The burden of being the first
Joy Agwu | Monday, November 13, 2023
“For every Black girl who was ‘the first.’ ”
— Dedication from “Bloodmarked” by Tracy Deonn
“Bloodmarked” by Tracy Deonn is the second book in the “Legendborn” series, a modern-day retelling of the legend of King Arthur. The series follows Bree, a young Black woman, as she becomes involved with a historically white magical society. The first book in the series was thrilling, adventurous and all-around magical; I’ve read it three times, and it was always a struggle to put it down. The second book, while just as magical and thrilling, has a heavier theme to it, dealing with what it means to be the first.
(Forewarning, while I will try my best to avoid spoilers in this article, I will be talking about a major plot point in the first book, so proceed with caution.)
In “Bloodmarked,” readers follow Bree as she is repeatedly dehumanized and denied the respect she deserves for being different from the traditional. As I read “Bloodmarked” for the first time, a weight settled firmly in my chest. Or rather, I became especially aware of a burden that had been there for as long as I could remember. The burden of being the first and different.
The burden of being the first is not limited to people of color but to anyone who enters a space where they are distinctly different. In her book, “Year of Yes,” Shonda Rhimes describes individuals who experience this burden as “F.O.D.’s”: First Only Different. Not the first person ever, but the first POC, the first woman, the first member of the LGBTQ+, the first first-generation, low-income student… The list goes on.
Being recognized as a first-but-different is an act of appreciation, but it is also an act of othering. The F.O.D. is distinctly aware they are not like anyone else, for better or worse.
Being a F.O.D. is a fascinating experience. You are rewarded for your feat and entitled to a hefty sense of pride for the accomplishment. You have done something no one else like you has done before. You have broken the glass ceiling. You are blazing a new path.
But you are also incredibly alone. We rarely talk about the fact that, as amazing as being a F.O.D. is, it is also extremely challenging and can be borderline traumatic. The ceiling is shattered, but now you have to avoid a hundred pieces of broken glass. To blaze a new path, you have to keep fighting to clear away obstacles in your way. Every step is a minor battle, and you are doing it alone. It’s exhausting.
Deonn does not shy away from this reality in “Bloodmarked,” and to be completely honest with you, I hated her for it in the beginning. I wanted light representation. I wanted to see a Black female main character doing her thing in a fantasy novel and absolutely killing it. I wanted Bree’s story to be a comfortable escape, but Deonn declined. She crafted a painfully accurate representation of what it meant to be a trailblazer. It took until I was nearly finished with the book for me to appreciate what Deonn was able to portray by doing so. Representation means being seen for the great experience and the not-so-great experiences. It means getting confirmation that you are not alone.
To my F.O.D.s, I need you to read “Bloodmarked” and recognize your strength for pushing through the trials of being the first. I want you to be cognizant of the righteous anger you feel for Bree over how others treat her, so you can know your feelings of frustration are valid. Being a first is difficult. Acknowledging that does not mean welcoming defeat; it simply means you are in tune with your own needs as a feeling human being.
Now, we live in a world where any person can be multiple things at once. Many of us have been or will be a F.O.D. in one way or another, but most of us have had the opportunity to be on the other side of the dynamic, to be the one who is part of the majority. When you read “Bloodmarked” as part of the majority, I need you to take note of what it looks like to be an active ally to the F.O.D. You cannot take away the difficulty of their experience, but you can make it feel less lonely. In the text, Bree’s strongest allies do not only respect her for her first-ness but support her through its challenges. Learn from Bree’s friends. Recognize when the F.O.D.s around you are struggling, and support them in a way best suited to their needs.
Tracy Deonn is extremely talented in conveying all the experiences and emotions I have never known how to put into words. If you want to read an intimate and potent portrayal of grief and the struggles of being a Black woman in a historically white space, read the “Legendborn” series. If you want to read a fast-paced, adventurous tale about the legend of Arthur, read the “Legendborn” series. In conclusion, read the “Legendborn” series, and then feel free to reach out to me with all your thoughts and emotions — because I have plenty.
Joy Agwu is a senior at Pasquerilla West, originally from Bowie, Maryland. She is pursuing a degree in philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. In her free time, she finds great pleasure in consuming media and reflecting on the deeper meanings behind the content she encounters. Whether you have recommendations for TV shows, movies, podcasts or any other form of media, or if would like to further discuss an idea presented in a column, feel free to reach out to her on Instagram @JoyfulJoyousss.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.