Delving into Being a Creative and Black in the 21st Century
Hey, everyone, and welcome to my first ever interview with another living being—barring that time I was on the high school newspaper and interviewed our amazing softball pitcher.
I'd like to thank CK Browne for daring to dive into the interview waters. I'd also like to extend my appreciation to everyone reading, for being willing to follow my haphazard trail of questions. Trevor Noah makes it look easy. Guys, it's not easy.
Lucky for all of us, CK took my half-baked questions and returned them as gooey, warm-out-of-the-oven, chocolate chip cookies.
With that comforting sensory image, please let me introduce Ms. CK Browne, fellow creative, parent, and—I’m grateful to say—my first Sensitivity Reader, and has been a big help with the Fortune Chronicles. Also, fun fact, CK and I are gestation buddies, as we both got pregnant and gave birth within days of each other—twice.)
CK recently went an extra twenty miles by organizing and hosting of a series of Zoomcasts titled Chips in the Cookie with fellow Creatives of Color.
Part Round Table, part Town Hall, the ‘casts provided an intimate, courageous, and often heartbreaking lens for their Euro-American circles on what it is like to be a Black or Browne individual navigating in White Spaces.
Please note this interview was conducted by email, over several days, between my home in Austin and CK's home in Astoria, NY.
K: First off, let me say thanks for being my first ever interviewee (brave soul), and let’s ease in with your origin story as an artist. Can you share your first creative love?
CK: My first creative love was dance. It was a way to express myself without words and also without getting in trouble for what I was feeling or thinking.
Then it was playing the violin. I could pour my sorrows into the strings. (I wasn't a musician by any means).
Then the theater was the great escape. Being able to lose myself into the life of someone else. I watched the old movie musicals and thought I want to do that. Everyone is so happy. I had studied as a dancer for years, and at a point, I realized I could have more longevity as an actor and feel the rush of being on stage. Then I learned the beauty of a deep dive into the mind of a character. I got to a point in my life that it was the thing that kept me sane. Even if I never make another dime performing, I would still do it.
K: And did you have any heroes or mentors to inspire or push you in those early days?
CK: As for personal mentors not really. I think I did things in spite of what those around me were telling me.I do remember one dance teacher in High School.
I was not a good ballet dancer so I always tried to hide in class. I would always try to go last. Mr. Heath came and took me by the hand and made me go first. I didn't suck. But in that gesture, he said no more hiding.
Wow I think I went deeper than intended. Ah life!
K: Following the theme of deep dives into character, have any of your repertoire of characters continued on to impact you in life? If so, which ones? And if it’s not too personal, what, or how, did they teach you?
CK: Oddly enough I think the two characters that have stayed with me were my two Renfair characters, Killmore and Ororo. They are so different and yet two very strong, powerful women.
From Killmore it was the strength of stillness. Also a sense of taking up space but not in a way to make others comfortable. But in a way where people had to listen. A Masculine power I guess but not at the expense of my femininity. From her I learned that silence screams and stillness moves.
Ororo on the other hand was larger than life. The key thing about her was she would see something good in everyone and was always wanting to learn about people. Everyone was her Betty.
My take away from her was, even it's not something I'm into, if someone finds pure joy in something, celebrate that.
Both women existed in a world where they were not like others, and they took their space. Not at the permission of those around them, but because it belonged to them.
K: Speaking of existing in a world where one is seen as Other, let’s talk a little about The Chips in the Cookie. First off, for the readers, can you give the elevator pitch for the round table?
CK: The whole panel started because I was reading a lot of posts on Facebook and felt that a lot of my peers were missing a point with the protests and the BLM movement.
It dawned on me that so much of it was not brought home. That maybe they didn't know the stories of the Black friends they have. So I mentioned that maybe we should have a conversation. One person said okay when and what time.
The glove was thrown.
I invited people to join a chat. In that chat I realized this should be a bit bigger. My friends of color thought it was a good idea and were willing to do it with me.
The object was to just have our non-POC peers to hear our experiences. To know what our lives were like. It wasn't about opinions. It was about experiences. Plain and simple.
The term Chips in the Cookie is something I would always say. All too often I would be in a space where I was the only Black person in the room. Like being the only chocolate chip in the cookie.
K: While TCitC was on Zoom, and run by invitation, my sense was it had a pretty significant reach. Did you keep a headcount of the viewers, and if so, what was your average audience?
CK: The first panel we had over 200 people watch live. I truly was only expecting about 20. another 135 watched the recording. The last one had I think 140. Still, way more people than I expected.
We did it invite-only because we didn't want negative comments. None of us were in a frame of mind to deal with more negativity.
K:Were there any particular viewer reactions that surprised you?
CK: I was more surprised by the personal messages. One of our panelist got a message from someone they knew in school hoping that they were not part of the problem so to speak. Most comments were supportive and with a desire to self reflect.
K: And, conversely, which hurdles that Black and Brown people face on the regular were shocking to the viewer?
CK: One of our panelist had a horrific medical experience and people were surprised. I think they were also surprised at how doctors/gyn's treat women of color. The questions we get asked that they do not get asked.
Yes, it's possible for a Black woman to not be sexually active, and for a Black woman to never have had an abortion.
I think people were shocked cause when you go to the doctor, it's just you and the doctor. You can't see the interaction from afar.
[From Kathleen: Also worth noting are the maternal mortality rates for Women of Color in the United States.]
K: Now, apologies in advance for this one, cause it’s a whopper, but when the creative seed for the first CitC event sprouted, did you have a vision of where the viewers would take these insights? Or, I guess, what is your vision of the best possible outcome? (I know, I know, but the thing is, if we can all see that best outcome, we have a better chance of building it).
CK: I was terrified. Every time I saw the number of attendees go up I would panic.For some reason when you have a White friend base, you tend not to bring up your experiences. You don't want to make them uncomfortable.
Also 'cause you know you will hear the constant, "well not all white people" or the "well I don't do that".
So often you just say nothing.
Here I was about to out it all. I knew I was going to make people uncomfortable. I guess the good thing about doing it online is that you don't have to see people's faces or their body language. The safety of being behind a screen.
The end game was to get people to talk about the uncomfortable. For the parents who watched to hopefully teach their kids. I wanted people to look inside themselves and see, are they part of the solution or the problem.
I won't lie, there are some friends I know who didn't watch. They didn't want to be bothered and they didn't want to feel uncomfortable. They didn't want to realize that their friends are hurting. Their silence speaks volumes.
K: And now, having run, I think, two round tables so far (unless I missed one?) do you see the discussion continuing?
CK: We did a total of three. We touched on the BI/Multi racial experience and the experience of Black women.It was exhausting. Mentally and emotionally.
A part of me wants to continue. Just this week someone posted a reaction to a meme that hurt me greatly. I'm still thinking of addressing it.
Even with the three we only touched the tip of the iceberg.
K: And having done these three, do you see the broadcasts moving from Zoom to a wider channel, such as a podcast, or YouTube series or webinar?
CK: I know there are many podcasts, so I don't know if I'll jump to that ship. I don't mind being in a small pond. I like the idea of keeping things intimate then for the viewer to continue the work.Could you imagine if I turned into Oprah?
K: I can. I really can. The Twenty-first Century Warrior Edition, except I wouldn’t wish that level of pressure on anyone.But, if you ever decide start up a genre-related podcast or channel of any sort, I’ll subscribe!
CK: I’d be the poor man's Oprah. No one gets a car!
K: (Actually laughed out loud) Okay, and on that genre note, the pandemic has put a stop to the wide release of a number of movies and television productions.Of the delayed content, is there a particular movie, or television show that you are really looking forward to viewing?
CK: I was really looking forward to Mulan.The story of a young woman who defied tradition to bring honor to her family. With no music! From the trailers, I was hooked.
Tenent also looked interesting to me. I'm still not sure what it's about but my curiosity is peaked.
I am also looking forward to the next Bond movie. 007 is to be portrayed by a Black actor Lashana Lynch.
People were already in an uproar without realizing, she's not playing Bond, she's just being assigned the agent number.
I am also sad that many Cons have been cancelled, but I'd rather them be cancelled than people getting sick.
K: And, finally, in homage to James Lipton’s Ten Questions, with a slight adaptation to the times (and our Geek Loves) without further ado, let's wrap with the…
Ten Questions: The Black Spec Fiction Edition
1. What is your favorite medium (books, comics, film, tv series, manga, RPGs) for consuming speculative fiction?
CK: It's a tie between TV series and books. They last the longest to tell the story.
2. What is your least favorite medium for same?
CK: I'd have to say RPG. Too many people involved.
3. What type of genre fiction (steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, shifters, Afro-futurism, super hero, high fantasy, horror/vampires/zombies, paranormal romance [abs for days!], etc.) turns you on?
CK: I live for paranormal romance. It's my complete escape. I always make the joke, if the cover has a hot bod with a tattoo I will read it.
4. What type of genre fiction (see above) turns you off?
CK: BDSM /Spank romance. Shudder
[Kathleen - I did not even know that was a thing]
5. What descriptive of Blacks/People of Color in genre (or any) fiction you love?
CK: To be honest, I love when our skin is described with reverence.
6. What descriptive of Blacks/People of Color in genre (or any) do you hate?
CK: I'm tired of the women who stick bad guys just 'cause. Grrrr
7. What is your favorite curse word? (Keeping the original, because it’s a great question)
CK: Fucking Crack Whore.
8. In your ideal world, how would you be using your talents right now? And: if it applies, who would be your collaborators?
CK: I think right now opening discussions with kids. And then their parents. Too much going on and it needs to change.
9. What profession/trope/role in spec fiction often assigned to Blacks and People of Color (of any gender identity) would you like to see retired to the circular file forever?
CK: Can we get rid of the sassy overweight, girl? I don't got time for that character.
10. You’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. What do you want to be your legacy?
CK: My Boys are my legacy. But if I were to meet St Peter, I'd want to know if my life was worth it.
Thanks so much, CK, and thanks to everyone taking time out of their day to get to know one of my favorite people.
For those wishing to view life through the lenses of non-Whites (or non-Straight/Cis/Neurotypical…), our household is fond of United Shades of America, which, per the website: "follows comedian and political provocateur W. Kamau Bell as he explores communities across America to understand the unique challenges they face".
We also really enjoyed his Netflix special.
Again, gratitude for the time and attention. If response is positive, I may attempt another interview—in about six months.
As always, stay strong, stay healthy, and keep reading.