Where do you stand on the topic of social activism? It's true the winds of our culture has shifted in a way that may be "unrecognizable" to our ancestors — but only slightly. There is still so much to be done in the fight against racism. In the ongoing efforts to achieve societal progress, writer and revolutionary, Jill Is Black, centers her social commentary around truth and validation. 

In honor of Black History Month, we partnered with Jill on a 21-Day Book Challenge to celebrate influential Black, female authors, poets, essayists and entrepreneurs who rose above our racist society to speak their truth. 

  1. I had the pleasure to speak with Jill on why she chose her book recommendations, what it means to use our truth as a weapon, and how Black women can lend their hands in the fight against racism.
  2. Check out our exclusive interview with Jill Is Black below. 
  3. 21Ninety: Why is it important for today’s Black, female authors to enrich our society with their own words of struggles and hopes? 

Jill Is Black: I think, at times, it's mostly for validation. I think that there's a lot of writing that going to repeat itself at this point — because to assume differently would assume that we're not repeating the cycle, and we are. You know, this sort of myth of progress in America is just that — a myth. So, we're going to hear the same stories and we'll see them at different times with the same ideas, and I think what's important is getting into the nuance of identity experience because, I will say that, we've grown or progressed in terms of identity. We have a lot of conversation about identity right now. Especially as a Queer, Black woman, I can't say that 20 years ago this is where we were. Right now, it's about if I don't tell you my truth, if I don't speak my story, then I'm not passing along a tribe — an invitation for other people's honesty. There's a mainstream conversation that's happening, and we have to get into the nuance that I'm here and I'm here and I'm here, and that will always be important. When I write, I think about myself as a teenager who wanted to read me, and I also think about the teenagers who write to me saying how I inspire them to write. As I get older, my role is to figure out how to pass along information that I was here.

I will also say that as Black people, it's important to communicate joy. We do have a lot of writing about peril, turmoil, chaos, all the things that make up our experience, but I don't want to just pass that down. I have to pass down logistical solutions about what we do, but also self-solutions. Like, hey, here's how you are going to remind yourself to stay present. Here's how you are going to deal with this without making every day hard. That's what I want to pass down, not just our stories of turmoil.

  1. 21N: Honesty is revolutionary, as you have profoundly coined. One of your many quotes is, “Truth fights for itself. If you’re open to it, it will use you as a weapon.” Can you describe a time in your life when truth used you as a weapon?

JIB: This thing that has me called an "influencer" now, which is just the worst, it was an accident. I was doing a thing that brought me a lot of joy on social media. I was not making videos — I hated making videos. If I made videos, they were comedic — and people were like, "Jill, you should make videos!" And I be like, "It's never going to happen!" [laughs] And then I had a bad day at work, at my disgusting nonprofit job. And I was at my credit union — obviously not getting my money — and I made a video. And it went viral. From there, I woke up to 20,000 more followers. I was like, "OH! (laughs) Okay, what now?" I started out parodying sort of an edgy version of what was out there — and it was true! For the most part, I really had those feelings — but as time went on, I realized I wasn't saying something. There was something missing. I wasn't bringing my full self to this conversation. I was responding to the audience that was no longer about truth, but instead was feeding compliments or something else flatter. And so, I was just kind of over it. If I ever make another thing, it's got to be exactly where I am right now. Y'all can unfollow, y'all can do whatever you want to. I can come across as the stoner-philosopher eccentric instead of whatever I was bringing up before — I don't care. But I can't do it like this. I wasn't attracting people that I wanted to follow, and that's when I knew it wasn't right. I'm at a point in my life where I'm looking for community — like actual community — not just identity community, not rage community. I want to see someone say, "this is what's going on, the rage thing is not what's going to do it for us, and here's what I'm thinking about." And I wanted that! The more truthful I am, the better the messages I receive from people. Being like, "oh, I saw that you did that and I appreciate you for that." And that feels much better than people being like, "oh, you articulated this same thing we've been saying for a million years really well. We appreciate your hipster edge." So, I want something from this and I can't get it unless I'm being honest.

Photo: Jill Is Black

  1. 21N: We partnered with you for a 21-Day Book Challenge to celebrate influential and talented Black, female authors. What prompted you to suggest the book recommendations that you did?

  2. JIB: I wanted a full spectrum of recommendations. I couldn't read for a really long time. My excuse was that I was trying to write a book — that wasn't true — but that's what I was telling myself. I was like, "Jill, you're not reading because you don't want to clutter your mind with other people's words." (laughs) But that wasn't true. So when I first started getting really excited about books again, well kind of like what I saying, "Jill, you're not happy. This shit is making you miserable. You gotta turn down every opportunity because it doesn't agree with you ethically, so you're not ever getting the benefits, you're ain't getting free shit sent here, nothing is working!" So I was on a spiritual journey for consciousness, and suddenly I could read every book about consciousness. I was going through basically one a day. At first, it didn't really matter who wrote those books, in fact, there was a challenge in reading books by white men because it reminded me to get out of myself enough to take my lessons without taking on someone else's… whatever I think about a white man. Like, forget that part! I asked myself, why are you drawn to this and what are you going to get from this as a Black woman? It taught me to stop this sort of rage rhetoric that we're doing now, or this "I won't communicate with anything that's not me" rhetoric, but rather be like, "this dude right here is wild and there's still something here for me." So over time, I was good on that. And now, I would really like to read a book about consciousness from someone who's like me and who has had a similar experience. I wanted to include a couple of books that were written by Black women — they both happen to be Queer Black women — about Buddhism and consciousness and going to self to solving solutions. Also, I love fiction. The sort of writing that I'm doing now has taken me out of fiction and very much into dramatic serious writing, with a little bit of humor. I'm like, "damn, this is fun but I really want to be writing fiction. So I did books that reminded of times when fiction was really exciting for me. When it was everything for me. 

I wanted it to be a mixed bag because I think people get into one type of book and that's the only kind of book they read. Me, I like to read some trash-ass shit. So, I wanted to include at least one book that embarrassed me a little bit. Let's be diverse here. 

Photo: Jill Is Black

  1. 21N: Speaking of female authors, if you could meet one Black, female author — dead or alive — who would it be, and why?

  2. JIB: I think probably Alice Walker. And this is going to be my obvious moment, so just bear with me. She has spiritual experiences that she writes about that I'm curious about. I would like to ask her about taking peyote and I would like to talk to her about her relationship with her daughter and how that's affected her writing. There are some questions I would want to ask that aren't stereotypical — but like, I want to know what was underneath her storytelling because I'm not trying to write like her but I am trying to be as honest as her. And I'm also trying to remember what it's like to embody a writer's spirit, what she were paying attention to and how that has influenced her work. It's hard to call myself a writer, so I would want to talk to a writer about how they are calling yourself and moving as a writer. And I think I would have a good chance of Alice being honest with me. 

  1. 21N: In addition to your talents as a writer, you also tour as a lecturer. What sort of social commentary topics do you discuss at these events?

  2. JIB: People want me to talk about race, so inevitably, I end up talking about race. But over time, it's evolved into more of a conversation about what we are getting from this conversation about race, how we are benefitting from stereotypes from our culture, how we are benefitting from not having to be accountable because of an outside enemy. I'm trying to bring something that's not happening because there are 2 billion people like me making their money off of a tour circuit. And they have been for decades. So every time I'm at a school I'm thinking to myself: people have been doing this shit for a long ass time! Why would we still be here doing this shit if this shit did some shit? Why would I still be here watching James Baldwin doing academia tours, watching Cornell (West) pay off a million mortgages, often talking to white students? Why are we still talking? So the latest thing that I do is, I like to partner with an organization in the area, so at the very least when I'm not here, what else is here? Because we're lying when we say, "yeah, so, I want to get involved but I don't know how." You're a liar (laughs). I'm a liar. You're a liar. There's something out there! So the lectures at this point are about reminding people: here's what we're not talking about when we're talking about race. And why aren't we talking about it? And why are we scared to say that we are imperfect? So I don't want to talk about us as perfect beings, I don't want to talk about white people as imperfect beings. We have talked about white people enough. We get it. If you're missing out somehow about what this game is about, I just can't talk to you anymore. Yeah so, as a lecturer, it's just about what's not happening in the conversation.

  3. 21N: What do Black people, specifically Black women, need to do to lend their hand in the fight against racism and oppression?

  4. JIB: Unlearn and un-know as much as possible. Not use identity as a shield to growth. I think what's happening right now is we're saying a lot of things — on one level, I agree with almost all of them — we're just in this time of being like, here we are as women and this is the shit we've endured. Here's the shit men has done. All of that. And I would be silly to say I don't know what we're talking about, of course I do. But it's also buried underneath Black Girl Magic, ya know, saying "we're just superheroes" and then you read another article that says "but we're human." (laughs) Well, what are we? I don't understand. So I think it would first be we get to state our truths without being magic, we get to have our reality without it being pretty, we don't have to apologize for anything — but if we want to apologize, let's go ahead and do that! We don't have to create characters of ourselves to be worthy. And then also, we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of work to do. And it's silly to act like we're here now and we're here now and we're here now — we're so far away. I have thoughts when I ask myself, "why the fuck did you believe that last week?" It's mindblowing to me. And the fact that people aren't mindblown by themselves, and their thoughts, and their beliefs about things means that we're not growing as quickly as our microphones. And we're holding a lot of microphones. So it's your job to be like, "I am a Black woman, but also, I'm speaking loudly right now because of Trump and white people feeling guilty." Don't let it be that same shit. Don't bring out that same conversation. I want you to talk about your life as a Black woman. I want you to talk about things we're not allowed to say to each other as Black women. I want you to say things about colorism, and class, and religion, and not just some shit about some white people. I mean everyone starts on the white people — you got self-care Yogis talking about racism. I'm just like, damn everybody's on it. And we're on it for a reason, because it's profitable, so maybe do something that's not just because it's profitable (laughs).

    1. 21N: (laughs) Let's start there. 

    2. JIB: Let's do that! That would be nice. 

    3. Photo: Jill Is Black

    4. 21N: And that's a good segway into a topical subject that happened last week. The media reported on the vicious homophobic and racist attack on actor, Jussie Smollet. As a revolutionary speaking out against the myth of white fragility and racism, what are your thoughts on this deplorable subject?

    5. JIB: When people act shocked, I get shocked. There's a question of celebrity culture and the amount of empathy we're able to work up for celebrities and not necessarily people in our own communities, which is just something to think about. It's not saying that we shouldn't blast this because I think that there's power in using someone as a symbol that people know, of course. Just something to think about. 

    6. Also, I spend a lot of my time thinking about my follower base. I have probably more homophobic and transphobic followers than the average person who is like me — you know, which is some sort of alternative lightskin, Black girl with a nose ring whose queer — whatever the fuck I'm bringing, this afropunk thing. I have more people who are still there than the average.  And so I spend a lot of time thinking what my responsibility is as a Queer person because, at first, there was a resistance on my part where I was like, alright, so you say we can't talk about race without bringing in this other stuff. But I have no desire to do that right now. I'm a Queer person and have been for a long ass time, and y'all say that we can separate — that's half the problem! I do want to talk to Black men. I want access to Black men for as long as I can get it because if no one's going to talk to them, then what's going to happen? Maybe part my resistance is because I like that I have a 32% male follower rate — like, I want you here. And then I'm like, "yeah Jill, I think some of that is valid, I think that's cool, but also you have a responsibility." So I spend a lot of time thinking about what my role is and what work I have to do there. Also, just the silence from people that I followed. We can mourn Black men and we can be sad for all their experiences, but I had all these Black men not talking about this Black man. And I was mad at the silence. If this had been somebody else, if this had been Taraji, we would've been all over the place. And not just Black men, but Black women too. And I know you're magical, so I'm going to need some of that magic to contribute to this. But overall, it's one of those reminders that comes up and brings you back to reality. And social media doesn't support reality, so to see something real on social media is always a bit jarring.

    7. Photo: Jill Is Black

  5. 21N: Are there any projects you are currently working on? What can we expect to see from you in 2019?

JIB: I am working on a film project. I have been contracted to write a feature film. There are talks about creating something "show-like," I'll leave it at that. But the realm will be — well, I have a desire to see the media be done more honestly. I'm curious to see it done a different way and seeing a different story. So right now, it looks like film and television writing. And when it's not, it'll be something else. But I don't feel any societal pressure to hustle or be an entrepreneur — it won't make me happy. So, we'll just see.

  1. 21N: Do you have any final advice or words of encouragement for Black women interested in joining the revolution towards anti-difference and anti-racism?

JIB: Not to be blinded by the performance of self-care. I would say that your desire to heal yourself is a worthy one, and the only way we're going to move forward is by giving yourself some time to realize that you have been lied to. That capitalism will destroy us. And everything is about trying to compromise — if we can separate what we do from what we believe, we would have a much different conversation about revolution. I would also say that representation will never be revolution, it just won't. But we would also need to decide if that's what we want, if revolution is more than a word and if it's something we're actively moving toward. When I look around, I want to see a group of people say, "this is what we got and let's see what we can do with it" versus revolution. And if that's what we doing, that's cool! I just think we need to send out a memo so we can stop calling representation revolution. Let's use the correct language. As a writer, I implore you, let's use the right language to talk about what we're doing. If we can be honest about what our goal is, I think we can be so much better. 

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