blue-eyed version. That all seemed normal at the time, but I realize now how much thought my parents put into making sure we saw faces like ours, in some form.

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

Sometimes, I feel like the greatest challenge is that it seems like you can’t win. Example? If someone is praising me for being “so articulate” (which, for many people, is a not-so-subtle way of saying they expected me to sound one way based on the way I look—and I surprised them), I may be accused of “talking like a white girl” by someone who doesn’t think I’m black enough. While, actually, I just speak the way I speak, and don’t like to spend a whole lot of time analyzing how that comes across to other people. There are so many expectations to meet and boxes people want you to fit in because of your skin color, and that can be a really dangerous way of thinking. Along those same lines, it’s entirely frustrating when it’s assumed that your opinion on certain subjects speaks for your entire race.

All of that said, I wouldn’t change who I am. I loved going to a black church, growing up; it’s a very specific experience, rich in tradition and history, and I was lucky to have that in a town where the black population was around 3 percent. I’ve come to appreciate my hair and love what makes it different. I think that being a minority makes me more sensitive to others’ situations or feelings. I’ve never suffered from a lack of empathy, but there are so many moments that I’ve felt excluded or misunderstood, and it’s not a nice feeling, so I try very hard to understand where other people might be coming from. And though I didn’t grow up around a lot of people who look like me, I have very large extended families on both sides that hail from the South, and there is no replacement for that experience. Two words: family reunions.

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

Mostly that being black is maybe what people think it is, and maybe not at all what they think it is. Black people have separate opinions, feelings, and experiences, same as any other group of people. Talking a certain way doesn’t make you any more or less black than anyone else. Neither does the way you choose to wear your hair, your style, or the food you eat. I spent a long time feeling confused about who I was supposed to be, when the answer is to just be who I already am. While I may heavily identify with “stuff white people like” or “white people problems,” I also have dreadlocks and listen to an insane amount of hip-hop, and I only recently realized it’s okay for all of these things to converge.

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

Unfortunately, I’d say read the comments section of any news story that mentions a black person and you’re bound to find some rather persistent examples. There are plenty of people of all races and ethnicities who perpetuate the harmful stereotypes and cliches, but it shouldn’t be all that difficult to come across the same amount of people who negate them.

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

I don’t think people need to struggle so much with the idea of writing diverse characters. Personally, I’d like to see more books published by diverse authors—and then, to see those marketed well—which would, in the best-case scenario, attract readers who would actively support those books. I think reading the diverse material already on the shelves would make one more comfortable with writing diverse characters. But beyond that? I’d say don’t overthink it. Just like a person (hopefully) wouldn’t make a huge deal out of having a friend who’s a different race, ethnicity, etc., diverse characters should be treated as humans first, with personalities that are informed by their backgrounds but fully fleshed out beyond that.

2 Responses to DiversifYA: Brandy Colbert

  1. Love the interview and totally agree, especially with “it’s entirely frustrating when it’s assumed that your opinion on certain subjects speaks for your entire race”. I’m Italian BTW. I hope anyone isn’t going to ask me about spaghetti and mafia… 😉
    “Pointe” is on my TBR list. Hope to grab it soon! Good luck with it Brandy.

  2. Hehe, I like how many of our answers overlapped. Perhaps it’s proof that there is a universality to the minority experience! Or rather, to the HUMAN experience, of which minorities are obviously a part. 🙂