The Inclusion of Black Characters in Modern Literature

By Caitlyn Imani 


“Brown skin, you know I love your brown skin.”  

When discussing the current distresses of Modern Literature as it concerns African-Americans, it is only necessary we observe the beginnings of such popular works; slave narratives. The creation of black writings originated from freed slaves and was a collection of stories depicting racial injustices, delving into spirituality and identifying the plight of blackness in a white man’s world. 


However, those themes did not disappear as the century progressed and slavery was abolished. Authors such as W.E.B Dubois, Booker T. Washington, Mary Weston Fordham wrote a collection of non-fiction novels in which detailed combats of racial mistreatment, often encouraging its readers, in some way, to induce change during the 20th century. 


Yet how do the historical implications of slavery relate to what African-American Literature has become now? According to Princeton University professor Albert J. Raboteau, “[black writings] speak to the deeper meaning of the African-American presence in this nation. This presence has always been a test case of the nation’s claims to freedom, democracy, equality, and the inclusiveness of all.”


In more pronounced words, literature for black Americans has consistently been a reflection of our experiences throughout history. Truth as it was recalled by the pen's of our ancestors, gave way to characters donning unprecedented realness, transient human struggle. Our skin spoke the volumes of the night sky, words brought forth a bitter bite like the cold of wind and souls whose innocence shown brighter than the moon. 

So I make the acquisition, who presently exemplifies the essence of Black Literature within the 21st century? 

Regrettably, the answer is not as simple as it should be. Publicists and editors,  regardless of their individual ethnicity, abide by the rules of the majority audience; white Americans. And when dealing with black authors, who subsequently have black characters, it is popular to market them into a racially specific category. As horrifically noted by fiction novelist, Jeffery Renard Allen, modern black literature is ‘ghettoized’. Reduced to the stereotypical patterns presented in poorer urban areas, with none of the same complexities we read in white realistic fiction novels. 

As an aspiring author whose black characters litter throughout her novels,  short stories-I acknowledge that the road to commanding visibility upon my before-mentioned tales is an ever climbing mountain of progress but one I am restless to fulfill.

Black characters in modern literature lack relatability, dimension and authenticity yet it is not to blame on writers of color. Society has to first break its barriers on what it expects from black writers and cease the notion that merely white authors contribute to the cultural, intellectual conversations of American writing. Black stories with black characters are American stories too. Lest we ever forget?