Artist Sarah Juanita Dorsey on Black Lesbian Experience, Class, and Race in Cover Art Inspiration for Scars
Sarah Juanita Dorsey created the artwork (see above) that will grace the cover of my new book Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers, 2014). Below is a 5 minutes video that explains Dorsey’s inspiration behind the gorgeous and intricate work of art. I am psyched that the cover was designed by a like-minded woman of color and that her creative genius so well suits the protagonist of Scars, Savannah Penelope Sales.
More about Scars
I have signed a contract with Sense Publishers to publish the book Scars for 2014. Sense Publishers is the perfect press for Scars. They embody exactly what I would like my novel to achieve. Below is a description of this publisher’s social fiction series of which Scars will be included:
“The Social Fictions series emerges out of the arts-based research movement. The series includes full-length fiction books that are informed by social research but written in a literary/artistic form (novels, plays, and short story collections). Believing there is much to learn through fiction, the series only includes works written entirely in the literary medium adapted. Each book includes an academic introduction that explains the research and teaching that informs the book as well as how the book can be used in college courses. The books are underscored with social science or other scholarly perspectives and intended to be relevant to the lives of college students—to tap into important issues in the unique ways that artistic or literary forms can.”
-Patricia Leavy, PhD
Below is the full Preface for Scars. However, before you read the preface, I wanted to share this next tidbit withyou. The title of this blog piece, “The Black Queer Experience is Not ‘Our’ Experience”, was inspired by an email I received a few days ago from a Black identified Christian woman who had found out about Scars. Via a long email, she ultimately let me know that the premise of Scars alienated regular Black girls like her and that it was not ‘our’ story; ‘our’ being Black people’s story or authentic way of being. Even though she has not read the book, I found it incredibly interesting and as well as heartbreaking that she sent me an email that basically let me know she was disappointed in this new project. She sincerely thinks that the book’s main character (a Black teen lesbian) is too ‘controversial’ and ‘edgy.’ Hence, ‘regular’ Black girls like her (heterosexual) were being marginalized and she felt that I should be using my prominent voice to write about more pressing and important issues affecting the Black community. So, essentially, this book hasn’t even been published yet and I’m already receiving these types of messages. Anyway, I wanted to share that tidbit with you because I am constantly amazed by how “Blackness” and authenticity amongst Black folk is a complex and controversial issue; how we are monitored when we fall outside of being a ‘regular’ Black person (which I assume means hetero-normative and Christian identified). It is worrisome and disturbing to think that there are many Black folk who honestly feel that the queer experience is not part of our history; that we’re not part of the authentic community of Blackness in the USA. Even though this is her opinion, and the email she sent me was written respectfully and politely, it still hurt very deeply to read that. However, this is why I continue to write and do the work that I do. I feel like silence just creates more suffering and pain, so my writing becomes a platform to discuss these issues that are taboo for so many, including not just homosexuality, but also how white supremacy in the USA affects the emotional and physical health of everyone– not just people color. I welcome you read the preface to Scars. I am also hoping that if the preface strikes a chord with you would you have interest in inviting me to come and speak and create interactive discussion from Scars. Please email me at breezeharper (at) gmail (dot ) com to discuss my honorarium fees and travel requirements. Also, I am open to be interviewed for radio, tv, blogs, and other forms of media.
Preface for Scars
Scars is a novel about whiteness, racism, and breaking past the normative boundaries of heterosexuality, as experienced through eighteen year old Savannah Penelope Sales. Savannah is a Black girl, born and raised in a white, working class, and rural New England town. She is in denial of her lesbian sexuality, harbors internalized racism about her body, and is ashamed of being poor. She lives with her ailing mother whose Emphysema is a symptom of a mysterious past of suffering and sacrifice that Savannah is not privy to. When Savannah takes her first trip to a major metropolitan city for two days, she never imagines how it will affect her return back home to her mother… or her capacity to not only love herself, but also those who she thought were her enemies. Scars is about the journey of friends and family who love Savannah and try to help her heal, all while they too battle their own wounds and scars of being part of multiple systems of oppression and power. Ultimately, Scars makes visible the psychological trauma and scarring that legacies of colonialism have caused to both the descendants of the colonized and the colonizer… and the potential for healing and reconciliation for everyone willing to embark on the journey.
As a work of social fiction born out of years of critical race, Black feminist, and critical whiteness studies scholarship, Scars engages the reader to think about USA culture through the lens of race, whiteness, working-class sensibilities, sexual orientation, and how rural geography influences identity consciousness. What makes this novel unique its emphasis on Black and lesbian teen experience of whiteness and racism within rural geographies. Often, interrogations of whiteness and socio-economic class are left out of fictional literature within popular LGBTQ literature. My intention with Scars is to fill this gap by creating emotionally intense dialogues among four primary characters: Savannah Penelope Sales, Davis Allen, Esperanza Perez, and Erick Roberts.
Davis Allen is one of Savannah’s best friends. A straight white male who grew up on a rural dairy farm in Savannah’s home town, Davis and Savannah have been close friends since they were toddlers. Davis is the only white friend Savannah has ever chosen to develop a close relationship with. When Davis and Savannah interact with each other, the intimacies of their conversations reveal an interesting dynamic: Davis’s perception of reality manifests from what Savannah has marked as “a privileged point of entry”: white, male, lower-middle class, and straight. Davis can never experience Savannah’s embodied experience as a Black lesbian. Growing up in a country that has institutionally legitimized whiteness and heterosexuality as ‘normal’, Davis’s white and straight identity limits him to superficially interpreting Savannah’s verbal hostility as nothing more than stereotypical “angry Black female” banter.
The second theme developed in Scars is the irreconcilable differences that Erick Roberts and Savannah endure in their rocky new platonic relationship. Erick and Savannah both identify as same gender loving, however, that is where similarities between them end. Their frequent antagonistic verbal intercourses deconstruct the common myth that being gay or lesbian means they will instantly connect emotionally to each other as comrades in the same battle against heterosexism. The exhaustive energy it takes for both to maintain their volatile relationship has it’s roots in Erick’s oblivion to the fusion of his upper-middle class status and his white male privilege when attempting to advise Savannah about being and coming out as a [Black, poor, and rural] lesbian.
The third and more subtle theme developed in Scars centers on how Savannah’s perception of oppression is positioned within a geopolitically global North perspective. Savannah never acknowledges her privilege as a USA national; only her lack of privileges as a non-white person. She considers herself revolutionary in thought in comparison to the people living in the provincial town she grew up in. Simultaneously, she has no awareness of her perpetuation of inequality outside of the USA; for example, Savannah is unaware of how many people of color outside of the USA are exploited so she buy cheap coffee, chocolate, and Coco-Cola. Esperanza Perez, a key character, is one of her best friends. Esperanza, a vegan and fair trade anti-globalization activist who originally grew up in Guatemala, visits Savannah from college. Through honest and heartfelt dialogues with Esperanza, Savannah’s oblivious understanding of her geopolitical Northern privilege is revealed. I hope to engage the reader to empathize with Savannah’s realistic struggles with “whiteness as the invisible norm in the USA,” while also addressing the need for Savannah to engage deeper into social injustice by encompassing and linking Black struggles and USA racism to a broader range of social and ecological inequalities throughout the world.
Born out of my Dartmouth College thesis social research in feminist geography, award winning Masters work at Harvard University, and my dissertation work at the University of California-Davis, Scars emphasizes how rural geographies of whiteness can impact the consciousness and young identity development of non-white youth who seemingly ‘don’t belong’ in rural settings of whiteness and hetero-normativity; yet, the reader sees during Savannah’s trip to her first major metropolitan city, she is very much out of place. Furthermore, Savannah contrasts the mainstream media stereotype that the “authentic Black experience” is from heterosexual Blacks raised in predominantly urban landscapes. Even though the critical theory in this novel has been translated into creative writing format, it is notable that Scars was significantly influenced by a strong canon of Black critical thinkers and writers stemming back to W.E.B. DuBois. My choice to title the book Scars reflects the legacy of Black anti-colonialist Frantz Fanon and his intense dedication to making visible, the psychological trauma and scarring that colonialism, white supremacy, and racism have caused to both the colonized and the colonizer. Furthermore, this book continues the traditions of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Octavia Butler who have written extensively about the ‘the problem of the color line.’ However unlike Fanon and DuBois’ more hetero-normative and masculinist analyses, hooks, Lorde, and Butler have complicated the ‘problem of the color line’ with intersectional analysis of gender and sexual orientation.
Scars can be used as a springboard for discussion, self-reflection and social reflection for students enrolled in American Studies, Sociology, Women’s Studies, Sexuality Studies, African American Studies, human geography, LGBTQ studies and critical whiteness studies courses, or it can be read entirely for pleasure.
-A. Breeze Harper, PhD