Jill is Black
The Echoes Blog: Who is Jill?
Jill is Black: Wow. That’s philosophical. If I knew that…Jill is queer black woman. Sometimes a black queer woman. Jill is a person who is interested in doing real work and making authentic connections. And someone who believes in black people. Also someone who is still figuring out a lot of things about herself and about my role in this. So someone who is still learning and growing as well.
TEB: What would you call yourself? An activist? A militant?
JiB: That’s so hard because I feel like we have relegated this kind of thing to something we call activism. When I think it’s
supposed to be for all of us. I would say that I am a black person who is interested in moving us forward. And I don’t think I have
to be an activist, or what we call an activist, to make that happen. I think I just have to recognize what’s happening, recognize that we won't make it long like this and be invested enough in some hope in us that I do the work necessary. I don’t think I would go with activist, no.
TEB: What is militant? And is it bad?
JiB: I don’t mind being called that. I just want to get around the stereotypical language because I think it can isolate us. It can keep people who would ordinarily feel at home in this from getting involved. They may feel like they aren't quite good enough to step into this. And a lot of what I do is an invitation that’s like, “As long as you’re black and you’re aware and you see what’s happening, this is for you too.” I don’t want to use words that says that this is a specialty group or an affinity group. But I’m not offended being called that. Thank you. But I would like us to feel like it belongs to all of us.
TEB: What do you say to those who think militant is negative?
JiB: That’s fine. It’s not for everybody. But the sad part of it not being for everybody is you will be left behind. So I’ll leave it at that. This isn’t militant. This is living in reality. You don’t choose it. Like what choice do I have? I’m a black person in America. So I have no choice but to be militant if I’m aware.
TEB: How did you find your voice?
JiB: It came from not having an option. But I think what’s important is not being pressured to find your voice in the same way as someone else. You have to find your voice your way. I don’t want people to feel like, "If I’m not speaking out loud, I’m not doing anything.” You have to find it your way or you're probably not going to find it.
TEB: Talk about your journey to this point. How did Jill is Black get to this point of over sixty-seven thousand Instagram followers?
JiB: There was always this energy to the account in general. Every once and while I would do selfies and under it was some written thing; some rambling caption where I would do a lot of inner-community, social critique. Sometimes it would be political and sometimes it would be pop culture. Then occasionally I would make a video. One day I was at my job having a hard day and I wanted to get that out. I was in the parking lot of my credit union and I filmed it and posted it. It was sort of what would later become known as this new "jill is black" thing. I woke up the next morning to a lot more followers and a lot more views and I was like, “Oh, OK. Something has changed.” What I had to do was think through it. I asked myself, “What can you do while you have this?” I didn’t want this to be a viral thing like, "Upset black woman rambles.”
TEB: Who is your audience? (Both consumptive and intended) Tell me about them?
JiB: As far as who consumes it, there’s no rhyme or reason to that. I think it has a broader appeal than even I sometimes can understand. In general, I really never know. I’m embraced by the Pan-African community. I’m embraced by the Queer community. I don’t have an intended audience but I try to layer it in a way that you can get it if it’s not your experience. There are some universal things about this black experience and there are a lot of things that aren’t. Usually I’m thinking of someone who’s been the token black friend who’s put up with a lot of white bullshit and just isn’t quite ready to admit that they know they are participating in their destruction. And maybe they need a little push. I’ve been that person. All these videos are also me talking about me. I haven't made one about a black person I’ve never been or a white person I’ve never known. And I think as long as I do that, I’ll be ok.
TEB: You get a lot of praise and hate for your videos. Why do you think that is?
JiB: I don’t care what white people think of these videos. And I think people don’t believe me when I say that. But I really don’t care. This isn’t really for you. If you want to ride this out and maybe there’s a byproduct that you learn something from it, fine. I’m not gonna block you. But understand that it’s not for you. I do care about what black people think. So I’ll have some moments of sensitivity when I’ll get some feedback like, "You're not the person that needs to be saying this. You don’t really represent blackness.” So, I’ll take a minute with those and be like, “OK that one stung a little bit. That’s fine.” The praise is weirder. But I’m thankful. I’m grateful and I’m glad that it’s resonating. And also sometimes that can be a lot and I have to check in around my ego, as we all should, and make sure I remember who I am even as people are able to create myself online.
TEB: What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve heard from both supporters and detractors?
JiB: When white people choose to ignore that other black people agree with me. That never loses its appeal. When they write and say, “This is just you. You just want to complain.” I don't just sit and look at how many followers I have; but statistically there are a lot of people that agree with this. [White people] are so committed the fact that it’s just me. As far as praise, I’ve been compared to a lot of people who are iconic and important in the black community, who have done real work, changed things, gone to prison. I’m like, "Let’s never forget that this is happening on Instagram." I’m not saying that I’m not doing things outside. But certainly, I don’t think this is the time to be like, “Oh you’re like Angela Davis.” I don’t think I’ve really earned that comparison with Instagram. I appreciate it. I just think we should stop exalting people without making them prove themselves.
TEB: I read a comment that said that you just hate life, everyone, and everything. They were saying your soliloquies come from a place of hate. Can you respond to that?
JiB: I think that’s hilarious. It’s so interesting to me. I would say that what they’re actually doing here is they’re thinking that if I use their tone, that that’s hatred. And I agree with that. So what can I say? A lot of this is me using that same smug, condescending and patronizing tone that white people use. So does that sound like hate? I’m sure it does. That’s how I experience it. The tone is part of the point. The presentation is part of the messaging. It’s intentional. It’s not fraudulent.
TEB: What is the revolution? Who’s invited, who created the guest list and who’s in charge?
JiB: I want to hear everyone else’s answer because I’m just as curious. What is the revolution? To me the revolution is black people loving ourselves more than we love whiteness. I think the rest will fall into place if you start there. We don’t crave [white people] shit. We want our own shit. If we wanted our own shit, we could get to work. As far as the guest list, are we talking about ideally or right now? Because if we’re talking about right now, there aren’t that many people invited. It’s like 6 people. They’ve been doing the same thing since like 1984. I don’t know when it’s starting but I know they’re ready. Ideally it would be all of us. Who created the guest list? People who have ego around their own oppression. I think people who think that it takes a brilliant person to recognize what’s happening as opposed to a person who’s just tired of whiteness. There’s some kinda strange hierarchy that’s happening. I’m not supposed to even be playing because you know queers are ruining the black community.
TEB: What does loving ourselves look like?
JiB: I think it would look like us investing in our own communities. So we stop considering it a success when we leave or when we have isolated ourselves from other black people and move into white neighborhoods and schools. It would look like us not moving away from our families to these cities so we can have brunch with other black people who are just like us while complaining about racism against black people we would never speak to. We would stop pretending and being embarrassed in these weird settings of being black. We would stop turning our music down when we pulled up next to a white person. We would stop dressing a certain way when we went around a white person. Things like that for starters. And it would also look like us figuring out what we would do with our children. I don’t know what that looks like yet. But I don’t think that immediately putting them around a whole bunch a white people is gonna be good for the revolution.
TEB: What is revolutionarily honest?
JiB: To me it’s as simple as saying out loud what you’re saying about white people privately, intimately amongst black people. What you think they’re actually doing and thinking, say it to them. Black people we have to stop holding our tongue. If you think that white people can stop being racist, then what it would start with would be telling the truth. You talk about your actual experience as a black person in this country. You stop sugar coating this experience for white people. When I get around white people I’m going to tell them. I’m not going to be scared. I’m going to stop being embarrassed to name things that I would name to black people.
TEB: What does it mean to be culturally competent?
JiB: Nothing. That is some rhetoric we came up with so we can believe in a post-racial society.
TEB: What is the largest cause for divide?
JiB: Ego. Wanting to be the one who answers the question. I’m not scared to say, “I don’t really know what the revolution looks like right now.” I’d be very interested in getting amongst in a group of diverse black people and figuring that out for us in a practical, community way. I don’t need to be the one who came up with this theory. I just need us to do it.
TEB: So, you talked about the revolution and how everyone should be invited? Does that include the entire multi-ethnic, multi-racial community?
JiB: Yea. Of course.
TEB: What do you think your responsibility is as an individual?
JiB: My responsibility to get tired. Do what I need to do, come back and get to work. I have to be thinking about this. I don’t think I get to tap out and say, “yea y’all handle it.” It is your own responsibility to not only be thinking about it and challenging your own assumptions, your own shit that your doing and your own ways that you’re participating in your own self destruction and your own self hatred. You have to do all that internal work. At the same time you have to figure out what you’re going to do for whatever your community of black people happens to be. It’s not enough to just wear the t-shirt. Like wear the t-shirt and go down and work with the black kids somewhere. Like we gotta get back invested in the community. We can’t just buy the message. You have to think it. Thinking and action in combination. It is your ethical duty, absolutely. Even if people will call you militant.
TEB: What do you think the our responsibility is as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial community? JiB: It’s not ever gonna be Jill’s job to say. I would say this is not my right to speak to that alone.
TEB: To those who will read this and say you hate white people specifically, what do you say?
JiB: If that’s what they think, that’s fine. What I hear is, “I don’t like feeling uncomfortable." And I’m challenging that [comfort] right now. There are a lot of black people in the comments agreeing with me. So even if you wanna say that, make sure you say that all of us hate white people; even the white people that follow me.
TEB: How do you deal with being reduced to soundbites?
JiB: That part is difficult. Sometimes I will get in my head and you’ll see me take some moments and usually there’s a written sort of reflect on, “Hey, you should challenge this image. You should ask these questions. You should hold me accountable.” But what I am hopeful about is that if you are able to pick up on my purpose, the actual purpose of the video, what I’m actually trying to say then ok. So I try to keep that in mind when I feel frustrated.”
TEB: What do you mean every day you are participation in your own destruction?
JiB: [Participating in] the system works for no one. We think it’s problematic and call it normal. We talk about the environment then we get in our cars. So we live in that dual world of like “I don’t want America to do that. But I also want you to keep me in this fantasy. So of course I want you to drill because we’re still gonna get in our cars. Black people live with that plus their own things like, do we still call the police? Of course, we do. It's the fact that we know we’re living in an absolute war and we pretend it's normal life.
TEB: Can Black people be racist?
JiB: That’s all just linguistics. When we’re talking about a system, no black people cannot be racist.
TEB: What is the difference between what you say and what a racist says?
JIB: I guess what I would ask is, “So we’re going to ignore history, the present, we’re going to ignore what is probably the future. We’re going to ignore how we got here. We're going to ignore the civil rights movement. We’re gonna pretend me and some white person got born into the same life and they were racist and I’m racist?" I don’t know how to answer that because it’s so silly. What would be the difference? Oppression of the racial variety as well as all the ones [white people] have. I also suffer from all the things [white people] suffer from and also this big piece of racism [white people] created.
TEB: What is a hippiecrit?
JiB: It’s a person who will say everything else is the problem except racism. They’re fighting a million different problems, a million different causes, but somehow racism never is. And then they want to say, “Oh, Jill that’s so divisive. The system is hurting all of us.” It’s like they want to throw away everything that’s real about your life. They want this illusion called community. A person who would protest for a vegan cause but not a black one and would see no problem with that at all. I went to school with a lot of those people. And they just potlucked their way into illusion and disillusioned joy.
TEB: If you could give a quick rundown of what people of color should start/stop doing and people of non-color should start/stop doing, what would it be?
JiB: Stop hating yourself, stop hating other people of color, and stop saying you don’t hate yourself or other people of color. Admit that you do so we can move past it.
And for white people, stop assuming you know everything, stop believing you know anything, and stop knowing that you know everything. The most infuriating thing is that I get critiqued by white people. When they say there’s a better way for me to talk about an experience that they’ve never had. You wouldn’t do that to me if I was a nurse, but as a black person...
TEB: What is it that you want, expect and will accept from the White community within this revolution?
JiB: Nothing. I don’t want them to do anything is the truth. Because what I imagine will happen, is that when it seems to be working they’ll just join in because there will be a benefit. Can white people fund some things? I don’t know. Because whenever [they] give money it comes with some problems for us. Whenever we invite [them], [they] tend to take over the group. I don’t have enough proof to say what they can do because I don’t think they’ve shown me what they can do. So I think the question would actually be for white people. And, as a black person, I don’t think it’s my job. They don’t need me to say, “yes come on.” You could be doing something right now. And the idea that white people get to sit and say, “Well we’re just waiting for you guys.” Please. Get real. There’s a million you could be doing. You’re not waiting on me to invite you.
TEB: It’s a given that you don’t speak for all Black people. So the aforementioned wants, expectations and accepted actions can/will vary according to the person asked.
JiB: Absolutely. But my personal role, I would not have a group of comrades who were these late joining white revolutionaries. If a black person wants to invite them, that’s their call. What I’m saying is for me, I just want to see what you’re going to do. The important part of my answer is what are they going to do? What is their answer?
TEB: So, I have a friend who essentially thanked me for telling her some things and said that it was new to her. And she wants to fight these battles with us. But when she shows up to some rallies, on some occasions, she’s essentially kicked out. What would you say to her and people like her?
JiB: I would tell your friend, "Maybe there’s a reason for that. I don’t know why you would think that it would be that easy to earn trust with a group of people at a Black Lives Matter protest. I don’t know why you think it would be that easy to earn trust in the black community as a white person." I would start there. So, you showed up and now you’re sad. Like what do you want? If you’re going to get black approval, then you’re going for the wrong reason. And if that’s the case, and they don’t want you there, have you considered any other way to be involved that does not involve what the black people are doing? Because maybe right now black people want to be around black people doing things for black people. Maybe that feels good to them. Have you thought about that? Or is it still all about you and all of those two things you’ve done and how black people just don’t receive it?
TEB: Your comments are reminiscent of the scene in Malcolm X when the white lady asked what she could do and he answered “nothing.” At the end of the day, is that what you’re leaning towards?
JiB: If you want to do something. You know that that could happen within your community. Don’t expect black people to trust you. You haven’t given them a reason to. So if that means that you need to show us for 500 years that you can do this with white people, maybe then you will have a different answer. Once again I want the proof. I want to see you do it amongst your own before you come talk to me because I don’t trust you. But I’m definitely not saying don’t do anything.