I was a 13-year-old black girl in Baltimore listening the German industrial metal band, Rammstein. My older brother slipped me their CD, and I replayed songs from the album Sehnsucht exclusively through my headphones—careful to keep the grim, clanging, and completely foreign sounds contained to my ears alone—for fear of being judged. I kindled this smoke screen around most of my life, keeping my interests stashed, my personality sheltered, and my daydreams veiled. I revealed very little of myself to avoid the blade of other people’s judgments.
It wasn’t cool, back then, for the black kids to dip their toes in unfamiliar cultural waters. How you dressed, how you spoke, and how you spent your free time was directly aligned with how you were sized-up, and where you were ultimately placed in the social caste system.
By Andrea Boston, AFROPUNK Contributor *
Always a people-pleaser, I took heed and kept my Green Day, Queen, and Radiohead records tucked away. Even though rock music’s modern offspring were conceived in black musical tradition, the act of enjoying certain bands felt almost like a betrayal—an indulgence that I had to keep under wraps.
Over time, that 13-year-old girl in Baltimore grew up, and with adulthood came a waning reliance on the approval of others. I moved to different cities, met an abundance of distinct personalities, and tinkered with new experiences that helped me appreciate the quirks that gave my identity its color. Turns out, I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought. There were other young women out there just like me.
In 2008, I had the opportunity to interview the L.A.-based duo J*Davey backstage before a concert in New York. I was an eager fan, and a bumbling interviewer, but I managed to get through my prepared list of questions. When asked about the future of black music, lead singer, Miss Jack Davey, replied:
“I think it's interesting that in junior high, when all my friends were listening to R. Kelly, I was secretly hiding away listening to Nevermind by Nirvana. That was my own little private joy. My friends would be like, ‘you listen to Led Zeppelin?!’”
That statement hit home, and two years later on an evening rush hourcommute from DC to Baltimore, I thought of that brief conversation and commonality with Miss Jack Davey. I wondered about the other women of color who had similar experiences. What were their stories? Which aspects of their personalities did they also hide out of the fear of being judged? How did they channel these experiences creatively, and how could I create a space where their voices—our voices—could be heard?
The idea for Oddflower blossomed that evening. I put out a call for submissions on my old personal blog, determined to create an anthology of stories written by black women who “never quite fit in.” Over time, the project evolved into its current configuration—a multimedia story series featuring short films, a photo essay, and a book of six short stories that gave women—from Chicago to South Africa—the chance to share their personal narrative of what it was like being the odd woman out, when their quirky identities took shape, and how certain experiences sparked the women they are today. From a social worker with comic book fascinations, to a wardrobe stylist whose fashion sensemade heads turn in her Harlem projects, each woman’s story is different, yet her desire to express her sparkle of individuality is what threads the project together. Interviews with the bands noon:30 and Me & This Army are also featured.
Beginning Tuesday, July 29th, the first season of Oddflower will publish as a bi-weekly series on TheOddflowers.com. It’s a project born out of love, dedicated to any woman who harbored her own inner 13-year-old kid, yet snuffed the fear of judgment with a fervent drive to live her truth.
* Find Oddflower at TheOddflowers.com and follow the project on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @theoddflowers
Andrea Boston’s blog: AndreaBoston.com