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Actress Logan Browning Gets Real On Privilege, Stereotypes & Navigating Her Darkest Moments

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There's something about sitting on the rooftop of a Hollywood restaurant that invites good vibes and even better conversation. Case in point, Logan Browning and I are tucked inside of a cabana-turned-seating area, sitting across from a skinny-dip worthy pool having casual girl talk about hair over our respective salads. She compliments my locs, I her beautiful mound of dark curls, which are currently slicked back into a ponytail, our conversation effortlessly flowing from relaxers to U-part wigs—black girl magic style.

But as exciting as it is to talk about our hair woes and glows, today I'm meeting with the 27-year-old actress to talk about something deeper. Sacrifices, success, and fearlessly pursuing a dream even when you don't have all of the same tools as your counterparts.

As one of the faces of the Netflix series Dear White People—a television adaptation of Justin Simien's film of the same name—she's finding a greater purpose through her voice. “What I do with my art and my platform I know needs to be bigger than me," she says, and in the satirical series, she's doing just that.

On camera, Browning plays the role of Samantha White, a biracial student at the prestigious and predominantly white fictional college Winchester University, who boldly addresses issues of racism on her campus radio show. Throughout the season, we watch as Sam and her fellow students of color battle against social injustices, creating a feud between the black student unions and supporters of the white-run magazine Pastiche, while juggling their own individual struggles outside of their fight for respect.

Dear White People

Off camera, Browning is equally as woke, participating in Black Lives Matter marches and being unashamed and unafraid to raise her voice on a number of issues from homelessness to the missing girls of color in Washington, D.C. Putting out that energy, she says, is what drew her to audition for the role of Sam.

“I was so active with marches and social media activism and doing my own research, so when Dear White People the series occurred, it felt divine," she says. “I just loved Sam's voice. I loved the way Justin wrote her, and the things he said, I was feeling personally. To be able to recite them as Sam and express them in the way that she expresses them was so liberating because not all the time do I have all of the answers and verbiage to really share how I feel about certain topics. To play a character who was so eloquent and so powerful, it was the perfect opportunity."

Opportunity didn't come without its share of hard work and sacrifice. Though she already had years of professional acting experience under her belt, Browning admits to having moments where she felt that she couldn't measure up to her counterparts who not only had work experience, but years of dedicated training in their craft.

“The wall that I met was during Hit the Floor," she says, referring to her role in the popular dance drama. "I was given a lot of difficult material or material that I didn't know how to handle so I felt like I didn't have the tools. A lot of my contemporaries their college experience was studying theater or they were part of a theater company so for a while I've felt a tinge of inferiority. I had that complex because I didn't have the same training."

Instead of being detoured, she let it empower her. What she lacked in educational experience earlier in her career she made up for in hustle. In between gigs she would take summer classes at UCLA, watch and study footage of performer's she admired, and developed a deeper appreciation for the art that she fell in love with years ago. Her dedication didn't go unnoticed. Amongst numerous submissions for Dear White People, she immediately caught the eye of the show's director.

“I remember seeing her tapes and being so blown away because her interpretation of that monologue felt so honest, and so Sam, but it also felt so singular," says Simien. “It didn't feel like her version of what Tessa did in the movie, it felt like something totally different and new, and she just knocked it out of the park the moment I laid eyes on her tape. "

Dear White People

Going above and beyond and making sacrifices for her career has always been a part of Browning's story. At 14, the Georgia native left her home in Clayton County and relocated to L.A. where she stayed with her godfather, and later her older brother, to pursue her acting career. She picked up reoccurring roles on popular teen shows such as Summerland and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, but it was her feature debut as Sasha in Bratz: The Movie that proved her to be a breakout star. “I didn't know that it was a big anything to be honest. I knew it was a big deal and I was excited about it, but the scale of it was kind of lost on me because I was just a kid having fun."

After wrapping up her press tour for the movie in the U.K., Browning wanted to continue her studies in business and enrolled at Vanderbilt University, but only stayed long enough to finish out her freshman year before going back out to L.A. “Me and my dad took a meeting and my agents were saying you just did this film, if you want to continue to build on your career now is the time for you to be back out here."

The move proved to be risky. Though she had the success of an international movie, the writer's strike left her without a job in Hollywood for the next year, during which time she picked up a position at Kaplan Test Prep while taking summer courses in Ancient History at UCLA.

Despite her patience, the opportunities still didn't come knocking, and Browning reluctantly started making plans to move back to Georgia when she got a call from a producer at Tyler Perry Studios for a role they were casting for Meet the Browns. Booking the show, she packed her bags, moved back home, and studied Art History at Clayton State while juggling the set life.

After three years, Browning followed her instinct and once again left Atlanta for L.A., but she wouldn't land her next major role in VH1's Hit the Floor for a couple of years. Browning shares that it's not unusual to go to 10 auditions and only booking one role. It's during these times of uncertainty that she was often challenged and her true character revealed.

“I don't shy away from those darker moments. I'm not afraid to be worried and to self-doubt and to question what I'm doing because in those moments is when you come up with your next move, and a lot of times that next move is a big one."

"I'm completely okay with just easing into it. It's just like a rollercoaster, you just have to ride the wave."

As a seasoned actress, Browning has learned that not getting a callback doesn't necessarily mean you lack talent either, it could simply be that you don't fit the look they need for the role. “I think that's kind of how I was able to navigate that experience, understanding that everyone has a different journey, and that if I'm not getting a role it's not because I'm the worse actor in L.A. Understanding that keeps your spirits and your hopes high."

Having the faith that her parents instilled in her at a young age has also kept her afloat during hard times when the only thing she could rely on was prayer and the conversations from back home that reminded her that giving up was not an option.

“My manager gave me this metaphor once like Tarzan in the jungle. You're swinging from branch to branch and you're holding on to one branch and then you're jumping and reaching from the next one. And usually you're able to hold onto one while you reach for the next, so you always have the safety net. But there are going to be times you have to literally let go of one and there's going to be a moment when you're in the air and you're not holding onto anything before you grab the next one. Just do it, because the picture of you hanging on the other one, it doesn't look good either. You're just swinging in the wind holding on to one branch and then you lose your momentum and then what happens? You're not going anywhere."

"There are going to be times you have to literally let go of one [branch] and there's going to be a moment when you're in the air and you're not holding onto anything before you grab the next one."

Dear White People

In the case of Dear White People, it's her personal life experiences that have enabled her to fully transform into Sam.

She's attended a predominantly white college, where she found a safe haven on campus in the Black Cultural Center, and living in the south, it was impossible for her not to witness the nuances of racism in a city that to this day remains self-segregated.

“Growing up Black in Georgia, whether you are conscious or unconscious, you will experience racism. It's just a fact, and in America it's a fact. I've had personal experiences that I will constantly question if the person did it because of the color of my skin. To be honest, sometimes you don't know. And that's the problematic part because when you grow up as a black person or any minority, you are constantly asking yourself if this particular experience is racism."

Browning also acknowledges that like Sam, being of lighter complexion has afforded her greater privileges than her counterparts of darker complexion. It's something that hasn't been overlooked by viewers who've penned pieces pointing out the not-so-subtleties of Coco's character, played by actress Antoinette Robertson, versus Sam's.

“It's almost scary to me to label anything that I have as privilege," she says, her green eyes softening. “But I do have privileges—class privileges, the list is there. And we both feel caught between worlds of being so pro-black, but at the same time feeling like people may say you don't really get it. You think you get it, but you don't get the whole of it. Which is also true, there are experiences that I will not have because I'm not a certain shade of brown. So in that way, Sam and I, we're in the same shoes riding the same boat and just learning how to influence this ass-backwards society that we're in right now."

Regardless of the side of the color spectrum you stand on, you can't deny that the show, which aired April 28, door for a necessary discussion around racism, to the point that it sparked protests against Netflix in reaction to its 30-second teaser released earlier this year. “Sometimes I wonder if I have enough to say, if I have enough in my back pocket in terms of personal research," confesses Browning. “But all I can do is say that God put me in this position for a very particular reason. I have the tools already, and it's challenging me to continue to do my research, continue to read, be open to being wrong and being willing to be wrong, which is the journey that Sam is on, too."

As her purpose continues to unfold, Browning also sees a greater responsibility in the roles that she takes on and what she represents when the cameras start rolling. “As a black woman I have to be conscious of the roles I play because if I feed into stereotypes then young women who are looking at me see their experiences as limited, they don't see the full span of their potential so now it is important to me. I'm not always going to do politically charged art, and maybe I will do more. I just want to make sure I'm telling full and genuine stories that young girls can see themselves in or escape into."

At 17, Browning's gift granted her the opportunity to experience life on a larger level, and at 27, she's just now beginning to leave a mark through her life experiences. As we wrap up our conversation, I'm reminded that purpose is timeless, and that every experience, whether good or bad, paves the road for where we're going and what we came here to do, and that alone is worth fighting for.

Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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