Darkly Dreaming: An Essay by Wrath James White

photo of author Wrath James White
Wrath James White

Back in 2003, I was a new writer with only a few published short stories to my credit. There was a popular message board at the time called Shocklines. Shocklines was an online bookseller catering to fans of horror. In the early aughts, if you wanted to find the best horror fiction novels, novellas, magazines, and anthologies, you didn’t search Amazon and hope its taste algorithm pointed you in the right direction. You went to Shocklines.

Shocklines’s online message board was where budding and established horror authors alike met to trade market information, discuss the business and craft of writing, promote their new releases, support one another, and often engage in brutal flame wars. These flame wars often rose to a level of vitriol that would have made the Twitter feuds of today look quaint and adorable in comparison.

One fine day on the interwebz, a fellow author and I were chatting on the Shocklines message board about prejudice in the horror community. I was shocked to hear him say (or rather see him type) that he believed there was none. This was so shocking because the author I was speaking with was gay, and there wasn’t exactly a glut of tales from openly gay authors filling anthologies and bookshelves. Several other authors jumped in to disagree with him on this, restating comments they’d heard made about Maurice Broadus and I behind our backs. Apparently, the two of us ruffled a few feathers when we spoke up in defense of African American horror anthologies

cover of Dark Dreams anthologySee, there was a new anthology coming out the following year called Dark Dreams: A Collection of Horror and Suspense by Black Writers edited by Brandon Massey. A couple years prior, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree Thomas, had come out, and now there was another one coming? That was just too much Blackness for folks to endure. As I recall, a few well-respected authors in the genre made fun of the anthology loudly and publicly. They hadn’t read it. It wasn’t due to be released until 2004. They weren’t lampooning it for the quality of the stories within. What had raised their ire and fueled their derision was that it was another anthology of exclusively Black authors. Oh, heaven forbid there be more than one. It had only been three years since the last one came out. What were these uppity negroes trying to pull?

This was 2003. To you younger folks, 2003 may seem like a long time ago, a less enlightened age. After all, eighteen years has passed since then. Perhaps you were still in high school in 2003. Maybe you were even in middle school or elementary school. But, for those of us who were writing back then, this was the beginning of a new millennium, more than thirty years post Civil Rights Movement. By then we were all supposed to have flying cars, android butlers, spaceships that could traverse the universe, colonies in other galaxies. The very concept of race was supposed to be long behind us. No one imagined we would still be combating racism

Of course, with all the racial unrest in the country now, that probably sounds terribly naive on our part. As naive perhaps as expecting the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land five years later to end racial injustice in this country. But, 2003 was an entire decade after the Rodney King riots. Things had quieted down. It was the beginning of the information age. We all had computers connected to this newfangled thing called the World Wide Web. Most of us had cellphones in our pockets. The National Security Advisor was a Black Woman named Condaleeza Rice. There were more than five hundred black mayors. 50 Cent had the number one song in the country. Tiger Woods was the highest paid athlete in the world, and Will Smith and Eddie Murphy were two of the highest grossing actors in the country. Why were we still arguing with old white men about Black anthologies?

cover of Dark Matter anthologyNo one stepped up to defend the anthology. No one. Except yours truly of course, and my buddy Maurice. Those two Black authors. Many of the other authors were probably just intimidated by the caliber of some of the names involved. I’m certain many of them never considered the question of racially specific anthologies before, and so were undecided on the issue. Still, the overall tone of the thread was so offensive someone should have spoken up in our defense. As they say, all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing. But no one defended us

I had been through this before, in elementary school, when then President Gerald Ford declared February “Black History Month.”

“Why is there a Black History Month and not a White History Month?”

Because there’s no dearth of White History in this country. That’s all we learn the other eleven months out of the year.

Then again in high school, back in the ’80s, when Black Entertainment Television hit the airwaves.

“How would you feel if there was a White Entertainment Television?”

There is. We just call it television.

I should not have been surprised at being confronted with this same argument twenty years later.

“How would you feel if we had an all White anthology?”

But, I was surprised. Surprised. Hurt. Disappointed. And, outraged.

So, I asked these fine folks, “Out of all the horror anthologies, short story collections, novels, and novellas on your bookshelves, how many are written by African American Authors? How many feature African American heroes or heroines? How many even feature African American villains or sidekicks? And, of those who do, how many feature these characters in non-stereo-typical roles?”

Slowly, the realization dawned in the minds of a few that yes, this was necessary. And, when I say a few, I mean a very few. Most remained stubborn in their belief that our attempt to be seen and heard was somehow an act of racism against them, that they were being discriminated against and unfairly excluded. They could not see the false equivalency in their argument. There was no need for an all-White anthology because white people, being the ruling majority in America, and even more so in horror fiction, filled the table of contents of most horror anthologies by default. Those that include the odd minority were rare indeed.

Since the release of Dark Matter in 2001, and Dark Dreams in 2003, I can’t say Black authors have gained any greater visibility in the genre. It is now 2021 and horror anthologies remain predominantly filled with cis, het, white, male authors. Go to a horror convention and the guest authors and panelists are still overwhelmingly cis, het, white, males. Those ignorant arguments that greeted Black History Month, BET, and the Dark Dreams and Dark Matter anthologies are eerily similar to those attempting to silence the Black Lives Matter Movement.

“What if there was a White Lives Matter Movement?”

The fact that we are still debating the need for greater visibility, equal opportunity, equal representation, and equal justice in 2021 is truly disheartening. That we must continue to push back against cries of reverse-racism and racial exclusion whenever we attempt to build a platform for our own self-expression amid the deafening din of art, literature, and media from America’s racial majority underscores how far we have yet to come. Because even affirming a Black person’s right to exist is a controversial statement in this country, we must take every opportunity to speak out against racial injustice, ignorance, bigotry, and both conscious and unconscious biases. Why was there a need for an all-black horror anthology and why does that need remain? Why is there a need for publishers to actively seek out and promote authors of color? I am not answering that question. I am asking it. Just like I asked seventeen years ago.

“Out of all the horror anthologies, short story collections, novels, and novellas on your bookshelves, how many are written by African American Authors? How many feature African American Heroes or heroines? How many even feature African American villains or sidekicks? And, of those who do, how many feature these characters in non-stereo-typical roles?”

What do your bookshelves look like?

Wrath James White is a former World Class Heavyweight Kickboxer, a professional Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts trainer, distance runner, performance artist, and former street brawler, who is now known for creating some of the most disturbing works of fiction in print.

Wrath is the author of such extreme horror classics as The Resurrectionist (now a major motion picture titled Come Back To Me), Succulent Prey and its sequel Prey Drive, Yaccub’s Curse, 400 Days of Opression, Sacrifice, Voracious, To the Death, The Reaper, Skinzz, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town, The Book of a Thousand Sins, His Pain, Population Zero and many others. He is the co-author of Teratologist co-written with the king of extreme horror, Edward Lee, Something Terrible co-written with his son Sultan Z. White, Orgy of Souls co-written with Maurice Broaddus, Hero and The Killings both co-written with J.F. Gonzalez, Poisoning Eros co-written with Monica J. O’Rourke, and Boy’s Night co-written with Matt Shaw among others.

Wrath lives and works in Austin, TX.

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