A reflection on safety when writing while Black

By: Taylor Zachary ~Staff Writer~

A few months ago, I needed a job. The money I made over the summer, which supported my living expenses last semester, had waned. Food seemed to disappear from my pantry and never return. I paid more attention to which clubs and programs hosted events with sustainable food. I was drawn to the “B-Dubs” and “Chipotle” variety, targeting larger clubs that had not yet exhausted their semester food budget. But, often, finger foods would satisfy me enough to carry on.

Additionally, rent was fast approaching, and University Station is particularly unforgiving with the expediency to which they serve eviction notices, which seem to adorn apartment halls as if they were simply decorations. I could see the end of my financial stability.

Starbucks was hiring at the time. After a brief application and a delightful interview with the hiring manager, I became a barista. I stepped into this new job with excitement. The workload seemed manageable. The training was swift and efficient, and the staff, oh my staff members, are exhilarating company. Every shift I open my ears and listen as my coworkers peel back layers of themselves. I have yet to find anything but glory in my discrete odyssey of their life stories.

I organize my work hours around my writing schedule. When the evening is dim and darkness rests upon her horizon, you will likely find my eyes deep in the poetry of Danez Smith or Melissa Tuckey, whose words weave the environment and the body into an anthology of historical oxygen or what it means to feel yourself breathing the air of 1,000 histories.

I love my job, the freedom it allows and financial stability it offers. But, as I fall into myself, embracing this new position, I am still learning how to deal with this newfound level of visibility.

Taylor Zachary is a senior sociology major and staff writer for the Newswire from Oakland, Calif.

Being a writer is not a safe commitment. The process of writing is often a visceral process, whether or not the writer is aware of manifestations of neurosis when they occur. Ideas live deep inside of us, writers. Our writing, the process of churning and pushing ideas, ourselves, into a public space, is both an act of self-love and plunder. Those same ideas, those analyses and those questions which demand scrutiny, once they leave our fingertips, we no longer own them. Celebration follows. Vilification follows more often.

But, I am not only a writer: I am a Black writer. And, writing while Black means something real. I am reminded of a quote by Ta-Nehisi Coates which inspired my reflection on this topic. He says, “…the world is real. And you can’t really be a Black writer in this country, take certain positions and not think about your personal safety. That’s just the history.”

I carry these words with me while I push espresso shots into the anxious eyes of sleepless students. After two weeks at Starbucks, I have encountered peers, staff, co-workers and administrators who have been familiar with my words and my activism. As more people tell me that they appreciate my work, the thought of safety, both what it means and the relationship my work has with it, becomes more prominent. I write about topics which, to say the least, make certain people uncomfortable. If someone who likes my work can spot me and walk into Starbucks, someone who doesn’t like my work could do the same. If someone who likes my work can spot me and wait outside of Starbucks, someone who doesn’t like my work could do the same.