Why This Writer Is Choosing Mental Health Over Wealth

Meet The New Jill is Black



Photo courtesy of Jill Louise Busby

Not long ago, Jill Louise Busby garnered tens of thousands of followers on Instagram as Jill Is Black - the witty social commentator. People dug her finger-pointing and finger-wagging. Her social media content was eloquent and angry, geared toward white supremacy, hierarchy, and oppression, calling out anything or anyone that didn't jive with her political and social opinions.

People loved it. The pithy way she commanded words marked her for influence and thought leadership. As a queer, Black woman, writer, filmmaker, and speaker, Busby has always been committed to fighting for her people. But she's laid down her sword and shield of rage and self-righteousness and found another approach for social justice that doesn't leave her drained and unhappy: The pursuit of honesty.

"Honesty is revolutionary."

This simple and sobering declaration sits just beneath her photo on Jill Louise Busby's website. Fitting, as submission to its pursuit has become the social justice commentator's North Star instead of anger.


It all started on Instagram. Jill posted for fun. Her beautiful and artsy self-portraits and witty, thought-provoking captioning drew a nice little crowd. She mused and offered hilarious critique on a swath of topics including social justice, dating, and the hierarchies we create to feel superior to one another. People agreed with her. People followed her. Her Instagram following rose to a cool 5k without her even trying.

Then Instagram introduced its 30-second video component.

"The running joke was that I would never do videos because I am a writer."

But something happened. Jill, a queer Black woman, was hired at a nationally-recognized nonprofit to help steer diversity and inclusion. It wasn't long before she found herself frustrated with the politics and futility of the work.

Jill did the one thing she said she'd never do — she recorded and posted a video ranting about it. And then, she went to sleep.

"I woke up the next day, I had about 20,000 more followers. People were sending me this video from various [digital platforms] with a million views and I'm like, 'Holy shit.'" Busby remembers with wonder.

Jill soon found herself churning out videos - summoning a deep anger toward systems, people, and points-of-view. Anger was good. Anger signaled authority. Anger did numbers. Anger built a platform. Busby was soon being invited to speak on racism and oppression across the country.

"For me, this particular 'Jill Is Black' vehicle pulled up at my door and suddenly I had the decision to get in and ride or wait and be myself. And I got in the car for a while. A lot of people get in the car because in a society where we crave and love fame, most people are gonna say, 'Yes.' And I understand that. It would be hypocritical of me to say that I haven't enjoyed parts of social capital and popularity. But what is true is, I simply couldn't do it anymore and be a happy person," Jill says with striking clarity.

With her wellness taking a beating, she asked herself one question that made the decision to get out of that car a bit easier:

"Is this the machine you want to feed?"

Maybe she had been wrong about a lot of things and what if being wrong was ok? What if being right all of the time wasn't real or even necessary?

"I said to myself, 'Jill, I need you to stay open. I need you to talk about all the times you were wrong.' I was really guilty of not being open. Of not questioning myself, my motives, who I was to even present some of this information. I also think I did it with a smug-ass face. There is something about being 'Jill Is Black' that feels very important because I went hard in it but [I knew] this [wasn't] going to work."

Busby's realization uncovers a few compelling thoughts: We're all using the same buzzwords and vying for the ultimate forms of political rightness. What room do we make for personal error and evolution? Do we consider that the public opinion and societal norms we believe to be most 'right' and true today will quite likely become outdated and even problematic in a few years? Why do we hold so tightly to the idea of being unequivocal and indomitable authorities?

Photo courtesy of Jill Louise Busby


How Jill Louise Busby is learning to engage with truth and honesty as daily practice is a masterclass our digitally-obsessed and self-righteous society could stand to sit in on.

"I still have a passion for fighting for us [but with] a priority for doing that honestly."

'Ego work' is what Busby calls this awakening and journey inward. It has been, is, and will always be the opposite of what's popular. But that's just the kind of internal and external battle Busby welcomes with open arms.

"I say 'ego work because I'm spending my time saying, 'Yo, where is your ego right now? What is your purpose? And if you're scared that people will find out what you actually believe then you're not living correctly. We like this feeling of being right all the time. I get that. That's an enticing thing. If the relationship you want to other people is simply to correct them and beat them into submission… What we should start looking at is what we're getting out of that," Jill explains with conviction.

Her focus is on herself and those who may be on the same path she was on. "I wanted to [start talking] about myself. I wanted to talk about the me's of the world. Little hipster Black girls who go around spouting this rhetoric that they heard in college. Some of us are doing it sincerely and some of us are doing it for capitalism. So I was going to talk about myself and that's what I did. Eventually I was talking about just me. I'm not going to fuel a rage machine for capitalism. I'm not going to do it for self-righteousness. I'm not going to do it for peer approval."

Jill admits that choosing introspection over dogma is a lifestyle change that doesn't draw coins or clout.

"I think if we were really being true to ourselves we would not have lots and lots of followers for living honestly. I'm losing them everyday so I know that," she chuckles knowingly.

"My mom once said, 'Being a prophet won't bring you much profit.' And I find that to be true. Everybody's vying for the top spot because it's lucrative. You get to tour. You get to write the book. You get to do the guest spot. And the thing is that racism will always feed itself. So you'll always be in a position to talk about it. When we look at our heroes from 40 years ago, they're still doing college tours. Race is good money; honesty isn't."

It's possible that those who found comfort in Jill Is Black's rage cannot fathom Jill Louise Busby's newfound peace. It's possible that some may view her pivot toward introspective social commentary not as pro-Black as her former dogmatic approach. But those opinions matter not. Jill Louise Busby is standing in the fullness of her story.

"I'm a better person as a full person. You don't get 'Jill Is Black' without Jill. Whoever we are online, we don't get those people without where that originated from. You can't take one without the other."

She is just as passionate as ever about fighting for Us. Less concerned with reactive rhetoric, she is interested in expression and internal work that purges the dross and excavates the gold of truthful expression, connection, and actual forward movement.

Photo courtesy of Jill Louise Busby


'Submit' perfectly sums up Jill's life right now.

She says, "As a recovering know-it-all there is something really beautiful about submitting to a process."

Busby has settled into the safety and awe of knowing that she doesn't know everything. The humility of remaining teachable. It's a gift she'd give anyone searching.

"The encouragement that I would [want to] give people is to try a.) reclaiming control over your life and [not being ruled by anger]. b.) I encourage you to try saying, 'I don't know. I don't fuckin' know.' Eventually you will become addicted to the feeling of saying, 'I was wrong about that shit,' and that feels great."

Currently, she's channeling her energy into her art. She is writing screenplays and working on a film. Her show 'Moms As Managers' (in its third season) which stars herself and her real-life mother is a multi-generational creation. The premise: her mother manages a fictitious character who deals with 'every demon' Busby's dealt with and together they tackle a 'menagerie of millennial anguishes' including but not limited to 'ambition, belonging, race, and identity.'

And as one of the 2019 Writers-In-Residence with the Rhode Island Writer's Colony, Jill is also working on a book. It won't be full of the obligatory dramatic short essays. She's penning something we can sink our teeth into.

While Jill Is Black has her place, Jill Louise Busby is in the driver's seat from here on out.

For more of Jill, check out her website here.

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:
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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