Brittney Morris shares how Black Panther inspired her debut novel, SLAY
"I started asking myself what it means to be a strong black woman."
The post below was kindly written by Brittney Morris, author of SLAY.
I was inspired to write SLAY after I saw Black Panther opening night. It was the first time I walked into a room full of black people and felt unconditional love and acceptance – the first time I felt “black enough” just as I was, and here’s why.
Growing up, I was one of the only black kids in my small town of Corvallis, OR. Kids in my class expected me to be the black culture expert at school. I was supposed to know a bunch of musical references, movie references, etc. that just weren’t part of my life – I hadn’t discovered rap music yet, I wasn’t allowed to watch most non-Christian movies, and I’d never eaten fried catfish. Clearly I was unqualified for this job. Nonetheless, white kids would come up to me and ask me to teach them how to “speak ghetto,” and black kids would come up to me and ask me why I “talked like a white girl.” I felt too black to fit in with my white friends, and too “white” to fit in with my black friends, so I grew up in racial limbo.
I didn’t confront this identity paradox until I reached adulthood, because I didn’t realise it was such a deeply rooted issue that needed to be tackled. I decided to go natural with my hair, which is when I discovered what a political thing my hair inherently is. It’s when I started asking myself what it means to be a strong black woman. Does it mean cutting all my hair off and finding my self-worth in who I am, or does it mean investing in my natural hair and letting it grow out long? How do my co-workers feel about my hair? My husband? My family? There’s a reason so many SLAY cards in the book centre around hairstyles. Hair is important! But SLAY the game also covers foods, music, black icons, dances, and even concepts (like representation and innovation) that are key pillars of black culture. If you ask any black person these questions, you’ll get a different answer every time.
Writing Kiera’s story felt quite cathartic because it so closely mirrors mine. Moving between majority white and majority black spaces felt like stepping into alternate universes, one in which I could be myself (I just didn’t know it yet), and one in which I was expected to be “on” so as not to offend or ostracize white people. That was the inspiration behind the game – SLAY – a space where Kiera can be 100% herself.
Kiera learns, like I did, exactly what Blackness means to her and just how diverse, beautiful, and complex it is. There are over half a million players in the game, so black readers get to the see the vast kaleidoscope of black identity, and hopefully, like me, they’ll reach the end of the story with the understanding that there’s a place for them in it. And for readers with other marginalised identities, I hope they reach the end of the story with newfound desire to make their identity their own.