In this episode of MarieTV, we do have some adult language. So if you do have little ones around, grab your headphones now.
Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. Now if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to navigate topics like race and identity and activism online, my guest today has some valuable lessons to share.
Franchesca Ramsey is a social justice advocate, comedian, actress, writer, video blogger and sought after speaker with over 38 million views on YouTube, and over a half million followers across social media. Her work has been featured on MTV, the New York Times, and the BBC. A former writer and correspondent for the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Francesca’s the host of the award-winning MTV web series Decoded, and co-host of the podcast Last Name Basis. Her docuseries Franchesca recently premiered at Sundance, and her first book, Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist, is available now.
Franchesca, thank you so much for coming back.
Oh, thank you for having me. I’m so excited.
Okay, people, this, I don’t know if you can check this out. I’m going to try and hold it up so you can see all of these cute little tabs. This is only like a tiny fraction of what I’ve underlined or marked. This is the galley copy. Now we have the real copy, Franchesca’s book. Congratulations.
Thank you so much.
I know, I texted you, and I was like, “Girl.” It’s so good. I was reading it on the plane. I was laughing out loud. The guy sitting next to me was like, “What’s happened?” It was like bursts of out loud laughter.
That makes me so happy, because when you’re working on a book, as you know, you get into this … You’re so close to the work, where you start wondering, “Does this make sense? Is this funny? I don’t even know.” Then by the end, you’re like, “I hate this.”
Yes, but I want to tell you, it’s so real, and it’s so raw, and it’s so hilarious and honest, and it’s so, like, you.
It’s just … It’s brilliant. I hope everyone gets not only one copy, but multiple copies for their friends, for many, many reasons, which we’re going to talk about, starting right now. I want to start off with a line that I highlighted and tabbed, one of many. You wrote, “As the conversation about social justice broadens, I wish we could be more understanding of those coming to it later than others. It can be really scary to admit that there are a lot of things you don’t know. We live in a world where people are quick to pounce on you if you express confusion or ask a question.”
This, my friend, is why I love you. I love your work, because I feel like you have this incredible gift to open up conversations and to do so in the context of humor and pop culture, and we can laugh and it helps people drop their fear and their defensiveness and really be open to learn. So tell me about why this book, and why now?
I mean, for me, I feel so very fortunate that I’ve been able to build this awesome career talking about important issues, using all of my talents, but often times, I feel a little embarrassed or self-conscious when people measure themselves to me. And they say, “Wow, you’re so smart. I wish I knew all of the things that you know,” and I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness. They have no clue that I’m still going through this journey, and that there are things that they didn’t know and mistakes that I have made.” And I found that when people have been honest with their growth and their journey with me, it’s really inspired me, so I just wanted to do the same, especially, because, unfortunately, lots of people don’t do that work. It feels so rare for people to say, “You know what? I used this language at one time. I’m ashamed of it, but I don’t use it any more.” This is how we can move forward, so I wanted to just try and lead by example.
I also loved, because you wrote you wanted to pay it forward, too, and to show how inevitable mistakes are for all of us.
I mean, reading this book, and we’ll go through some of it later, but I was just like, “Oh.” I was feeling hit in the gut by how many things I’ve said, how many things I’ve done. We had given a talked … When we were talking on the phone, remembering pop culture things from when we were kids-
Are you kidding me?
… and songs that-
I don’t … There’s some shows that you see them as reruns, and I think, “Oh my gosh.” I remember watching Martin. I love Martin, but the Sheneneh character, when you see it back, I’m thinking, “This is so misogynous. This is so homophobic.” There’s just so many themes in there I remember as a kid loving and enjoying, and as an adult, I’m looking at them with completely different eyes.
And I don’t think that that’s bad thing. I think that’s something that we all have to be willing to do, but again, I think, because so often, people are not transparent about the fact that they have done that work, and they have changed and grown, people feel really attacked, which is a word that I don’t necessarily love, but I can understand that when someone says, “This thing that you love is problematic. This word that you said hurt my feelings,” people melt down. I think more people would be open to changing and learning if more people said, “Hey. This is a mistake that I’ve made as well.” So it’s really the crux of this book.
Yeah, and it’s brilliant. So when we had our first interview, which was amazing, we talked about your viral video Shit White Girls Say, but we didn’t really get into what happened after you appeared on Anderson Cooper and things blew up in every sense of that word for you.
You wrote, “I was being ripped to shreds because I didn’t know how to respond to being ripped to shreds,” meaning the avalanche of hate that was coming at you from almost every direction. Tell us about what happened in that experience.
Yeah. I went on Anderson, and in retrospect, I don’t think I did a bad job on the show. I had no agent, I had no manager, no publicist. I mean, I really went in there completely without any help, with no safety net, you know. And so, I think we did a pre-interview and I felt confident in my answers, but when the interview came out, there were lots of people that really felt that I did not talk about white privilege. I did not actually explain, you know, systemic oppression and discrimination in ways that they felt really did the conversation justice.
But I genuinely didn’t know how to do that. I made this video about my experience coming from South Florida and being in spaces where I was often the only black person at school and at work, and so it very authentic to me. I don’t discount the realness of that video or how it touched people, but I didn’t have the language or the knowledge to talk about what I had actually captured.
There were a lot of black people that were like, “Oh, she got it wrong and her boyfriend is white and she said this wrong.” I was just sitting at my computer having a meltdown, because on the other side, I had people saying, “Oh, you’re a racist for making this video.” I didn’t know how to talk to them or to talk to this audience that I had cultivated with this video, who now felt disappointed, because they felt as if it was a sham, like a freak accident that I had made this viral video.
I feel very fortunate that there were people that reached out to me, and they were like, “Hey girl. You need to actually understand why people are upset, and you need to also understand that getting defensive with people who care about you and they feel like this work really spoke to them and now they’re disappointed, that you don’t know certain things, getting defensive or being sarcastic or talking down to them is not helping.” For me, my humor has always been my coping mechanism. When people would call me out, I was just like, “Oh, sorry that you don’t have a viral video.” That’s not really a way to respond to criticism, but that’s what I would do. And so I felt … I was just thankful that someone said that “the way that you’re going about this is just not the right way to do it.”
I don’t know why I was so open to saying, “Okay, all right, sure, I’m going to do this.” A woman reached out to me, and she wrote me this long email. She gave me a reading list, and she was like, “read these books.” Something she said that really stuck out to me, she said, “You have a talent for this and a lot of people are going to listen to you, and so you need to get this right.” I was just like, “Oh, okay. Alright. I want to do this.”
So I found out that that was my talent, was taking these important conversations and finding ways to talk about them in digestible, funny ways, but in order to do that, I had to piss some people off first, and realize that I wasn’t doing it in a thoughtful way, that I didn’t really have all that information.
One thing I want to highlight just how incredible your book is, is the fact that you don’t just talk about this experience. Like I was reading you actually have the text of what folks said to you. Again, I’m one of those-
Yeah, they were ripping me.
I mean, I almost got sick to my stomach for you. I’m a very empathetic so I feel all the things-
I’m the same way.
I was reading and I just felt my … I was like, “Oh my gosh.” It’s just so instructive. I feel like you’ve done this throughout the entire book. I know, and you know this, we have so many folks in our audience who are creatives, aspiring creatives, established creatives, who are feeling more and more fearful about doing something wrong. Or even if it’s not in the area of race or identity, even just putting out their creations and having folks not like it. One of the things I think is so brilliant is you’re like, “Nope. Here’s what somebody said to me. Here’s exactly how they tore me to shreds.”
I just want to make sure that people know that I’m not speaking from this place of inexperience. Don’t google me, but if you really want to, go for it, because I have been called everything except the child of God on the internet. There are days where it would really hit me, right? I think often times when it really hurts is when you realize there’s a grain of truth in there, and you say, “Oh wait a second. I didn’t think about that thing,” or, “I didn’t understand that thing that I talked about or that thing that I created.”
And so for me, I try to encourage people to say, remember that sometimes it is going to sting and it’s not always going to be in the package that we would most appreciate, but sometimes, there’s something in there that’s truthful and it’s okay to take a step back and reframe and say like, “Okay, why is this making me so uncomfortable?” Is there something in here that is telling me you need to … Similarly to that video that you made about jealousy. When you feel that twinge, maybe there’s something in there that’s telling you, “Okay, you need to change directions. You need to look at this from a different perspective,” or, “This is something you need to dive into.” I feel very similarly about when you get called out. And so for me, I did need that experience.
Let’s talk about when you went to the other side. You, as the hater, quote-unquote, you wrote, “If you participate in the shit-slinging contest, competing to come up with the most creative insult, you end up covered in shit.” Tell us about … Do you feel like you kind of going after people, for lack of a better word, is part of your humor, if we want to talk about the Lena Dunham example?
I think, so I think for me, I, like most people, had my own insecurities growing up, but through those insecurities, I found out that the way that I was able to mask them was with my humor. I would make jokes, unfortunately, not about me, about other people. That was how I made friends. That’s how I was able to disarm people that felt uncomfortable around me. But unfortunately, often times, those insecurities took the forefront, and so I was just like a bitch. I was just … Sometimes I’ve been able to make relationships with people that I went to high school with, that I maybe didn’t know very well. I feel like there comes a point where someone says, “I really hated you in high school.” I’m like, “I know. I’m so sorry. I was a terrible, insecure person, and I’m not that person anymore, thank goodness.”
And so when I decided that I wanted to go into entertainment, I feel like I had gotten better, but the internet kind of like brought that dark side out. I think it’s because, especially with social media, you can see what everybody else is doing. That can feel so overwhelming, if you’re not happy with where you’re at.
And I would just go into a K hole, and I’d be like, “What are they doing? Oh, look at her, she booked this job. Then they’re hanging out, of course they’re hanging out.” Just going around and making myself feel like crap, and realizing that it just wasn’t productive. I was at a party and I ran into this girl that I had a lot of negative feelings about, and she was so nice when I met her in person. She just gave me this really great advice about creating a contract with yourself for your work, and not measuring yourself against anyone else.
And that really reframed how I felt about my work. And then later on, I found that even when I was rightfully critiquing someone and saying “you said or did this problematic thing,” that sometimes that jealousy would seep in, and there would be things that had nothing to do with it.
I talk about Lena Dunham in the book as someone who rightfully gets called out all of the time. Do not get me wrong. She screws up a lot, but often times, and I was guilty of it, the criticisms turned into like, “And she dresses bad and her body is a mess,” and, “Who would even hook up with someone who even looks like that?” None of those things are relevant. We see that happen all the time, whether people criticize Donald Trump, and they say, “Oh, he has a small dick.” Like who cares? Our world could potentially end. I don’t give a f about his d. You know what I mean?
But it inevitably seeps in, and unfortunately what happens is the person that’s on the receiving end of that message, even though there’s a lot of great stuff in there, the nasty stuff ruins it. I liken it to making a cake. You make up this great cake, and then you’re like, “I’m just going to just throw some vinegar in there.” You just ruined the whole cake. All the good ingredients are there, but all I’m going to taste is that vinegar when I take a bite of that cake.
I had to acknowledge that I was going about things in a way that was not productive. I hope that when people read this, they can say, “Oh crap. I have so done that, too.”
Absolutely. That’s why I felt like, even with the Lena Dunham story, where, just to summarize, you were making some videos about the show Girls, and then unbeknownst to you, you wounded up at dinner with her –
… sitting next to Lena.
But then also letting her know.
Oh yeah. I mean, that’s another thing. I think, or I know, that people say things online that they would never say in person. Here I was, I had an opportunity where I said, “Well, I have a chance to say some of the things I’ve said online about you in person. But I also have to acknowledge that I’ve said some stuff about you online that I don’t really feel very good about.” Unfortunately, not everybody has the opportunity to sit face to face with somebody that they have trashed or said nasty things about. But I think we have to try and put ourselves in that person’s shoes and say that does not excuse the ignorant or hurtful things that you’ve said or done, but we should not lower our own moral standards in order to call someone out.
And I think – if you think about it in the context of, not just that person, but who else is listening? If I’m saying nasty things about your appearance, who else in our circle is hearing those things and maybe feeling self-conscious about their own appearance, right?
They didn’t do anything wrong, but we don’t live in a vacuum, so when I say these things, you are not the only person that is being affected by them. And our words have a lot of power, and I think, I often times forget that. Especially when you’re on social media, it’s like you have this giant megaphone, and everybody is piling on this one person. They don’t realize how many other people are hearing that conversation and saying, “Well I’m never going to talk about that, ever, because everyone’s going to call me ugly,” or they’re going to say, “My husband looks like this,” or, “I shouldn’t wear these kinds of clothes,” or, “I don’t have this kind of job,” or whatever it is.
None of those things, in my experience, have anything to do with someone’s moral fiber, their character. That’s all extraneous stuff that often times, we don’t actually have control over. And so why beat someone up for those things?
Let’s talk about call-outs versus call-ins, which I know is becoming, quickly, some folks’ favorite chapter. I thought it was such a genius distinction, and it’s fascinating. Can you share with us what both of those terms mean?
I think a lot of people, if they have not actually heard the term “call-out,” they’ve just seen it happen, where a celebrity says something awful, whether intentionally or unintentionally, racist or sexist or homophobic, online or in an interview or, you know, in a movie for example. And they are rightfully criticized for it. And so we see think pieces, we see long Twitter threads, which I am so guilty, I love a Twitter thread, where people are saying, like, “You did this thing, this is terrible, we all need to talk about why this is bad.” But it happens in a public way, so it is a conversation that lots of people are participating in.
And again, often times, that is necessary, right? Like I don’t have a personal relationship with Kanye West, for example, right? The criticisms that are happening around the things that he is saying are happening in a public forum. I mean, John Legend texted him and then it became like a big thing, where Kanye was tweeting out the text, right?
So when you need to actually call someone in is when you have a personal relationship with them. You might text them, or you might take them out to coffee, or pick up the phone. Or even if it happens on a social platform but in a private place, like a Facebook message or a DM, in my experience, doesn’t always work, but I find that it makes that conversation a little bit easier if everybody isn’t watching, if everybody is not participating in it, right?
And I’ve had times where I’ve had family members put their foot in their mouth on my Facebook page, and then suddenly, somebody I went to college with is like, “Oh, I have time today.” I’m like, my dad doesn’t know who you are, and now they’re like in my Facebook comments arguing with my family member, and then suddenly else jumps in, and suddenly, just … I liken it to a like WWE match. Like I don’t even watch WWE, like but it’s a performance, right?
Everybody’s like … like jumping in. They’re like, “Tag me in,” and then they’re like jumping, someone’s in feathers, and this is like a whole thing. And the person who might’ve really screwed up
Is just confused. They don’t know who all of these people are. And so if you take them aside, and you say, “Look, here is why what you said was really not okay. Let’s talk about this.” Again, I have found – because people did that for me, right?
When I was being descended on because I screwed up on Anderson Cooper, I was lucky that somebody pulled me aside. A few people messaged me, and they were like, “Read this article,” like, “Read this book.” And so there’s something really enriching about being able to be that for somebody else.
Because the call-outs can be very positive, in a sense that, again, the message can reach lots of people. It can start a global conversation, but often times, the person at the very center of it, they just tune it out, especially when all that other nasty stuff starts coming in.
You have some great questions. I will share them, if that’s okay.
The six call-out rules. Number one, “what’s the issue?” Number two, “what’s at stake?”
Three, I love this one, “do I have all the details?”
That’s a big one. On the internet, you know, you can’t unring a bell. And I have seen, and I have been in the wrong on this one, where something happens and – you know, a great example, or a terrible example, was after the Boston bombing. There were people on Reddit who were trying to figure out who it was. They were going through all the photos and they found a photo of some guy. They decided that he was the guy. They got his Facebook and they put his name all over the internet, and he was not the guy, but you couldn’t unring the bell.
Now, suddenly, he had to close all the social media, he was getting death threats. I mean, the police said he had nothing to do with it, but again, E didn’t have all the facts, and then people felt like they were trying to do the right thing by sharing it. They were posting it, and they were like, “If you know this guy, do something.” So their hearts were in the right place, sure, but they didn’t have all the information. They were sharing something that was going viral at the time, and it can be very easy to get swept up in that.
And again, I say that as someone that has made that mistake.
The next question’s also a really important one. “Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?” Then I’ll share the last two and then we can discuss. “What are the best and worst case scenarios that could follow this call-out?” and “would it be better to call-in instead?” I think that last one speaks to something that all of us need to practice more, is that pause, that moment of introspection before we’re about to pound away. Like I’ve made a rule for myself, I can’t go on social media after I’ve had even like a sip of wine. It just all wrong.
My Instagram stories are Litty McLitterson, because sometimes, I mean, listen, I’d had one glass of rosé, and I’m about to tell it to you all. That’s a really good rule.
No, I discovered it back, I think it was like all the way back, which feels like eons ago in the internet age, in 2010 or 2011 when I came home from something, some kind of industry event and had two glasses of wine, which for me now, it’s like …
… I’m done, I’m ready for bed, I’m ready for some water. Someone said something, and I was just like, “Oh, Jersey?” I call her Jersey Marie. Jersey Marie is coming out. And that bitch is not kind and she’s sharp and she’s going to say all kinds of things, then.
And you can’t take it back.
Cannot take it back. In the morning, I remember looking. I was like, “That’s not me.” So that’s my new rule, but just getting back to this, “would it be better to call-in instead?” This idea of taking a moment and having a breath, anything.
That doesn’t … I think that’s so important, but that’s not our inclination online. Everything moves so fast. And something’s going viral, and everyone’s like, “I gotta say something about this right now.” Then you realize everybody’s saying the same thing or things that are just not contributing in any way. They’re just speaking to speak. And oftentimes when this massive call-out is happening, everything is like, “Let’s make jokes,” and, “Let’s make memes.” Sometimes they’re super funny. I enjoy a lot of them, but sometimes I think, “gosh, it’s going to really suck if we all descended on this person and they actually didn’t do anything wrong, or we got the wrong person, or we don’t have all the facts.”
Also, I think, thinking about “why are we doing this” is really important, because I have found, personally, that I would make a call-out and I would be sitting there thinking, “Wow, look how many retweets this got,” instead of, like, “Then that’s what I did this for, was for retweets?” I’m not even thinking about what the real issue is here, and I see that happening all of the time, where you see that people are chasing likes and retweets and they’re going on and on and on about this issue that happened.
And you realize you don’t actually care about the consequences of this person’s actions or their words. What you care about is making a joke that’s going to raise your profile and getting really great engagement on your Twitter. And I just, that really breaks my heart, often, because I don’t think a popular Twitter profile or yoknow a pop on Instagram – is not changing the world, it’s not making the world a better place. It’s gratifying you in that moment, but in the long run, I don’t necessarily know that it’s worth it to slander someone or just completely embarrass someone for the purpose of making you more popular, making you feel good.
Which brings me to another highlighted section of the, feels like thousands, of this book. You said, “I sometimes wonder how much further along in my career I’d be if I hadn’t dedicated so much time and energy to these people.” Now just talking about kind of getting into the muck. You shared, “This is also why I’ve pulled back from social media lately.” Not only has it made a huge difference for your productivity, but also allowed you to reframe your goals and priorities.
So tell me how things are different for you these days, in terms of dealing with folks you either consider haters or trolls or just navigating, because obviously, in this moment, it’s about book.
It’s book promo.
Yes, Booktown, you are the mayor right now, and we are helping, because everybody does need to read this, but generally speaking …
I mean, I think you really have to think about social media in terms of what your goals are. Everybody’s are different. Some people are on social media purely to connect with their friends and family. Some people are there to promote their business. Some people are wannabe writers or you’re a chef or you’re a fitness guru or whatever it is, right?
And so that should, I believe, shape how you engage and use social media. I found that my goals as being a writer, being an actress, being a performer, I was not staying true to that. When I went on my Twitter I was just arguing with people all day or I was going off about some issue. And I just … Even though I may have thought that I was rightfully upset or passionate about that thing, I didn’t necessarily like the way that I was presenting myself.
And so I had to step back and say, “What is it that I want to accomplish?” I was in the process of working on the book and my pilot, and I realized “this was zapping me of my creative energy and my time and so what I’m going to do is uplift the voices of other people that I feel need to be uplifted. I’m going to share content that I think is important to me, but I’m not always going to center my voice. I’m going to try and be more positive online. If a song really spoke to me, I might share that. I might talk about a television show that I enjoyed. I talk about my own work. I talk about someone else’s work that I enjoyed.”
And so I still use social media, I’m just not using it as a crutch to get my frustrations out about things are going on in the world, that again, I have every right to have those feelings about, but I don’t necessarily know that it’s productive for me to spend three and four hours on Twitter yelling about something, when instead I could put that time into creating content that might help inform people about that issue.
Yes. I love what you wrote here and I think this is so instructive for everyone, again, because we have so many creatives in our audience. One of the questions I get the most, “I can’t balance everything. How do I know where I should be putting my attention and energy in? Does it all need to be on Instagram or on whatever social platform?”
And I love that you wrote, “Maintaining a productive, rewarding relationship with fans doesn’t require a social media addiction. It means doing good work that people respond to.” I was like, “Yes, Franchesca, yes.” It was a little … Also, for me, it felt affirmative, because I am not hyperactive on social and I absolutely have had the guilt-fest about it. Like, “Oh, I’m terrible. I should be doing more.” Then I kind of slap myself in the face and go, “Uh uh girl, like you’re creating the work.”
Yeah, everybody’s relationship with social is going to be different. I feel like that’s with all platforms with all different types of people, you have to do what works for you. What works for your relationship doesn’t necessarily work for my relationship. The way that you spend your Friday night is going to be very different from the way that I spend my Friday night.
I feel the same way about social media. I’m very much of the mind of quality versus quantity. And, you know, I follow some people, or I have followed people in the past that were just creating, creating, creating, creating, creating, and I have found that it becomes harder for them to maintain a level of quality in their work, because they are just stressed out all the time. They are chasing those likes, they are chasing those views, rather than stepping back and really focusing on making something the best that it can be. And I try to think, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? I’m not going to post on Instagram today.” Nothing is going to happen if I don’t capture this moment for the internet and make sure that it’s perfectly lit and gorgeous for social media, right?
Yes. I like thing about … Just the other day, I actually looked up, and I was like, “When did the iPhone come out?” I’m like, “Oh, I think it was 2007.” I like pretending my world is 2006, leaving that damn thing wherever it needs to be, and I’m like “the hills are alive!”
I have always been addicted to my phone. I’ve always been a techie. I remember pre-iPhone, I went on eBay and I bought a phone from China that you could record your own ringtone, because this was a big deal. You couldn’t do that at the time. I remember waiting for weeks for it to come and any time my phone would ring and the silencer wouldn’t be one, everyone would be, “What’s that?” I’m like, “Oh, my cellphone.”
So I can’t really go back to the time before, but I do think, thinking about the fact that we weren’t trying to capture everything for everyone is very important, to try and get back to that. Living in the moment was one of my New Years’ resolutions, instead of trying to capture the moment for everybody else.
Yeah. Anytime I go to a concert right now, I’m telling you, I have to keep … I have an internal toggle, it’s called slap-a-bitch mode. It’s basically like … that’s like if I toggle over there, Jersey Marie is around and it’s not pretty. Whenever I go to concerts now, it takes …
… all the restraint. I’m like, “Put your damn phones down.” I went to see Dave Chappelle.
He took everybody’s phones.
Yes. I wanted to do cartwheels. I was like, “This is the best thing ever.” I talked to people. No one was holding their phone up, and we actually got to experience not only the magic of his genius, and the other performers, but actually the audience, and say hi to people around … It was awesome.
I agree. Again, I can see both sides of it, in a sense that the internet has connected so many of us.
Of course. Us.
Absolutely. I do think it has taken us out of so many moments. And there’s nothing worse than when you’re out with friends and you look around, and everybody’s on the phone or everybody’s taking pictures of what you’re eating instead of enjoying what you’re eating. So I’m trying to do less of that, for sure.
Awesome. Let’s talk about self care. I love that there’s a chapter about “self care is not selling out unless it is.” You shared, “It’s always strange to me when people start dictating what you must or must not do to be a good black person, a good feminist, or a good advocate. Do I have to keep tally of all my activist points to prove I’ve earned a moment of rest?” I got chills with this Audre Lorde quote. She wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
It’s so funny, because I feel like we are in a culture, not just as activists, where we prioritize working all the time. I feel that is a very American way of thinking, right?
You go to other countries, and they’re like, “Sorry, it’s 4:00. I’m done,” “Sorry, we’re on holiday.”
Our entire – the whole neighborhood is closed up because it’s holiday and we’re not here, whereas here, it’s just like work, work, work, work, work, all of the time, like, “I work 80 hours a week.” When I hear people brag about those things, I think that sounds like you don’t get to enjoy yourself, or take time for yourself. Especially as people who are trying to live socially-conscious lives, who are doing work that often deals with life and death, who are having difficult conversations with the people that we love, the people that we work with, just moving through the world as a marginalized person, we need time off, right?
That time off is going to be different for everyone. For me, it’s getting my nails done.
Which look gorgeous, by the way.
This is a lifestyle. This is something that for someone else, they might think, “Gosh, that seems like a lot, right?” But for me, I’m on Pinterest coming up with colors and ideas and designs, and I’m really excited to plan this thing, and then sit there and not do anything, and just relax and just enjoy, one, I’m not on my phone because I can’t be, talking to my nail technician and joking around with her and finding out what’s going on in her life. Just taking time for myself, whether it’s hanging out with my husband and our dogs or going and getting a foot rub or journaling. Another thing I’ve been trying to do more of is just say no sometimes.
Get on the no train.
You can’t say yes to everything. When we talked about this, having a day where you say, “This is the time that I don’t work. I’m done working at this time. I’m spending my weekend not working. I’m not on my phone in the evening. I’m just watching a movie and hanging out with my husband.”
I have found that, unfortunately, there are people that are co-opting the idea of self care, right now, because it is profitable. So you have people saying, “Self care is this candle. Buy this candle.” It doesn’t have to be something that you spend money on. It can be just taking five minutes in the morning and taking deep breaths before you go out into the world. So it is something that has really helped me, but I think it’s also something that we have to prioritize in good times, so that when things do get challenging, it’s easier to go back to that self-care practice, because we’ve made it a habit.
Absolutely. I think it’s a conversation we need to have more of, because there is, like with the #hustlingallday. And again, I’m a very hard worker. I know you are as well. As creatives, we do a lot, but it’s also really important to model. That’s why we close down our company for two weeks in the summer two weeks over the holidays, and we try and … We create bumpers in our lives, so that we do take that down time. It’s like whenever anyone on the team is going on vacation, we actually have a policy, no one else can email them.
I love that.
They come home, and they don’t have a gajillion emails, they can actually return and re-enter work from that place of feeling rejuvenated.
Let’s move on to some of the more tactical things. We’re getting toward the end of the book, which again, fucking love it. You wrote, “Sometimes it feels like no matter how hard I try, I can’t say anything without offending someone, and since I’m a person who loves to run her mouth,” hi, “that can be pretty difficult.”
So I love the sections of the book. You have Activist Lent. You also have Franchesca’s Simple Explanations of Not So Simple Concepts. You said one of the keys, if we are to step in it, which we all will …
… and put our foot in our mouth, we will do this multiple times over our lives and careers, you shared, “To avoid being defensive, to listen to what people are telling you, and work to do better.” That feels kind of like the basic recipe.
That’s, of course, easier said than done.
Than done, for sure.
It is everybody’s natural inclination to get defensive when somebody says that you’ve hurt them. One of the things that was really eye-opening for me was understanding the difference between intent and your impact. I think most of us don’t intend to say or do something that is harmful, but that doesn’t change the outcome of the words or the actions that we participated in.
And so I use the analogy of if I step on your toe and I break your toe, I didn’t mean to break your toe, but your toe is still broken. So if I focus on, “Well, I didn’t mean to, I didn’t mean to,” you’re like, “Take me to the hospital. Help me.” I’m like, “I didn’t meant to do this, though.” How am I actually working to fix the problem that I created, regardless of if I meant to or not. And I think we often have to step back and, say, “let my ego out of the way and actually listen to the person on the other end so I can understand the consequences of my behavior, rather than trying to convince them that I did not mean to do the thing that I inevitably did.”
Yes. Okay, we have some cringe-worthy comments that we need to say goodbye to, that you share in Chapter 12.
Let them go.
Okay. These are some things that … I haven’t, honestly, this is the honest truth, there’s been conversations online, I’d say over the past five years or so, where I’ve said something about was happening in our world, our culture. I’ve seen these come up and I wanted to put my head into my computer, but I couldn’t go there, because, like you said in the beginning, it was like I don’t have the language. I don’t understand this. I’m not …
I know this makes me feel uncomfortable.
What do I do?
I had no … I feel like in the past year or two years, my eyes have been so open. I’m just on the little tip of the iceberg of my learning journey, as it comes to a lot of these topics. When someone is describing their experience as a person of color, and someone else says, “Well, I don’t see color,” can you share a bit about why this comment must be laid to rest?
This is one of those things that people say with the best of intentions. I think in their minds it makes them feel as if, “Well, I am an elevated person that does not prescribe to the system of racism and race.” I think that that’s what they’re trying to say, like, “I am not a racist, because I see you as not black,” or, “I see you as not you know, east Asian, or whatever background you are.”
Essentially, what that is saying, is “I don’t see or understand the experiences that you have as a person of color.” Because I am black. My comeback is, “Even in black and white, I’m still black,” right? This is still who I am. I liken it to if you wear glasses, I wouldn’t say, “Well, I don’t see you with glasses.” You’re like, “Girl, I wear glasses and I need them to see.” It doesn’t make me who I am, but it’s part of my experience. It’s part of how I move through the world. You have glasses, I am a black person. It does not define me, but it shapes how I move through the world.
And I think it’s really important when somebody is talking about their experiences, whether it’s as a person of color, or as an LGBTQ person, or as a person with disabilities, to not invalidate their experiences by saying, “Well, I don’t see you that way. You’re just like me.” No, I’m not just like you. We are different, and that is totally okay. It’s okay to see me as different. The problem is to treat me differently because of those differences. So I think that’s a distinction that a lot of people don’t understand, because it feels … it’s been made to be taboo to talk about our differences, especially when it comes to differences of race and the experiences as a result.
Thank you for that. And I need to go here, because again, another one. Whenever Black Lives Matter comes up, and the response, “Well, all lives matter.” I need to say this, because this just speaks to your genius and your level of humor. Your comeback that you wrote in the book had me in tears. I do need to read it. “It’s okay for a movement to be focused on a specific group or cause. ‘Save the rainforest’ doesn’t mean ‘fuck all the other trees.’”
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s funny, because again, when we talk about race, this is one of those taboo topics that make a lot of people uncomfortable, but they are able to understand the difference when we have a walk for breast cancer. No one would think it would be appropriate to come up and say, “Well, colon cancer is also a thing.” It’s like, “yeah, I know, but this is an event for breast cancer, and it’s okay for us to talk about breast cancer now. It doesn’t mean that colon cancer is not a big deal, or that we shouldn’t think about, or address that problem.”
Black Lives Matter is the same. It is a movement that was created to address systemic inequalities in our justice system, and police violence that impacts black people. It is not saying that police violence is not a problem for any other community. Police officers, unfortunately, kill more disabled people than any group, right? That is an issue that also needs to be addressed, but this organization is focused on this specific issue, and as it relates to black people.
Yes, all lives should matter. Unfortunately, they do not. And that is why – or they are not treated as if they all matter, and that is why this organization was established. That is why it is doing work and calling attention to the inequalities that already exist.
The one that I took note of, when you said although you’ve used it yourself, this particular phrase now makes you cringe when you hear someone say, “Check your privilege,” excuse me, “Check your privilege.” Tell me about that.
I think the only reason that it makes me cringe is because so many people just don’t understand what it means. And so I found that it ends a lot of conversations instead of furthering the conversation. I do think, often, we do need to check our privilege. As a straight woman, for example, there are so many experiences that I don’t have, whether it be holding hands with my husband walking down the street and not feeling like my life is in danger, knowing that if I disclose that I’m in a relationship with a man, it’s not going to close any doors when it comes to looking for housing or a job. Those things are not my fault. I did not create those problems, but I need to understand my privilege in order to understand those problems.
But when the phrase “check your privilege” comes around, the word itself carries so much weight that people automatically think that that means they’ve never had any problems, they’ve had everything handed to them, or they’re wealthy.
And so it feels like a demand, rather than a suggestion. I use the analogy of when you check your coat, they say, “Would you like to check your coat?” No one’s like, “Check your coat.” You’re like, “Well, I’m going to keep my coat, because you just told me I needed to give it to you,” when in reality, checking your coat is a convenience that ends up helping you.
And I think of understanding our privilege is in the same way, that it helps other people. It helps us better understand the world. And it’s something that we should all be open to doing, but I think we have to encourage people to do it, rather than like shouting at them to do it, especially if they don’t actually know what we’re asking them to do in the first place.
That’s where it becomes problematic. I’ve seen that happen so much online, where someone – the person who’s being told that …
Oh my goodness.
… they’re like in headlights, and then there’s a whole language that folks start using and talking to them about, and they’re just scrambling, because they’re just confused.
The minute you tell someone to check their privilege, in my experience, they’re like, “One time, I broke my leg when I was in third grade, and I couldn’t swim all summer. It was so terrible.” You’re like, “Ah okay, that has nothing to do with what I’m talking about.” They give you a list of every single time a black person was mean to them or they got a splinter or their parents got a divorce. All of these things that are valid experiences, but don’t actually have anything to do with privilege.
And that’s why I try to talk about my own privilege first, so again, as a straight person, as an able-bodied person, I found that that helps a lot of people understand it’s not just you have privilege. We all have privilege.
You also said, “I can’t know it all. My voice can’t always be the loudest.” Let’s talk about how you’ve continued, and continue to be, a student, and educate yourself while listening, as well as you talk?
I mean, I try to use this awesome platform that I’ve been so fortunate to have …
And you’ve built …
Yes, Yes. I have built this platform, but I have also been very fortunate that people have believed in me and given me opportunities to be here. And so I want to do the same for other people when I can, whether that is getting people writing jobs on Decoded, or working on my pilot, or on-camera opportunities.
There’ve been times that we’ve done topics about being a Latinx person or being a Muslim or a non-binary person. I say, “Well, I actually can’t speak to this experience, so why don’t we find a great writer, comic, performer, a journalist, to consult on this episode, or to come be a co-host on the episode.” And it’s great, because it just gives them an opportunity to reach a larger audience. It enriches the content, and I’ve found that often times, people have, again, great intentions. They want to diversify, but they don’t realize that diversity is not just on the paper, it’s who’s behind the camera. It’s who’s in the boardroom. Who’s on the board of directors? Who’s doing the marketing, right?
So if you want to reach audiences that don’t just look like you, you have to include their voices in the conversation, and in the creation of the content. And so I, again, try to lead by example, and I’m so fortunate that I’ve been able to build this awesome community of people that are different from me that want to work together and make great stuff.
I love it. So let’s end with something I feel like is really tactical. It might be a little bit of a reminder, because we talked about this before, but I don’t think we can ever hear this enough, at least I can’t. Let’s talk about how important it is to own our mistakes, and the two parts of a simple apology.
So again, I think that if more of us were transparent about the mistakes that we’ve made, that other people would be willing to own up to theirs as well. Unfortunately, so many people fail when it comes to actually giving a successful apology. And the first thing that you have to do is take responsibility for your actions, and then commit to change.
When you apologize for something, you want to say up front, “I understand that I used language that made you uncomfortable, and I’m really going to work to make sure that I don’t use that language anymore.” And the thing I actually like to throw in there is a thank you. It is really difficult to call someone out or call them in. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of emotional labor, especially if someone takes the extra time to share some resources with you.
Just saying you know, “thank you,” one, “for believing that I can be better.” I think that we have to remember that when people do call us out, or when they call us in, it’s because they believe we have the capacity to be a good person and do this work. You want to say “thank you for believing in me, because I want to be better.” So, for me, that combination is one that we see so rarely, that in my experience, people are really open to seeing that change, and believing in you as a result.
I adore you. I love you, which you know. Thank you so much for being you. Thank you for this incredible body of work. And I feel like it is … I mean, you have such a beautiful body of work already, but my heart tells me this is the beginning of just … Oh my goodness …
Oh, thank you.
… so many more great things we get to hear and see from you, so
Thank you. Thank you so, so much. It’s just like such a dream, talking to you. The first time that we talked about the book, it was just this huge weight off of my shoulders. You know, I think the thing that I love about you is you are really about helping creatives fulfill their dreams. And we all have that moment of, “Okay, I’m going to put myself out there. I’ve made this thing. This is my baby. I love it. I’m going to release it into the world.” It’s just so affirming to hear all these positive things about it, so thank you so much, and thank you for giving me a place to share my work with your audience.
Always. Now, Franchesca and I would love to hear from you. So we talked about so many things today. I’m curious, what’s the biggest insight that you’re taking away, and how can you put that insight into action starting right now? As always, the best conversations happen over at the magic land of marieforleo.com, so head on over there and leave a comment now.
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Your comeback that you wrote in the book had me in tears. I do need to read it. “It’s okay for a movement to be focused on a specific group or cause. ‘Save the rainforest’ doesn’t mean ‘fuck all the other trees.’”