40 Acres and a Cubicle
Writing is kind of like fishing in the middle of an ocean.
When the fish are there, things go along, well…swimmingly. When the fish aren’t there, things quickly go to hell. You can go around and look for the fish, and certainly find some. But eventually the vastness of the ocean of your potential becomes something to despair in rather than enjoy. You know the fish are out there, but you just can’t get to them. Sometimes the fish come back. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, oceans dry up.
Sorry for starting out with that aside, but I think it’s the best way to try to consolidate the thousand thoughts I want to put in this post.
When we started this blog, there were fish everywhere. We were all young guys leaving the metaphorical mountaintop of the HBCU to go back into the real (corporate) world where we could expect to be minorities of a minority for the rest of our professional lives. Our anima was the anxiety that came along with that transition, as well as the sense of bewilderment, confusion, loneliness and sometimes anger that came with the territory of seeking acceptance as cultural outsiders. The energy as we started out just trying to bottle all those things up into 1000-word blog posts was damn near palpable. We started out taking a page out of the playbooks of great comedians like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock (in form more so than quality) by acting as bemused curators of moments of awkwardness and racism in our daily lives. For me, writing was equal parts catharsis, micro-aggression, and fun. Writing was me figuring out adult life for the first time. Writing was freedom. And judging by the fact that we actually got folks to read and enjoy the blog, I’d say it connected.
We posted a lot in the beginning. A LOT. I guess I had a lot more free time to blog as a graduate student than as a full time employee. So as we got really deep into a relatively narrow set of topics, we found ourselves having to cast the nets wider. We branched out into more current events, entertainment and research that meshed with each of our developing interests and expertise (we were all enrolled in graduate school at this point). My specialty was politics, and exploring the racial politics surround Barack Obama’s presidency and the rise of the “post-racial era” was a perfect way to connect things in this country at a macro level to the individual stories of black folks trying to advance up the ladder. It was a treasure trove. There was a lot of positive feedback and the topics helped me branch out in my understanding of politics and race dynamics. The blog developed as we did.
But sometimes the fish go missing. If you’ve been keeping up with our sporadic content since the summer and my personal almost total drop-off in posting recently, I suppose you’ve already figured that part out. It’s not exactly that the material ran out — I come up with and delete several posts every week — but the fact is that it’s just been hard to generate content that is fresh, interesting, and of the same quality as previous work. During the span of our blog’s existence, the realm of Black sociopolitical commentary (to which 40AC partially belongs) has ballooned into an en-vogue, almost fetishized cacophony. From trivialities like twerking to watershed tragedies like the shooting of Trayvon Martin, there has been a torrent of questions by a curious majority to us folks, and no shortage of black folks willing to answer them.
I haven’t been too fond of the cultural curiosity. It feels National Geographic-esque to me. EVERY respectable publication has a “Black people” section or column, and they all play the right notes by acknowledging racism and keeping things humorous. But too often they venture into a sort of caricature and ironic stereotyping born of a desire from folks to be “hip” rather than to actually understand us. (Just look at the hoopla around when “Black Twitter” was discovered….and every single article Buzzfeed has written since). The rise of Black buffoon talking heads like Don Lemon, GOP Black Chick, Ben Carson and their legion of shock-blogging white-washed underlings has come about to sate this cultural curiosity, but with soundbite-ready inanity instead of useful analyses. I found the space increasingly crowded and the air increasingly polluted. We don’t claim to be anything other than an outlet for what we think is important and relevant, but for me the motivation just wasn’t there anymore. And writing about racial tensions can be stressful. The more pure ignorance and ridiculousness you report on, the more pervasive you realize it is, and the more futile your attempts to describe or find solutions to it seem. The helplessness I felt after all that went on during the trial of George Zimmerman was crushing. Any fish that remained in my ocean seemed to be driven away completely.
The main conceit of any form of writing is that the words are worthwhile. Anyone who puts out and promotes works to be read has to believe that they add some value to the lives of the readers or to the discussion at hand. And I feel that way. I don’t possess the arrogance or the nearsightedness to suggest that we offer some sort of depth of analysis, wit, or spin on things here that hasn’t yet been done by someone better or that we have the duty to provide prescriptions to societal ills or even to speak on them beyond a personal understanding. But I do like to think that we added value to the conversation. And I want to get back to that.
This post started out as a sort of eulogy to me blogging with any sort of regularity. I was going to leave it to the amazing works of my co-bloggers and ride off into the sunset. But along the way, it became more of a challenge to get back to doing something I enjoy the way I enjoyed it. I just ask that the readers bear with us and remain active in challenging us and providing us with material and guest commentary. We’ve appreciated it all. We’ve done this for a few years so far. Why not a few more? We can at least try to cast the lines out again.
Thanks to everyone who read this. I probably needed to write it more than y’all needed to read it. To fishing.