Author: rhondajacksongarcia

January 23, 2022

My Black Trauma Is Mine and I Can Write It If I Want To!

Often, social media argument points come and go before they take root and fester. Those that don’t gain traction fade away into the night, as they should. Others linger and mutate and grow until they can’t be ignored any longer. Some of those hot takes should also disappear; but, alas, one of these has evolved into a full blown “thing” and as per the usual suspects making bad faith arguments, the whole topic has turned into yet another cudgel with which to beat marginalized writers over the head. Most specifically, Black horror creators.

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Just about anyone who hangs around horror writing Twitter has heard some variation of the “Black trauma on screen/in writing is evil and should be exorcized” talking points. At the risk of being redundant—yes, I’ll probably make this disclaimer every time I decide to say something to the public because I refuse to waste time on arguing personal opinions: there isn’t much basis for argument within those—everyone is entitled to like and dislike whatever they want. But when the thing folks decide they don’t want gets in the way of honest and authentic expression by Black creators, real damage can be done to how much content by Black creators actually makes it into books and onto screens.

And I’m of the mind that this damage is intentional on the part of a large group of the folks yelling into the microphone on this. They want to put further limitations and gatekeeping in the way of more Black stories being told by Black creators. The scant few produced each year are already too many for these folks—putting up more barriers can decrease that few to almost none, like in the “good old days”. Other folks buy into this idea and hop on the “We shouldn’t be showing Black trauma porn in the glorification of Black suffering” train and might think they’re doing a societal good. There are a few issues with both iterations of this take, however, as any censorship on these topics won’t likely play out the way the folks in the second group think it will.

Horror is a genre that’s largely defined by what frightens us or makes us uncomfortable. Horror isn’t about bunnies and unicorns, unless those critters are going to go rogue and create a human flesh-eating group amongst themselves, for example. The central idea of horror is to show those things that are horrific or discomfiting. Whether this is subtle, quiet horror or in your face, graphic splatter horror, the entire genre is built on discomfort of varying degrees. Advocating that only happy and uplifting topics and experiences be depicted in horror medium negates the tropes and foundation of the genre. Horror ain’t about happy feelings in the air and everywhere, like Brother Frankie Beverly and Maze preach.

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Slavery is an unfortunate fact of history that serves as a factual foundation for some horror media. It’s big brother, racism, is also a horrific fact of past and current experiences for large numbers of Black people. Poverty is a close runner up. Blocking depictions of slavery, racism, or even poverty from horror media negates real history. It also contributes to the further erasure of these experiences even as they continue to happen in real time. Can horror work be created without showing these facts on screen? Absolutely. But should the horror genre reject these depictions in favor of lighter, feel-good content?

Well, now, that’s a whole other conversation. 

Speaking for myself as a Black horror creator, my personal experiences include a variety of upsetting circumstances/facts: slavery, racism, sexism, abuse, rape, and poverty, to name a few. I find inspiration in writing about these experiences because I find they fit in perfectly with the underlying theme of creating discomfort in works of horror while also bringing awareness to these issues—and some modicum of justice in the stories I create which doesn’t often happen in real life. These things happened to me. Are happening to me. To tell me I can’t write about them because it’s only trauma porn and shows Black people suffering invalidates them as my personal experiences. Without the motivation I gain from these ills, I’d scramble about for other things to write about that wouldn’t be as authentic. I can certainly write things that are less upsetting to other folks. I could also mute the genuine pain I feel from these circumstances so my work is more palatable to audiences. So, do I stop writing about my authentic Black experiences?

I. Will. Not.

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This is the main point of nuance here that I think the overall conversation is missing: I own this trauma—it’s mine. Because it has all happened to me, I’ve earned the right to shine a light on all of it, to manipulate it into creations of my own that embody my work as a creator. I’m not an outsider narrating these events for the pleasure of an audience caught up in rapture over the idea of Black people suffering in front of their eyes. These horrendous elements comprise my life’s story and I’m not ashamed of any of it. It happened. I work through it. I live with it; but, I’m also inspired by revealing it and calling it out in the hopes that the next victim doesn’t have to endure it. I write about these things so we can eradicate them.

Hiding Black experiences and insisting on happy, glitter, rainbow horror about Black people perpetuates stereotypes of happy enslaved people glad to be mistreated. Of Black women as enthusiastic participants of their own degradation and rapes. Of people forgetting the sometimes overwhelming effects of ongoing racism and poverty. As the great Zara Neale Hurston truthfully stated: “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

I ain’t buying into this request to stay silent about my Black experiences. Silence is complicity and I’ve dedicated myself to a lifelong, big, loud, and vicious fight against these issues.

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That said, I do feel there’s room to critique these depictions, genuinely. Is it obvious when creators who aren’t familiar with the horror genre—but have an enormous platform—want to just throw out any old thing with Black folks in it, add in some racism and blood, and call it horror to cash in on the current horror craze? Yes. But not any more out of pocket when other creators do the same, minus the Black folks. Is it soul crushing when the most plot lacking vehicles that show frame after frame, page after page, of Black people being tortured with no relevance to the overall storyline are picked up for production when there are a gazillion Black horror creators out here producing more solid content that could have been picked up, instead? Again, yes. But these are different arguments about who gets access and opportunities versus who doesn’t.

What I’m ultimately asking is that participants in this kerfuffle consider the outcomes they’re supporting. Seeing images and topics on screen and in print that you don’t like or that make you uncomfortable is the goal of the horror genre. Maybe horror ain’t for you if you’re totally beside yourself when you see Black people enduring horrific things many Black people have experienced and are still experiencing (the key word there is “horrific”, as in, using the root word “horror”). How is your “fight” helping Black horror creators when you’re advocating for erasing a huge swath of authentic experiences from the horror storytelling canon because it hurts your feelings? Further, I’d like you to consider whether or not you were just as loud and vocal about the horror travesty that was Ghosts of War when it came out. Did you seek to cancel horror based on images of war and the insensitivity perpetuated upon traumatized soldiers who had their PTSD flaunted across the screen in a virtual mimicry of their suffering?

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Nope. That didn’t happen. And I know why. The loudest outcries on this have been reserved for movies like Antebellum, which happened to focus on slavery and centered the unique suffering of the Black, female character. Series’ like Them and Lovecraft Country, which also focused on Black people and magnified some issues faced by Black women. 

This type of selective outrage shows the ugly underpinnings of not only working against content that centers Black experiences but also against Black creators who may use these experiences in our work. It’s very telling that Black trauma is acceptable when some people use it, especially in other genres. I insist that the horror genre is a fertile battleground for these depictions. This is our trauma. Our grief. Our lives. It can be exhausting, horrifying, and desperate. We can write it if we want to.

R.J. Joseph is a Bram Stoker Award® nominated writer who finds joy in writing about the intersections of race and gender in the horror genre and popular culture. She can be found on Twitter and IG: @rjacksonjoseph.

October 4, 2021

For Colored Girls Who Love Horror Movies/When Wut We Get Ain’t Enough

By RJ Joseph 

The inimitable Toni Morrison told us to write the stories we want to see. I’ve seen a whole, whole lot of horror films in my half-century on this side of existence. While there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s definitely a plethora of lenses through which we could offer horror to provide fresh takes on tropes that are growing stale from the overkill of homogenous viewpoints. Alas, my beloved genre loves its same old sameness…

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To be given the chance to unleash the pent-up horror creativity fed for years by some excellent—most, mediocre (and a few, downright shameful)—horror filmmaking in the past four decades…what a fantasy! Please, indulge a colored girl in this play-pretending, and let’s go to the movies to imagine:

  1. An anthology format, feature film with a Black, female emcee of an ambiguous religious background who ushers characters from four short stories into various interpretations of the afterlife. Tales from The Hood meets This Is Where You Fuc**ed Up.
  2. A feature film where a middle-aged Black woman collects ghosts in the furniture she uses to decorate her huge, fancy house. She traps the spirits to protect them from fading into forgotten oblivion and if she stops, she will face the same malevolent entity, The Voider, she protects them from. [Insert any one of the various haunted museums in The Universe here] meets Decorating in the ‘Hood and Protecting the Ancestors. 
  3. A children’s animated series where a Black girl with cerebral palsy can see and command ghosts and teams up with them to solve mysteries. Scooby-Doo meets Black Girls Are Magic (phrase coined by Cashawn Thompson).
  4. A coming-of-age feature film about a group of five, inner city pre-teens who wonder about the story the mysterious Whistling Woman who lives in a lavish home outside the city center but visits the homes in their ‘hood for meals and entertainment. She is treated with reverence by their families, in hopes that she doesn’t begin to whistle inside their homes and ring in the death of a loved one. The truth they discover is more terrifying than her mere domestic visitations. It meets Let Black Kids Be Kids and Have Coming-of-Age Stories.
  5. A television series centered on the experiences of a Black, lesbian vampire couple that describes their origins in antebellum United States, their fight against slavery during the Civil War, the strategies they used to work towards eliminating Jim Crow, and how they continue to advance civil rights in current times. Interview with a Vampire meets Let Black Folks Be Vampires before Y’all Decide to Cancel the Bloodsuckers.

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See how fun those would be from perspectives we don’t often get to see on screen in fully developed lives and stories? And they’re just on the fly, right off the top of my head. I’m full of horror movie stories and scripts (I saved the REALLY stellar ones in my portfolio—can’t give away all my good-good in public!). 

Industry professionals, holler at your girl. Let’s make some movies!

R.J. Joseph is a Texas-based Bram Stoker Award™ nominated writer who writes academically about and creatively within the horror genre. You can most often find her on Twitter, @rjacksonjoseph, and (after November 1, 2021) on her newly minted, teenager-created website at

July 14, 2021

The Horror Genre’s Structure Will Never Expand the Horror Genre’s House

By R.J. Joseph

I had several ideas to use for this blog post and started actually writing a couple of them. But my muse is fickle and she’s easily swayed by…well, everything. A passing tweet from one of my favorite horror writers changed course and so here we are, talking about Audrey Lorde’s idea of the master’s tools never dismantling the master’s house in the context of the horror genre, it’s expansion, and the upkeep of the house where it resides.

I’ve been in the horror world for a long, long time, first as a reader (from the age of six) and now as a reader and writer. I’ve seen many trends, publishers, and writers come and go. Lots of change. Some good, some not so good. Yet, one thing remains constant: it still ain’t a cozy place for writers of color.

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Before the naysayers and internet arguers with no facts supporting their bad faith arguments come running, I’ll say there has been a tiny bit of progress within the genre regarding inclusivity. There are many more women publishing horror books and stories and directing horror films than at any time before now. The genre has at least two or three pretty prominent voices from varying races and ethnicities where there were none. LGBTQ and disabled creators are finding their way into collections that aren’t only for LGBTQ and disabled artists. But…

A look at any major studio’s horror offerings, the TOCs (tables of contents) for the most highly anticipated horror anthologies, or major horror awards lists reveals gaps bigger than the wide country ghetto one I sport when I smile: these remain highly white and cis male. The mainstream deals in publishing and film that pay the most are often based on these awards lists and TOCs. Guess who the money follows? Even in indie publishing and filmmaking where word of mouth can make or break a production, the words in the mouths of the industry folks are rarely the names of writers of color. 

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There’s no argument that staying in folks’ faces on social media or with publications and even convention appearances helps keep writers working. How are writers of color supposed to stay on this merry go round without being paid for their work? Or, being paid well below professional pay rates because the publications that will take works from writers of color can only afford to pay a fraction of that? How can they maintain a social media presence when their visibility there opens them up to attacks from not only heavy hitters who don’t want to cede any inch of the horror house to writers who are vastly different from them to the other writers of color who want to tear them down in vying for the one slot afforded for a writer of color in these spaces?

This is the part where the common refrain comes from—some who are well-intentioned, I really want to believe—folks in the genre saying, “Well, all good writers will eventually rise to the top.” I scoff at these words over the top of my hard won MFA and the degrees and experiences of my fellow horror writers of color. I’ve been reading my favorite Black horror writer, Tananarive Due, since the 1990s. Due is just now having one of her many film worthy works produced on screen in AMC’s new Black horror anthology series later this year. I’m sure she has always had many pokers in the fire with her work but she said this is the first television adaption of her work she didn’t produce herself. She has written rings around so many of the writers who get multitudes more big ups than she ever has. Her work should have been all over movie and television screens for years now. This is where the whole, “quality rises to the top” sentiment rings hollow for me.

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We can have all the education we want and write perfectly and prolifically but the genre just may still choose to maintain its current status quo. There will likely never be a point where using the horror genre’s structures of writing degrees and awards nominations and film options will create an extension on the horror genre’s house where writers of color can reside as comfortably as our counterparts. The house the horror genre keeps up is the house the horror genre wants for itself. The genre seems hellbent on remaining a homogenous monolith that will eventually have to cannibalize itself without any new blood.

I posit we would be better off using our tools to build our own houses: publishing houses, conferences, awards programs, writing programs, professional writing groups, and studios that not only welcome work from writers of color but also afford us further opportunities to nurture a wide range of expressions from within our communities. 

Imagine having an editor who not only understands that there’s nuance in the storytelling and language of people of color but who embraces these delicious differences and would never reply to a submission with a very color coded, “I can’t relate to these characters”. Consider a writing program where a writer of color isn’t admonished to erase all instances of their identity from their story until it’s workshopped into a bland semblance of every other thing the horror community upholds and celebrates. How much joy would numerous studios that produce movies based on varying works from multiple creators of color depicting disparate experiences of their own ethnicities bring to our hearts? At the very least, this world should be refreshingly void of stereotypical characters and judgement about what constitutes a valid expression of any race or ethnicity.

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This is a radical vision I propose but I’m not alone in advocating for it. I and other creators who want to build these horror houses understand perfectly this is a long range vision dependent on many variables, including our tenacity to work with what we got to get what we want and partially on the true allies in the horror genre who will take our work on and pay us what we’re worth to lend us the validity and investments within the genre we would need to build our structures. Until then, we fight. We write. And we dream. We continue to collect our tools and use them to build what we want. What we need.

R.J. Joseph is a Texas based Bram Stoker Award™ nominated writer who writes academically about and creatively within the horror genre. You can most often find her on Twitter, @rjacksonjoseph and (after August 1, 2021) on her newly minted, teenager created website at

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