Black writers, journalists can be moral compasses in SC. That’s why we need more of them

Photo by Forrest Clonts

I’ve been writing columns for South Carolina-based publications for several years, and I follow an ethos when deciding topics: If the subject makes me uncomfortable that becomes my encouragement to lean into the issue.

Four years ago, I had a one-person show titled “Black AF” (no, it’s not Air Force) at Trustus Theatre in Columbia. The show was part performance, part TED Talk and part stand-up but talking about the most personal moments in my life. I’ve written about personal struggles with depression, body issues, and family trauma, and very quickly, as one of the few Black columnists in my city, I learned that I wasn’t just writing for myself. These stories became part of the show.

At the end of the show, with my mother in the audience, I talked about a botched suicide attempt that led me to realize how much I wanted to, in fact, be here. I took my glasses off while telling the story during the event so that I couldn’t see the audience, specifically my mother, and while fighting back the tears, I finished the show. The sold-out, mostly Black crowd gave me an avalanche of love.

The next day, my email inbox was full of people telling me their personal stories about depression and their shame of getting therapy. They expressed my show being a catalyst to rid some of these stigmas in the Black community.

There’s a Chris Rock quote about the difference between white entertainers versus Black ones. He says, “Tom Hanks is an amazing actor and Denzel Washington is a god to his people.” He continues, “If you’re a Black ballerina, you represent the race, and you have responsibilities that go beyond your art. How dare you just be excellent?”

I do not compare myself to Denzel or associate the word excellent with what I do, but the personal responsibility aspect is real. Nobody asked me to feel this way, but it’s something that is often built into Black folks with a platform regardless of the size. If Chuck Taylor commented that “Republicans buy sneakers too,” nobody would care. Jordan can’t just sell sneakers; he has to be a moral compass.

Sure, the term “representation matters” is cliché, but you can’t deny the impact of the phrase.

Admittedly, I wish the number of Black writers and journalists in South Carolina would rise. But to get more Black writers and understand the importance, we must know that the opportunity lies with having those perspectives in a newsroom. In my years of writing in Columbia, if someone said “the Black columnist,” it was between just me and one other writer. And an embarrassing moment was when a group of old white ladies ran up to me, mistaking me for the other.

I reached out to the writer, psychologist, and multi-hyphenate, friend, and mentor, Dr. Napoleon Wells, who lives in Columbia. I asked him his thoughts on the importance of Black writers from the area.

“SC is a state of conflict, contradiction and rich cultural communities. It is these elements that influence the understanding and practice that writers in South Carolina bring to our craft,” Wells said.

“We have staunch traditionalists and freedom fighters next door to one another in SC. We have the coast, and farmland and African Gullah traditions. It’s one of the most unique and fertile spaces to have to fight against and birth a story from. Mystery, or science fiction, or history. It’s all living here for a writer to live through and share. I literally can’t think of a better place to be to meditate as a writer than SC. It can be hard, and resistant, and unforgiving, while also giving us as writers all of humanity. It’s beautifully chaotic.”

Preach Jacobs is a two-time South Carolina Press Association award winner for column writing, a hip-hop artist and DJ.