Dear Culture

From blogger to professional writer: The good, the bad, & the controversies

Episode 44
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Writer and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux has never shied away from sharing her opinions, popular or not. Panama Jackson chats with the outspoken blogger turned professional writer about some of her biggest controversies and achievements. Including her work centered on R. Kelly, Bill Cosby and her war of words with the Republican Party. 

PASADENA, CA – FEBRUARY 11: Jamilah Lemieux attends the 48th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 11, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)

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Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified. This episode is supported by Fox’s Dear Mama, the saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur. From award winning director Alan Hughes, this deeply personal, five part docu series shares an illuminating saga of mother and son. She was a revolutionary intellect and leader in the Black Panther Party. He was a rapper and political visionary who became known as one of the greatest rap artists of all time. FX’s Dear Mama premieres April 21st on effects stream on Hulu.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:00:44] I’m aware that there are a lot of people who hate me, and a lot of them are Black men. I feel very passionately about R Kelly. I had stories, you know, he’d approached friends of mine when we were kids, so I felt a way about him for a long time. The amount of backlash I’ve taken has taken somewhat of a toll on me.

Panama Jackson [00:01:08] What’s going on, everybody? And welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast for, by and about Black culture here at theGrio Black Podcast Network. I’m your host, Panama Jackson and today we have a special guest, a person who was not only a friend of mine, but somebody whose career path is one that I follow very closely because she’s effectively done the same kind of thing that I’ve done, but leveled this thing up in amazing ways. That I think is both a lesson to be learned about how to navigate the blog world that we kind of came from, but also what it’s like being in the center of the eye of the storm in so many ways just because you’re a person with an opinion. She’s an award winning writer. She’s a podcast host. She’s a former senior editor at Ebony. We’ll talk a bit about that. She spearheaded the the launch of Cassius an online Ezine magazine type style space. She was part of the team that brought us one of the has to be one of the most famous talked about Ebony magazine issues and covers of all time. I know that wasn’t purely your work, but you were part of a team that brought that together. She was a part of the surviving R Kelly doc. She’s written articles about things you’ve absolutely read. If you spent any time reading and discussing Black culture. She’s been on TV shows, discussing all the things that you and I talk about constantly dealing with Black culture and pop culture. Please welcome my guest today, writer, cultural critic, podcast host, mother and voice Jamilah Lemieux. How are you doing?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:02:47] I’m okay. How are you? Thank you for the gracious introduction.

Panama Jackson [00:02:51] Because I actually looked at your bio on like your website. I’m like, You forget how much stuff people have been able to do over time. Like, I don’t know how often you go back and like, read your own list of like accolades or accomplishments, but it is very impressive. Like you have done a bunch of things and been in a lot of spaces. Like, do you ever just go back and reflect on that? Like how far you’ve come from wherever you thought you were going to start, wherever you thought you were going?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:03:18] Yes and now that I’m in a period of sort of trying to figure out what’s next, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on it.

Panama Jackson [00:03:25] Well, I’m glad you said that. So I was listening to your podcast. The Mom and Dad are Fighting Podcast, one that you do with Zach Rosen and Elizabeth New Camp at Slate.

Zach Rosen [00:03:35] Welcome to a very special live mom and dad are fighting here at Slate.com.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:03:39] We are like really comfortable with watching girls explore things that are typically coded as male. We’re not as comfortable with allowing boys to explore those things.

Panama Jackson [00:03:49] And I enjoy that. You know, you are it’s a it’s a parenting podcast. You all start out with failures or triumphs, and then you kind of address a question that some reader has sent in and those questions range all over the place. It’s very interesting. It’s also interesting hearing parents from different walks of life, different stages of parenthood, share their opinions on these things. But you mentioned recently something about like not like being in a space where like your career over the past 20 years hasn’t had all the guardrails of like getting ready for retirement in like a traditional way and that like, that has been stuck in my head because I’m thinking, I’ve thought about all of us who started in this blogging space and like where many of us have gotten. So your first blog, I think, was the Beautiful struggle, right? Was that is that your first blog? Mm hmm. Was that named after the Talib Kweli, like in reference to Talib Kweli’s album?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:04:40] It was. It was and then Ta-Nehisi Coates titled his first memoir that and I was salty.

Panama Jackson [00:04:50] I actually did like a deep dive to find out where that phrase came from. Like if he had been some kind of like in a book or something like that somewhere before. But when you started that blog. Number one. Why did you start it? And did you ever imagine you’d be where you are in your career at this point?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:05:07] No, not at all. I remember writing about Hurricane Katrina because I had a lot of feelings about that and then the following year, I had gotten a job. It was supposed to be my dream job straight out of college as a school teacher and I found a class second semester of senior year and so they allowed me to take the job, you know, and disclose what had happened. Okay, I’m not going to graduate until next semester, but you know, what do you want to do? And they told me I could keep working and then in October of that school year, I found out that, well, the principal found out that part of the No Child Left Behind laws. He had to either tell all the parents, the children in my classes that I wasn’t an accredited teacher or let me go and so he laid me off and so I found myself with a severance package of a few months pay and really no idea what I wanted to do and I took to this blog again and I started writing and I really liked it and sometimes I would do to post in a day. I just wanted to write. I just had so many things to say and around that time there was this kind of community of bloggers, interestingly enough, a lot of them D.C. based, that was coming together on MySpace. So a lot of us are publishing to like Blogger and the platform, but a lot of people were also posting on MySpace and so I think I don’t know if that’s where I first found you, but I feel like there might have been around the time I first discovered your writing and Damon’s writing and because John Thompson was blogging and, you know, after a couple of months, I just was like, I’m going to do this and people are told me that I should have majored in writing and focused on writing in college and I was like, No, it’s not my thing and I just fell in love with it and I was like, okay, somehow I’m going to make this my career, and somehow I did.

Panama Jackson [00:06:55] Time for a quick break. Stay with us and we’re back. Do you ever think about like. What you could have accomplished had you discovered that talent earlier? Because I always go to. I wrote my first blog post on my 25th birthday, June 3rd, 2004, was literally the first blog post I ever wrote and I wrote that because the co-founder of VSB, Liz Burr, encouraged me, said, You should be blogging based on the Instant Messenger conversation. The aim convos was that we would have say, You should be doing this. I was like, All right, whatever. So at 25, I started blogging, right? And all of a sudden it becomes a career and I was like, Man, what if I had taken to this earlier or genuinely thought of this as something I could I could do my writing for the Maroon Tiger or Morehouse or something. Who knows? I would have been. I mean, I consider myself successful at this, but you ever, like, go back and be like, Man, what if I had just spent a little more time or tried to do this earlier?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:07:49] Yes, definitely. If I could do it over again, I would have majored in something related to writing. You know, I would have had more of a concrete plan for what I wanted to do. I would have made a lot of things much easier.

Panama Jackson [00:08:00] So I remember discovering you, or I guess discoveries of wants are finding finding your writing and I remember thinking, Wow, this part because we I remember this community. You’re talking about all these people writing and it was like when people had like very strong told great stories you like you just latched on and started reading. They’re like, I would read everybody, I read everybody’s archives and all that stuff and I remember back then I was like, Yo, this person who I hadn’t met you in person is like, This person’s going somewhere with this. I don’t know where that is, but this person’s going somewhere. Where’s when was the first time that you realized you could actually do something with your writing?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:08:40] I think the fact that I was able to build community, you know, on MySpace felt like I was on the right track somehow, you know, that I was able to bring people in. But I think the first moment I had a post that Jezebel reposted and they put kind of a snarky caption on it, and it was about the inauguration of President Obama. I wrote a somewhat satirical, open letter to white people asking them to stay home, because if you remember, there is all this concern about the crowding in D.C., whether it be enough water and bathrooms, this could be devastating. So many people are going to converge upon the city and I’m like, you all have had 43 opportunities to see this, you know? Like, why don’t you just let us have this one? And Jezebel reposted it, and the white girls were livid. Oh, my God. I did more to elect Obama than you did. Probably and, you know, it was my first little bit of controversy, but there were also a lot of people that passionately took my side and I don’t know what I think about that moment, maybe feel like, you know, maybe there is something here, like maybe this could actually be something.

Panama Jackson [00:09:56] All right. We’re going to take a real quick break here, because that’s actually a point that I want to talk about. So we’re going to come right back here on Dear Culture, with Jamilah Lemieux. Alright we’re back here on Dear Culture, we’re here with Jamila Lemieux and we’re talking about her star as a writer, culture critic and all of that and you just talked about the first time you really courted controversy. So I kind of want to talk about a little bit of that stuff, for instance. EBONY So how did you get to Ebony? Like, how did you end up at Ebony? Because that was one place where controversy showed up, where I have to give you a lot of props, but let’s let’s get to that. So how did you get to Ebony as a senior editor? How did that all happen?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:10:30] It was really serendipitous. I had been writing for a few years at that point and, you know, I decided I wanted to try to make it work somehow as a career, and I’d done some freelancing for other outlets, I’d written for Essence, I’d apply for jobs at Essence. I really wanted to work there, and I saw an issue of Ebony in Target, and this must have been like 2011 maybe 2010, but I’m thinking 2011 and Jill Scott is on the cover and she looks beautiful and Ebony had a new logo, you know, a new font, new like just all new everything and I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, this is avenue, you know, because the way they look from much of my childhood compared to Essence, was visually underwhelming. You know, it hadn’t been redesigned in many years. It didn’t look modern. They use a lot of stock photography and so I buy it and I look through it. I’m like, oh, my goodness and so I’m like, okay, well, this is what the magazine looks like. They must have a pretty on point website, you know, because at this point I’m a digital writer, so I’m assuming that’s where, you know, maybe I can find my way in and so I go to the website and it is trash. Like they’re not invested in this website at all. They’re just like brown you know.

Panama Jackson [00:11:49] I remember.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:11:50] It was bad, you know, it wasn’t updated daily and so I’m like, okay, well, they surely you’re not going to have your magazine look this good and not do something about your website. So there’s got to be something coming. So I’m going to start calling H.R., you know, and figure out how I can get my foot in the door over there and so I would call H.R. maybe once a week and I kept the stuff for a couple of months. I never reached anybody and around this same period, i met a woman named Kierna Mayo at an event she was speaking at and I knew who Kierna was because she was the co-founder of Honey magazine. Like Honey was the shit Honey was Essence for a younger generation of Black women, if you will. It was hip hop inspired, it was bohemian, it was feminist. It was just really, really dope and a lot of the Black women writers, you know, that I admired had come through, you know, both Essence and Honey over the years and so and I meet Kierna, and it turns out she’s a fan of me and so I’m like, Oh my God, I can’t believe she knows who I am and she’s been reading my blog and so she wanted to start a new magazine. So we met up and talked about her starting this new magazine and so one day she has me ever she sends me a message on Facebook and she’s like, Hey, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I just became the editorial director of Ebony’s new website, and I get to hire two editors and I want you to be one of them. We’re going to get this beautiful redesign, you know, and I want you to come do this and so she had no idea I had been trying to figure out my way to Ebony, you know, And so it just took off from there and it was you know, I was there for almost five years and it was. Quite a run.

Panama Jackson [00:13:34] Yeah, I remember, Honey. Obviously, Honey had the probably one of the greatest magazine covers of all time with the Lauryn Hill cover. Yeah, like, I still have that magazine. I’ll talk to Kiernan about that here and he actually has had a podcast. I don’t know if she’s still updating it, where she talks about, like, honey and like, kind of like how they started it and then how it kind of got Jack from them and all that stuff. Like, it was very fascinating story.

Kierna Mayo [00:13:56] Some people call me a legend. I don’t know if I call myself that, though. I’ve for sure been in lots of rooms where legendary things have gone down.

Panama Jackson [00:14:04] I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but. So there was a controversy at Ebony. Your personal tweets end up becoming this firestorm that created this. I stand with Jamilah hashtag over an argument with like somebody from the RNC. One of the reasons I specifically wanted to bring this up is because I remember all of us were going ham online about this. Everybody’s dropping the hash tag. They had to be the tens of thousands. Like, it was crazy, right? But it seemed like it was taking you a while to release a statement and then when you released this statement, it might have like legitimately been the most thoughtful, well writen, calculated, like measured response I’ve ever seen in my life, responding to a controversy. It both acknowledged the space that we were in or that you were in. Excuse me, as a person who is an individual representing a brand. It talked about how much love and respect you have for the brand and what has provided you, because everybody was kind of like, down was Ebony. Forget Ebony. They don’t want to stand up and then you kind of come in. Took all the air right out of that with like, listen, this is Ebony. Like, this is the legacy. This is they gave me an opportunity and I had to think about these things like, I re read that thing recently. I’m like, Man, I don’t think I could ever write anything that good in my life. Was that. So one props on that. Like legitimately, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that, but it really was one of the like the most well-written responses to anything like controversial I’ve ever read in my life. Do. Was that like the the first real big controversy like that you faced?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:15:41] Yeah, that was that was I mean, after the Jezebel thing.

Panama Jackson [00:15:45] What kind of learning experience was that for you, by the way?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:15:48] It was quite a learning experience. You know, one thing I really had to contend with at that time was how vulnerable Ebony and other Black media platforms were, you know, because of money, because advertisers who don’t always understand the nuances of Black conversation and, you know, things that young Black girls say on Twitter are the ones making decisions about whether we can print this thing or not. You know, and so me kind of have this offhanded, you know, conversation with this young Black Republican. I’m not thinking much of it, but the stakes were very high and so it took me a while to release the statement because I was told not to say anything, which drove me crazy, you know? And finally, when people turned on Ebony, it was like, okay, she’s got to say something, you know? And they realized, like, okay, maybe apologizing to the RNC, which is what Ebony did, was not the best move. Maybe we should allow her to speak on this because I felt like it could have gone away sooner if they let me go on the news because like it was on MSNBC, it was on Fox.

Panama Jackson [00:16:57] Everywhere.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:16:58] And they wouldn’t let me go on, you know, So other people were going other Black thinkers were being, you know, dispatched to come in and just talk about it. I’m like, well, I wish I could really talk about what actually happened because it’s being taken out of context, you know, and but it definitely taught me a lot about representing a brand, you know, and the mindfulness that you have to have when you represent something that is bigger than yourself. You know, other people work here. This brand has been around, you know, since 1951. I have to respect that. But at the same time, still, you know, standing on my morals and, you know, I maintain that what the GOP did was willfully distorting my words to try and make a point. A couple of years later. Sean Spicer I think it was Sean Spicer. He was the communications guy for the RNC at the time. So he and Reince Priebus were a part of this, you know, and they had came after me and they would come after really they were coming after having me. I was not the big joke or the big joke or was that It was Ebony, of course. But, you know, they met coming at Ebony through me and they come after Melissa Harris-Perry and they explained that what they were trying to do was prove to Black voters that they were willing to fight for us, which I just think is so interesting that attacking, you know, visible Black women was the way that they wanted to prove themselves to Black voters. You know, I thought that said a lot.

Panama Jackson [00:18:22] I’ve done and written some controversial things. I found my way in the middle of a couple of things here and there, but I’ve literally never been in the middle of a like, political battle and then been realize are being used to try to create this narrative that’s clearly not accurate. But over time, it kind of the narrative kind of shifts to this kind of thing seeming like it works in later, you know, in later elections and stuff like that. Like what does that feel like to be in the eye of something like that? Because I genuinely can’t imagine having an entire political party coming for me in such a fashion.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:19:01] It was really isolating. You know, we’re coming up on this is the ninth anniversary of it happening right now because my daughter’s birthday is tomorrow and I remember this was all happening a few days before her first birthday and so I’m still in new mom mode, you know what I mean? Like, I’m still overwhelmed by that and trying to make sense of that and so now there’s this thing going on and like it went on for about a week and like, it went on for a few days without most Black folks knowing because it was just me getting attacked by all these Republicans. So and then when I was asked to start responding like people aren’t seeing me tweeting about it and they’re not saying the Republicans because they don’t follow them, so they’re not really getting wind of it and so it was like I was going through it all by myself and Kierna had my back Kierna and I are very tight. Like she’s just my person. We have a very special relationship and, you know, just telling me everything’s going to be okay, it’s going to be fine. But like, I was afraid I was going to lose my job, you know, because the leadership at Ebony at the time was not terribly social media savvy. So, like, it looks to them like I have been doing some crazy shit and I started some trouble and so it was just really, really isolating and I think that if I could do a lot of things over again, I would. But I wish that I had talked more to my friends about it because my friends weren’t Twitter people, you know? And this was even before, like I had a community of Twitter people and, you know, over the years it would be people I would do panels with and, you know, I, I get used to seeing them and they were Twitter famous, too and like, we would talk about what that felt like, but for the most. I kind of had that experience to myself. So it was just very lonely, you know? And I’ve seen people say all these horrible things about me and not being able to respond to it, and then my loved ones not really knowing what’s going on. I would just say it was very, very isolating.

Panama Jackson [00:20:56] We’re going to take a quick break and we’re going to come back. We’re going to talk about hopefully what ends up being a positive spin on the aftermath of that. Right here on Dear Culture. We’re back here on Dear Culture, I’m here with Jamilah Lemieux and we’re talking about her career and what it’s like being a culture critic and being somebody who is a voice for a voice that sometimes it’s been controversy on on occasion. But as any of us who spent time speaking truth to power, we like to believe that this is our calling in some ways. I speak for myself anyway. But you go from Ebony to Cassius, right?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:21:29] Mm hmm. Well, to Interactive One.

Panama Jackson [00:21:31] And interactive. Interactive.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:21:32] We launched Cassius.

Panama Jackson [00:21:33] So how did that come about? And let me add to this. I remember that was one of the first times I remember seeing something and I was like, you know, they are really coming forward. There were radio spots for Cassius. There were I mean, I don’t know if there was any commercials for, but I remember hearing like every hour on the hour a Cassius radio spot like, Yo, this they’re not playing. They’re not playing. So two questions. One, how did you how did I come up with the name Cassius? I’m assuming that’s a reference to Muhammad Ali, but I could. But I’m assuming, like, why did you all settle on that or how did you all settle on that? And what was how did you how did you get there in the first place? Are you being headhunted at this point or, you know, was it just like you were like, you know, I need a new challenge?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:22:19] So I definitely had a few other offers and opportunities, you know, to leave Ebony while I was there but Kierna, who had been my boss and who had been the editor in chief at Ebony, she left. She went over to Interactive One and became the SVP of Digital Programing, which means she was running all of our ones websites and she brought a few of us with her. You know, maybe four of us came over from Ebony and it was scary, but it was exciting and, you know, I also worked on News One’s website, and I was part of the team that launched Cassius. Cassius was Kierna’s the name. It was really her baby in a lot of ways. So she I can’t remember the exact thinking behind Cassius. I think she likes the name and then she said, you know, before you have a Muhammad Ali, you have a Cassius. You know, that’s an important stage and something to acknowledge to and and it sounds like something, you know, just sounds like something and you know, what I was brought there was to do was to build a comprehensive lifestyle website for Black men. That was my goal. That was my dream. I’d always dreamed of launching a site for Black men. I felt like it was just such a missed opportunity that there was nothing like GQ or Details or Maxim that existed for Brothers Post King. And I felt like even King, you know, like everybody likes titties and ass and rims, you know, and rap music. But there’s more to it than that. You know, like I think about being a young guy who just graduated from college and he’s going out to a business dinner and he doesn’t know how to order a glass of wine, you know, or what’s the difference between a cognac verse and a vsop and why does that matter? You know, where do I go to to get relationship advice or, you know, to read about Black men’s health, you know, emotionally, spiritually, you know, visibly. Otherwise.

Panama Jackson [00:24:21] Where do you go? Where do you go from there? Did you go to like another specific place or were you just back on the freelance stuff like, what are you doing?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:24:27] I haven’t had a full 9 to 5 since 2018, and I’m at a point now where I’m like, okay, I think I need a 9 to 5 again. I think I need a job. I need and you know, and I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what I want to do full time again. I produced a docuseries that I can’t talk about yet because it hasn’t come out yet, but I work on that. I’ve appeared in a lot of documentaries. I did Secrets of Playboy and the follow up to Surviving R Kelly. I was in the first two and freelancing and making it work.

Panama Jackson [00:25:03] Let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back. I want to talk about the surviving R Kelly doc, right here on Dear Culture. We’re back here on Dear Culture with Jamilah Lemieux. So I want to bring up three things Surviving R Kelly doc very polarizing, right? As polarizing in the Black community as you can get. You wrote an amazing article about Chappelle’s The Closer, and then you wrote I think last year towards the end of last year, about Meg the Stallion and all of the like the the split on how we treat how Meg the stallion was treated because of what happened to her and Tory right? And I mean he’d been convicted since and used to have people blaming her for this type of thing. So these are all things that in the Black community like and I’m just kind of like like Chapelle, R Kelly, Meg tha Stallion, which is really Tory, we call it Meg, but it’s really Tory doing this. But like you’ve had all these very strong, like strong articles and things you’ve written about this stuff. Like do you expect some of the, like the blowback from it or like when you go into writing these things. Is the goal just to make sure you get the story and the narrative that needs to be out there, out?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:26:08] You know, I just try to say what’s on my heart. You know, I have strong opinions. I think since I was a very little girl. I’ve had this gut feeling about how Black women are sorted in our society, how we’re treated, how we’re viewed, how we’re not protected and, you know, it’s led me to speak out against or to be critical of some beloved figures, you know, at times and so I’m not surprised by the controversy at this point. You know, I can anticipate it, but I try not to think about it too much. You know, that’s the downside. That’s the part I’d rather not deal with and because I’m not as active on social media as I used to be, I don’t have to deal with it on the same level as when, you know, during the Black Twitter heyday, where you would also then go on and spend the day debating this stuff with people. Now I can kind of publish something and move on from it, but I try not to think about the controversy. I do think that the amount of backlash I’ve taken has taken somewhat of a toll on me and there were a few years during my career where I wasn’t publishing very often. You know, I went from being really prolific and always having a hot take and always having something to say to, you know, I think being kind of distracted with other work and, you know, I was doing a lot of speaking gigs. I’m doing this, I’m doing that, and just kind of took me away from what mattered most to me, which is the writing and so now the writing is my focus again. But I really try not to think too much about the controversy.

Panama Jackson [00:27:57] When you say it’s taken a toll on you by what kind of like what kind of toll was that? You know, when you I found the Facebook post where you posted the Cosby cover and you said something real interesting in in the caption, which was, you know, if you love it, don’t give me all the credit because I was part of a great team that did this. But if you hate it, you can give me all the credit because I can handle it and I thought that was so interesting because it’s like, man, you’re willing to take you’re willing to take the barrage of of all of that on and I imagine it has to be difficult. Like, you know, you’re doing good work. This is not you know, you’re literally speaking on. I mean, these are hard conversations that we need to be having as a community, especially when it came to the Cosby thing. So I you know, I feel like you have taken the brunt of a lot of conversations that we’re having, like globally in our community, so to speak.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:28:52] I think I did I think I broke down a little bit. I think a lot of people around 2018 broke down, you know, like that 2012 to 2018 run. Of life was just a lot and for people who are working in media, I think just from the death of Trayvon Martin to the Ferguson uprisings and the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement and the beginning of MeToo and then the rise of Trump, you know, it was a lot to take in and to be somebody who had been commenting on those things. You know, I think I was just sort of overwhelmed and kind of burned out after a while. You know, in terms of this whole like, I’m aware that there are a lot of people who hate me, who hate me, you know, and a lot of them are Black men and when I you know, the moments of controversy I had with the GOP or with the Jezebel thing, those are white folks and I don’t expect white people to love me. I don’t expect them to like me. You know, I just don’t have the same relationship to white people that I have to Black men. So while I don’t want to be controversial or hated or, you know, attacked by Republicans or the right wing, that’s kind of powerful, you know, like that. It’s almost is it to be expected with that demographic. But the idea that Black men would hate me for calling out Black male predators. Is devastating because one, you know, I’m the one saying these guys don’t represent the whole this is not what the average Black man looks or behaves like. This is not who we are. This, you know, we should be isolating them and calling this behavior out as exceptional and unacceptable. You know, unacceptable and to have people say, no, I want to defend that. You know, you’re the problem. You’re the one causing problems between us. But like, no, I’m simply advocating primarily for Black girls and women, but also for victims in general, because, like, when it comes to Cosby, most of the victims weren’t Black but, you know, I still didn’t think that these women’s dignity and rights to their body was worth sacrificing because it was a beloved Black man who had violated those things. You know, I wasn’t going to throw those women away in order to save my favorite TV dad from when I was seven years old.

Panama Jackson [00:31:34] Time for a quick break. Stay with us and we’re back. How did this surviving R Kelly thing happen and how did you end up in the doc? Like, I know you’ve spoken on the R Kelly at length. I mean, that’s it’s it was out there. It’s kind of a shame that it took all of this time for this to happen and do you feel like vindication? I mean, there’s a lot of unfortunately, a lot of pain that’s had to occur to people to get to this point.

[00:31:59] In 2019, R Kelly was arrested on federal sex charges I’m ready to just tell my truth.

Panama Jackson [00:32:06] What’s your overall thought, I guess, on all of that from the doc and what’s happened since then and in the role that you may have played in in helping get a predator convicted finally for something?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:32:19] Dream Hampton reached out to me. She was the executive producer and the director of the first Survivor and R Kelly and we, you know, become friends from Twitter and knowing people in common and she was another writer I’d grown up, you know, admiring and was really excited to connect with her through Twitter and all that stuff, you know and she knew I was from Chicago. So I feel very passionately about R Kelly. I had stories, you know, he’d approached friends of mine when we were kids, so I felt a way about him for a long time. Even through Aaliyah, I never I was never a big aleah fan. I think part of it is just when I was when she comes out, I’m super young and like, she’s a little older than me, so I have this kind of respect for her as a big kid, if you will. But I’m like, She’s dating a grown man and everybody’s okay with their life. They’re on TV wearing matching outfits like nobody is challenging this. The man is on the album cover. The album is called AJ Nothing but a number. She’s 14, 15. Like what is happening? You know, That was like just such a tremendously confusing moment for me as a young girl, their relationship and so I had a lot to say about it. I’ve written about it and I have been one of the people who, you know, had used Twitter to get out too worried about having, like you say, polarizing it’s interesting how like the tide has turned drastically. So, yes, you know, like there was a time where like getting on Twitter and dissing R Kelly was not cool. You know, like there were a lot of people that were going to come after you. There were a lot of women, you know, a lot of men like a lot of people were going to be defensive of him and, you know, whether it was. What about the parents, you know, those little hotheads fast ass girls, you know, whatever excuse you could think of, it was being made. It was being made for a long time and then there were people who didn’t necessarily feel the need to defend the behavior. They just wanted to continue to enjoy the music. You know, they want to support him and play music and put him on a movie soundtrack, you know, like we watched The Best Man Holiday over the holidays this year, and that movie came out in 2013 and it ends with an R Kelly song. A new R Kelly, it was like a new track made for the movie, you know, and we’re talking about the tape coming out, the rape tape in 2001. I was in high school, you know, so like my whole life, it seemed like I’ve been watching this man be a predator and it just seemed like no one cared. So I was really honored that Dream thought to include my voice in the documentary, and I was very proud to do it and I was very, you know, happy that it led to the state’s attorney in Illinois, Kim Foxx, opening an investigation which led to successful prosecution.

Kim Foxx [00:35:11] Earlier today, Robert Kelly was indicted before a Cook County grand jury on ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:35:22] And there was a successful federal prosecution. You know, and there are other states that are pursuing charges against him, too and, you know, it was finally over and it took so much. You know, there were so many of us. You know, there’s the sisters who started the mute R Kelly movement, you know, like they were very central to this, you know, shutting down concerts, taking money out of his pocket. It took a lot of hands, but it finally happened.

Panama Jackson [00:35:49] So maybe it’s more polarizing. Even now. I still find myself in debates with people about it and I think it’s all about the music people. I just don’t think I have to I have to give I’m not supporting him because I already bought it a long time ago so I’m just playing the music wrong. It’s, you know, it’s such an interesting conversation. But, you know, I guess there’s always going to be those kind of folks out there who can separate the man from the music kind of thing and, you know, for a lot of people, I stopped wearing my Yeezy when Kanye went too far, you know what I’m saying? And that’s that’s a problem because I’m getting older and those things are comfortable. You know, those are very comfortable shoes that Adidas boot is very comfortable but, you know, sometimes you got it. You got to pick a side and and you want to be on the right side of history. So, you know, all those efforts are definitely very much appreciated. We’re gonna take one last break. When we come back, and I want to ask you about your book, the I promise not to overdo it, the book thing and then we’re going to close out with some Blackfessions and Blackemdations like we always do here on Dear Culture. Alright, we’re back here on Dear Culture. I’m with Jamilah Lemieux, and we’ve been talking about her career, her journey. But like most of us who have been bloggers and writers, there’s always that looming question of where’s the book? Are you going to write a book? I get that question all of the time. I. I get that question in other people’s book events and I’m not even sure these people want to read a book that I’m going to write. I think they’re just asking because that’s what you ask writers, right? Like, where’s the book? You, though, do have a book in the pipeline.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:37:15] I wanted to write a book for many years. I’ve been saying for years, I’m going to write a book. I’m going to write a book, you know, and I never sat down and wrote the book and or the proposal and it took me like five years. I had a literary agent, you know, and we worked on numerous proposals and we get started on idea and I just couldn’t finish the proposal because I didn’t really believe in the idea and then we’d start another one and finally, you know, my agent convinced me to focus on single motherhood, and I’d run from that. You know, I think part of it was still me running from my own shame and running from my own conflicted feelings about it, which is why I needed to run toward it, you know? Which is why I think this book is necessary. I mean, there are not. There’s not a lot of public exploration of Black single motherhood. You know, what is talked about in public is the idea that we are what’s wrong with the community, that, you know, if Black women could stop having babies out of wedlock, we would be in a better place as a people. You know, but there’s still considering that we do make up the majority of the mothers in our community, we are raising the majority of the children. There’s just little interrogation into our lives, into what it means to us to be single mothers and, you know, kind of like what we need, what we feel and I wanted, you know, I finally was like, okay, I can write about this. So it’s a book of essays, but this is largely about what it means to be a Black single mom and what it’s meant to me.

Panama Jackson [00:38:50] All right. Well, I look forward to it. You’re a good writer. Always have been. You’ve always been very provocative. You get the people going with the things that you write. So I imagine this book will be no different. You know, and because you’re very popular amongst a lot of for good and bad reasons for amongst our community, I imagine this book is going to do well. So I’m going to be very excited when this comes out. All right. Well, we’ve come to the the last the last segment of this show, which is some of my favorite, because it’s an opportunity to do the thing where Black people love to say we’re not a monolith. So this this is where we prove it. We do a Blackfession, which is a confession about your Blackness, which is effectively something, something that people will be surprised to know about you because you’re Black. Right. Do you have a Blackfession for us?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:39:39] I do.

Panama Jackson [00:39:40] All right. What you got?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:39:42] I have never seen Juice nor a Menace to Society.

Panama Jackson [00:39:47] How?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:39:48] I don’t. I don’t you know, I tell somebody that for the first time last week and I felt like a weight have been lifted off my chest. You know, I think part of it is those movies came out when I was a little girl. You know, so my mom was not showing me stuff, which she shouldn’t. You know, and I don’t remember them coming on TV terribly often and so I just somehow never saw them and have yet to have, like, the impetus to be like, okay, let me go out and watch them and I’m curious about them, but I’m also like, I mean, I saw Boyz in the Hood and I was devastated, you know, like Ricky died, like.

[00:40:31] Ricky!

Jamilah Lemieux [00:40:39] You know, for years I have I actively avoided movies with death, like I’ve never seen Titanic. Why? I know how to see the end. I’ve never seen My Girl because people told me that the boy got stung by a bee and died. You know.

Panama Jackson [00:40:55] Yes, Thomas.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:40:56]  Yes. So like to watch these movies where I know a number of people are going to get shot up in front of me. I just haven’t run to that.

Panama Jackson [00:41:06] The way that the way that you feel about like Boyz n the Hood and seeing Ricky dying and how that hurts, that doesn’t happen in Menace to Society because you don’t care for the characters the same way. It’s pure nihilism, like it’s 100% like it’s all bad from day one and never gets better. I would just be curious about your perception of menace to society watching that, because I have argued people actually put this on Facebook. I think Menace to Society is terrible and I now I’ve gone completely 180 and I think it’s actually a bad movie. It’s effectively a Tubi movie just made in 1993 before we had all the other options, so we wouldn’t know any better. After we asked people for Blackfession, we usually ask people to give us a Blackemdation, which is a recommendation about something by, for, about Blackness, Black culture, whatever that you’re interested in, you’re paying attention to the drop on now. Do you have a Blackemdation for us?

Jamilah Lemieux [00:41:57] I do. I am going to recommend a book called Ride or Die by Shanita Hubbard. It’s just a really, really great look at the idea of the ride or die shift and what is meant for Black women and how we have, you know, self-sacrifice in the name of our men in a lot of ways and kind of how we’ve been expected to do that by popular culture and she loves hip hop deeply and she’s, you know, makes excuses for it. But she’s also willing to hold it accountable and to talk about how it’s really, you know, shortchanged Black women and it’s just a really great book. Easy read. Quick read. Great book.

Panama Jackson [00:42:41] Jamila, thank you so much for being here on Dear Culture. Thank you for the work that you’ve done, the work that you will do for your voice, for everything that you’ve brought to the cultural conversations that we have. Where can people find you and keep up with you if you want to be found? And whatever you got going on.

Jamilah Lemieux [00:43:00] I’m quiet these days. I’ve got my head down working on the book. But you can hear me on. Mom and Dad are fighting on Mondays and Thursdays via Slate and I do the Can Feeding Parenting Advice column on Fridays for Slate. I still have my Twitter account at Jamilah Lemieux and Instagram. I don’t post very often, but I’m still there. If you want to say hi, you can. You can find me. I’m still checking.

Panama Jackson [00:43:25] Thank you so much for being here on Dear Culture. We appreciate your time, your conversation, and thank you listeners for checking us out here at theGrio Black Podcast Network. I’m your host, Panama Jackson have a Black one.