She’s the Bridge (Part 2) with Morgan Harper Nichols
This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting special women who we believe are truly building bridges in their work.
In this continuation of our “She’s the Bridge” series, guest host Faitth Brooks talks with artist Morgan Harper Nichols about the intersection of Black womanhood, art, community, and passion. Morgan is a renowned digital artist, poet, new mom, and upcoming author! Listen as Morgan and Faitth dissect common stereotypes of Black women, explore what it’s like to have a hyper-visible platform, and give tips on building each other up even during a pandemic.
“I don’t know how to fix this—how to fix the portrayals, how to fix how other people see me. But I am going to put me out there.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
“I am only here because of the people who paved the way for me to be here today. I can’t talk about the future without talking about them—whether that’s people in my own ancestry or authors like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. Who am I without what they’ve already written and what they’ve already done? They paved the way.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
“You have to dig to find people that look like us in these fields. They’re there, but again, they’re not pushed to the front as others are. So it’s a lot of work to even find your people. I wish I didn’t have to dig so much to find references. I wish I didn’t have to dig so much to find other Black people who’ve been in similar situations. I shouldn’t have to dig so much.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
|About Morgan Harper Nichols
Popular Instagram poet and artist Morgan Harper Nichols has created her life’s work around the stories of others. Morgan’s popular Instagram feed (@morganharpernichols) has garnered a loyal online community, and she is the author of All Along You Were Blooming, a book of poems and art she created in response to the personal stories submitted by her friends and followers. Known for its lyrical tone and vibrant imagery, Morgan’s work is an organic expression of the grace and hope we’ve been given in this world. Morgan has also performed as a vocalist on several GRAMMY-nominated projects and written for various artists, including a Billboard #1 single performed by her sister, Jamie-Grace. Morgan is often on the road creating, teaching, and performing, in hopes of spreading her unique inspirational message and inviting others into her creative process. Morgan currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona, with her family.
Listen to the full episode and subscribe to the Be the Bridge podcast for more conversations on racial healing, equity and reconciliation!
The full episode transcript is below.
Faitth Brooks 0:00
Were there any questions that you’re like, “eh, no…”? That you didn’t want me to ask?
Morgan Harper Nichols 0:05
Nope. I’m good to go!
Faitth Brooks 0:07
[Voiceover] And just like that, we jumped in.
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 0:17
[Intro] How you guys doing today? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture, with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:28
[Intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society, but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end!
Faitth Brooks 1:06
Hey friends, I’m Faitth Brooks, Director of Programs and Innovation for Be the Bridge. Once again, I’m back as your guest host to guide you through this episode’s conversation. If you missed the last episode, you might not be aware that we are in a series called “She’s the Bridge.” This series highlights the dynamic bridge builders who happen to be women. Today’s conversation is with the awesomely gifted and admired Morgan Harper Nichols. She’s an author, poet, artist, and speaker. She’s been Grammy nominated, and also garnering a Billboard #1 hit. Her social media feeds have a loyal following, which is why you’ll see a blue check next to her name. This is going to be great! But as always, what we do here on the podcast is inform and educate.
[Voiceover] Okay, for some of you this will be new, so brace yourself, because you may not have ever viewed the term or phrase angry Black woman as micro-aggressive. The trope of the sassy Black woman who was ill mannered, ill tempered, and always “ready” is a thing—trust me. As a Black woman, it is a stereotype we have been unfairly saddled with. Passion and righteous indignation are often misread as irrational anger, and are used to degenerate and disarm Black women who dare to challenge social inequalities and question the validity of circumstances—and get this—have the temerity to demand and expect fair treatment. So now that you have been made aware that this trope is harmful and a demeaning stereotype, you’ll now have a context for the start of our conversation.
[In conversation] …You’re welcome. So one thing that I thought was really cool: so on your website, it says that you are “driven by curiosity and empathy.” And I really, really love that. Because oftentimes, there are stereotypes about Black women that assume we’re more harsh or we’re angry. So my first question for you is, how have you been able to lead and create with empathy when we have a society that oftentimes views—that is oftentimes not even empathetic to the plight of Black women?
Morgan Harper Nichols 3:29
Mm hmm. Yes, that’s such a good question. You know, I, I want to say that it came from like, just this creative inspirational flow, but a lot of it came out of necessity and out of my own need to be seen, and feeling like I wasn’t being seen in a lot of, in a lot of what I saw in the world. And there’s so many different directions I can go with this. But one example is in entertainment, you know, I just felt like, the portrayal of Black women was always just like, one type of stereotype and, and the concept of the strong Black woman, and there’s so much to unpack there. And of course, okay, yeah, there’s some good things within that. However, it’s like, that’s just one little part of the wholeness of who we are! So, you know, even though I didn’t have that language as a kid, or as like a middle schooler, when I was starting to make art, I think I was sort of picking up like…I feel a little different than how I feel like people expect me to be. Like, even as like a young Black girl. And I just struggled with that. And I struggled with a lot of loneliness because I—and I can see it now more clearly looking back, but I feel like I had a lot of other young Black women in my life who also were dealing with that pressure and maybe just feeling like they had to be a certain way. And I was like, I don’t even know who my people are, because I feel like we’re all like, trying to figure out who we’re going to be. And then there’s that other whole thing, which I’m sure you know about as well, of that whole tokenism thing. Of like, there can only be so many of us. So I struggle with that too, because there’s just like, this really sucks. Like, it’s hard for us to even support each other sometimes, because it’s like survival. It’s like, we don’t even know, like there’s not gonna be room for all of us. So I will say that one thing that was sort of like a common thread that really helped me through all of that is that I have a sister who’s two years younger than me, and is also very creative and an artist. So we always joke and say, we had to get over that really fast. We were always two Black girls in the room, we were never—it was never like…”Y’all are just gonna have to put up with both of us. We know you only got room for one, but it’s two of us, so make of that what you will.” So that’s very hard. But I will say that I’m glad that I had at least one person who shared that experience with me. And we were literally talking about these things yesterday. So it’s like, definitely haven’t figured it out. But I definitely like to ask those questions with what I make. So I think that that’s where the curiosity/empathy kind of come together. It’s like, I don’t know how to fix this—how to fix the portrayals, how to fix how other people see me. But I am going to put me out there. Even if it’s sometimes in the form of a question, of me saying, hey, these are questions I’m asking, that I’m wrestling with, and then invite other people into that conversation. So yeah, I really love that space.
Faitth Brooks 6:37
[Voiceover] “Allow yourself to receive grace, love, and support when it finds you. For beyond the dissonance of those who disregard you, there is still room to create harmony with others. There is room to welcome the music that speaks life, the music that does not try to stifle the struggle, but recognizes it as a part of the tension that creates the chord, that creates the music.” These are the type of affirmations that flow from Morgan Harper Nichols on her Instagram account regularly. If you don’t follow her, you are missing out! It’s affirmations like that, and others that lead me to this question…
[In conversation] …around the world. So I want to talk a little bit about your core values, you kind of like hinted on it in what you just talked about. But why do you feel it’s important to create art that connects people? And did you have any idea that your art would literally change the world?
Morgan Harper Nichols 7:39
Oh, my goodness. It’s—I had no idea. I always loved to make art as a kid, I was very drawn to it. But because I wasn’t very “technically” good at art in terms of like, I couldn’t just like look at a person and just draw them perfectly, I sort of just internalized this message of “Oh, I’m not an artist, but I enjoy art…But I’m not an artist.” But I’ve always been a huge fan of art. I mean, everything from if I got an album cover, I would just spend forever just looking at that artwork and looking at the fonts and looking at how they—I was always really interested in that. Never knew what to do with it, but I was just interested in it. And it wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s, well late 20s, that I started to have some career problems, to say the least. I was struggling a lot. I was in a predominantly white space and a predominantly white Christian space. And I was struggling because there was just—yeah, just struggling to find my place. I feel like if you are a Black person who’s been in that setting, I don’t have to say anything more. Like, you understand that tension and that just like, “Who am I? How much of me do I connect with these people, but how much is so different?” And that impacts how I create. One example of that is I remember one time I was—I’m a singer songwriter—and I was sitting in a writing session with this, a white man, and we were writing songs together. And I started writing this song about looking back and I was talking about my childhood and just positive things that I had learned from my parents and my grandparents, and that was what the song was about. And he responded like, he honestly thought it was the most helpful thing he was saying—he’s like, “Oh, no, you know, in Christian music, we don’t, we don’t look back. It’s about looking forward. So I don’t know if that song is gonna work.” And I was just like…how…okay? Um…And he said it like so optimistic, that he really thought that was like a helpful statement. And I was just like, wow, we are worlds away in this moment. I was like, that is not my reality. And like, I am only here because of the people who paved the way for me to be here today. I can’t talk about the future without talking about them.
Faitth Brooks 10:03
Morgan Harper Nichols 10:04
So you know, whether that’s people in my own ancestry or authors—Toni Morrison, James Baldwin—it’s like, who am I without what they’ve already written and what they’ve already done? They paved the way. And you know, if you are a Black person, you know what that’s like. It matters that generation by generation, even though those changes may feel small, it matters. And so that was one example of a moment that I had like that of just like, feeling kind of bummed, you know. I didn’t even know what to say in that moment. And we didn’t even finish writing that song. And it was just like, I don’t even know what to do with this. So I was wrestling with a lot of that. And one night, I think just all of that wrestling, all of the, also the financial side of just trying to be an artist, trying to earn an income—all of that just kind of hit me like a ton of bricks one night. And I just cried it out, and some kind of way, at the edge of the crying session, I wrote a poem about it. And that ended up turning into everything that I’m doing today. But it started from a place of you know, making this art and writing within the art. It came from a place of needing to find a way to express when I felt like doors were closing in other areas of my life. And I feel like especially a lot of creative people may struggle with that, where it’s like, you set out to do something but then it’s just like, the funding’s not there or the support is not there. And you’re just like, “but I feel like this is what I’m called to do!” Like how?! So for me, art was that way of like, this is a way that I can talk about looking back, I can talk about these things that maybe I’m not able to be able to do in these other spaces. But I can kind of create my own space to do that. So art and poetry became that for me, it really was a place of necessity, of feeling. Because I mean, I feel called to create, like, I feel that way. And it was a way for me to continue to do that in this new way. So yeah, that’s, I hope that answered the question!
Faitth Brooks 12:15
No, yeah, it did.
[Voiceover] I honestly don’t believe it’s just me who wonders how vessels like Morgan are able to adjust, adapt, refuel, and pour out. Let’s listen in.
[In conversation] Along the lines of your work touching the world, what is it like? And the hardest part, I would say, of having so much visibility, and such a large platform? Because I know I’m sure that comes with a lot. A lot of stuff.
Morgan Harper Nichols 12:44
Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Yeah, absolutely. I think the hardest part for me, and it sounds so silly to say, but it’s true—it is the attention. I struggle with that. Because I think part of it is I am more kind of a reserved, introverted person. I don’t naturally gravitate toward, you know, being in the spotlight. That’s not something—but I don’t reject it if I have the opportunity, you know? But it’s not something I naturally gravitate toward. And then there’s that other side of like, I’ve spent so many years of my life not seeing people like me do what I love or what I’m interested in, that sometimes it feels weird to be like, “Why do I have to be the one to pave the way?” Like I want somebody else to look—I want to read their book on how they did this! Like, I don’t want to be the first! I’m tired! I want to go, I want to go to sleep. So that is a part of it. Because I’m, I mean, you know, we’re filming—you can see behind me, there’s a massive bookshelf. Like I am a reader, I am like, “Give me the wisdom, give me the words, give me the play by play.” Like, I’m not trying to figure it out on my own. Like, I love to research, I love to take things in. So a lot of times I feel like I’m entering into territory where there is no research done in this. And I’m just like, I just wish I had a guide book! Like, so I would say that that is, that is very hard. Um, I feel that way multiple times in a week. I’m like, I feel like I’m entering new territory. And because I do a lot of digital art, and I do a lot of motion graphics. And it’s just like, if you google “motion graphic artists and animators” it is not, there are not Black people that show up. You gotta dig. You have to dig to find people that look like us in these fields. They’re there, but again, they’re not as—they’re not pushed to the front as others are. So it’s a lot of work to kind of like, even find your people. And I think that that is just, that is a real challenge because it’s just like, I wish I didn’t have to dig so much to find references. I wish I didn’t have to dig so much to find other Black people who’ve been in similar situations. I shouldn’t have to dig so much. But it’s like, there’s not as many documentaries on them. There’s not as many, you know, there’s not as many things on Black artists who kind of did something new in a different way. And it’s getting better, I will say that for sure. Anybody listening: the new documentary on HBO Max about Black art—I highly recommend it! Oh, my gosh. I spend so much time looking up Black artists, and even then I learned about some new artists. And I was just like, yeah, I highly recommend that. So I feel like it’s coming. We are getting better at that. And we do have more [artists], but it’s obviously still very challenging. And it can be very discouraging at times, because it’s just you look around and you’re just like, where we at? Yeah.
Faitth Brooks 15:49
[Voiceover] Oh, wow. This is so good. Let’s take a really quick break, and we will be back shortly. Be prepared to learn something new!
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Faitth Brooks 16:28
[Voiceover] Thanks for staying with us.
[In conversation] How do you take something that you love, that was kind of like a hobby but now it’s your job—how do you find that balance of you know, continuing to still have the love for the art and not getting like burned out from also creating when it’s your job?
Morgan Harper Nichols 16:48
Oh, yeah, that is such a good question. And I feel like my answer is going to be really cliche, but it’s just true. And that is community. It’s so important to have support even if it’s just one other person. And right now that one other person is my sister!
Unknown Speaker 17:14
[Jamie Grace song “Hold Me” featuring TobyMac plays]
Faitth Brooks 17:17
[Voiceover] Her sister is Jamie Harper. Jamie Grace Harper, better known as Jamie Grace. Her song “Hold Me” featuring TobyMac is the song that put her on the map, and also on the hearts and minds of Contemporary Christian Music fans around the world. Oh, and oh, wait—what about “Beautiful Day?” Don’t you love that song? Okay, anyways, I digress. I will let Morgan tell you more about her sister. So let’s jump back into the convo.
[Jamie Grace song “Hold Me” featuring TobyMac plays]
Morgan Harper Nichols 17:37
She’s an artist who I feel like is incredibly underrated for a lot of the things that she did. She was a 19-year-old Black girl with an acoustic guitar who went into a predominantly white Contemporary Christian Music industry. And she shattered a lot of ceilings in what she did! And she dealt with a ton of racism. And at 19 years old, and when I talked to her, I’m just like, we’re gonna do what we can to like, get your message out there, to get your words out there. And I’m always trying to help her, and she does that right back to me. And that’s the thing. It’s like when I get discouraged, like, she comes right back at me like, “Morgan, you were doing this, you did that.” Like, if I’m tired, she’s like, “Take a break!” Like with my podcast, I was getting a little tired, she’s like, “Bring it back in March, just take a week off.” So it was good to have somebody who has similar experiences that can just talk to you straight like that. And it’s been very, very helpful to have her.
And then the second thing is, I just, I just try to stay poured into via books. And like I said, documentaries. Like, I felt so empowered after watching that documentary [on Black artists]. It was just like, okay, there wasn’t to my knowledge, there wasn’t a single digital artist in that documentary but there were still artists who were paving the way in their own way. And I was able to learn from them. So I am—I try to stay like, even with the way I consume media now, like I just moved all my social media to my iPad. Like I took it off my phone, and I just have it on my iPad now because I was like, when I’m just going to my phone to scroll, let me go to a blog where there’s actually like curated posts that I can actually read or even just take in the pictures. Because it’s so easy to get discouraged when you’re just scrolling through social media, and you’re getting all these little snippets. And so I’ve been trying to be more intentional about like, let me just fill my life with as much…I’m not saying there’s not richness on social media, but it can be hard to find the richness sometimes because there’s so many, so many things happening at once. So I’m like, let me spend some time focusing on reading one thing at a time, taking in one story at a time. So yeah, those are just some ways that I’ve been just trying to stay encouraged as of late.
Faitth Brooks 20:07
I love that. And I love the relationship that you have with your sister. It really reminds me, it reminds me of the relationship that I have with my brother. And the relationship that I have with him is just so special. I mean, he’s my best friend, we were both homeschooled together…
[Voiceover] Yep, you heard that right. My brother and I are Black, Christian, and we were homeschooled. Buuuut, we were not the Bob Jones curriculum types. So along with learning the basic core subjects, we learned to glean the positive ideas that came from a lot of leaders and great thinkers, including Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We were a part of a subset that was far from the mold that some may think of when they think of white evangelical and well, homeschooled. So get this—I get it, a lot of people think this is pretty rare. It’s not just my family story, though. There are other people! It’s also the story of our podcast producer’s family, too. So, you know the whole idiom about judging books? You can never judge a book by its cover. (Sorry. I had to slip that one in.) And keep listening, because there’s yet another Black family that homeschooled as well. Back to our conversation.
[In conversation] …So that just meant that we became each other’s you know, like sounding board and, you know, cheerleader like, “Yes, you can do this, go for it!” You know? And I think that that’s also kind of, you know, just like a testament to Black culture and community and just how we are. And I think it’s so special that you have that in your sister to encourage you, to remind you, you know, of like, “Hey, you can do this. And if you get down like, you know, don’t worry, take a break,” you know? And I think we need that in our lives. And especially when you have so much visibility, it’s so special to have that in your family. Trusted confidants to see you and love you and know you and also keep you grounded. Because I feel like family is definitely good for doing that. And so, you know, now speaking of family, you’re also a new mom! So I would love to know how has motherhood enhanced your work and your outlook on life, as you lead with empathy and curiosity?
Morgan Harper Nichols 22:36
Thank you for asking that question. That’s such a good question. And I don’t know if I realized you were homeschooled too, we were as well!
Faitth Brooks 22:43
Oh, there you go!
Morgan Harper Nichols 22:43
So that’s like another whole layer to that, like you said, just really foster that connection. Yeah, my having my son has taught me to be a lot more organized. I am, I am not an organization person. See, I even struggled to say the word! I’m just like, what, what is that? I don’t think I ever kept up with a schedule or calendar. I don’t, I never used like a calendar until I had my son. Like, that’s just true. I now have like multiple calendars! I have like the work calendar and the family calendar. It’s just like, whoa, like, he’s probably gonna have his own separate calendar one day and it’s all gonna be color coded and all these things! So that is definitely a huge thing right now. I’ve had to—and I’m trying to say this in a way that doesn’t sound negative, but I can’t think of a way to say it. But I’ve had to really like scale down like even some of my dreams or things that I’ve wanted to do, and say, “Okay, I have way less time now being a parent to work on things. So how can I sort of change this in a way that it can still happen?” But it does look different than what I thought I was going to be doing. So one version of that is a few years ago. Well, I’m sorry, not—time is just a weird thing. Now, this wasn’t two years ago, this was literally a year ago, right before the first lockdown happened. And I had planned on starting to use more physical paint materials and things like that. And when the pandemic started, I actually lost my studio space, we had to close it down. We had just signed the lease, we had just gotten it. And we had to let it go. There was just no way we could maintain it because the way that we were going to be able to fund the studio was by having in-person classes. So I was planning on teaching and doing all these things. So yeah, obviously that got shut down. And in that getting shut down, I lost that space to be able to paint the way that I wanted to. And that was really hard to let go. It was so hard to let go of that because I had invested so much time, money, energy into dreaming this thing up, dreaming this thing to life. And I just had to let it go. But because, like, that extra room in the house is my son’s room—there’s no room to paint. So yeah, it was really hard, but one thing I found is like, okay, one thing that I can do is I can still make art digitally, I can still make art on my iPad and my computer. So that ended up leading me into where I am now where I’m doing more animation and doing more motion graphics. And that’s just a whole other world that I wasn’t even thinking about or considering that is something I’m now really passionate about. So yeah, I think being a parent is very twofold in the sense that you watch your life change, and it is lost in a way because you were a different person before. So you do lose some of the things that you maybe used to enjoy doing. However, I’m finding that oh, other things come into play that are beautiful in their own way. And the work is figuring out how to make those things fulfilling and bring that to life. So yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. But yeah, he brings me a lot of joy. And he just, he’s very curious. And he loves to make art on my iPad. He’s 20 months old. And he literally—I showed him how to, cuz I was just curious, when he was like six months, I was like, looking to see what he can do. So I gave him the Apple Pencil and he like, figured it out right away! I was just like…
Faitth Brooks 23:47
Morgan Harper Nichols 25:06
So now yesterday, he just made his first animation. I mean, it’s just like a little series of scribbles. And I like made each frame. But I sent it to the family group text, I was like, “here’s Jacob’s first animation!” So I think we’re gonna have a lot of fun together making art.
Faitth Brooks 26:42
[Voiceover] It does not matter what ethnic or cultural group you’re a part of, from cool kids to nerds, from athletes, or artists, or everyone in between. Everyone wants to fit in. And what may hit home even more is feeling like you don’t fit in, which is probably everyone in some way or another. So that led me to this question.
[In conversation] You talked about this, when we were just talking about not feeling like you might fit in or, you know, have that, you know, space that you know, and kind of mold, right? So I think there’s a lot of people that might feel like, Hey, I don’t fit into any kind of mold or group people might want to put in, per se. If you could encourage somebody, and let’s say specifically a woman, because this is the “She’s the Bridge” series, what would you say to her? How would you encourage her to keep going like, even though she doesn’t feel like she necessarily fits in?
Morgan Harper Nichols 27:46
Mm hmm. Oh, that’s such a good question. And obviously, something that’s heavy on my heart and mind a lot. And the first thing that came to mind when you said that was just give permission, and then kind of broken down into two things under that. And that’s give permission to yourself for the time that it takes to find that community. I mentioned in that documentary, and one story whose story I knew before the documentary, but it’s a good example. And it’s the artist Faith Ringgold. And she talks about the loneliness that she experienced as, as a Black woman artist and the rejection that she experienced. And I was just like, you would never know that looking at her work that she was just like, alone a lot of times, looking around, like, “Can I be a part of this community?” And I was just like, wow, this is not something new. Like, we’re not the first people who have dealt with this, even if we’re dealing with it in a second way.
And then the other thing is just give yourself permission to start small. I think that word, I use it a lot. The word community is a word that gets used a lot. However, for me, that doesn’t mean like a big group of people. Like I said, I feel like I have one person right now who I can literally just like vent to and not worry about, oh, how is she going to receive that? And that’s my sister right now. Like, we can go there with each other. It’s not five of us, like we don’t, it’s not like five of us who get together and have like a fancy dinner, you know, once a month. I mean, that sounds awesome. And maybe this thing that we have together will grow or maybe it’s just me and my sister right now. So I think that is a good thing to release yourself from the pressure of feeling like you have to have a community that you’re going to be able to take cool trips with. I mean, that sounds amazing. I want that too. But especially right now, during a pandemic, you know, we don’t have those options. So we have to give ourselves so much grace and say hey, if you literally have one friend, one sibling, one cousin, one of your parents or whoever it is that you just feel like you can go a little bit deeper with and you go with other people, oh, go with other people, that is significant. It doesn’t have to be a large number. So give yourself that permission to start small.
And then if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “I don’t even have that one person,” find you a good book, an author who you can just pour yourself into their words and say, “I connect with what this person is saying.” And one thing that I found is, I have had this happen before, where I’ll find an artist that I really like, and I’ll start digging into their work. And I’m just like, oh, my goodness. And a lot of times it’s a bummer, because you realize, oh, they’re no longer living! Like, I can’t follow them on Instagram, I can’t connect with them. But I’ve had this happen so many times, where I will mention that artist who maybe isn’t even the most popular artist, or they’re kind of rare, or whatever. I’ll mention them and then other people who are fans of that artist will reach out to me and say, “Oh, my gosh, I like them, too! This is why I like them.” And just like that, we’re connected by that common interest. So I think that is another powerful way that you can find connection is allow yourself to just nerd out a little bit. Like, find somebody whose work, who just—doesn’t matter if it’s like a comic book, or paintings, or fiction—find somebody’s work that just really speaks to you. And then you’re going to realize that there’s actually a community of people around that work that other people enjoy that too. So I think that’s a really special way, especially thinking with the pandemic in mind. And just everything that we’re currently faced with is like, we do kind of have to get more creative about how we kind of find connection in our community.
Faitth Brooks 31:44
[Voiceover] This is the Be the Bridge podcast. So you know, there is no way we can have a podcast episode without exploring this…
[In conversation] I want to know from you, how have you been able to use your art to build bridges? Especially bridges of empathy and understanding, because you have a very wide audience that isn’t really like one particular set of people. It’s all kinds of different people with different thoughts and beliefs and all kinds of things. And so how have you been able to use your art to—I guess you can, in some ways, say—bridge those divides?
Morgan Harper Nichols 32:18
Yes, absolutely. So I was actually really surprised by how quickly and how diverse my community was, especially like on social media. I was just..how do I say this? I really struggled because I had been in so many settings where sometimes I wasn’t even trying to like, I was just trying to be like, I was trying to be an artist in some kind of way. It’s like, “Oh, well, you’re Black and/or you’re a woman or you’re Black and a woman, so here’s how you should fit in this or whatever.” I’m just like, I’m just trying to be here. I’m just trying to be an artist. So I felt very insecure about like, will people in the world actually even be able to see me as an artist or is my Blackness all people see? Like, I really felt that way. And a lot of, I know a lot of other Black artists feel that way, where it’s just like, you’re like, did they only just pick me because they needed a Black artist? Or do they actually like my work too? So I struggle with that so much. And I have been so pleasantly surprised by people who are willing and able and have the capacity to hold me in terms of what I do and what I share, and not just divide it into categories.
So one example of that is, I shared a piece this past summer. And it was kind of you know, right after everyone started talking about George Floyd. And it was a piece that featured a silhouette of a Black woman. And it was a piece about engaging in the long, faithful work. Because, you know, a lot of us were talking about, “okay, we’re really glad that people are sharing graphics, that’s great, but, you know, these conversations have literally been happening for centuries.” So, you know, this didn’t just pop up all of a sudden. And sadly, a lot of people think it is! A lot of people thought, “Oh now it’s trendy to talk about racism,” like no, now it’s trendy to listen. Because these conversations have been going on forever. It’s like sadly, you can literally read James Baldwin, and it sounds like he wrote about 2020. Like that is, that’s where we’re at. So—I’m sorry. Let me get back to what I was actually saying. What I was actually saying, that was the heart behind the piece. Like I was angry. I was very much so like, “I’m really glad that you are open to having this conversation. But please know you are a part of a much bigger picture. It’s not just ‘let’s just talk about this for this moment while it’s hot.’” So I was pleasantly surprised at how open people were to that side of me because I hadn’t been that explicit in that way before. And yeah, I was just really surprised, because I guess there were some people who rejected what I was saying. I definitely received negative messages and things like that. But it was overwhelmingly positive in the sense that people are like, “yeah, you’re absolutely right.”
And for some people listening to this, that may sound small but for me, that was big. Because I was a person who had spent so many years being told things to my face, that I’m just like, how did they get away with that? Like, it breaks my heart, the things that I was told, and I’m going to be specific—in Christian spaces. Just like in spaces that are supposed to be welcoming, and spaces that are supposed to welcome you no matter what you look like, and how much I was stigmatized and put to the side. And that stuff had a lasting impact on me to the point that I didn’t feel comfortable to talk about these things on the internet, because these people were mean, they were bullies, it got me down. So I feel like I have started to heal through slowly sharing and giving myself permission to—you know, I think a lot of times, and especially [for] Black women, it kind of goes back to that strong Black woman trope that happens a lot—is that we literally feel the pressure, because it’s been put on us to do this, to carry the weight of everything. And to be the educator, to be the encourager, to be the old wise soul, to be young and hip, to be all these things, which is literally impossible. Like we cannot be all of that. But as we see, historically, that pressure has been put on us. So I have to give myself permission to say, hey, today, I’m going to be the artist who is speaking from a Black woman’s perspective about joy. I don’t always have to educate about joy. Sometimes I just need to express my joy! And I did that the other day, actually, I just shared some flowers. I was like, I don’t—I painted some flowers. I don’t have any words for you today. I need to feel some joy and I’m going to share that. So for me, that is something that I hope that people can see more of the diversity. And it’s like, you know, if you’re going to follow a Black person, and I feel like this goes with any underrepresented group. If you’re going to follow a person don’t expect to always be educated, like “Oh, this person’s going to educate me.” It’s like, or maybe they just want to show the sunset that day, because they had a really rough day yesterday, and they just want to talk about peace. And they’re allowed to do that. And they’re allowed to be as general or specific as they want to be just like everybody else.
So I am, I am becoming very passionate about that. And I recognize that maybe everyone won’t pick up on that with every single thing that I share. But it’s something that I feel like I’m slowly finding more language for. And a lot of that is honestly driven by my son, it’s driven by the next generation. I’m like, he is a little Black boy—he’s mixed, my husband is Hawaiian—he’s a Black Hawaiian boy growing up in this country, and there’s going to be so, people are going to put so much on him about who they think he should be. And I want him to know that, okay, there’s their words, but there’s also who God has called you to be. And if you want to be like, into anime, or I don’t know, I’m just trying to think that was the first random thing I thought of. But it’s like, people are going to tell you, “Oh, you should do this,” or “Oh, you’re not into that?” or whatever it is. I want him to be able to rise above that, too. So yeah, that’s, I feel like I sound very passionate, but that’s where that passion comes from. I really care about that.
Faitth Brooks 39:07
[Voiceover] Okay, you heard that right. She said: “A lot of people thought, ‘Oh, now it’s trendy to talk about racism,’ like no, now it’s trendy to listen. Because these conversations have been going on forever.” Okay, you heard that right. It sounds like we need a Part Two to this conversation. Because I promise you if time permitted, we would have started unpacking right then and there. Morgan Harper Nichols. She’s such a light, right? Love her, and I so loved this first conversation. Yep! I said first, because we’ve got some unpacking to do. I strongly encourage you to follow Morgan on Instagram, her website, and other social media outlets. And one more thing: go and reserve a copy of her upcoming book, “How Far You Have Come,” which will be released on April 27th. Again, the book title is “How Far You Have Come,” which drops on April 27. Always, it’s a pleasure guest hosting. I promise, Latasha misses you and will be back soon. Until next time, let’s remember to build bridges and not walls. If you are a member of the donors table, you get access to today’s unedited episode. Go check it out.
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast! To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization, and/or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Travon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, GA. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the senior producer. Brittany Prescott was our transcriber. Please join us next time! This has been a Be the Bridge production.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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