I’ll never forget the first moment I saw something Ramou Sarr had written. I was a newly-hired Senior Editor, and she commented on a blog on the website. I spent 20 minutes reading and re-reading that comment. I couldn’t believe that a real person wrote something so smart, so succinct and so incredible. I also couldn’t believe she wasn’t writing for the site. I talked about her incessantly, until finally a coworker said, “I’ve got her email- why don’t you reach out to her?” That was over a year ago, and reaching out to her was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Not only is she a ridiculously talented writer, she is co-host of the sensational Black Girls Talking, a podcast where four brilliant women talk about pop culture and the representation of black women in media. They have so many insightful things to say, if you haven’t already subscribed you need to immediately.
What inspired you to start Black Girls Talking?
BGT is really Fatima’s baby. The podcast was initially her idea, she posted on Tumblr about wanting to start a podcast about representation of black women in the media, so I messaged her and hoped that I wasn’t too late. It just sounded like such a great opportunity and a really great project to be a part of. I had never considered starting a podcast before, but now that we have BGT it’s like – Duh. This format makes so much sense for us. Podcasting is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to put your ideas out there and get feedback pretty quickly without spending a ton of time or money.
Black women are so underrepresented in media and this was a great way for us to just do it ourselves. It started with us talking primarily about that underrepresentation, but we noticed pretty early on that focusing so much on just representation can be really depressing. I mean, a lot of what we talk about is pretty depressing because the state of black women and peoples’ reactions to black women in the media can be pretty horrifying. But it’s kind of morphed into more of a pop culture podcast because of that and also just because we wanted to be able to just talk about what we wanted to talk about, whether it’s about colorism or our favorite ’90s movies. That focus is still there, though. People expect us to talk about representation in television and film and we usually do address big stories on this, but we don’t necessarily feel the need to address it all. We take ownership over the podcast and it’s very much a reflection of us and the things we are interested in and want to talk about. Spaces on the Internet and within media specifically for and by black women are very limited, and we want to be one of those safe spaces for black women and address issues that are particularly important to a lot of us, and we want it be a place for those who aren’t black women to come and learn some shit, maybe gain a new perspective on some things. We’ve been pretty lucky and haven’t received much negative feedback or pushback on what we’re doing. One of our iTunes comments did call us angry, but what the fuck else is new.
What does feminism mean to you?
The thing about feminism is that it’s both incredibly complex and supremely simple at the same time. What people get wrong about feminism is that there is one particular way to be a feminist- when that’s exactly the opposite of what feminism is. The female CEO of a company with a nanny and a vacation home is every bit a feminist as the single mom who works two jobs and eats ramen for dinner so she can send her kid to summer camp. It’s about the ability to make our own choices and knowing what’s best for us individually and, most importantly, it’s about being trusted with these decisions. I hate, hate, hate the judgment of other women or this bizarre competition of who is more feminist, and there are definitely disparities here when it comes to white women and women of color.
Respectability politics has crushed me this year and the policing of black women’s bodies has been really awful and pretty demoralizing. There’s this notion that black women have to be perfect to be deemed respectable and it is horrifying, really. There was a lot of discussion about Beyoncé this past year and her not being feminist enough, because of how she was dressed on the GQ cover, her Superbowl outfit and her using her married name in naming her tour. It was crazy. And it was this type of digging in that was really surprising to me. I would be scrolling through my Tumblr dash and see someone post about how Beyoncé should’ve respected herself more on that GQ cover and, “Why does she have to show so much of her body to be sexy?” Then five seconds later the same person would reblog a photo of Kat Dennings with her titties out. Like, are you even hearing yourself right now? This kind of cognitive dissonance is pretty jarring, and that policing of other women is so anti-feminist to me.
Mind your business, let women be who they are, let them make their own choices and their own decisions even if they don’t make sense to you. At the same time though, there is a lot of discussion about flawed women and flawed characters and how much women love to relate to women like this. But women of color aren’t always afforded this privilege and it literally makes my head hurt. I just read an article recently about how Mindy Kaling was considering making Mindy Lahiri less of an asshole to appease viewers and the writer pointed the finger at Kaling rather than this system that doesn’t let women of color be flawed. It’s just disappointing.
I’m sorry. I’m not even answering the question anymore.
Why do you think some women are uncomfortable identifying as feminists?
There’s definitely the femi-nazi boner killer stereotype of feminists as these bra burning, man hating, heathens that keeps certain women from identifying as such, which is exactly what anti-feminists want. They want women to not want to identify this way and they want women to think that feminism is unnecessary, that we’re OK without it, which is exactly how white supremacy operates!
What do you have to say to women who believe in everything feminism means, but refuse to use the word for fear of being stereotyped?
Cut it out! The solution isn’t to get rid of the word, but to change the way that the word is perceived. You’re not not a feminist because you refuse to use that word. Look, I’m black whether I want to be or not. I can’t walk up to people who I know, or maybe just think I know, are judging me because of the color of my skin and say, “No, no, no. I’m not ‘black,’” and smile and be on my way. That’s not how shit works. Go ahead and call yourself a “humanist” but you are doing exactly what they want. You are a pawn in this whole game. They got you, girl! Congratulations. They have mastered the art of misdirection and got you to abandon that word and abandon the cause because they’ve made you too afraid to even say it.
What do you think women can do to be more supportive of one another?
The competition needs to stop. And I get it. I was terrible at this and constantly used to compare myself to other women and hate them if they were thinner, smarter, funnier, more successful than me. And I think that this is something that comes with age, too- once you realize how exhausting it can be, you stop. Just supporting one another, promoting and encouraging each other. If you see a bad bitch, let her know. Let the world know.
How do you think we can improve our fight for equality?
Complacency is such an issue here. I think a lot of us want to hold on to the notion that we’ve come so far, and we have come far, but acknowledging how far we’ve come doesn’t change the fact that we have so much further to go. I think life for me, life for a black woman, is easier now than it was 50 years ago. But it’s still really, really hard. And I think people forget that. We forget that life is still really hard for a lot of people, and ignoring that because we would rather cling to this idea of a post-racial America is just lazy. I think that’s why these conversations are so hard to have. Acknowledging that we have work to do then means that we have to do work! Being a participant in the fight for equality is intimidating and it’s hard, but that’s what is needed. We all need to be actively participating in confronting stereotypes, racism, sexism, micro-aggressions- including our own biases, and we need to be doing this every single day.
Who inspires you?
I’m really into people who are unapologetically loud and big and abrasive and not afraid to speak their mind. In terms of who I want to be and who I look to for inspiration and motivation, Mindy Kaling is up there at the top.
What books or media have made an impact on your life?
Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar columns have made a serious impact on me. She wrote “P.S. Keep doing everything like a motherfucker” in my copy of Tiny Beautiful Things and I’m crying just thinking about it. I’m going to talk about Mindy Kaling again. Seriously, what Mindy Kaling has done with “The Mindy Project” and her portrayal of a successful chubby woman of color who makes no apologies about it has done a lot for me. It’s unfortunate that a character like Mindy Lahiri, and a creator and boss lady like Mindy Kaling, is so revolutionary in 2013, but it is. It’s been really amazing and inspiring to watch.
And this is totally predictable of me because I’m a shameless self-promoter, but Black Girls Talking has made a huge impact on my life and the BGT ladies inspire me as well. The three of them encompass those qualities that I really admire in women: just strong and loud and willing to stir shit up and the ability to express themselves so eloquently at the same time. It really feels like I’ve found my people with them and I feel really lucky to be a part of it.
Follow her on Twitter @Ramou.