Black Joy

How Black creatives are challenging racial stereotypes during Blacktober

This story was part of our Black Joy newsletter. You can click here to sign up and spread the liberating joy every Friday.

I’ve reported on Blacktober since its inception two years ago and I covered its one-year anniversary. I’m continuing the tradition by chatting with two Black creatives.

Dee Brown is a 28-year-old nonbinary parent of two who’s known as the Fairy Art Mother, a name she chose after having their first child. Instead of being a fairy godmother who makes your dreams come true, Dee changes people’s worldview of Black people through their artwork. Dee used to live their life based on the stereotypes of Black people they learned during their childhood, when they identified as a Black girl.

Then, they were inspired by another Black artist to be themselves. Now, Dee is drawing otherworldly illustrations of Black people. Here’s one of a Black witch with purple hair taking a selfie while zooming across the universe on a “broomba.” Dee’s talents have attracted more than 94,000 followers across Instagram, TikTok and Twitter in just a few years.

DeAnne G. is a Black animator and illustrator in Atlanta who I recently found on Instagram. Her artwork has already wowed me. Some of my favorites so far: this fan art of Ariel’s red locs swaying in the sea and a beautiful drawing of an East African bride.

I chatted with Dee and DeAnne about how a lack of Black representation has affected them as people and artists and their thoughts about Blacktober.

Starr: What’s the story behind your passion for drawing/animation?

Dee: One of my favorite artists, Gdbee, created a picture of a Black woman with colored hair when I was younger. I was kind of insecure about the way I could present myself at the time. So I figured, ‘Oh, well, I want to do that, too.’ I saw everything I wanted to be as an artist, but also as a person just in that one drawing. And I’m like, I have to live out my creative side.

That’s how it really started because I wasn’t used to seeing colorful depictions of Black women or even Black feminine people before. So being able to see that and being able to express myself because of that was the start of it all.

I started drawing what I wanted to see on myself so I can feel more comfortable doing it. I wanted to see people who looked like me or felt the same way as me because we’re not usually seen in most media. Then you feel sort of unconfident about how you look to other people. But when you see something like that drawing in the media, you’re more inspired to do it for yourself.

DeAnne: I’ve always loved drawing ever since I was a kid. When I was young, I picked up a pencil and never really stopped. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered a love for animation as well. I always enjoyed watching cartoons and animated films on screen, and in high school, I was addicted to finding out how people go about making them. Though I’m freelancing primarily as an animator, both animation and illustration have a strong place in my heart.

Starr: Did you grow up seeing Black cartoons or illustrations and how did that experience influence your skills and self-esteem?

DeAnne: While I remember growing up watching shows like ‘Proud Family’ and ‘Static Shock,’ for the most part, cartoons and books I read as a kid had black characters in secondary, supporting roles. Most of the shows I watched had white characters in the forefront. As a result, almost all of the characters I created and drew growing up were white. It didn’t really occur to me until much later that I could create characters that looked like me, and they didn’t have to be secondary. Blacktober has helped me get back into drawing Black characters freely.

Dee: Besides Number 5 (From Cartoon Network’s “Kids Next Door”) and Static Shock? No… I saw myself as a weirdo because society told me that I have to have straight hair or that my hair can’t be a certain color because it looks bad on my color of skin… We’re told that we don’t look right doing that and people just listen. They listen to it because it’s the majority opinion, or at some point in their formative years, they were told that. So they passed it on to their kids.

It’s a matter of not looking like how other races tell you Black people are supposed to look like. And when you hear that at a young age, you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t want to branch out because either you’ll get made fun of or exiled. The first time I dyed my hair, I had purple braids. My friends were hyping me up, but it did not go well when I went to school the next day. People were very, very terrible to me. I didn’t care at the time because I felt like I did something I genuinely wanted to do. And I didn’t stop. After purple, I did blue. Then after blue, I did orange. I actually started dressing the way I wanted to instead of the way I thought I was supposed to.

Starr: So Dee, how did those limitations of what you can and can’t do as a Black person shape how you moved in life? How does your art change that worldview?

Dee: I grew up thinking that I was supposed to be either loud and aggressive – even though most of the Black women I grew up with were quiet and a little anxious like me – but I was also told that I was supposed to be outgoing and strong. I was brought up to be more masculine than I actually am. Being quiet or reserved meant I had an attitude. Having even an anxiety attack as a Black person meant that I was suddenly the villain. It was all so strange.

Now, I’m able to see myself in fantasy scenarios. Whereas before, I wasn’t able to be a hero or be romantic.

Starr: So tell me about your artwork for Blacktober! What was your inspiration behind your drawing?

Dee: The first thing I think of when I think of spooky girls is Wednesday Adams. I love the Adams Family and I definitely was able to see that look on a Black girl. I was like I want to see her but with different hair.

I felt like her growing up. I was just kind of like a creepy kid who kind of skulked around and found things like bones and potions cool. So I was like, ‘How can I translate that into something that another little Black girl could see themselves in.’

When you’re a Black girl, you’re usually raised that being goth or any sort of dark aesthetic is demonic and it’s witchy. But a little Black girl seeing my drawing might think, ‘Oh, well That’s just Wednesday. Why is she allowed to do that if she’s my skin tone? Maybe I can do that too and not feel ashamed about it.’ Trying to normalize thinking differently when it comes to the way you’d like to look or express yourself was definitely a motive there for drawing Wednesday.

DeAnne: The second week of Blacktober is dedicated to original content, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to redraw Alora and Amilah–my twin vampire characters. Alora is very cautious and introverted, but they can be sweet (as long as they don’t think you’re a threat). Amilah on the other hand is super bubbly, and she loves meeting people! For their hair, I referenced African hair threading, as well as numerous braid and natural hair artists like Shani Crowe. There is SO much creatively you can do with braids and kinky hair, and I found that hair styles like these felt very magical and ethereal–perfect for a pair of elegant vampires. I also based their clothes on historical portraits of black Victorians.

Starr: What is the most important benefit Blacktober has given you over the past two years? How has this fulfilled you?

Dee: I’d say the most important benefit was knowing how much there is a need for representation. Just being able to see how necessary that is. The two years I have done Blacktober have taught me that the world is changing. During the first Blacktober I did, I got a lot of bad comments. And this year, I got mostly positive comments. Sometimes I get the occasional racist comment. But for the most part, I’ve seen a lot of people say, ‘Yeah, this is how I’ve always envisioned her. This is what I wanted to see growing up.’ The inner part of me finally started feeling validated.

DeAnne: Blacktober has been a breath of fresh air every year. It’s been great being able to get creative with characters and find new ways to interpret and draw them. I’ve also had the opportunity to find other black artists and be part of an amazing community. I will definitely be looking forward to seeing everyone’s art next year!

The Reckon Report.
Sign up to receive the Reckon Report newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday.