An Intimate Conversation With Keke Palmer On Growing Pains, Embracing Change And Perception

I must admit, going into my interview with Keke Palmer, I expected the obvious: the laughs, and an all around cool vibe, but what happened..


The gag is, Keke Palmer just spoke an entire word and it's not even Sunday.

That's all I could think of when I wrapped up my interview with the beauty and mega star. I must admit, going into my interview with Keke Palmer I expected the obvious: the laughs, some positive affirmations, and an all around cool vibe per her onscreen characters and offscreen persona as portrayed by the press and social media.

Keke Palmer is the all-around cool chick. A guy's girl. A girl's girl. The role model that's safe enough for you and your 12-year-old sister to both be a fan of. She steers clear of being in any real drama, yet remains relevant enough to snag everything from leading movie roles to hosting daytime talk shows, all the while appearing to have it all together.

Which-- considering the scandals most celebs often find themselves caught up in as part of the propaganda used to help propel them from transitioning child stars into a space of relevancy for their forthcoming years-- is a rarity.

But that's Keke for you. A class act. Sweet. Rare, and aware that she is rare, but still humble at the same time.

But today, I met Lauren. Lauren "Keke" Palmer.

Wise beyond her years, unapologetically Black, and refreshingly transparent of her fears and flaws in an effort to teach others. A young woman who has been famous for longer than she hasn't. Whose success at an early age earned her access to a certain lifestyle fairly young, including a desirable salary and owning a house while still in high school--a home she'd d later go half on with her live-in boyfriend while still just a teen and barely legal herself.

And with that in mind, it's only natural that the actress would have more than a few lessons worth learning and listening to, ranging on everything from love and perception to power and respect while I found myself taking notes from the candid "Keeks." I think one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to think that a person of status can't relate to their problems, and don't have the answers to "real" life. But who better to take notes from than someone who embodies empowerment and success? After all, the hardest part about fame is not becoming famous, but rather, remaining relevant.

And with that being said, you may want to bust out a pen and prepare to learn a thing or ten!


xoNecole: You're definitely personable. Aside from the fame and having been successful from a young age, you're relatable on many levels. When you say you were in your own way, do you have any advice for how people can get out of their own way, with themselves?

Keke Palmer: Stop telling yourself what you can't do. I so often kept telling myself that "I can't do this, I can't do this," yes you can! Sit down and think about what it is that you want and why you want it. You have to check if your reasoning is coming from a pure place. Then you get your plan together. How am I going to do this? So it's just about taking yourself through the process and going through a list. Why do I want to do something and is it coming from a pure place? Then move forward and figure out how you're going to get it done. It's just steps and steps and steps and taking it one day at a time.

A lot of times we'll look at things from the full point of view too soon, and from the end game and then we scare ourselves half to death.

When you're building a house, you don't think about the windows you're painting. You don't think about if you're going to have a nice couch or an oval couch. You're thinking about making sure you lay the bricks down. Brick by brick by brick. The foundation. And that's how you have to think about it in terms of going through your goals, take it one step at a time. That's all you gotta do, take it one step at a time. That's all you need to do--one step at a time.

xoNecole: Michael B. Jordan said something very interesting, but I think it got lost in translation unfortunately. He said he doesn't just want to do 'Black roles'; it's already known that he's a Black man and he embraces that, but he just wants to be cast as a "man," in a role. So with that said, what are your dreams for yourself, as an actress? What are your dreams for your roles, in the future, not limited to race or culture?

Keke: I know what Michael B. Jordan is saying. He's saying that he doesn't want every character that he plays to have the idea over it that 'I am [just] playing a Black man.' Here is the thing, when you look at me, you can tell I'm an African-American woman. So that's already going to come with what your perspective or experience with African-American people or African-American women has been.

In my work, what I want to depict is the people you haven't seen. That's what's important to me. So right now I'm working on a script with a couple of guys and it's like a buddy-stoner film. It puts you in the mind of a Seth Rogan movie and Friday mixed together. And for me, that's not anything that you've seen a woman do before. So you haven't seen that type of film, let alone with a woman, and let alone with an African-American woman before.

I love being Black. And people are not going to ever look at me and not see that. It's obvious that I'm an African-American woman. What's important to me is showing the different images that people have of "Black." Showing the different things outside of that, not keeping it just one way. You've seen someone do it this way before. You've seen people do that before, but let me introduce to something new and different. Because these characters exist too. There are other character types of women. Other character types of Black women. Other character types of young people. There are millions of them and I'll about showing the ones--especially as I get behind the scenes as well, I want to created those roles that allow you to see people in different lights. The way I see them everyday. The way people that go to HBCUs see each other.

That's why I always wanted to go to Howard. Because when you go to an HBCU, you see Black people that you never even knew existed, because that's not what is being shown to you. Therefore, if you're not seeing it, you don't know it exists. And that's what I'm about. And I want everybody to have an opportunity to do that someday.

xoNecole: In regards to your role on Scream Queens, I think one thing I admire is your attempt to change the negative stigmas that come with "stereotypes," and I think you do that with your role with Zayday.

Keke: Ultimately the character that I envisioned Zayday to be is a cool, chill, smart young girl. We talked about her being a mix between Michelle Obama and Beyoncé. To me, if that's not a beautiful young woman, then I don't know what would be. But having said that, I think Michelle Obama knows what "ratchet" means, I think Michelle Obama knows what's going with the Black youth today. You know what I mean? Her being educated doesn't mean she she is not a part of Black culture or what American Black culture could be described as. I feel like sometimes there is a lot of sensitivity because Black people, we don't get a lot of images on TV.

So therefore when we do see images, sometimes we can be extra, extra critical. That's not just with my character on Scream Queens, that's with characters on Empire, characters on Scandal, but I think ultimately we have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and the barriers that are being knocked down when you have Black women on television and when you have the diversity.

I could not have expected the support I have been given with my character Zayday from Scream Queens. Every episode my character has been trending and I'm so blown away by that, and that is the support from my community and I think that let's people know that people want to see this images on television. They want to see something they can relate to. Every African-American character I play isn't going to be like Zayday. I mean, every character is different, but in this particular show Zayday is supposed to be depicting a young, African-American millennial today. So she is going to say stuff that's going to make her seem 'familiar,' but that doesn't make her stereotypical. That makes her like you.

Black culture is amazing if you look at the show, anything you say Zayday does that is portrayed as “black culture", it is portrayed in the most interesting light. I mean honestly, if we're going to talk about anything “stereotypical" that she is doing, I mean, she's cool, she said fun, she's fly. She's a the positive stuff! She's every perfect thing you can think of in a stereotype damn near.


xoNecole: Just to kind of piggyback off of the comments you had about getting out of your own way--have you ever felt a sense of fear when it comes to trying new things that might take you to the next step in life, and how do you get over it?

Keke: We have a choice. I feel like sometimes in our existence, in our society, we feel we don't have a choice in how we feel. Fear is a choice.That is something you can either choose to feel or not. That is not to say that you're not going to have dangerous situations, or situations that have multiple [bad] outcomes, but ultimately you get to choose how you feel about it and how you choose to feel about it will help propel you forward in how that situation goes.

If I perceive a situation to be bad, my experience might as well be bad. But if I perceive a situation to be good, there is nothing that is going to stop me from having a good time because that is what I want the situation to be. So I think the first thing to overcome fear is to understand that you have a choice with how you choose to feel and how you want to feel about something and fear falls under that. So ultimately, fear doesn't have to be real if you don't want it to be. I look at my situation from this point of view and that's what helps me and guides me.

Perception is big. Perception is one of the biggest things that is guiding our world right now. I mean, from the looks of Instagram, from the looks of Twitter, from the looks of Snapchat, perception is a big thing, but it doesn't have to be negative. If you look at the power that perception is having on our generation right now, you can look at so many positive ways it can be flipped into your personal life.

xoNecole: I love that. And thank you. I appreciate that for myself and for our readers because I'm definitely putting that in there.

Keke: And another thing I'll say on top of that is that "change," is another one of those things. Change in who you are. Change in your life, in your relationship. Change in your job. Change is something that we are so afraid of. We pray and we pray for things to happen, 'I want this change to happen in my life,' but the moment that, that change happens, we are dumbfounded. We are horrified. We are backtracking. We are trying to put our lives back into the pieces of who we thought we were.

Change is the best damn thing that can happen to you! If your life isn't changing, if your life isn't constantly under construction, well baby we need to get to moving. Baby, we need to do some stuff.

When I embraced change--whew *takes a deep breath*--that's when I got on Broadway. Change--that's when I did [my single] "I Don't Belong to You", Change--that's when I did Scream Queens, because before then, that's when I was trying to keep whatever life I thought was good and comfortable for me before, I was trying to keep that together.

But when I realized that my change [and changes in my life] was the answer to my previous prayers, is when I realized losses are necessary. Some things are necessary for me to lose. It was meant for me to lose that. I was meant to not have this or that. Once you accept things that you necessarily didn't want to accept before, once you accept them, that's when you can move forward. A lot of times we are holding on but we also need to learn and accept to let go.

Letting go--it can seem much more difficult in the moment of it but when you do, that's when doors also open.


xoNecole: Keke, you're about to make me cry. I don't even know if you realized what you just said.

Keke: And I'm so glad that you felt that. And that's really how I feel. I feel that ultimately all of us are going through the same thing. We all are experiencing the same thing in our own different ways. Mine may have an industry background. Soraya, yours may have a journalism background. But it's all the same thing. I'm telling you, we're all experiencing growing pains. But it's all only for the moment-positive or negative- and it's going to be okay.

xoNecole: You seem to be a woman that embraces her body image as a beautiful, natural woman, even though you do have access to do these enhancements and all these things that young girls who are rich and successful sometimes do, have you ever felt a pressure with your body image and how do you go about embracing that in a time where being "natural" is like old school now?

Keke: That is kind of funny to me. I do see sometimes where people maybe would expect something more or something extra but my body is natural. This is my natural body. I mean, I work out and stuff like that but for me, enhancements--and no offense to anyone else--enhancements haven't really been something I've been into. Ultimately for me as a spiritual thing, I really don't want to have any surgeries if I don't have to. I don't want anything foreign going into my temple unless I have to.

That's not to say on certain days I'm not like, 'Damn, I wish I was a little bit taller. Or damn, I wish I was a little bit thinner.' Whatever, we all have our moments. But ultimately it's about loving who you are. I'm happy with who I am. So none of that outside stuff can really phase me. At the end of the day, you either love me or you don't. You either like me or you don't. So I'm not going to change or tweak myself thinking it's going to make you like me more. That's not to say that other people are doing that because they think it'll make somebody like them more. I think surgery has become very trendy now. It's a part of our pop culture.

It doesn't bother me that I don't have it. And it doesn't make me think that I'm better than anybody because I haven't had surgery. It's just not my thing.

xoNecole: You're a role model. You don't shy or scare or away from being a role model, but do you ever feel pressure not just as a role model, but specifically as a young, black role model? Because so many people feel that aside from you, and the Zendaya's and Amandla Stenberg's, there aren't really that many young, Black female role models. So do you ever feel pressure to maintain a certain image?

Keke: I feel pressure to be myself. Me ultimately, I'm never going to do something that I'm not proud of, or that I can't talk about or that I'm ashamed about, that's number one. Whatever I do, I'm going to be able to talk about and I'm going to be okay with it. That's number one. So all my decisions are based on whether I'm comfortable with them. And if I'm comfortable with them, I have no problems sharing them. Now, on another note, do I feel pressure being a "role model"? I mean, I do and then I don't.

xoNecole: It's not a trick question, I promise. [laughs]

Keke: No, I know. This is the thing. I feel pressure in a good way. I don't look at the people that are looking me and think that they want to see me lose. I look at the people looking at me as saying that they want to see me win. And that's what propels me forward. To have the gumption to always checking where I'm coming from. I've been in this industry for 13 years and I have kids and I have people that look up to me in my career, that support keeps me on my toes to always make the best decisions.

But ultimately I'm the one making that decision, and as long as I feel good about it, that's what matters the most. But people looking at me and having eyes on me, I use it as a good support and a positive way for me to continue to do well and stay on my path.

xoNecole: What was the inspiration behind the song and video for "I Don't Belong to You"?

Keke: The inspiration behind the song is kind of just life lessons, like relationship stuff and work stuff. Like I experience a lot of change in my life. It was right during the time that I did TLC and I was doing Brotherly Love. A lot of changes were happening and I had just gotten out of a long relationship that I had been in. And then I had many changes in my work and getting back into film. I had done True Jackson, VP for such a long time so it was kind of just transitioning into different roles and now that I was an adult, figuring out what type of stuff I wanted to do.

I was experiencing difficulty with change, and so during the course of that time I was gearing up to start back with music. I was working with London and Natalie Simms and we were just in there working and coming up with stuff, and on the second day of work he had produced the track for "I Don't Belong to You", and we're in there laying down melodies and I went into the booth and literally all the stuff and all the feelings just started to manifest itself into the song. I didn't know really that it was going to mean that much to me until after we recorded the song. After we recorded the song and I heard the song, I was like, 'damn this is good.' I love the song. I feel it.

The song kept living with me. I did the song over a year ago and it kept coming back into my mind. And then I ultimately realized that it was kind of the epitome of that transitioning time for me. And that's why it felt so close to me.

I don't belong to anyone else but myself.

I have to make my own decisions. Happiness is defined by me. My sexuality is defined by me. And that can change and this can change and I can make it what I want to make it because I'm the one who makes that choice. So that's what "I Don't Belong to You," is saying. This song feels right. It feels right and it's telling who I am. And it captures my identity.

Featured image by Tinseltown / 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.


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:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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