Writer, talk show host, and political commentator Danielle Moodie-Mills, joins the program to discuss how DE&I work is a journey, not a destination, and how to sustain movements beyond the initial headlines. Discover the importance of embracing intersectionality in social movements, and how allies can show up for marginalized communities.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- How Danielle’s high school experiences shaped her perspective (13:00)
- The importance of bringing our full self to work (25:00)
- The importance of self-care (31:00)
- How to sustain movements beyond the headlines (33:00)
- How to move from survival to thriving (37:00)
- The need to embrace intersectionality in social movements (40:00)
- Why woke is a journey and not a destination (44:00)
- The similarities between becoming woke and practicing yoga (46:00)
- How real allies show up (53:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Danielle, welcome to The Will To Change.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Thank you so much for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I’m such a fan girl. I watch you on MSNBC, like, “There’s my friend.” And I’m so excited you’re joining us on The Will To Change and it’s going to be hard to confine our discussion today to a short list, but I will do my best because you are incredibly prolific and versatile in all the good ways. You’re just producing so much good content and your commentary is spot-on. So, I encourage everybody listening here. If you don’t know Danielle’s work, please check it out. But I’ve learned a lot from you. In particular, how you speak about the times we’re living in, as somebody who’s on camera a lot who’s commenting in real time on things that are occurring. And so, your voice is just very appreciated. So, thank you.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Thank you so much. Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, absolutely. So, we’re going to start as we always do with our diversity story, your diversity story, because we do that on The Will To Change and I know a bit about yours, but ground us in who you are, where you came from, how you got to be who you are, the unicorn that you are. And what would you consider to be kind of your diversity story or arc as you’ve experienced it?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Oh, well that, I mean, all very good questions and I love the idea of sharing my story. So, I mean, I think that my diversity story is interesting because it intersects with different moments in my life. I don’t really think I realized how much of a unicorn I was until I went to graduate school, which I know for some folks there’ll be like, “Really, it took you that long?” So, I am a child of immigrants. My family came to the United States from Jamaica in 1970 and I was born in 1979. So, my family was here and they left Jamaica because like many immigrants, they wanted to look for a better life for their family. And for my grandparents, for their grandchildren that were not yet born like myself, they wanted to be in a land of opportunity and prosperity where if you worked hard, you could build a life here.
And regardless of the current moment and space that we are living in, in our political climate, for many that was true, right? And in Jamaica, while it’s a beautiful Island and many people will ask themselves, “Why would you leave the Caribbean and the blues sea and the sun shine to locate to Long Island New York? It was for opportunity. And so, for me, what ended up happening is that my parents moved further, very far out East on Long Island. And for anybody who knows Long Island, they know that it is majority white suburbs like far out East is majority white suburbs. And I went to a high school that was 96% white. And so, you could count, literally, you could count the kids of color on two hands.
And during that time, I didn’t feel like one of those doctors who’s one of these things is not like the other, I didn’t feel that way, genuinely. Until I was in 11th grade and I was called the N word for the very first time to my face on the first day of school of 11th grade. And it was one of those experiences that was very jarring because I remember going home and saying to my mother at the time. She’s like, “How was school, blah, blah, blah.” And I said, “Well, mom this experience I had, I was in class then. It was the first day of school. So, there were no assigned seats.” And I’m sorry it was the second day of school, but there was still no assigned seats and so I just sat in the same seat that I was in the first day. And this white kid comes over to me and his friends are sitting around like are sitting around the seat that I’m sitting in and he goes, “Get out of my seat.”
And I said, “Excuse me, there are no assigned seats and so you can sit over there.” And I point to a seat that is across the way. Yes. So, he looks at me and he was just like, “You, N word, get out of my seat.” All of his friends looked at him, looked away and turned their desks away. What was interesting in that moment is that not one of them said anything on my behalf, not one. And so, I looked at him and because I am me, I cursed him to filth. I cursed him all the way out because that’s how I show up. People often say to me like, “How did you get this way?” And I’m like, “I’ve been like this since the beginning.”
JENNIFER BROWN: “I have been this way.” I love it.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: I have been this way. And the thing was that if he had just come over to me and been like, “Hey, all of my friends are sitting over here, would you mind switching seats with me?” I would totally switch seats because I didn’t have any friends in that class, so I don’t really care. It wouldn’t have mattered to me one way or the other, but it was the assumption of power that he thought that he had over me, that I was like, “Oh no, we’re not going to play this game today.”
And so, after that he was completely ostracized. And that was very interesting to me is that his friends ostracized him through silence, but not through speaking up on my behalf. And I think that in that moment was one of the first times that I realized the importance of having a voice and the importance of advocacy. Whether or not it has anything to do with you in that particular moment. When you see something that is happening that is wrong, it is your responsibility in that moment to say something.
And so, for me, by the time I had gotten to grad school, I realized how different my experience was as being one of the only ones. Being one of the only black children that is in a class because I was getting my master’s degree in early childhood education. And a part of that program was to really unpack your own bias so that you don’t bring it into the classroom, when you are teaching young people. And what I would recognize through the unpacking of my own biases are all of the different micro-aggressions and some overt racial aggressions that I had dealt with during my life living on Long Island during my childhood that I didn’t allow to consume me because there was no out at that moment. But I also didn’t think that it was anything that was different. And so, when I was in this masters program now unpacking my own bias and understanding different experiences that I’d had with educators throughout my schooling, throughout my K-12 experience, I realized how some were incredibly uplifting.
Some teachers really zoomed in on seeing the value in uplifting me and my voice because they knew that I was a chatty kid and I was very smart. And so there were those teachers and then there were the other ones that tried to track me and put me into programs and schooling, not in honors classes and not in AP, because of how I looked and they didn’t think I belonged there. And I learned the importance of advocacy then because my mother was the one that stepped in and said, “No, my daughter wants to take honors history and AP English and these classes and she’s going to take them.”
JENNIFER BROWN: I love your mom.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: And so again, it’s just like my experience, my diversity story has always been in some way, shape, or form being met with adversity, whether that’s in a classroom, whether that’s being called the N word, whether it’s many years later when I came out as a lesbian woman and recognizing that I’m being treated not just as a second-class citizen because I’m a black woman in America, but now I’m also a lesbian. And having to deal with those different layers of oppression. But throughout my years, it has always been understanding the power of voice and the power of advocacy and finding the ways in which I can utilize my voice in the different spaces that I find myself in to push equality forward.
JENNIFER BROWN: And so, given your personality and your fearlessness, which I think I hear throughout your story, was coming out just a blip for you or did it even shake your unshakeable confidence even for you? I wonder, I’m curious.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: That’s a really good question and thank you for saying that I’m fearless. I will say it wasn’t a blip actually. It was, what happened is that in my life, I had come out in trickles. I came out to friends, I came out to my sister. I didn’t come out to my parents until I was 21. And the reason why I waited until I was 21, is because I had heard so many awful horror stories of kids being disowned, of LGBTQ kids being disowned from their families. And I wanted to be in a space where I felt like I could be financially stable enough, that if my parents were to turn their back on me, that I’m not going to become destitute. I’m not going to become one of the 40% of LGBTQ youth that is on the streets.
And so, for me, it wasn’t a blip. It was very important because I’m very close with my family. They’re my backbone. They’re my grounding foundation in everything that I do. And so, I came out to them separately. My mom and my dad, they’re married, obviously, but I came out to them separately because I didn’t want to be ganged up on. So, within the same day, but at a different time of day.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s amazing.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah. It totally works. And so, I came out to my mom first and she was in tears, and she was in tears because she’s just like, “Oh my God, Danielle, you’re already black. You’re already a woman and now you’re gay. Why don’t you just add another disability to you being able to make it in America.” And I think that for her, the tears were fear, the mistreatment that I was already up against and why would I purposefully try and add anything to that list? So, for her, it was a deep sense of fear. When I came out to my dad, he was upset because he felt like he had been protecting me from all of these boys and boyfriends throughout my life, and he was just like, “I wasted all this time and energy. You were-”
JENNIFER BROWN: An interesting reaction.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: So yeah. And so, he felt like I had lied to him and I was just like, “I didn’t lie to you.” I’m like, “If anything, I had been lying to myself.” So, my parents were upset for all of one week and then each of them called me separately to tell me how much they love me, how nothing that I could possibly do in life could shake that foundation. And from then on I have had the most supportive, beautiful family that one could ever ask for. And so, when I came out to them and then finally secured their acceptance and continued love, then I would say that after that, anyone else would be a blip on the screen. Because as long as I had my parents and my family in my corner, there’s nothing that anybody else could say to me or do that would put me off-kilter.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Oh, I think we all feel that way. That foundation is so critical and my heart breaks for so many that don’t have as supportive families as you and I do. So, you’ve become a really public figure. And you are and I just am also curious sort of you are brash, you’re courageous. You’re very authentic and you’re committed to that. And so, I wonder have you ever played small in terms of who you are in any of those forums? Was it a skill you learned to kind of bring your full self to that stage, to the camera, to that audience that you can’t see. How do you balance, I suppose, being out given the public nature of your voice and your image?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: I think that for me, I have always seen it as a responsibility for those of us who are privileged in some sense. And I know that stating that I’m a black lesbian, a tribe of immigrants, many people are probably thinking, “What privilege do you have?” But I also grew up middle class and at times upper middle class and in a suburbs. I didn’t have to worry about passing through certain neighborhoods in order to get to my school. I went to one of the top schools on Long Island. I went to a private college. I have multiple degrees, right? So, there is a level of privilege in which I sit.
And so, for me, because me being out and vocal doesn’t cost me anything, it doesn’t cost me my safety. It doesn’t cost me my emotional stability. It doesn’t cost me those things that some people are not fortunate enough to have. I feel a responsibility to be out, to be vocal, to use all the tools at my disposal, to usher people along in their journey to acceptance, to usher people along and at sometimes need to shame them in the way that they show up or do not show up for LGBTQ people, for black people, for the undocumented community, for people that are unlike them.
And so, for me, there hasn’t ever been a time where, and I can tell you this story, one I was going on a job interview many, many years ago when I was still living in Washington DC to go work at a nonprofit organization. And at that time my wife and I had gotten engaged. We were engaged. We weren’t married yet, and I wanted to know where the organization stood on a health insurance because at that time marriage equality was not the law of the land. This was 2008 or 2009. And remember we don’t pass marriage equality until 2015, so being able to cover each other on our health insurance was really based on the bias or non-bias of the employer.
So, in the interview and many would say, “Why would you ever do this in an interview?” And I said, “Because my feeling when I’m going after a job that I want is that I am interviewing them as well as they are interviewing me. I never want to work in a space where I am not allowed to show up as my full and complete self.” So, in the interview I said, “What are your policies in terms of coverage for domestic partners, for civil unions, for this, that and the other thing.” And they immediately were like, “Oh my goodness, we have the best coverage, let us walk you through what our plan is, this, that and the other thing.” And I said, “Fantastic because I’m on my way to getting married in the next several months and I want to make sure that the place, that the environment that I’m working in is the one that actually accepts me and believes in me as a full and complete person. Because I cannot do a great job for you if I have to leave part of myself at home.”
And that is just the way that I have consistently showed up. Because Maya Angelou’s famous quote that I use all of the time is that, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” And so, within that instance when I had asked the question about health insurance and the people interviewing me either said that they did not know or, “I’ll get back to you or yeah, I’m not really so sure about that.” And it didn’t seem like a big deal to them. Then I knew also that that wasn’t a place that I was going to work in. And so, the fact that they knew that they could explain it, that they can walk me through it and that they were excited, that I had given them the opportunity to show just how open they were. I knew that it was going to be a great match.
Often people that I mentor, young women that I mentor, I tell them, do not ever feel like you cannot bring your whole self to an interview because how you show up in your interview and how they respond to you is going to be how your day in and day out is going to be. So, if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, then you’re never going to feel comfortable doing it after you have the job.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I love that. I still get that question too. “Should I be out in the interview, et cetera.” And I love, it’s so empowering to position it the way you just did, which is to say you won’t be able to thrive in a place that’s not comfortable with you bringing your full self to the interview. But I do wish that recruiters and I know some do this well, but that recruiters really authentically talked about all of this more overtly to say, “Here’s the commitment that the company makes and here’s all of our diversity groups and here’s what we do for the community.” But I don’t know, I feel like it’s such a transactional role. I mean, whether it’s not having enough time to address it or maybe just addressing it with somebody who looks a ‘diverse’ candidate, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, because you don’t know who’s sitting across from you.
So much of our diversities are invisible and yet somebody may really be looking for you to bring that up so that you open the door and they can walk through and ask the questions they’re dying to ask. So, and then we have allies. I think the most inspiring thing about younger people is the ally-ship I see amongst them. And so, you’ve got candidates coming in and they’re looking for diversity metrics and signals that you’re walking the talk and they may identify as a straight white, cisgender man, right. And say, “But what are you doing about diversity?” And that’s where I hope we kind of get to where this is not just a conversation that women and people of color and LGBTQ people have or have questions about, but that honestly, it’s more of a holistic conversation. Because that’s really going to create the sea change as you and I know, the involvement of everyone in inclusion would be a game changer if we could get there.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah. And I frankly, I wish that the burden wasn’t on the employee, but on the employer to bring those-
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS:… Conversations to the forefront, but until they get into that place, I think that the best advice to ever give anyone is to just show up as you. It’s to show up as you and that you should be interviewing the place that you are going to be spending a majority of your time. A majority of your day in and day out to make sure that it’s a comfortable space for you. And if it is not, then that is not the place. Because the emotional burden of being in an environment that is toxic, that is just tolerant and not accepting is something that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, it’s really hard work. I mean, unless you’re a total, I do think there’s some people that love being the first I mean, I personally probably wouldn’t. But I do know too that it does take a first to put the crack in the glass and to show. So, you probably have that kind of personality where you’re happy to be the first because you’re so resilient and so strong and you can weather it, but I’m sure you still get fatigued because you are a trailblazer. How does fatigue show up for somebody like you? Who I could argue kind of is in many ways kind of safely, you were so established and yet I wonder does it still feel like work to you to bring your full self and what does that show up as and how do you restore yourself on a private level?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah, all very awesome questions. Yeah, it shows up for me in exhaustion. I try and do a lot, I don’t know if you listen to the Hamilton soundtrack or saw the play?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: But when he says that he’s writing like he’s running out of time. I feel that way. I feel like a person that is trying to do so much because I feel like I’m running out of time. And so, what does that look like for me? It looks like being very rundown sometimes. Where I work myself to the place where much like yesterday I woke up and I was feverish. So, I couldn’t come in and host my show because I had been out and running and doing TV and writing and trying to do all of these things at one time and I just, my body on Monday was like, “Nope. Maybe if you had paid attention to all of the signs that I had been producing for you over the past week. You would have realized that you need to take a day off. And so now that you didn’t do that, I am just going to shut down.”
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: And so, those things happen. But for me I tell people often that you need to take a break so that you don’t have a breakdown, whether that is physical health, emotional health. I try for myself to work out as much as possible because that makes me feel good. It kind of keeps the blood flowing. I try and hang out with friends and visit with family, both groups of which think I don’t do that nearly enough. But really trying to just stay in tune with the balance of feeling like I’m running out of time. And then, and feeling like we’re in such a critical moment in our politics, in our culture, in our country, that I want to do as much as I can to help as many people as possible. And balancing that out with also making sure that I have self-care is something that is a challenge for me. It is a daily challenge. So, trying to practice that I’m a person that turned their hobbies into their career and so I need new hobbies. One’s that are relaxing.
JENNIFER BROWN: Me too. Me too, my partner’s after me all the time about not having hobbies and I’m like, “But where does my work begin and end when it is so, so much a part of our heart and soul? It’s just everything.” And the boundaries question is a real challenge when you are working on your passion project as your job and as your career and it’s your calling. There are no boundaries. I mean, especially this work like you just give and give and give and you would show up even exhausted to keep pouring into it. Because, and the need is so massive, as you just mentioned, my goodness, like heading into 2020. Yeah. I wonder, I know you specialize in politics, the political environment, also movements. I wanted to ask you about how do we sustain movements beyond that kind of the headlines and the times in the beginning when things are white hot. And then we sort of become either complacent or fatigued or the movement is changing because maybe it needs to.
But you and I talked about like, where are we with LGBTQ rights? Where are we with Me Too, where we with Black Lives Matter? How do you see the evolution of movements heading into the new year and maybe sustaining ourselves in these movements, but also sustaining the movements? Because fatigue is real and focus moves on to the next. And so much work is not yet done. And there’s been a lot of collateral damage. I know for Me Too, I think about what have been the repercussions, negative repercussions for all the women that were so courageous and spoke up? And I mean that was heartbreaking. I think New York Magazine did a whole thing on sort of several years later like what’s going on? And people, to a person have, nobody has, I think continued in the same way and so many have kind of taken steps back professionally, economically. The amount of abuse people got.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Online. Yup.
JENNIFER BROWN: I find it really dispiriting and I wondered since you kind of look at these things for a living, what can we do to make these have staying power, be more complete movements, be healthier movements to sustain them and then sustain ourselves, in terms of being, I think, in them, which you and I are?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah, I think that I do see a lot of fatigue right now. I do see a lot of what people are referring to as a rage fatigue. Like, how long can I be enraged for? I think that as it pertains to the individualized movements that you’ve named, what is going to be our strength in 2020 is we are going to be able, we need to find the thread that holds us all together. Because individual working in these siloed groups, while we all have different issues and different obstacles that we’re trying to climb over. The reality is, is that we are much stronger together than we are separate and in battling what I perceive to be this common enemy right now, this common threat to our democracy, to our equity, to our emotional sustainability. If we don’t come together and we continue to function in our silos like we did during the Obama era when that was okay, right?
Because we were each being given an audience. We were each being served by that administration. But that is not the case now. We’re in the battle for our lives in so many different ways, and I feel like if we don’t find a way to bring all of these groups, all of these movements to a collective literal and figurative table. To figure out how we push forward in these dark times, then each of those movements will continue to be diminished. Because our power is really in our numbers. And so, if we recognize that there are actually more of us than there are of them. There are more of us that believe in equity, in justice, in democracy, in creating an American dream that everyone can attach themselves to, and can grow from.
And if we do that as a collective, if we work that way as a collective. I believe that we win, but if we are fighting as crabs in a barrel for the scraps that they decide to give out to us. Which means that then we’re stepping on each other’s movements in order to just survive. Then we’re not in a thriving space. We’re in a survival mode and survival mode can’t be sustained, but for so long.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent. Really crabs in a barrel. I mean is a depressing saying, but it’s so apt. And I wonder in workplaces, I don’t know if you have a view on this, but how is the conversation becoming more intersectional in workplaces? I often push that, I’ve been pushing that for a really long time, but there can be a tendency to silo out by identity. And so, for example, you’ll see women’s networks that are dominated by white women because women of color don’t feel comfortable joining. Or you might see LGBT affinity groups dominated perhaps by white men and lesbians and women don’t feel comfortable of people of color, et cetera. So, it’s very interesting to see sometimes these groups bifurcate and kind of repeat, I think a lot of the systemic problems that are all around us because what else do we know?
We have to actually challenge, we’ve got to challenge that and have to decide to be different than the water we swim in. And I find though that not all of us do this really well, even though we’re in what might be classified as an underrepresented or a marginalized identity. It doesn’t mean you’re an inclusive person that’s really doing your work. It doesn’t mean you’re an ally and you need to be both, if you are in an effected group and you’re trying to find your voice and community, you also have to be and can be an ally also around who is not represented in this group, in this effort. And how can we have a more holistic conversation about intersection? And I think what I’m also seeing is younger talents coming in and is very intersectional, right?
Is embracing all of the pieces and very comfortable doing so. And I think in those interviews we were referencing earlier, bringing, all of who they are because luckily this generation I think has gotten this message that all of you is important and matters and is special. Which is what a beautiful message. I can’t say my generation really heard much of that. So anyway, it’s just really interesting that I think there’s going to be this pressure for true intersectionality in strategies. And so, I hope that… are you seeing in the movements like we mentioned, I mean are you seeing the crossover and how is that coalescing and where are the biggest, I guess problems in terms of understanding and having empathy for and connecting to other movements when you have racism in the LGBTQ community, right?
When you have homophobia in the Black Lives Matter community, when you have Me Too and we’ve got white women who jumped on and sort of the movement as you and I know, Tarana Burke was really the originator of Me Too, but that when white women got involved, all of a sudden everybody started to care and so we have diversity issues within these movements.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: I did not realize until I really became neck deep in the LGBTQ movement, just how racist it was. And I will tell you that one of my first experiences, because when I went to college, my undergraduate degree is in political science. I wanted to work for a women’s rights organization. Because I thought that women needed to be empowered and were still very underrepresented in positions of power, whether it be in our politics or in other industries. And so, when I got into that space, I realized just how racist and homophobic it was. And so, I think that until we tackle those truths, who is not here, which is a great question that you asked. Until those groups and the leads of those groups ask themselves who is not here and why and they actually care about the answer. We’re going to continue to keep seeing this cycle.
And I don’t think that it’s enough because while there are young people that absolutely believe in intersectionality, there are lots of young people who believe in bringing their full selves. I will also remind folks that the faces of those that protested in Charlottesville, the faces of those with the Tiki torches were not older white conservative men. They were 20 something year old white men. So, at the same time when we want to cheer on the intersectionality and the open-mindedness of the certain sex, there is also a big push on the radical right for their young folks. And so, I think that for us, especially that say that we are progressive and are in these spaces, we need to ask ourselves about our own bias, about our own prejudice and why even when you have these employee resource groups. Why certain people don’t want to show up or don’t feel representative or don’t feel heard.
And I think that until we really tackle the core of that, the real bear there, we’re going to continue to cycle through movements and movement leaders that have the same obstacles and struggles to our full equity, because of the things that they’ve refused to acknowledge. Because in feminist spaces, you’ve been told as a black woman to leave your blackness behind and only be a woman in that space as if that’s an option. That when you are a queer person of color, you’re being told to put your queerness first and leave your racial identity or your ethnic identity behind because, “Oh, we can’t do that here.” So, there are considerable challenges, but I feel like until we start to really address those and challenge people in their inclusivity or their lack thereof, we’re going to continue to cycle through these movements with the same issues that we have and only making incremental progress.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, yeah. Perfectly said. And you have a show, Woke AF.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. And you and I we had a conversation about the word woke. I always say to my leaders, woke-ness is not a destination and it’s never done. And yet I do… what you’re calling people to action around is we aren’t done. We aren’t, you aren’t woke or not woke. And that it is literally a process that you have to continue to apply. And I know there’s a lot of chatter about that word, kind of it being sort of an annoying word depending on who says it. For a well-meaning ally to call themselves, “Oh, I’m woke, I get it.” Is, I think somewhat problematic because it’s not a destination and you aren’t woke until somebody calls you. It’s sort of like you aren’t an ally unless somebody in effected community actually calls you an ally. And so, I like to say it’s not a term we claim for ourselves, it’s a term we earn. And to me, it very much matters like according to whom, because it’s not according to us.
Tell me about the word, Woke AF. What does it mean to you? How have you explored it on your show? And how do we, I guess how do we help? And again, this may get back to the fatigue question. Allies are just trying to step into this and it’s sort of the gravity of it. And the intense work of it I think would overwhelm a lot of people to stay in that every single day like so many people have to, because they have no choice. So, allies can kind of dip in and out when it’s convenient. Go to the pride parade. Show up for this, but not really challenge a homophobic comment that they might hear a higher up make for example.
And so how do we, beyond the paper ally-ship as my friend calls it, how do we make this a way of being, like we breathe this? And I think it’s so important for some of us who are relatively more comfortable where we aren’t unsafe on a day to day basis to really, really do more and put ourselves and if they are uncomfortable situations. Like welcome to everybody else’s world who is uncomfortable every single day. So, I’m always like, if you’re uncomfortable, pay attention to that, it’s good and have empathy for those of us who are uncomfortable on a regular basis based on who we are. Right?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: So anyway, yeah.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: When I talk about being woke and yes, the title of one of my shows is, Woke AF which was created in response to the 2016 presidential election. And the reality for me is that being woke is a practice like yoga. You don’t just go to one yoga class and you’re saying to yourself, “Oh, I’m completely limber now. I’ve completely opened all of these spaces that have been so tight.” No, it’s something that you have to do on a day in and day out basis. If you were a person that has faith, are you praying just on your high holy holidays or are you doing so each and every day? Are you giving gratitude each and every day?
All of these things are a practice. So being socially conscious and being connected to the world around you and understanding your space and place in that and what you can do to move the needle forward is a constant and consistent practice. There are lots of things I will tell you just recently, I don’t know if you were in the midst of it, there was all this push back to Lizzo, the singer Lizzo, who just got entertainer of the year awarded to her by Time magazine about showing up to a Lakers game in a thong dress with her backside out. Twitter was lit up, they were talking about it on The View, they’re talking about it on MSNBC, they’re talking about it on all of these shows.
And one of the themes that kept being brought up, and I had to question myself was, oh my God, are we all being fat phobic? That if it had been a Katy Perry or Rihanna or somebody that has a smaller frame. That is considered by all intents and purposes to be beautiful in the traditional mainstream Eurocentric kind of framing. To be beautiful, would it have been anything other than an applause or something that was funny, as opposed to people saying really negative and insulting and hurtful things. And so, I had to challenge myself. Am I uncomfortable by seeing this because I am fat phobic? Because I am not an ally in that community or what is the cause of my reaction?
And so, for me, that was a moment where I’m just like I say that I’m woke, right? I do the work every single day. I read, I research, I talk to activists, I talk to advocates, talk to real people on a day in and day out basis. But I was challenged in that moment to ask myself, am I looking through this in a real frame or based on what was told to me is considered acceptable, is considered beautiful, is considered okay? And so again, for me, woke-ness on a range of topics, on a range of issues, in a range of communities, is really about asking yourself some hard truths. And being willing to do the work that it takes you to move through that, whether that is reaching out to somebody like I did and saying, “Hey, I need you to walk me through this, because I don’t want to show up as this person.”
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: I want to make sure that if I’m saying something and I don’t believe that everybody needs applause, but if I’m saying something that I really am oriented in my truth and not what the perception is supposed to be. Of beauty, of beauty standards and all of these things. So, that was a real, that was a deep, challenging moment for me. And so, I encourage people, being woke is not about perfection. You don’t get an award for the level of woke-ness that you have, right? But what it is, is that it’s saying to those around you that you are challenging yourself to be conscious of your bias, to be conscious of systemic oppressions, to be conscious of those that are struggling, that are around you. To be conscious enough to speak up to be their ally and to be of service. And that’s what that means to me.
JENNIFER BROWN: And we have people sort of misapplying woke-ness and going after people in the call out culture that we’re in. Right. Which is like, “Well, I’m more woke than you. And I’m going to criticize you.” And I think the question you just asked is the most important one, which is hold on, don’t cast that first stone, look at yourself. There’s so much work that each of us can do on ourselves. And what you just described, I went through the same thing with Lizzo. Exactly the same thing. I had the same thought process. I thought to myself, am I uncomfortable with seeing this in her body and not in another body? Why? Is that right? And I think you just described also reaching out and having a conversation with somebody to sort of check yourself on it and help you walk through it.
And I wonder, to me, that’s one of the things I really recommend is we have that network of trusted people where we can say, “Hey, I need to kind of challenge my thinking about this and I want to be a voice for inclusion when it comes to something like this. And what does that sound like? I mean, can I lean on you? Can I talk that through with you?” Do you have a person in your life? How did you choose who to go to, to have that conversation? Because I’m curious. A lot of people I think don’t know who to turn to. And so, we end up feeling very isolated in terms of going through the process alone. And I don’t think we can always get where we need to go when we’re doing it alone.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Well, I will tell you that I’m very fortunate to have a lot of friends who work in various communities who do the work of social justice every single day, whether they’re working on the front lines for undocumented people and immigration policies to LGBTQIA, to fat acceptance and the fat movement. I am fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with folks that do a great deal of work in many communities and those that intersect. And so, what I did, one of my friends on Facebook was being very outspoken. He had written a piece on Lizzo and he was really challenging people and he has a great deal of followers. I sent him a note and I was just like, “Hey, I think that I may be fat phobic and I don’t like the way that I am thinking about this, conversation that’s being had. Will you come on my show and kind of… and workshop this with me?”
And he was like, “Absolutely.” And I think that it’s the way in which you show up in other people’s spaces. I was not asking him to be my intellectual Sherpa. I was not burdening him to do the work, but I was saying that I want to do this work better. What do I need to avail myself of in order to do that? And that to me is how real allies show up. It is not to put the burden on other folks, but it is really for you to show up and say, “I want to take this on. What do I need to avail myself of in order to show up in a real way?” And so, those are the questions that I think that all of us need to be asking ourselves. So, that we don’t throw around the word ally in very frivolous ways, but that it’s truly real. And again, it’s not like a pageant. It’s not something that you get anointed with for life. It is something that you’re going to need to work for on a day in and day out basis.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Oh, I just love that example. So, concrete and break out of your isolation, our networks tend to look like us. And so, what you just described is without causing too much emotional labor on the part of the person you reached out to, of course. But just the way you said how to do that respectfully and name your bias, say you’re working on it, invite collaboration, invite a conversation. And for somebody like you, especially like you have to be spot-on on all this stuff. I mean, you have a lot of pressure to kind of thread the needle, if you will. And making sure that your biases don’t intrude. You’ve got to be kind of crystal about it and you are, but I mean to see how the sausage is made so to speak, I think is instructive for everybody that your work isn’t done and none of our work is done. So, Danielle, I know I have to let you go because you probably got a million interviews lined up, but where can folks support you, find you, get you in their ears and in their hearts and minds?
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Please. So yes, folks can follow me on Twitter where I generally am @deetwocents D-E-E-T-W-O-C-E-N-T-S. You can subscribe and support independent platforms by subscribing to Woke AF. And you can do that at www.dnrstudios.com. And you can read all about the writings that I do at Zora Magazine, which is @zoramag. So yeah, this has been really great. Thank you so much for having me on.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Danielle. And thanks for the way you use your voice in the world.
DANIELLE MOODIE-MILLS: Appreciate you so much.
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