'We're Not Some New Anomaly': The Root Presents It's Lit Talks Purpose, Process and Pronouns With George M. Johnson

Illustration for article titled Were Not Some New Anomaly: iThe Root Presents Its Lit/i Talks Purpose, Process and Pronouns With George M. Johnson
Illustration: Angelica Alzona, Photo: Sean Howard
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When The Root first spoke to George M. Johnson (one of our longtime contributors) just ahead of the release of their debut book, All Boy Aren’t Blue: A Memoir Manifesto, we had a feeling they were on the cusp of something groundbreaking. Borne from their own reflections on growing up without the language and representation they needed, All Boys Aren’t Blue provided exactly that; not just for themselves, but for countless others coming of age outside the binary.

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The book became a beacon—and an instant bestseller. Since its publication this spring, it has had several reprintings, been optioned for television by Gabrielle Union’s production company I’ll Have Another, and landed on any number of “best of” lists—including a recent nomination for a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Memoir & Autobiography.

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All Boys Aren’t Blue is a manifesto, yes. It’s also a movement. On this week’s episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! Johnson makes clear that theirs is a freedom project for all of us who truly value the full breadth of Blackness.

“I’m always just pushing Black families to understand that, like, Blackness is not a monolith. And it doesn’t have to look like this one nuclear thing that we’ve been kind of assimilated into and ascribe to just because of our existence, particularly here,” they say. “And so if you know the history that, you know, we existed, pre-colonization, we existed in Africa. There are stories about gatekeepers and oracles who were genderless and orishas and...we’ve always existed...Like, we’re not like some new anomaly.”

Unlike too many Black queer kids, what Johnson never doubted was the unconditional love of their family. It’s a support system that not only provided the framework for their first (and in 2021, second) book but is informing the community they’re building and structures they’re encouraging others to create.

“The story I always use is everybody always prays for a healthy child. But what you’re really asking for is a healthy heterosexual child. And the sooner that people are able to admit that, the sooner they can then unravel those layers as to why that is the actual request that they want,” Johnson explains.

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“[A] child is just a child. And you are here to parent and nurture the child. You are there to give advice. And you are there to build structure. But you are not there to dictate what that child innately feels and innately gravitates toward. But you are there to nurture it and to learn from it. And so, I’m just always pushing Black families, in particular, to understand that we really don’t have space to be divisive or space to separate our own community because we truly are all that we have,” they continue. “So I think about, like, who I’ve got to become because I had a supportive family. That’s all it really takes. It really just takes like a supportive family to understand who you are and to love who you are, like innately, I mean, unconditionally. And you can become anything and feel protected and safe.”

Hear more about not just defying, but thriving outside of the binary—plus what we can expect from Johnson’s next book about Black boyhood under the gaze of a grandmother’s loveWe Are Not Broken: A Memoir—in the sixth episode of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, featuring the groundbreaking George M. Johnson. Now available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.

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A transcript of The Root Presents: It’s Lit, Ep. 6: George M. Johnson is available below:

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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