Brianna Holt's In Our Shoes: On Being a Young Black Woman in Not-So "Post-Racial" America dives deeply into the plights of Generation Z's young Black females, which are now heightened by social media. "It's a space that threatens, damages, steals from and extracts from the young Black woman," declares Holt. A blend of personal memoirs and essays, her debut book, out April 11, 2023, came to life through discussions with her mom during the pandemic shutdown. "I'm a journalist by trade, and I was writing a lot of stories about race during quarantine, and I would read them out loud to my mom. I would say words like 'blackfishing' and even 'cultural appropriation' and I remember being shocked because my mom, who is 70 now, did not know them."
While the derogatory phrasing may have changed, the consternation they cause hasn't. Holt's goal is to help every generation see that while many strides have been taken to elevate the Black woman, there is still so much more to be done.
EBONY: In your own words, what is In Our Shoes about?
Brianna Holt: It's about what it's like to navigate a "post-racial society" as a young Black woman, mostly speaking of millennials and Gen Zers. A lot of the issues that I talk about pertain to Black women who have grown up in the digital age online, and how social media creates this false narrative of how Black women are seen. There are so many wins in the Black community—we've had a Black president and first lady. We have a Black VP; the most popular gymnast is a Black woman and the most popular actress and tennis player are Black women. From the outside looking in, when it comes to public figures and celebrities, it seems like Black women are making strides in terms of the way that they are treated, and it's very easy to feel that young Black women are not experiencing what Black women from previous generations experienced.
But that's not the case.
I open my book with a chapter on what maternal mortality was at the time that my mother was pregnant with me in 1994 and how that rate has not improved for Black women, even today. So that pushes this idea that, yes, while there might be all these prolific high-profile wins, everyday Black women are still experiencing and suffering from systemic racism and discrimination in different forms.
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How did researching, interviewing others and writing about these issues affect you personally?
It was traumatic to go through memories and recollections that I, whether unconsciously or consciously, buried from my childhood. I talked with family members, my mom and my brother, and I requested from my dad this box where he keeps all my childhood memories, like trophies and diaries and journals that I had. I started reading through these things and was so unaware of how much I was going through and experiencing due to being a little dark-skinned Black girl in predominantly white spaces in the South. It was very sad. These memories are from a time when I was very insecure, had low confidence and didn't have a lot of self-love, which is very different from the person I am today. But it was also a therapeutic process—if I could write this all down, I could release it and be done with it. I think for a lot of Black women, when something happens to us, we toil between the lines of "did this happen because I'm Black, or is this happening for another reason?" So to hear similar stories from other women I interviewed was very affirming for me. It wasn't necessarily a fun book to write, but it was a book that felt necessary for me to put out.
Why are millennial and Gen Z women redefining monikers that have been placed on Black women in the past?
We are redefining these phrases that have been placed upon us or that we have given ourselves because they were once very positive, but have turned into something negative. Other people who are not Black women, whether that be Black men or non-Black people, have misperceived the statements, "She's magical" or "She's strong and resilient and she doesn't need help or assistance." I think what young Black women want is the opportunity to choose just like we see other women choose. They aren't met with any scorn when choosing. Black women today don't want to be resilient because we have to be or because we live in a society that pressures or expects that of us. That's what we're doing with these different movements like the soft Black girl movement. We want to be able to show that we're multifaceted and not one-dimensional. We're soft, we can cry and our tears can be seen as us needing support. The beauty of all of this is that we also come from a line of people that have persevered and have been strong; we should be able to embody both.
What groups of people can learn from this book to start making changes for Black women?
I want Black women to read this and it resonates. This book is documentation with studies, research and interviews about the experiences of numerous other Black women who have been through it as well.
The other reader is someone who needs to read this and reflect, and so I put more pressure in my book on white women because of our shared gender identity. Black women and white women historically have been fighting for the same things; for example, Black and white women were working together to win our suffrage, but white women got it way sooner. I would hope that our shared gender identity in a patriarchal society would push white women to want to act. And then there from there, want to pass it on to other people. I think the way to reach white men with these ideals is through white women.