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Why This Writer Is Choosing Mental Health Over Wealth

Meet The New Jill is Black

BOSS UP

THIS IS JILL.

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.

JILL IS BLACK.

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

SEE JILL REFLECT.

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

SEE JILL SUBMIT.

'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.

Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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