(Note: This piece was originally done for a free-writing class assignment when I was still a senior at Colgate University, circa 2014. I originally published it here.)
The other day I was having a Skype conversation with Doris, one of my very close friends. I was telling her about how I felt I had lost my audacity as a writer. When I started the African Youth Journals, a collaborative blog aimed at bringing together young Africans to write on different passions and eradicate the single story of Africa as a dark continent, I felt like writing was my sword. The thing with yielding a sword, is that it gives you courage, even in the most dangerous of situations. Last year, I published three articles on The African Youth Journals in which I felt I was speaking as audaciously as humanly possible. The first one, entitled The Last Thing Africa Needs is Your Pity had started off as a commissioned article for the ALST magazine but had evolved into an article that I published on AYJ. It hit out at people who felt that since they had a lot of wealth, and some had donated some of it to ‘Africa’, they had the right to view Africans with indignity. I did not mince my words and the story had been read by thousands of people. A lot of people agreed with my thesis and argument but there are those who challenged me to provide the alternative solutions. In the next month, I followed up with a three-thousand-word critique of the African diaspora returning to the continent and the manner in which they treated people in their countries. This second article, which took a satirical style, was called How to be The Perfect been-to African. I had critiqued so many people close to me and I even felt I had uncomfortably critiqued myself, too. I had almost felt that I couldn’t do the article but when I eventually published it, it got some rather interesting comments and a relatively high readership. The critique was rather scathing and even close friends like Doris herself felt like I had hit really close to home (not in a nice way). The last article of the trilogy of audacious articles I wrote for the AYJ was called The Artcaffe Saga: The Emergence of Re-reloaded racism. I had written this piece in a spate of anger and disappointment during the summer of last year, during my internship in Nairobi, Kenya. A story of how a dark-skinned Kenyan had been ignored my waiters in a high-end restaurant while white clients reserved preferential treatment in Nairobi had caused uproar among Kenyans, especially on social media. I had decided to comment on it and this article had also been very direct, audacious and well-received.
Since the trilogy, I have felt like my audacity as a writer has gone down. I feel like for me to produce a really great piece of writing, I have to be very personally interested in the issue. It would help if the theme is something that I have had personal experience with, but if not I still feel I need to be very personally interested in the way I deliver my message. I felt like that had been lacking in my pieces until I took this Writers + Readers class. In this class, all the topics I have chosen have been about confronting the ‘demons in my head.’ In the first paper, I talked about the conflict in my family and how I had come to appreciate all members of the family; in the second essay I dealt with the ghosts of ‘what’s my plan after college’, thoughts that visit the minds of each college senior on a daily basis; on the third essay, I chose to audaciously describe my perspective on the sit-in at Colgate in September, a sit-in I had participated in fully but still felt I needed to process through writing. On the fourth piece, I have decided to enter rather new waters for me, the waters of feminism. The topic is one that I have been hearing about in the recent past and one that has been very constantly on my mind. I hope to be able to learn more about myself as a person and how I relate to the idea and practice of feminism and the kind of feelings that this invokes in me.
One of the main things I have thought about while thinking about audacity as writer is the the level of caution and self-disclosure one is willing to exercise. In this internet age, where most of the publishing is especially done on the Internet, I feel like the writer has to be more audacious. As a college student, especially one whose identity and character on the web, is of interest to potential employers, online publication of audacious pieces of writing could be hampered by wanting to maintain a clean profile on the internet. While I agree that an untainted reputation is as good as a well-manicured LinkedIn profile or resume, I think one should be able to express their views, especially if they hold water, without fear of intimidation or self-gagging by himself/herself or others, especially potential employers. The audacity should definitely have a dash of self-responsibility but, still, that shouldn’t tone down the conflict or compromise the quality of the piece, not least to please another judgmental soul.