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More impressively, neither author found herself pigeonholed as an “identity writer” post-publication.That might seem obvious, but it’s shocking because in so many other cases, when women of color write about their personal experiences, they’re asked to make a cottage industry of their encounters with racism and sexism.Harriet Jacobs’ are just three of many early personal narratives about black life that center on horrific treatment or living conditions—and eventual triumph.
Often, like Bennett mentions, the pieces are tied to news of violence or discrimination due to race or gender.No one’s paying us book advances to behave badly or to bare our souls—unless bad behavior involves trysts with married sports and music stars, as in the case of Karrine Stephens’s By the same token, some of the most compelling personal writing—harrowing or otherwise—the Internet has produced is the work of writers of color.La Toya Jordan’s “After Striking a Fixed Object,” about life after a car accident that left her disfigured, is incredible for its ability to recreate a jarring, life-altering event and the way it chronicles the long process of coping that followed.Bennett also suggests that the growing trend of pegging personal stories to the news of the day may compromise journalistic integrity."First-person essays have become the easiest way for editors to stake out some small corner of a news story and assert an on-the-ground primacy without paying for reporting," she writes.It’s an experience Cord Jefferson wrote about last year in one of the personal essays Bennett commends, “The Racism Beat": Neither Irby nor Andrews-Dyers’s books marked the beginning of a renaissance in confessional memoir publications for young women of color.Typically, the ones that make it to mainstream publication are written by authors who’ve already earned fame in other arenas.(Consider webseries creator/producer Issa Rae’s Bestseller list.)Historically, the expectation of personal writing about black life seems largely rooted in exceptionalism.Some of the earliest black memoirs were narratives about escape from enslavement, and being relatively successful afterward.The first-person boom, Tolentino says, has helped create “a situation in which writers feel like the best thing they have to offer is the worst thing that ever happened to them.”I followed the ensuing debate silently on social media, seeking out women of color on Twitter first.Fusion’s Anna Holmes pointed out how gendered Bennett’s piece was—all of its examples of exploitative, “confessional” writing were women’s essays, while its examples of well-done personal essays were mostly written by men.