What Jameela Jamil Can Teach Us About Being an Activist

In this interview on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah talks with Jameela Jamil, actress on The Good Place, about her social activism. One thing that really stuck with me about the interview was Jameela’s ability to take criticism when it came to having discussions around injustice. When people have told her she didn’t include a certain marginalized group in her activism or corrected her on things she has said as an activist, she accepts it and then strives to do better. Trevor asks her if it gets tiring to have this happen, and Jameela says that no, it’s not tiring because activism is about progress, not being perfect. And I think it’s important to remind ourselves of this when we do activism. I’m an activist, too, but not a perfect activist. I have said some pretty ignorant things in the past about race, class and gender, and many times when people would call me out on it, I would shut myself away and feel guilty about it. One time I said something racist, and I had made this racist joke in the past, and my friend corrected me on it later in life, and then I made the joke a second time even though they told me it was wrong. Finally they unpacked for me why my joke was racist, and afterwards I took it personally and dwelled on it, like “Wow, I am so racist, so ignorant, no one is going to talk to me now.” But after a while, I had to realize that what’s in the past is in the past, and the only solution was to watch what I say next time and educate myself better. I appreciate the classes I took on philosophy and Africana Studies so I could educate myself and also learn from other people’s perspectives. Even though at the time I didn’t like being corrected or called out for saying something incorrect, looking back, I appreciate the opportunities I had to have these discussions.

And it reminded me of a conversation I was having with a white acquaintance of mine, and she was recounting all of these stories about anti-black racism, and we were in the lunch line and she recounted this awful experience her black friend had to go through. She recounted the story word for word, even verbalizing the slur that the guy called her friend. Of course, I got rather tense when she said the slur (the n-word) because it has such a loaded history and even when people aren’t directly calling you that and are just quoting something someone said, it still freaks me out a little when I hear that word, which is why I don’t say it. But then the friend went on about how she feels so bad, so guilty, so terrible for being white, and sucking in my cheeks and trying to remain calm, I asked her, “How will you constructively process this white guilt you feel?” And from there, our conversation got better and I guess I lifted the burden off her shoulders. Now, of course, this friend would continue to ask me to educate her on my experiences with encountering racism, and I could have told her to talk about something else (like, “Let’s lift this white guilt burden off your shoulders and talk about, let’s say, the new show on HBO that’s coming out). But her white guilt taught me that as an ally, even from a marginalized group myself, I need to own my class privilege. What am I going to do when I talk to my friends from low-income backgrounds, just ruminate about how guilty I feel for being middle class? How is that even productive? Whenever I said something classist, I felt guilty at first and would often not talk to my friends for fear I would say something ignorant again, but as time went on, I realized that I’m not perfect and no one else is either. Like Jameela said, you need to own your mistake and move on. Cancelling someone doesn’t give people the chance to have dialogue. Then again, if someone repeatedly does stuff that is racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, or transphobic (I’m leaving out a lot of other -ics and -ists, so please forgive me) you have to wonder if their apologies are actually genuine or they are just not wanting to have an honest conversation about their ignorance.

This is one of the few times I have heard someone talk about how no one is perfect in activism and we are all improving. Cancel culture is very real, but after I watched the interview I reflected on how it has affected opportunities to have dialogue with one another. I have learned to be more careful about what I say, but also to not take comments personally if I say the wrong thing or mess up. I am still working on how I react when I mess up in these social activism conversations, but I’m glad I am working on it because it’s part of the process and instead of feeling guilty about what I said, I should appreciate the opportunity I have to learn from the other person, to do better. I should also appreciate opportunities I have to speak up when someone says something offensive because many people of color in history have had to fight hard so people like me could have the platforms for speaking out against injustice.

Anyway, I recommend you watch this interview.

What Gina Linetti Can Teach Us About Success

In Season 6 of Brooklyn 99, Gina Linetti, the office manager for the 99th police precinct in Brooklyn, NY, quits the precinct to start her own business and cultivate followers for her Instagram. She calls it the G-Hive, a play on the Bey-hive, a gathering of Beyonce’s fans. However, we find out that Gina’s fame has come at a price. While Jake pretends to be fine with Gina cancelling plans and not keeping in touch with him, under the guise that she is busy and cares about her work, Terry knows that Gina is just blowing both of them off because she wants to have a successful career. Gina arranges for the three of them to meet for drinks, but Gina ends up not coming. When Terry and Jake meet up with Gina, she tells them she had food poisoning, but later, when someone from her publicity team calls her, he cheers her on for ditching Terry and Jake to meet with influential figures at a bottled water company. Jake realizes that Gina cares more about her work than she does about spending time with her friends, and storms out. When Gina and Jake are outside, Gina tries to say sorry and make amends, but Jake tells her they aren’t friends anymore if she cares more about her success than she does about him and Terry. Then a criminal stabs Gina in the back, and she lands in the hospital. We don’t know if Gina will go back to her business of the G-hive, but she ends up meeting with Jake and Terry at the bar, and arranges a surprise visit from Terry’s old friend from school who went on to be a successful hockey player in Canada but lost touch with Terry even when Terry made the effort to reach out to him.

I am writing about this episode because it rings so true for my life as a creative. I remember in college cancelling plans and not staying in touch with my friends because I was always doing activities in the music department or studying. Looking back, while I am proud that I excelled academically and musically, I can say that learning how to communicate with people has been the most challenging course I have taken in life. When people would try to reach out to me, I often rebuffed them because I felt stressed and my tendency is to isolate myself when things get stressful. My friends would invite me to things, but I always acted like I was too busy, when in reality, all I was thinking about was myself and my own success. What working and taking care of my mental health after college has taught me is that while it’s of course important to take care of your business and work hard, you have time to live a little. Let’s face it, I was no busier than my friends, even with my workload and orchestra, and yet I always acted like that because I wanted people to take me and my commitments seriously. I lost touch with a lot of people because of this, and ended up taking my anger out on some people because I arrogantly thought they didn’t respect me or my plans.

I think taking time off has shown me that while life is tough, there is always going to be someone more stressed out and busier than me. Heck, not even to compare, but we’re all busy. When I left my job at the daycare my second year of college and flaked on the teachers when I promised to work my last week, I apologized profusely to the teacher I worked with, and she cut me off and said, with a rightfully irritated tight smile and even more strenuous laugh, “People are busy, we know.” Because I had used that excuse so many times with her, when I would “call in sick” so I could study extra and impress my professors by saying some well thought-out comment in class. All that got me was sleep deprivation, poor time management, and a lack of class participation because I was too tired to live, study, breathe. Working with those kids was a way for me to come out of my ego-centered self, to bring out my own inner child by painting, reading children’s books, and playing games with those kiddos. However, I was so into myself that I thought I was too busy to work. I mean, like, seriously, what kind of nonsense excuse is that?

But in short, I was glad I watched this Brooklyn 99 episode because it taught me a valuable lesson: don’t let success get to your head. Make time for yourself and your loved ones. You have to say no sometimes. And don’t quit your day job unless you have something lined up (Gina quit the 99 without a plan, and as someone who tried doing this in the past, I can say it is not for everyone, certainly not for someone like me). It’s okay to do your creative work on the side, and doing it on the side doesn’t make you any less serious about it. I don’t have a full-time music career, but I still love to play music in my spare time after work, write this blog, watch movies, listen to music, knit. And even if I do have a full-time music career in the future, I have to remind myself that success is fleeting and to never forget to keep in touch with loved ones and close friends. Social interaction is what makes us human, and spending time with loved ones (or even just staying in touch through FaceTime or Skype, especially if you live internationally or long-distance) is important for living a fulfilling life. Even if I become a successful musician, I hope I will never let that go to my head.

Lessons You Learn from Watching Brooklyn 99

Brooklyn 99 is a hilarious sitcom about a team of cops who get into all kinds of silly situations while fighting crime. Here are some lessons I learned from the show.

  1. Take care of yourself: Jake injures himself and insists on going back to work, but then Serge tells him he needs to take care of himself. Jake takes care of himself by taking some time off and ends up getting better.
  2. Don’t give up your dreams: Even though she works a boring job, Gina is passionate about her dancing. This taught me to never give up on my musical passion even though I have a non-musical day job.
  3. Don’t quit your job just because someone tells you your passion is a mere hobby: Holt tells Gina this, but then starts to take her more seriously after she tells Holt and Serge they crushed her dreams by not attending her dance performance. Gina inspires me to not give up on my dreams.
  4. Don’t borrow money from people too much or you will forever be in debt: In one episode, Jake has to pay everyone back because they lent him money and so no one will help him pay for his apartment, but because Gina saved her money, she rents an apartment for him. This made me want to save my money so I won’t have to borrow any loans from people.
  5. Don’t get upset if your crush/lover doesn’t text you back within five seconds. Jake meets this defense attorney named Sophia and they hit it off, but then she tells him they need to call it quits since folks at her office are mad that she is dating a cop. So Jake tries to get it off his mind by participating in paint-gun warfare with his fellow 99ers, but then he still checks his phone to see if Sophia texted him back. I have learned that being on your phone all the time makes you lonely and impatient and so I am less angsty if someone doesn’t text me back right away because I have learned it is okay to lessen your phone use.
  6. Be a good coworker and stand up for your coworkers. In one scene Jake is talking with this guy who Captain Holt knew, and the guy makes a homophobic comment about Captain Holt, who is openly gay, and Jake punches him for making that comment. Captain Holt originally thought Jake punched him for no reason, but after Jake tells the story to him, Holt begins to respect him more.
  7. Be appropriate. Captain Holt invites the 99 to a gathering at his house that his husband is having, and so Serge does everything he can to make sure his coworkers are on their best behavior. But things go wrong even when they say in unison before breaking football team style “Be appropriate”. I cringed during this episode because of the awkward interactions between the partygoers and the 99, but it was supposed to be for laughs. I really enjoy this episode.