Revolutionary Honesty

March 30, 2017

 

This video is going to step on your toes. You may feel uncomfortable. You might not like it. But growth comes from opposition. So, if you don’t like what it says, I challenge you to watch it all the way through and not tap out on this article. I challenge you to look up @jillisblack on Instagram and watch several of her videos.

 

I had a difficult time writing this article. I’ve decided to explain why in a separate article to be shared later this month. But for now I want to focus on Jill. With over sixty-seven thousand followers, Jill’s voice is unquestionably being heard. What started as just a brief video on a day she was just fed up, has earned her followers on all forms of media. 

 

When you have as much visibility as Jill, the world tries to define you. But Jill describes herself simply as “someone who is interested in doing real work and making authentic connections; someone who believes in black people.” And it’s for these reasons that she makes these videos.

 

She generally opens with “Dear White People,” and there’s a condescending tone with which she speaks. But, as she says, “that’s part of the messaging.” She makes no apologies for anyone’s discomfort. “A lot of this is me using that same smug, condescending, and patronizing tone that white people use and mirroring that for them. So does that sound like hate? I’m sure it does. That’s how I experience it,” she says.

 

But perhaps what makes people squirm is that Jill’s not talking to or about the racist white people we all know. You know, the ones yelling at Latinos (who are many times American citizens) to get out of “their” country. Or the ones wearing the confederate flag over their hearts. She’s talking directly to the liberal white people. The ones we know and like. The ones who participate in the marches and yell alongside the disenfranchised and discriminated. She’s talking to the ones who are trying to help.

 

That’s what gets the knee-jerk reaction. People say, “You complain when white people say nothing. You complain when they say something. What do you expect?” Jill’s response? Nothing. As a matter of fact, some of her videos even go so far as to say she wants white people to be quiet. She wants white people to stay quiet unless they say something real and honest. She wants them to stop talking unless they say, “I’m here to try until I’m challenged…and, unless a black person doesn't tell me that I'm not like the others, I will claim victimhood.” I think that’s where the train stops for some people. I think that’s where some people get off.

 

But you’re still here, right? Great.

You’re not alone. Like I said, Jill has thousands of followers. And they’re not all black. My friend, Emilia, said she watches her videos and others like it through her fingers; like a scary movie. She’s waiting for Jill to say something about her. She’s waiting to feel like, “Oh crap. I do that.” And even though it steps on her toes, she keeps watching. “I look at it like alcohol in a wound,” Emilia told me, “if it stings, then it’s working.”

 

One thing you cannot say about Jill is that she is one sided. If she comes for the liberal white community, you better believe she comes for the “woke” black community as well. She makes videos with the same sarcasm talking to "pseudo-revolutionaries" who devalue her efforts because she is queer. She pokes fun calling some of their activity "The Woke Black Olympics" and talks about how some people judge and quantify the blackness of others and "super shame each other into woke black submission."

 

She hits us all in that soft spot. And for those who accuse her of being preachy and a know-it-all, she willingly admits she is also as culpable as those she convicts. “These videos are me talking to me,” she says, “I’ve never made one about a black person I’ve never been [or] a white person I’ve never met.”

 

She doesn’t claim to be the mouthpiece for black people. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t want that responsibility and thinks no one should have it. She speaks for herself. But she doesn’t force her ideas on someone else. “If a black person wants to invite [white people], that’s their call. What I’m saying, is for me, I just want to see what [they're] going to do.”

 

With all this talk about who gets to come to the revolution and how it should be fought, no one has really defined what the revolution is. We could all be talking about fifteen different revolutions! “To me,” Jill says, “the revolution is black people loving ourselves more than we love whiteness.”

 

What does that look like? It means black people stop considering it a success when we move to white neighborhoods and schools. We stop “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.”

 

So aside from being hit in that secret place we’d like to act like doesn’t exist, why else does Jill make us uncomfortable? I think because she tells us to do something we innately try to avoid: be honest. Be revolutionarily honest. What does that mean? “It’s a simple as that stuff that you’re saying privately, intimately amongst black people about white people and what you think they’re doing,” she says, “you say it to them.” And that’s what she’s doing.

 

But that’s also probably why she gets responses saying that she’s no different from a racist or that she’s just trying to start a race war. To that, her response is simple: “I’m not trying to start a race war because I would never take credit for someone else’s work.”

 

But it does open the door for the questions that gets thrown around when talking of racism: Can black people be racist? I’ve heard the arguments. There’s the simple “Yes, because everyone can discriminate against someone based solely on race.” And then there’s the “No, because racism is based on the oppression of and removal of power from a group of people based on their race.”

 

As for Jill, she chooses not to play that game of semantics. But she does say this when asked about the difference between what she says and what a racist says:

 

So we’re going to ignore history [and] the present. We’re going to ignore how we got here. We’re going to ignore the civil rights movement. We’re going to 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.

 

You may dislike what she says. You may agree with it. But whatever you do, you cannot dismiss it. She may only claim to speak for herself. But her followers show that she says a lot that they, too, believe.

 

Forget the labels. Don’t call her a militant. Don’t call her an activist. Don’t even compare her to Angela Davis. No. She requires that her audience request the same thing of her as she requests of those clamoring to join the revolution: receipts. She wants to see consistency. She wants to see a track record. She doesn’t want late-joining revolutionaries. She wants something she can trust.

 

My takeaway from the interview (and to be clear, I’m still digesting quite a bit) is this: the array of black needs is vast, the spectrum of solution is wide, and the road to redemption is long and complicated. And this revolution will take all kinds of people with many weapons fighting on many fields. No one of us has all the answers.

 

But honesty within the revolution and about that which we oppose is imperative. The walls between races, ethnicities, and religions are built by the secret conversations we have with people who look and think like us. They’re built by the secret thoughts we bury beneath our self-importance and the actions we use to cover our denial.

 

The revolution isn’t just the fight against oppression. The revolution isn’t just the demand for equity and equality. The revolution is unapologetic honesty. The revolution is unashamed truth.

 

Follow Jillisblack here

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