March 30, 2022

Below is an excerpt from The Collective, Poynter’s newsletter by journalists of color for journalists of color and our allies. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox two Wednesdays each month.

Like many Black people in the summer of 2020, I felt the incredible weight of racism pressing against my chest and taking away any chance to breathe normally. I also felt the unfortunate burden to have to show up and not be my authentic self. But during that time, writing became my emotional outlet, my saving grace and a new professional opportunity.

I loved highlighting my Blackness and queerness at work, whether it be through my attire, having books from great Black authors on my desk, or incorporating queer imagery into my office. As a higher education administrator in student affairs I thrived being able to support Black and LGBTQ+ students with programs and policies. Consequently, this inspired my writing, but having to conform to a white, cishet, patriarchal version of professionalism was nothing more than a “sunken place”, a la “Get Out,” that kept me underground.

I needed a change and saw writing as the catalyst, but I had no idea on how to make it into a career. One journalist in particular, Scarlett Newman, showed me that a career in writing about what I loved was possible. She became a “possibility model,” an idea of what could be.

I recognize there is privilege in quitting and it is a privilege that many writers of color aren’t always awarded. My family never instilled in me the idea of quitting a job because working equaled survival, and surviving is something many like me know too well. They couldn’t give me the financial security they wanted to bestow me on this journey, but they gave me the confidence to believe in myself and think critically about all of my next steps. I want other writers of color to do the same.

So while I thought of freedom on the other side of a corporate job, I planned accordingly. My writing allowed for others to see what I was capable of. I was lucky enough to establish strong relationships with a few editors and acquire a contract client prior to leaving my higher-ed post.

I’m also privileged to live with a partner, who supports my pursuit of freelance work. We reconfigured our budgets, he added me to his insurance, and he used his tax and finance knowledge to help me prepare for the administrative and financial hurdles that I would have to jump over.

Besides financial health, I wanted to maintain my physical and mental health while developing a freelance career. I lean heavily into three notebooks, one being my gratitude journal to remind me of the good things that have happened to me. Another notebook is my manifesting journal, which helps me to write out my goals and strategize on how to turn them into reality. Then there is my diary, which is to simply get all of my thoughts out of my head.

For physical health, I work out at least four times a week as another means of mindfulness exercise and to get my body moving after sitting for so long at a desk. Additionally, proper routines and scheduling are important, as I don’t want to overwork myself. I want to ensure that freelancing doesn’t become my life, but is just another element to it.

Once I realized I had planned enough, I decided it was time to let go of what was familiar and hurtful. After a four-year career within student affairs in New York City, I needed to embark on a journey of self-discovery that didn’t include moonlighting as a writer. I needed a space that didn’t include overworking myself to be passed over for opportunities or to work in a space that tokenized my Blackness and queerness.

With six months of savings, I turned in my resignation on July 13, 2021. I joined thousands of other employees leaving their roles in the Great Resignation and picked up my ticket to my next destination: freelance writing. Well, a small vacation first, then freelance writing.

Thankfully, writing gives me the necessary escape and the freedom to be me. After I started freelancing, I made a commitment to leave code-switching behind. So much so, that I base my writing at the intersection of Black, queer and nerdy. Now, my work spans the gamut of highlighting Black gaming innovators to discussing the queering of cartoon TV shows. My writing is a reflection of me, a reflection I no longer have to hide — not with editors and not with copywriting clients. I show up to Zoom calls with painted nails, excess jewelry and will even add a little eye makeup if my laziness doesn’t overtake me.

For the longest, I felt like my queerness and Blackness were the things that made me shine, and they do, but I was made to feel otherwise while working in corporate America and higher education. My identities, like those of my colleagues with marginalized identities, were tokenized for the sake of being able to call an office space “diverse.” To add insult to injury, I rarely felt like my maximum output was ever enough to be taken seriously as some of my white peers who, frankly, did the bare minimum and were rewarded for it.

Now, I get to perceive the world through my Black queer lens and write about it. I have found not only more freedom within the work I pursue, but freedom to simply be me. I never knew that I was missing this until I let go of the 9-to-5 world I had always known.

As I navigate this journey, I realize that I could now be someone’s possibility model. I feel a responsibility to myself and to other writers, especially writers of color, to be honest about why I went this route, how I’m traveling down this road and what has helped me along the way. Although there is no one way to be a freelance writer, I hope that my story inspires others to be daring, resilient and thoughtful in their approach.

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The Collective is supported by the TEGNA Foundation.

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Joshua Mackey (@JustJoshing_7) is a freelance writer and TV/movie critic, whose work can be found in Geeks of Color, INTO and Nerdist. The former higher…
Joshua Mackey

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