Kerri Kelly: Hello, Jamia Wilson!
Jamia Wilson: Hi!
KK: It's so amazing to have you.
JW: Thank you for having me, I'm excited. I've been really looking forward to it.
KK: I know, we've been talking about this for a long time.
KK: But I feel like every time I talk to you, it's like we're on a podcast. Like, it's that juicy. So I feel like we've been practiced many times before.
Okay, the first thing I want to ask about, this is really important, is ... I understand that you really like trashy TV.
JW: I do. Oh my goodness, I love reality TV. I love Sister Wives, I love Seeking Sister Wives. I love 90 Day Fiance, which is the worst-best thing ever to happen in the world.
KK: I don't even-
JW: It says so much about humanity.
KK: I've never even heard of these shows.
JW: You really want to protect your brain, probably.
JW: (laughs) Yes.
KK: You're like, I don't want to want to do this to you.
JW: Oh, I actually pay to download them from iTunes. It's really ... It's a habit. I could be saving that money and putting it into my 401(k) or something like that.
KK: That's not as much fun. Like, what could I be doing with the money that I throw away to distract myself from reality?
JW: And I get really invested in these people's relationships, like Married at First Sight. That show is wild. Who gets married at first sight?
KK: Does it make you feel better about yourself?
JW: Oh yes.
KK: Okay. (laughs)
JW: Oh, all my wildly past inappropriate relationship choices ... I mean, just saying that in case my husband hears this podcast. "Past" is the operative word, Travis, hey, what's up? But I just ... There are people in this world who ... It is not their cultural inclination to marry people at first sight, but signed up for a reality TV show to get married at first sight. Tinder has gotten people to that point, so that fascinates me. And then I live vicariously through them and thinking, "I am that crazy." I'm just so glad I missed the boat.
KK: We're not alone. I'm not alone.
JW: Yes, and I'm not alone! (laughs) 'Cause I totally would do something like that if I already hadn't found my person. I would be that person who would say, "What? Oh, I believe in fairy tales. Let's try it."
KK: And these are really courageous people who not only are doing things like what we did, but are courageous enough to do them in front of everyone.
JW: It's so true, and at 24/7, when I see this one woman who's on it now, and she's this Black woman and I see myself in her in so many ways, and just the way she walks around in her sweatpants and with her headwrap on and everything, just is a celebration.
KK: Yeah, that's right.
JW: In front of the world.
KK: I aspire.
JW: Exactly! (laughs)
KK: Okay, so I was on your website today, and your website starts off with, "Jamia is many things," which I love and totally relate to. But you are an activist, a feminist, a storyteller, a media maker. And it also says that you're a thought leader. And I've used that term a million times, and I've called people "thought leaders", but then I was like, what does it mean to be a thought leader? So what does that mean to you to be a thought leader in this day and age?
JW: Thank you so much. So that bio came from my speakers bureau, FRESH Speakers, and when they wrote it about me, I felt so honored, but also so seen and heard, because I think what they were really saying is that I dare to speak truth to power. I'm someone who will see things or intuit things, and dare to say them before they might be popular, or dare to say them before there's a consensus, if that's the direction we should go.
And when I think of the archetypes that I have really connected to in my life and in my spirituality, et cetera, they have been people who weren't always liked. Joan of Arc, for example, or Cassandra, or other kinds of archetypes. Mainly women ones -- interesting, too, that I'm now making that connection -- who have always just had a vision of a different possibility than where we are now and talked a lot about it, and people had various reactions to them talking about it.
JW: And I have a therapist who I've recently started seeing after not going to therapy for years, and she said to me early on, "You're a truth teller, and that means that people are either going to love you or hate you. Did you know that?" And it just really made me laugh because-
JW: ... I feel that that's been an experience I've had since I was a very young child, and I think that I learned as I was starting to drive my career toward activism and media work to really focus on my strengths, but also to recognize, oh, this is just so integral to who I am, I can't not speak my truth. Otherwise I feel like I'm dying, and that's ... It's just something I finally figured out how to make a part of my work.
KK: I love that. And the other thing I really appreciate about you, and I feel like you and I get into this a lot when we meet, is that you have this way of holding the complexity of issues. You can read between the lines, you see the spaces in between and around issues, that are non-binary, that are filled with gray matter and uncertainty and messiness. And you speak about that really well.
JW: Thank you, thank you so much, 'cause I feel sometimes that people don't like to live in the gray, and I think that makes sense, because we live, like you said, in a culture where there's a lot of polarity-
KK: That's right.
JW: ... and binary, and people don't like the nuance. And I even thought about it today, someone was saying something to me, and I was talking about an experience I'd had with someone and a point that had been brought up. And she said, "Oh, but just focus on the one part that says this," and I had a little breath that I took back in because I thought, "Oh, but that's not the whole truth of what was said."
And so although I recognize in the way that that person communicates, that she felt, "Oh, you just need to say this one thing, because that's going to get us the result," but to me, I thought, "Oh, but if we leave out the accent," so to speak-
JW: ... that's there, the meaning of what occurred and the meaning of what is going to come out of this truth, is different. And so that's a thing that I always go back and forth around, how I navigate and negotiate this. That sometimes I think the gray is inconvenient-
JW: ... and that's why people like us struggle in certain spaces, because especially math, for me, was really hard, when I was studying less complex maths, for example, because there was a right or wrong answer, and I've always kind of wanted to know more, what's the beyond? What's the sideways? What's the outside the line? That's what I'm most interested in.
KK: The in-between.
KK: Well, we're often debating in this country about freedom of speech. And like you, there are so many people right now finding their voice and speaking truth to power. So that's becoming popular and mainstream, and I think my question is around ... Do you think there's a practice to speaking truth, or do you think it's just okay for everyone to be speaking truth? Like, is there a skill or a muscle that you had to develop around how to speak truth in the most productive way?
JW: Such a good question. I think we are taught to lie about our lives, and we're taught to lie about how we feel, even in terms of how we are conditioned to answer the question, "How are you?"
JW: In this culture, specifically.
KK: "Oh, I'm fine."
JW: Exactly. No one tells you when you're learning these thing, or when you're even learning another language, no one tells you in your first French class, and they teach you, "Ça va bien," they're never telling you how to say, "I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I'm drained. I'm feeling crap today."
KK: "I don't know."
KK: "I don't know how the fuck I feel right now."
JW: Exactly. "I need help." Those things aren't what we're taught, that those things we're taught go beyond the pleasantries that ... We're not supposed to talk about the unpleasantness. We're supposed to just power through and suppress and repress. So I think about that a lot, in terms of how I want to embody truth, and also those times when I forgive myself for not leaning 100% into it, when I say I'm fine and I'm not fine.
KK: Right, right.
JW: Because we are conditioned to do that.
KK: Or when we edit or contort ourselves-
KK: ... or our words to take care of other people. Like, how limiting that is, not just for ourselves but for the experience that other people should be having of our truth.
JW: That's true.
KK: Whether they like it or not.
JW: And it's so powerful when we do tell the truth, because ... I was thinking about a meeting I had been in once where we were talking about race, and a space where I was the only person of color. And it was right after the election, and people were having all sorts of uncomfortable conversations, and I said some things that made people really prickly, because they were uncomfortable with me speaking my truth. And one person said, "Okay, well, we just have to get back to business, because that was really strong language, and we can't talk about this," and this other person said, "Are you okay?" And I said, "No, I'm not okay." Like that. And you could've cut the tension in that room with a knife.
And I said, "I'm not okay, but I see that he wants to continue with the business, so let's move on." And then it kind of came back to a thing where other people said, "Oh, we really need to talk about it," but it freaked people out. And just to watch the way that ... It's almost like when you watch animals scattering before a storm.
JW: The way that people did that when I just said, "No, I'm not okay, but we can move on since you clearly don't care." And it freaked people out.
KK: If we can't tolerate our own discomfort, we can't tolerate anyone else's discomfort.
JW: That's so true.
KK: So it's like, the depth to which we can go within ourselves is probably analogous to the depth that we can go in for other people. So I love that you stand for speaking the guts, and not just the good stuff but the tough stuff. The deeper that we're willing to go within ourselves, in our own ability not just to speak the truth, but to know it, I think, is analogous to what we can hold for other people.
And it feels like this is a time where we need to be able to hold that for other people too. When I think about the other people in that room with you, you deserve to be heard, even in your most uncomfortable, sharp ... Like you said, you'd cut the air, like a knife. Like, that too deserves to be felt, because that's your human experience.
JW: And I really believe that sickness, having had autoimmune diseases and things like that, comes from repression. That there's all these biological reasons, but for me, I realized that there's a physiological experience that I have when I can't speak my truth.
KK: That's right.
JW: And so I have to be protective of that. And it's interesting, because in my attempts to try to practice suspending my first judgment when people have those sorts of reactions, I've learned that sometimes when people have time to reflect, they will react differently. So the lesson that you were talking about as well, which is so great, is, "Oh, that person really wasn't necessarily trying to shut me down. It was about shutting down the discomfort they had with the fact that maybe they wouldn't be able to speak their truth, or that they didn't want to deal with having to get into the intimacy of that conversation," and that person happened to be a cisgender male. So I was thinking, "Oh, he probably doesn't even want to talk about what he sees as 'feelings', or these sorts of things, because it's going to dismantle what he has learned about how he has to perform masculinity."
And it was just really interesting, because we later had a conversation when I cooled off, and he brought up again, "Oh, you sometimes have a really strong way of saying things. Now I know why people say what they say about you," kind of said it in that way. And it was almost wagging a finger, and I just listened, and then he said, "But you know, me being in the position that I'm in in society, as a wealthier, older white man," he said, "I am worried about social disorder, and I can just tell that you're eating it up. And it makes me uncomfortable because social disorder means that people are coming for me."
And so it was interesting that this moment that I see as people getting a more even distribution of resources and speaking truth and unleashing burden that's been weighing them down, he sees as a potential onslaught of harm or things being taken away that can never be replenished. And that was really interesting, that I had a level of compassion for thinking, "Okay, that's why a fear response would happen, if somebody saw the world in that way."
KK: And that feels so, also, important to the practice of speaking truth and being in relationship. It's like, how do we hold equal parts, unapologetically speaking truth no matter how it impacts other people, and of course, we want to be responsible for that too. But also having compassion for the way in which it lands.
KK: Like, how do we find that dance between, "I have to get this truth out of my system or it will become sickness and disease," and, "How do I hold the experience of the other in relationship, in authentic relationship?"
JW: It's true, and I think about that relationship, because this is a person who has had my back many times that I've developed relationship with, but is someone I would've never imagined that, over the years, we would have built a strong relationship, or that I would also be someone who is actually able to communicate to this person in a way where even though they disagree, they like the logic with which I think. And so that's taught me just a lot about never assuming who our friends might be, because they don't always come in the packages that you might expect.
KK: That's right. So let's talk more about relationship, and I've heard you speak many times about being a feminist. And it's funny, when I think ... I identify as a feminist, but when people ask me about feminism, I often think of you, because you've been so articulate and unwavering in your standing in your full feminism. And the question I have is really around this idea of intersectional feminism, which I know you've talked about a lot, but specifically across racial lines, between white women and Black women. And I say that knowing full well that white women have often fucked shit up, and continue to do it, because that's how we are conditioned. And I say this as a white woman, obviously, who's cisgender and privileged beyond beyond.
And historically, white women have upheld, actively upheld, systems of white supremacy and oppression, and have played a real role in getting us to where we are today. But I'm curious about what it looks like, what feminism looks like across racial lines, what it looks like to be in authentic and healthy relationship, Black women and white women, as we hold up this vision, this bigger vision, that takes care of everyone.
JW: I think it's so important for there to be a real understanding that intersectionality doesn't mean that someone has to sacrifice one or the other cause or identity to be able to be in solidarity with another. And I think that when I come up against a lot of dissonance with white women who sort of say, "You have to choose," or, "You have to say that being a woman causes you more suffering in society," or, "You are choosing to put race before gender because you are somehow affected by Black patriarchy," or all the different sorts of tropes that we've heard about ...
JW: It often comes from a place of fear that somehow, their notion of feminism and their understanding of what equality means is being threatened by my demand for my full humanity to be seen, which includes my racial background, which includes my immigration status, or includes my ability or disability, and all of those things that affect how I live because of systemic realities.
So what I often like to talk to white women about who are struggling with these issues is to say, "What does it look like when you've been conditioned to center yourself in a narrative, which would then make you think that when someone is attacking a system or a series of behaviors that are upholding a harmful system, that they are attacking you?" And that has been a way that I've successfully achieved getting people to reflect on sometimes those fear-based responses, or responses that are based in the need to dominate or to control the direction of an agenda, to understand, "Oh, wait. Maybe I am enforcing a habit or practice of white supremacy, because I've been conditioned to do that. And maybe someone's naming that, and it doesn't mean they're saying I'm a bad person."
JW: "Or that I'm not worthy, or that I'm not valid. But they're saying that systems have led me to be conditioned in this way, and right now, I am upholding those systems." And so I do like to reflect that back by talking about the systems and the behaviors, and also clearly expressing to people that it's not about your personhood, but the fact that you're making it about your personhood is something you should interrogate to understand why that is. And I think that I also have made this comparison about when men do that to help people understand why, because as soon as I explain to them an example of a man doing that, then they suddenly understand.
KK: That's right.
JW: But it's different because they can't see themselves as perpetrators when they see themselves as victims.
KK: Oh, that's such a good point. And I think also about how I've come to understand liberation as intrinsically tied to dismantling racism.
KK: Like, my liberation is tied to your liberation, and so for me, I can't be a feminist and not fight to dismantle white supremacy. And I can't be a feminist and not fight transphobia and transaggression. But it took me ... I had to get to a place where I understood the mutuality in all of our places, regardless of our location, as a way to understand my place in the movement and how to best show up in relationship.
JW: And I think that's so important, because I think a lot of times when people are threatened by these sort of intersectional discourses, or that not being in the center of them, that they feel that they will be left behind.
JW: And what I explain as my own realization about the experiences of trans people, that when the most marginalized trans woman of color is free, I'll be free, because if we had the systems and institutions and culture set up that would support that person who is experiencing, in this culture, so many attacks to their personhood, then they will be liberated and they will be covered, and I will be liberated and I will be covered.
So, for example, when I received a hate mail from someone who wanted to be taken off of our subscription list recently because of some appeals we did about supporting immigrant writers and why immigration is a feminist issue, who said, "This has nothing to do with feminism! You are being stupid." And I thought, "Wow, this is really problematic. You are being racist." But one of the things I really thought about and pondered was, "Wow, this person doesn't really realize that when undocumented immigrants in this country have access to all of the social systems, all of the cultural support, and all of the privilege and power that she enjoys, then she will be more free, because when those systems are set up, that means that everybody's covered."
So it was just really interesting for me to think about that in terms of the scarcity mentality, that if we think about resources as being finite, if we think about "domination over" versus "power to collaborate", or to build with other people, we really are creating a more toxic and harmful world for other people, but we're also hurting and damaging ourselves. And so I think about that, and I say when Syrian refugees in this country are free, I'm closer to freedom.
KK: That's right.
JW: And when people who are disabled in this country are closer to freedom, I'm closer to freedom. And it's something that's harder for people to understand sometimes, because they see their own struggles, and they don't understand the interconnectivity. And one example I just wanted to share, because we talked about the trashy TV, is Kody Brown, who's the patriarch on the Sister Wives television show. He was really not happy with the fact that some of his wives went with his newly out queer daughter to the Women's March, and he said, "People are going to think it's political, why are you going? Women have their rights, Blacks have their rights," is what he said. He said all these things, "But we don't have our rights. Why aren't our kids fighting for polygamists to have our rights? Everyone else has their rights, and we don't. And we don't have the right to build our own families." And I just kept thinking, "Wow, I really wish I could teach you about a one-on-one on building coalition, my brother."
KK: Yeah. (laughs)
JW: Because I sympathize with your issue! As long as consenting adults want to form a family together and live in a poly situation, I'm down for it. I would come and march in your march. I think you're patriarchal for other reasons, but if these women consent to wanting to be married with you, and they also want to share the caretaking labor, all power to you. But the fact that you are very erroneously, one, claiming that women have all of our rights when we're not even constitutionally protected because there's no ERA, or that brown people in this country don't experience discrimination anymore just because there are some rights on the books but not others, you're really only seeking your own liberty from a very individualist standpoint, which makes me less inclined to want to build with you, because you're not really trying to create a situation or scenario where all of us are free. You just want your freedoms. And I think that that's really a part of the problem, that it hurt me to see that the women around him, at least in the edit that I saw of the show, didn't challenge him on that.
JW: Because I think that there could be some real learning, that he seemed in despair when some of his children didn't want to march. And I know and understand that despair. wish he would just have that same sort of empathy for us.
KK: Yeah. So these values, and it's almost like worldview, of interdependence and intersectionality, are really central to the Women's March, which ... When I think about what's happening in our country, people really fighting for their rights and no one else's, and then there are people who are fighting for all of our rights, the Women's March has really been a beacon of articulating that vision.
So you just wrote a big portion of Together We Rise, the story of the Women's March, and the first passage that you wrote reads, "The story of the Women's March is a story of legacy and learning. One reason to bear witness to preserve its history, as I have in my interviews with 30 people central to its creation and through the voices of others who attended and observed all over the world, is that lessons in this document can help us continue to show up to work for a better future." And so, what is that legacy and learning that you discovered in that process?
JW: Wow, there were so many gems that came out of that process for me as an organizer, as a feminist, as a writer. I had worked on the 2004 March for Women's Lives, and at that point, it had been the largest mobilization on Washington for women and reproductive justice, et cetera-
KK: So you had history even before this.
JW: I had history before it, and they completely just changed what my vision of what possibility and vision was, and we had had over a year to plan, and they had 10 weeks-
KK: 2 months.
JW: 9 weeks. And it just blew my mind. So they really expanded my scope and vision of what feminism looks like, what movement building looks like, what coalition looks like, what it means to have faith. I think about the Martin Luther King quote about taking that step when you can't see the staircase. They had to do that. In the beginning, people were saying-
KK: There was no staircase.
JW: There was no staircase! Where is your money, where's your structure, where are your backers? There were just problems, problems, problems. And they said, "We see this. This has to happen, damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead." And there were just so many things I learned, that Bob Bland could bring a life into this world during the planning process and be in active labor having a meeting with Tamika Mallory before-
KK: That's feminism, by the way.
JW: This is feminism for you! And be able to make this happen, and then go right back to it. And this is what women can do when they work together. I learned that people who had not been on the same page about the election, some of them Bernie supporters, some of them Hillary supporters, could come together and create this march and put those issues aside.
KK: And people like to talk about all of the drama and the controversy over the coming together of the Women's March, but we never really talk about the resilience that you're naming, that we can have conflict and we can disagree and there can be messiness, because of course, something is being birthed. It's always messy. And yet.
JW: And there was beauty.
JW: It was messy, but beauty too, because of the love that they have for each other. They were really a family, and even where I saw spaces that could've been like, "Oh, sibling rivalry," or different things of humans being human, dissonance ... But there's still this respect that people had, who you knew, okay, maybe these people aren't all best friends now, but they are bonded, and they see a vision and they're working together toward it. And some of them are best friends now, and some of them are family now. That one experience led to the broader movement being built, and I think that's really beautiful.
There were so many things I learned, and I think from a feminist perspective, as someone who had been in this space for a long time, seeing people who hadn't necessarily had feminism at the talk of their talking points all the time being the leaders of this was something that I embraced, because that is one of the reasons why we're able to get so many diverse people to show up, and it was very intersectional. And also, there was a lack of jadedness that was there about certain things, that I think if it had been me, that I'd think, "Oh, well, this is what people are going to say if we put this in the mission statement, and this is who we're going to have to talk to about this to get that." But I felt like having people come forth with a different sort of perspective was fresh and was a great jolt of energy to the movement. And although imperfect like any movement, really valuable and important. And so it was a deep honor to witness that and experience that, and they've made me think about my feminism differently, which has been cool, a cool side effect.
KK: We're often exploring in this podcast what it looks like to show up for one another, and I feel like they've been asking that question for the last 14 months. And that's, I think, not just the "what do we do", but it's like the deep democracy work. How do we show up for each other, why do we show up for each other? When people ask you, and I'm sure you get this question all the time, "What can I do?" What is the first thing that you tell people? Is there a go-to in your theory of change that you really encourage for people?
JW: I think it's really interesting, because I feel that we're in a moment right now where showing up counts. And it always has mattered, but I think it's something that we can do, and we can do it in so many different ways. So showing up means showing up at the rally. We need bodies, we need numbers.
KK: That's right.
JW: We need people.
KK: We need feet on the street.
JW: We need feet on the street, boots on the ground. We need people who are showing, I am here. We need to be able to say in the picture that we had more people than were standing at that inauguration, because other people might say it's fake news. We, more than ever now, in this so-called post-truth world, need to show up. We need to show up for each other and check on each other and create a culture of care in our movements and to say, "How are you doing? I saw that you seemed to be having a tough week," or, "I saw you posted something about a loss on Facebook, and what can I do to help? How can I help care for you?" I think we need to show up and put our money where our talk is.
JW: If we have those resources and we can invest in movements and show up as donors, even if you only have $5 to give that you can spare to your favorite non-profit or to your favorite legal defense fund, for people who are able to show up on the streets, that is exponentially important. And I think about research that I've done around earlier movements, like the anti-lynching movements, and they were doing that. People were showing up by creating plays, showing up by selling buttons, showing up by creating movies and getting them broadcast as public service announcements then. And we have even more technology now that we can do the same thing, and to go to marches, and to create culture. If you're an artist, use your art as your megaphone.
KK: And your books.
JW: Yes, and your books. One of the things I love about being at Feminist Press is that books have the power to create revolutions, and-
KK: Especially your books.
KK: For the record.
JW: Thank you. Thank you. Every day I come in, I feel hugged by the books. The shelves around us, and going into our book room. If I'm having a day that's hard, I'll just think, "Oh, these books exist, and there's a reason people tried to bar my ancestors from reading books, because they knew that books are powerful." There's a reason why the fascist governments in Europe were burning books in World War II. That books are that powerful. There's a reason why there were people trying to burn copies of Teen Vogue because they didn't want teens to get access to comprehensive sexual education, just a couple of months ago.
KK: Deeply political acts.
JW: Yes. Very deeply, and so I think we show up with our strengths. I always say to people, you have something that you were given in this world, a gift. Be it a talent, access to resources, powerful voice, what can you do to use that gift or series of gifts to make change? And so for me, it's power of communication. I can write, I can speak, and I can sometimes move hearts and minds. So that's what I do.
KK: I debate that.
JW: And sometimes I will passionately try, and I will fail, but I still really mean it earnestly. And I think that comes from having a very deeply religious family and missionary, evangelical tradition. I tell people all the time that that is one of the reasons that I am a feminist, that that tradition taught me how to be okay with spreading the good word and having people shut the door in my face and moving on to the next.
JW: That I really believe in redemption, and that people's hearts and minds can change. And so that is an asset for me, as someone who's an activist publisher and as a writer, because I think, "Oh, I actually believe that people can change." I think that if I didn't believe that this work had the ability to shift perspectives, then I'd be wasting my time.
KK: Why would we do it? Yeah.
JW: Yeah, exactly.
KK: I feel like what you're naming that feels interesting to me is that a lot of these things, they're not just authentic, they're easily accessible. What you're describing are things people can do every day that don't take a lot of time, and sometimes I think the reasons people don't show up is because they think it's too hard, or it's going to be too big a lift. But you're like, "No, showing up is every day, it's authentic, it's what we do best." It's our lifestyle, it's how we engage.
JW: Yes, and when you know you showed up ... I put that in the book too, in Together We Rise, that I want to tell my future children that I was there. I want to say I was not complicit. And I put that there because I was thinking about Bob and her child Chloe, who was the March baby, and how Bob will be able to say, "Mommy loved you this much that she did this for you to have a better world."
KK: That's amazing.
JW: Because I had that. My parents were civil rights activists, and my mom was jailed over 20 times, and just for fighting for the right to be free, just for wanting to eat at the same lunch counters as everyone else, and to not have to attend segregated school like she did. And they fought for that, and I've grown up my whole life knowing, "Wow, Mommy loved me so much that she sacrificed to create this new vision for the future for me, even when other people were maligning her. Even when people made it hard for her to do this, or there was backlash."
And I think about that a lot in terms of the showing up piece and why I do it, and when we get yelled at or when we get hate mail, or when all the things happen that can happen, still thinking, "That's not as important as legacy. That's not as important as what we will leave behind for the next generation," and that always inspires me to show up even when it's cold out and I really don't want to go to the rally, or it's snowing, or ... In the Together We Rise book, we talked about people freaking out over the permit.
KK: That's right, I remember that story.
JW: And it was so interesting, because Linda Sarsour has this great part in the book where she said, "Did anyone ask Martin Luther King where his permit was?"
KK: Doubt it.
JW: Doubt it, exactly. And what is it about women congregating in a place where people have to make it a public safety issue to silence our voices? So I think that the showing up part is really important, and showing up for ourselves. Every time I go to these things, I also think, "I'm showing up for me."
JW: I am showing up to say I have righteous indignation and deserve to heard, and I also believe in voting as an example of that showing up. I'm showing up for the people who can't vote, the people who don't have access to vote because they're undocumented or because of their legal status-
KK: Or because they're too young.
JW: Because they're too young.
KK: The future.
JW: Oh my gosh, if only all the kids who are doing the walkouts right now could vote.
KK: We're working on it.
JW: Exactly, yes. I trust them to legislate more than some of the people who are in elected office right now.
KK: That's right.
JW: So I think that showing up is really important, and to show up for ourselves, and that's something we can do in this life.
KK: And what about the Solange syllabus?
KK: When do we pull out the Solange syllabus?
JW: Oh, well, I think there's a Solange syllabus moment for everything, as I love her.
KK: I know.
JW: But yeah, I think what I love about Solange is that when I did interview her for Bust Magazine, she said that she was not someone who had been able, because of the trajectory of her career, to go to college and learn about theory and some of these things in the way that some of us had. So she said that she looked to people like myself and Salamishah Tillet and Brittney Cooper and people like that to hear from us online, what we're writing about as online Black feminists, to inform her theory. And so we did the going to grad school and all these other things to then popularize these kinds of ideas so that other people who might not have been able to do that but were taking up the space in a different, equally important and valid way, different forms of knowledge and creativity, to share it in her way.
And so I love that, because also what she was also saying is that we have some ownership in the Solange syllabus, which I thought was so beautiful and interdependent and collectivist, and the beautiful visionary-ness of Black feminist pragmatism, that she's also giving us a piece of the connectivity and saying, "Yes, you influenced me." And so that, to me, was really beautiful, and what the syllabus is about, and the fact that she was crowdsourcing it.
KK: So cool.
JW: All of it.
KK: And I love that ... How did that feel, that she was looking to you, were you like, "Oh my God"?
JW: Oh, so, I was waiting for the pub date of it, thinking, "Oh, I'm not going to be able to say anything about this for a while." And then Solange dropped it on Twitter, and next thing I know, I'm getting texts from my high school play mates ... Oh, sorry, my preschool play group mates-
KK: So cool.
JW: ... who I knew when I was 3 years old, saying, "Girl, did you know Solange just tweeted about you?"
JW: And thinking, "What?" So she dropped it, she scooped it, and I thought, "Oh my gosh, I can't, I die." But meeting her, it was very similar to the conversation we're having right now, two hearts that just really connected. We were both tearing up, we had so much synergy and just a vision for a better future for our people and our community, for each other. And what she really showed me was, wow, a person can ascend to some pretty powerful places in this world, and the way that they use and distribute that power and access is really the lesson and grace in spirit and in power. And I really got that from her, that she ... She even said, I remember when we sat down and I said, "Oh, I love this restaurant, where are we at?" And she said, "Oh, they have a lot of really wonderful people from Mexico who work her, and I really like that they have people of color laborers who are doing this work who are treated really well at this establishment." And the fact that she was having that level of analysis in terms of who she was thinking about supporting, in terms of being at their business and knowing that that was going to elevate the profile of it-
KK: You were like, "I love you."
JW: ... was just amazing. I love her, that she is walking her full talk, and I have the utmost respect for Solange Knowles.
KK: And then another person that you interviewed for Bust was Auntie Maxine.
JW: Oh my goodness, I love Auntie Max. Yes.
KK: And she said in your interview with her, "First of all, women should try very hard to get in touch with themselves. Who am I, what do I really like, what would I like to do, who are the people I respect and look up to, and what qualities do they have that I can internalize? Build confidence, get in touch with yourself, get grounded, examine yourself, and be who you want to be." What does that look like for you?
JW: Oh my goodness. So I died during this interview in every good way, because Auntie Max is amazing. I felt like if she had the time, which I know she's reclaiming, I would've been like, "Be my life coach! I will pay whatever it takes!" Because this woman knows what she wants, how to get it, and has an unparalleled confidence to very few people that I've seen in the world. She is brilliant and dropped so many gems.
And so when she said that to me, I thought, "Wow, I really aspire to keep living my life in a way where I can be more fearless about leaning into my purpose, trusting my instincts, and understanding that I'm powerful." Understanding my power, and knowing how to channel it. I think my biggest weakness is, one, acknowledging the power, and then figuring out how to channel it as if ...
KK: I relate.
JW: And Meggan Watterson talks about that a little bit, about the Hogwarts, where's the Hogwarts for a spiritual warrior woman? And I think about, yeah, sometimes my Quidditch stick, I discharge it the wrong way and then all hell breaks loose.
JW: But I know, I have a barrier to understanding and knowing my own power, and my partner is a really amazing person. He always says that sometimes, he'll say, "You do not understand your power, woman."
JW: He's like, "It scares me sometimes, but you just need to understand your power." And sometimes I make very awkward mistakes because of it, and so right now, what I'm trying to do-
KK: Because you're navigating it.
JW: I'm navigating it, or I repress it, because I'm taught I'm supposed to shrink. I'm taught I'm supposed to shrink, or people have reactions to me being a woman who holds and knows her power, and then I then repress it, and then I can not be a great person to be around. I was really aggressive with one of his friends recently who has a different political belief than I do, and I still hold fast to the things that I said, but the way that I said them was completely unacceptable, and I was aggressive, domineering, and made this person cry, who's a grown man, who's definitely, I think, maybe almost a couple feet taller than I am. And he was really hurt, and he said, "That was one of the most hurtful things anyone's ever said to me."
And I thought, "Wow, okay, that was me not knowing my power," because I was so overcome with righteous indignation that I just was like, "Oh, hell no," when he started talking. And a year of me not really speaking truth to him about how I was experiencing the things he was saying and the energy and everything, me repressing that, led me to-
JW: ... practically levitate, as one of my friends said, who was in the room. She's like, "I actually feared for what was going to go down." So I made him leave the house, 'cause I was just like, oh, I cannot. And so for me, it really helped me realize, okay, yes, understand your power, because that was not my best self.
KK: Yeah. Well, I think about ... I relate, by the way. I have never been called domineering-
JW: Only the best of us.
KK: ... or bossy or ... No, I relate, and I think about what we need to do to take care of ourselves, to take care of our truth, we ... As people like us, maybe, or we as women, right? What is the way in which we need to cultivate and channel that power as we start to rise up together? And I'm just curious as to what do you do to take care of yourself, and what are you doing to build community around that?
JW: Thank you so much for asking. So I actually got back into therapy, which I hadn't done for years, even though I'd been going through a lot of things. Just, people in my family having gotten sick and other things, just a lot of transitions. I hadn't done it, and I thought, "Wow, you need to invest in therapy, because if you had been able to manage your experience of this person and the things that they were saying, you wouldn't have expended powerful energy that you could've put in the service of your vision in the world." And that was really an important thing for me, and then I did a breathwork session with a friend, Kathleen Booker, the Jedi of Calm, who did breath work with me and really, during the breathwork ... 'Cause she does a lot of work, and I know in this space, I can talk about it ... She does a lot of work of connecting with your ancestors and the people who are present when you're doing these meditations, and she said, "Oh, you're someone every time who has a lot of folks in the room. You have a lot of ancestors who come with you. And they all are saying it does not have to be that hard."
JW: And it was really, it just overcame me because that's something I just have felt, that I have been conditioned to believe, oh, it has to be hard, so I've always gotta come 150%. You need to know my force. Crystal sword is always the way that I say, like I'm charging with my crystal sword.
And sometimes, I don't need that. I think sometimes, I remember an ex of mine, when we broke up and finally got to talk, 'cause of course, knowing now my personality profile, in the moment, I was like, "Oh, I cannot believe you. Out of my house!" And when this happened, we talked later and he was talking about the power, and I think I said some things that were just about ... To let him know that you will not overcome me, you will not defy me kind of thing. And he said, "Oh, I don't think you understand the power that you can hold and the power you can hold over other people." He said, "You really needed to make clear to me that I was not going to penetrate your being, and I knew that within five minutes of knowing you."
JW: But there was something deep inside, my inner 8th grader, whatever insecurities and the systemic inequalities and all those things that felt like I needed him to know, 'cause I think his thing was ... He said, "Oh, you didn't cry. And this was really hard, and the fact that you didn't cry ..." And I said, "Yeah, I worked with every fiber of my being to let you know that I was irrepressibly impenetrable." But of course I went home and fell apart, and so I think that that is the thing that I'm really exploring right now, around how we can hold all of those facets of ourselves and be proud of them. What is it about me having fears about the vulnerability, and what might happen if people were to see me fall apart, versus me being like, "Oh, you harmed me? Here's my crystal sword."
KK: Well, this is what I love that's rising up around Sisterhood.
KK: That we come together and we can be that. We can reveal those parts of ourselves together in ritual, in practice, in storytelling, in hysterical laughter, in drinking wine and whatever, eat gluten free pizza.
KK: But that there is something, I feel like, that I get to turn to in Sisterhood and in small circles of women who are just coming together and putting it all on the table for one another so that we don't have to do this alone. It's sort of like the real time analogy of your trashy TV.
JW: Yes! I love that, I love it.
KK: We're coming full circle in the conversation, but we're not alone, and when we come together and we can feel belonging in this really human ... In between trying to figure out how to be our full selves way of being in the world, then maybe we can get all the way together.
JW: I totally agree. that's where I get so much of my energy, and I have groups of women who I've grown up with at different times in my life who I just text with sometimes. We're just rapidly texting all the time about our experiences. And some people, it's dating. Some of us, it's family things. Some of us, it's work things. And I can constantly tap into that energy no matter where I am, and I realized, "Oh, I need to know I'm not alone and that they're going through these same things, or they went through them and so now they're helping me, nurture me." Or helping me think about, "Oh, if this happened to her," the experience I'm having now, "what would I tell her?"
And I think that those relationships are really important, and that's why I am really grateful that my mom had always imparted upon me to remember that as I started dating or having relationships, that my relationships with other women were things that I needed to really cultivate even more, because those would be the people who would be with you throughout your life as your sisters, especially since I don't have any biological siblings.
KK: For the long haul.
JW: Yes, exactly. Through Golden Girls, another show that I love!
KK: Oh my God, I hope that we're going to be Golden Girls together, way down the line.
JW: I love it.
KK: And we're going to, like, "Remember that podcast we did?"
JW: Oh, well, we're going to have our own feminist retirement home. That's something I would love to get funded. I've always been like, "When are you going to have a feminist retirement home? You could teach the yoga." (laughs)
KK: I love it. You can do a journaling class.
JW: I would love it! Yes.
KK: (laughs) Well, I have had such a blast talking to you, and like I said, every time we get to hang out, it's like we're having this conversation. It's just so real and grounded and gritty and necessary, and I'm just so grateful that not just we have you in the movement, but that I get to have you in my life.
JW: Oh, right back at you, love. Thank you so much for having me, and I'm just thrilled about the work you're doing. And you have helped me feel like I can tap back into yoga and movement, because embodiment is something that is a struggle for me sometimes, and I started leaving some of the classes feeling like I couldn't connect, for all the reasons I know that you work to dismantle. But you're one of the people who's inspired me to start going back to yoga and being in my body, and I'm really grateful for that too.
KK: We need each other.
JW: We do.