Loud Mouth: Deria Matthews
Photos by Alex Revina
Growing up I quickly learned that it was dangerous for a Black girl to speak up for herself. My voice was policed from the jump and if I had a response I was seen as talking back or acting grown or ghetto. These labels made me fearful of using my voice to provoke change and making noise about things I felt were unjust. However, as I've grown older I've recognized the ways that asserting your ideas as a Black woman is imperative in dismantling and transforming an oppressive society that has always expected silence from us. Thus, the Loud Mouth hashtag is for me is a reclaiming of a label that is often given to Black women who are too loud, too angry, and too ready. Black women who speak up and out against oppressive systems are my biggest inspiration and I coined the term in celebration of their writing and of the mounds of brilliant knowledge they have shared with us. For this series, I will be profiling one of those #LoudMouth writers of nonfiction once a month. I often feel that there is not a space for solely Black nonfiction writers of women/femme/gnc identity, and I wanted to create that hub for myself and other upcoming writers.
The first person is me :) I thought this would be a great way for you all to get to know me and learn more about my journey to writing nonfiction. Get into it!
Did you ever get in trouble for talking back?
“Who do you think you’re talking to?!” That was my mother’s favorite line when I said something “smart” to her or responded (often with wit) when silence was expected of me. Growing up, I knew good and well that I wasn’t supposed to talk back to adults but in the heat of things that didn’t stop me. If I felt that I needed to explain myself or if something didn’t make sense to me, then I expressed that. It got me in trouble often, with that death stare Black mamas have perfected, with a verbal whipping, or with a simple pop in the mouth. The pop was always the worst and I got it a couple of times, and I remember the red of embarrassment and shame that came over me. I also remember later in life just not speaking or trying to fight back to get what I want. It felt futile to me so I would start to just do as I please without conversation, that got me in more trouble but at that point, I stopped caring.
When did you first learn that your voice held power?
I think I was in 10th or 11th grade and it was a day or two after Kanye had hopped onstage to defend Beyoncé when she lost "Video of the Year Award" to Taylor Swift. I was in Sociology and our teacher asked what we thought. There was a lot of conversation but most of my classmates were saying “Yes, Beyoncé should have won, but the way that Kanye went about it was wrong." I was kind of annoyed so I started to speak up about it and referenced Kanye doing a similar thing for New Orleans and people being fine with his speaking out then. I think what really annoyed me was that in my household Kanye was praised, he did what was right because he said what we all knew to be true. How he did it was not really a concern, but that he did it, that he stood up for the work and art of a Black woman was enough to defend him. But I remember after I spoke up, the conversation shifted and my teacher making note of that. He was a Black man and he was really respected in my school so for him to acknowledge how I articulated my thinking shifted the thinking of others really stuck with me. I later went on to argue for the legalizing of marijuana in a debate and he said I should consider being a lawyer. For a long time I wanted to be a lawyer because of that class, but I’m a long way from that now.
Have you ever been told your voice was not welcomed or there wasn’t a space for your voice? How did you deal with that?
My first year at NYU I was so insecure about my voice. I was often the only Black girl in the room and I was experiencing all of these microaggressions, that I was really questioning myself and what I cared about. At one point I was considering transferring and going to an HBCU. I felt that no one understood my point of view, and honestly, that’s how I was going to deal with it. I was going to leave. But I had to take these creative writing classes my first year and those courses really saved me. I was putting my thinking on the page and on the page I had the room to pull from my own experiences and histories that I didn’t feel were taken seriously elsewhere. And my professor really saw me and saw what I was trying to do. She was one of the first people who encouraged me to pursue writing as a career. I remember calling my mother up and being really excited about this new direction.
What are some of your earliest encounters with another #LoudMouth?
My earliest memory of #LoudMouth women were of the women in my family. My mother was always about pushing back against systems especially for the wellness of her daughters. Although she often punished me for talking back to her, she is the one who taught me to talk back. I grew up listening to her “cuss someone out” to get what she knew she deserved.
Also, my late grandmother is the biggest shit talker I know. I still think about her cracking on my dad when he tried to shut her down about something. They would always be carrying on about this and that, but I remember my grandmother really standing her ground about the labor women take on to care for children and not letting up on men holding their weight either financially or by doing more.
And lastly, bell hooks. The same professor who encouraged me to write was the first person to introduce me to hooks. We read an essay from Real to Reel and I just remember being blown away at how direct she was, but also how she was pulling from her own personal experiences. bell really taught me that our personal lives are a source of information that can support theory, and by our, I mean Black folks’.
Why do you write, and why nonfiction?
I write because I think. I write because I feel. Writing for me is an extension of my thinking and feelings. It is a way for me to move through and process both of those things. I write nonfiction because it is for me the most direct way to engage in the public sphere, in a public conversation that I find deeply personal. Public conversations about Beyoncé or Nola Darling or Cardi B are important to me not just because I share an identity with them but also because how people think about them not only impacts how they perceive me and other Black women but also how they make political decisions about our bodies. If you don’t believe that Black women have the fundamental right to their bodies and that comes up in how we talk about Beyoncé’s body suit or Nola’s sexual partners or Cardi’s decision to have a baby then I can only imagine how you feel about laws and policies around street harassment, access to family planning, sexual assault prevention, etc. That’s why it’s really important for me to write on pop culture because I think it is a way to get at the fundamental beliefs we have about society in a way that is interesting and not so philosophical and distant. It gives some grounding, a shared language if you will.
Who is one of your favorite contemporary #LoudMouths right now?
This is such a hard question, there are so many, and that’s why I create a weekly list of them! But someone I always enjoy reading and being challenged by is Doreen St. Felix. I would love to see some long-form stuff from her but I’m also just super impressed with how quickly she gets a take on paper. It takes me weeks to put my thoughts together on something. (That’s most likely my Taurus Sun and Sagittarius Rising working against each other.)
But yeah, I also really love Kimberly Drew as a writer and thinker. Whenever I see her speak or when I read her work I’m always just like YES!! and not in an agreement kind of yes, but like yes this bitch is shaking the table yes!! I love when people push the conversation and or just my own thinking deeper (that’s my Scorpio moon speaking). I think that’s the mark of a really great writer and what I aspire to do in my own work.
Oh and my absolute favorite is Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, she makes me want to write and just be a better nonfiction writer in general. She has been quiet recently, I think maybe because she’s working on her book, but if you have a chance read her profile of THE GOAT, Toni Morrison. Its a gem.