Feed Drop: Ijeoma Oluo and Ahamafule J. Oluo In Conversation

In this bonus listen, we're sharing the recording of a live event that the library hosted in celebration of Juneteenth. Seattle writer Ijeoma Oluo and musician and filmmaker Ahamafule J. Oluo are siblings, and they joined us for a discussion of Juneteenth and Black creativity, liberation, and joy. This event was made possible with generous support from the KCLS Foundation.

A note: while moderating events is part of Emily's job, we recognize that having a moderator of color would have added value to this conversation and we’re committed to making every effort to do so in the future. Our upcoming fall series highlighting authors of color will include BIPOC moderators in those conversations.

Listen


Download episodes on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotify, and Google.

A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.

You can also watch a video recording with captions on YouTube.

Recommended Reading

Want to learn more about Juneteenth? Check out this list of ebooks for all ages created by a KCLS librarian.

eBooks for Juneteenth

List created by LibrarianDest











View Full List

Contact

If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to deskset@kcls.org.

Credit

The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.

Transcript

- You're listening to The Desk Set.

- A bookish podcast for reading broadly.

- We're your hosts Emily Calkins.

- And Britta Barrett.

- What you're about to hear isn't a normal episode of the Desk Set. Instead, it's a recording of a live webcast that we hosted in celebration of Juneteenth.

- And it is our very first time using this new platform; we learned so much. But we'll talk about that sort of at the end of the conversation. Until then, please enjoy.

- Before we begin, we want to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral homelands of the Coast Salish people, including the traditional unceded territories of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Nisqually, Snoqualmie and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and thank the original caretakers and the storytellers who are still here and have lived here since time immemorial.

And now I am excited to introduce Ijeoma Oluo and Ahamefule Oluo. Ijeoma Oluo is a writer, a speaker and an Internet Yeller which - kudos to her, it's not an easy time to be a woman or especially a woman of color on the internet. Her work on race, gender and other social issues has been published in The Guardian, The Stranger, The Washington Post and many more. Her best selling first book, So You Want to Talk About Race came out in January 2018 and is back at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list right now. Oluo was named one of the most influential people in Seattle by Seattle Magazine, one of the 50 most influential women in Seattle by Seattle Met and one of the hundred most influential Americans in 2017 and 2018. She's the recipient of the Feminist Humanist award of 2018 from the American Humanist Association, the Media Justice Award from the Gender Justice League, and the 2018 Aubrey Davis Visionary Leadership Award from the Equal Opportunity Institute.

And if that's not impressive enough, her brother Ahamefule J. Oluo, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, a writer and a stand-up comedian. He's a founding member and a trumpet player in the award-winning jazz quartet Industrial Revolution. He was a semifinalist in NBC stand up for diversity comedy competition, and he co-produced comedian and writing partner Hari Kondabolu's albums Waiting for 2042 and Mainstream American Comic. Oluo has appeared on This American Life and he is the recipient of the prestigious Creative Capital Award as well as the Artist Trust Innovators Award. He's written two autobiographical musicals, which played the public theaters under the radar festival. Now I'm Fine, which came out in 2016. And New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley described as a " New Orleans funeral march orchestrated by Arthur Schoenberg." The other is Susan, which Brantley called "virtuosic and crackerjack. Now I'm Fine, was adapted into the film Thin Skin, which Oluo co-wrote, scored and starred in it set for release later this year. So keep your eyes out for that.

And thanks again to both of you for being with us this evening.

- Oh, it's us.

- It's us now.

- It was so nice to hear such nice things about us.

- I know.

- Cheers, happy Juneteenth.

- Who wrote that?

- Yeah. It is always weird when you get your bio, it's so flattering but--

- Yeah, and also things I wrote about about myself -

- You wrote it, I wrote it too.

- Oh, why was I so wordy? Why didn't I cut some of this out?

- If only I could like write everyone else's opinion of me. That'd be great, happy Juneteenth everyone.

- Happy Juneteenth.

- I'm so used to having an audience in front of me and now I'm looking at the screen of a phone but I--

- Yes, there are blips of hearts coming up.

- Yeah, I feel you there. I feel you... the phones too far away to read. You can be saying really terrible things about us but--

- You know if you've ever wanted to say terrible things about us Now's the time we can't read it. Get it all out, it would be healthy for all of you. So, happy Juneteenth.

- Why are we here, Ijeoma?

- We are here because this is set - well Friday - we're celebrating the day that word finally got through that we were free, right?

- And today we were available. Friday we were not.

- It's a huge celebration for Black people in this country. It is a time of community and history and connection. And a lot of times when we engage with Black history in America, we engage with trauma. And I don't know any Black students who like really look forward to February rolling around and be like whoa Black History Month. It's a whole month of fire hoses and police dogs. Yes, just what I wanted, right? Let's watch Roots again. And Juneteenth is a time of celebration, right? And celebrating how far we've come, celebrating community, celebrating how strong we are as people, and so, I love it. I do. And I'm so excited to celebrate. It's also just nice to be out of quarantine, to be with my brother. We have been doing our social distancing. So I think we've seen each other for three times for the last three months.

- That's why there's here.

- This table right here is--

- No COVID can go past this table.

- No COVID can go past this table. I love the ridiculousness of this to that we have not like hugged each other.

- Yeah.

- In four months.

- It's probably longer than that, but because of the pandemic four months.

- We've been blaming the pandemic for the last four months. But we'd love to come up with something else once this is all over.

- So, if you are unfamiliar with Juneteeth, you should read a thing about it, there's lots of things about it. Basically it celebrates black liberation and through that black joy and--

- We were thinking about doing a longer thing about what is Juneteenth? But then we thought, when I celebrate things, the last thing I really want to do is teach white people. So, Google if you don't know and if you do, welcome to the celebration and I'm sure you can feel out the vibe of the space and I'm excited to talk about Black joy in the Northwest, Black joy in this country. Triumphs, great things. I don't know if you've noticed, we are two Black people in the Pacific Northwest and we have managed to carve out some--

- Hence acoustic guitar you have, Ijeoma.

- And so we've managed to carve out some joy here. And it's fun to share it with you all. And it's nice. And we talked a little about what we're going to talk about, but I would say for me personally, recent weeks have been incredibly difficult, like more difficult than usual. And when you write a book about white supremacy in America, and then Black people are being murdered, you're asked to talk about murder and white supremacy over and over and over again. So this has been the first time in a very long time I've gotten to talk about something joyful, especially having to do with my race and identity. So I appreciate this opportunity. And I love an opportunity to do anything with my brother. We don't work together very often. And we found that we can work together and not...

- Yeah.

- And still..

- And still like each other.

- Yeah.

- I feel like there's been a huge sentiment lately...obviously we're in a very difficult time, but there's huge sentiment of like, at least something's happening right now. Let's be grateful that something's happening and I understand that. I understand that, but it really makes you...like if you take a step back you understand even in the celebration on Juneteenth, even when we talk about how great it is that something's happening, we're talking about these dents in this 400 year wall of oppression, and what we find is...Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas. And if you want to find a celebration of the end of slavery, in general, I think that's gonna have to be sometime in the future. And it's just like, okay, we have to stop and celebrate something. And with the events going on right now, it's like, oh, we're making some progress. We have to stop and celebrate something and it's like - celebrating not being a slave. Celebrating the fact that people are starting to come around to not murder, that murder is bad.

- Yeah, I'm glad that Black lives might matter. Enough at least to write it down on some streets.

- Yeah.

- That's why we're celebrating.

- But it is one of those things that I feel the standard of what makes a celebration is built on such... We should be able to celebrate better thing. Better things than not having do shit for other people for free.

- Yes.

- And better things than maybe a future where people don't die disproportionately...

- Some people saying that murdering Black people is bad.

- And so I feel like oftentimes even when we bring up ideas of celebration around Blackness, the celebration is a morbid affair. So for us right now, I think it's really great to see each other for the first time in a long time in person, we talked on the phone but to be in the same room for the first time and to have a little bit of cider, and it really does feel like a celebration right now. We were listening to music earlier. And it does feel good to celebrate, it does feel really good to--

- Yeah, and so I hope, especially Black people watching this are celebrating too. It's you, me, Aham, and baby me having a celebration.

- This is my house by the way, this is the baby picture of my sister that I keep in my house.

- Isn't that sweet?

- At all times.

- Is this the only--

- To remind me of when she was small. And had no power.

- I mean, technically, I don't even think you were born yet. So I think--

- I think that I was born.

- You had far less power then at that point.

- At that point, yeah.

- I think it's to remind you when I had absolute the most power over you. Anyways, so talking about celebration, I think it's so important, you know, when I do this work. I think it's really important. It's really easy, as Black people in this country to be focused on what we're fighting against, right? And instead of looking at what we've been fighting for, and I hope that we take the Juneteenth, and any day honestly, where we're tired and overworked to look at what we're fighting for. We're fighting for the protection of black joy, we're fighting for our families, we're fighting for people we love, we're fighting for each other. And if we don't nourish that and maintain that, then even if white supremacy is defeated, we have lost. And so I'm very excited about this. And so I'm excited to ask Aham questions. I hope he's excited to ask me questions.

- Mildly, yeah.

- Mildly excited. But drink a little more cider. And so I guess, I would love to... Let's look at our childhood a little bit here. 'Cause you and I both were raised in the Pacific Northwest, and this is King County Library System that's hosting this. So we have two Black people who've been here, majority of our lives. I was two you, were six months old, when we moved to Seattle. All of our children have been born here. We are Seattle babies and we have built all that we have here in this area. I guess starting out with, you know, what are your earliest connections to Black joy here in Seattle?

- We were raised by a white single mom who was very involved in our very early life in the Nigerian community. Our father was Nigerian, but we did not grow up with him. But especially the first few years of our lives, there was a lot of random Nigerian people floating in and out. But after that, there was a long period of time where I feel like we really had to understand race and the role that it played in our life and growing up in a multicultural environment, having a white mom, knowing that we're Black, not necessarily knowing what that means being. Having an African father versus an African-American parent, and all of those kind of figuring out all of those things and having a very fractured view of Blackness and what Blackness meant to my life.

And for me there earlier things but the most prominent thing being a musician is when I started playing music, and I grew up on black music. Most people in America in a way grip on on Black music. But I noticed that when I started playing jazz, when I started immersing myself in Black music, and playing with other young Black musicians. I noticed that, whether it's genetic, whether it's because I grew up in a household where there were Nigerians in the first year of my life, whether it was because some sense of what it means to be Black is gained just by walking around the world with dark skin. Whatever the reason, I noticed a musical kingship with other Black people that I played music with, and also an understanding of the Black music that I was playing. When I was in jazz - middle school and high school jazz bands -  that were predominantly white, I would notice people I'm like, "You don't really understand what this is? You don't get what this is?" And this feeling of like, wait I understand this, this is mine, this is part of me. When I took rhythm classes in college, it felt like a thing that I was just gaining an understanding for something that I already knew. And building that connection and understanding the joy that you can have with the foundation as a Black musician making Black music in America, which is one of the richest musical traditions that has ever existed in the world. It was really one of the big doors that opened for me in understanding my own Blackness and understanding what it had in store for me and what levels of connection that opened up.

- Nice.

- Thank you.

- Good job.

- I'm glad you liked that, Ijeoma.

- I have little moments of definitely feeling connected. Probably, some of my earlier ones - outside of like food, right? Whenever cooking was happening, whenever other Nigerians were coming. Music was always playing, everything smelled like stockfish and onion and peppers. But also, this is gonna sound really funny. But I remember when mom took me to get a Jheri curl.

- I did not have that experience.

- Yeah. She took me to get a Jheri curl in like '90.

- Okay.

- So Jheri curl was already on his way out. Okay, we were a little late to the Jheri curl phase.

- That's what happens when you get Jheri curls on layaway.

- Yeah. But she saved up and was going to take me to get a Jheri curl and I was in this all-Black saloon. And I remember, I didn't even know what is Jheri curl was. I just remember them saying you're gonna be able to move in your hair is gonna move around. And he points to this white lady with curly hair he says, "Your hair is gonna look like hers." Now, Jheri curl. That's not how Jheri curl. FYI, not how they work at all. So I got a Jheri curl, and I was allergic. And all my hair fell out. And then my mom shaved my head. And I immediately became connected to Blackness in this sense of hair is very difficult in a community that's not set up for - that doesn't support Black hair. And also I had a pretty fierce buzz cut for a while, which was amazing and I had--

- You're like Sade.

- Exactly and my hair was all-natural for the first time in my life at that point, because my mom had had to shave it all off. So that was quite the connection for me. But in all seriousness, I'd say my first real connection like feeling was when mom took us to support... Where is my brain?

- Jesse Jackson.

- Jesse Jackson in the '88 primaries and like waiting in line, and was so excited and was explaining we were going to be a part of picking a black president and how important it was for her to know we could be President.

- I don't remember, did he win?

- No, he didn't. But it was a moment I remember just - we were surrounded - 'cause this was when we were living in Sandpoint.

- Yeah.

- And so, we were living kind of in these housing projects, surrounded by other Black people, really just feeling part of a community. And that was a really special moment, like it hadn't occurred to me that a president could look like me. And once the election was over I kind of forgot a president who looked like me I don't - I didn't get anywhere near that feeling until Obama got to the primaries.

- Don't say his name.

- I know.

- I miss him so much.

- I know, I didn't even think I would miss a medium liberal President, and yet I will vote for anyone -- Complete sentences. I miss complete sentences.

- Yeah.

- I missed some sort of like - anyways we're celebrating.

- What was Obama's dog name again? They got that hypoallergenic dog.

- It was sounding like a B.

- It was starting with a B.

- Was it Bonkers or something like that?

- No, that's a dog from Shrill on Hulu.

- Bo.

- Promo.

- Bo.

- Keep Bo for president? Is Bo old enough in dog years? Is he 35 years dog age yet?

- Is Bo still alive?

- I don't know.

- That would be dark.

- It would be great to have our first time hypoallergenic.

- People answering whether Bo is alive. So many people are like Bo, Bo.Wow, y'all are serious about your presidential dogs. Your turn to ask a question.

- Can you give me 10 more thoughts on Bo? Okay, so this is not on the hidden paper that we have. But let's do it Christmas Carol style.

- Okay.

- Past, present, future. Here's the ghost of Black joy present. Where do you get your Black joy now?

- Oh man, I got the cutest letter from a reader yesterday. So I have pretty bad anxiety. And lately it's been extra. And I had just given up on getting anything done for the day and I was going to go to bed and I got this adorable letter from a 14 year old Black girl who had read my book and she called me Miss Ijeoma throughout the whole thing and just talking about what it meant to her to see herself reflected in the book and how rare that is and... Oh man, it just gave me such peace in a way that I hadn't had. Like that's where I'm finding - young Black people who are just giving me so much joy right now. And they have to because it's really tough world and I think as we get older, joy is a lot harder to find but not many people have it. What about you?

- I would say, I've really  - not to plug - but making the movie, Thin Skin that we made together that is getting... It would have come out in some form at a film festival or something like that by now but because of COVID it has not. But we made this independent film that was based on my live show. This is Seattle and working as an artist in Seattle means that once you get into the infrastructure of things, it's a very white environment. But this was an independent film where we really raised all of the money ourselves. So it's Black director, Black actor, like everyone Black, everyone a person of color, everyone a woman, very few white men to be seen around and just having a situation where there's a bunch of Black people in charge of a project. I know that I'm talking about work when I'm supposed to be talking about joy, but that is -

- Yeah, no, it was good..

- I'm a sick person who gets his joy out of work. And that's every day that I get to work on that and I get to work with Charles Mudede and I get to work with you and I get to look at the beautiful work that you did on that. And as we're finishing that I'm kind of immersed in that. So I'm kind of filled with joy from that project.

- I love that project so much.

- You still haven't seen it?

- No, I haven't seen it. Working with Charles again was a dream. So you've worked with Charles in this filmmaking, film writing perspective. But Charles Mudede of course, he's also an editor and a writer. And I used to write from him when I wrote for The Stranger, and I've never had a more fulfilling relationship - professional relationship - than I had with Charles and having to leave for Stranger due to their lack of morals, it was heartbreaking to leave the one Black editor I've ever gotten to work with in my life.

- It's tough.

- And it was just heartbreaking. It's writing like music and filmmaking is very white industry. And I've missed working with him so much. And the amount of joy on set.

- Yeah.

- And because Charles is a weirdo. A weirdo, the most delightful weirdo, but also working with you because we had never really worked together.

- Yeah.

- And I didn't know how that was gonna go because you're my little brother and you're kind of an asshole and I love you. And you were so professional and great and wonderful and supportive.

- Yeah, I'm a way better person professionally.

- You were so supportive. I had never - I'm not an actor and never had any desire to be an actor. But I was playing myself and I would do a scene and you'd be like, "You're doing really good at this." And you were so supportive to everybody, you were so was so calm. And you were probably the most calm person on the set. And it was a beautiful experience. It was a healing experience 'cause we were talking about our life, our childhood, we had a version of our father in there, and got work some with our brother.

- Yeah.

- It was such a beautiful experience that I just loved. I really did.

- It's a really good movie, I can't wait for people to see it.

- I wanna see it too.

- Yeah, it's not meant to be a plug but...

- But I'm excited to see it, I haven't seen it either. And a lot of love went into that project. All right.

- Okay.

- Joys future.

- I just talked, you go. iI's your turn.

- No, I literally just talked.

- Yeah, but you jumped in on my question.

- Okay fine. All right. All right, where am I finding joy in the future? I am a couple of things. One, as even though we talked about how it sucks that we're celebrating like people are just now figuring out Black Lives Matter. But one thing I am encouraged in seeing is people who are open to talking strategy around Black liberation instead of just, is this a thing we should support, should we support Black people's rights who live in this country? That we could talk to strategy that makes me really happy to see. It makes me happy to see activists that I have known and respected and admired for so long, who are all called too extreme to finally be given some center stage to really talk about, you know, defunding the police, defund the police. Oh, my god. Defund the police, right? And be heard. And that gives me some hope. It's Pride Month.

- Yeah. As a queer black woman. I always get a lot of - I'm loving seeing how much space is - and we need more - but is being given to black queer folk, queer and trans or nonbinary people. That has given me a lot of joy. And I just love seeing youth activism, right? I was at a college a few months before this Coronavirus outbreak. And it was amazing to watch. I had been invited by the University presidents. And the group of Black activists, unbeknownst to me, had been protesting at campus. And they found that I had been invited, they hadn't been consulted, and they kind of hijacked the whole thing. And it was so beautiful because they like pulled me into a room, we started talking strategy, they were trying to get advice as to how to get the college to listen to them, you know, how to get people to show up to their events, and we were able to coordinate and I was able to move this audience, right? This older audience that came to watch me, to come listen to these activists who actually, were really working so hard to change their whole school. And being able to be on as many campuses as I've been on these last couple of years and watching how quickly young Black students jump at the chance to push a conversation forward, to make real change happen in their environment, is really inspiring because it's really easy - you do a lot of this work, or you can just exist as a Black person in this world for a long time -  to feel like nothing will ever change. And so miss your idealism, to miss when you were like, "It can happen now." It could happen, this could be it. And to see people just trying still and to know that after 400 years that hope still lives that fire still lives, it really does remind me that the jaded position that I am in is not the only position. And that as long as we have more generations of people, we have hope. And I hope that my effort now is to protect them, to ease their way so that they don't end up jaded. But they're just beautiful. I love them.

- Yeah.

- What about you?

- A thing that I'm excited for is...like, look, this is a dark time right now. We have a global pandemic that I'm against. And we have a--

- An unpopular opinion.

- We're in an environment where I feel like so many... I feel like every other time we've dealt with the aftermath of some horrific event that's happened to the Black community and the rest of the world, the rest of our country kind of reckons with that. It's always been like, "Okay, we need to figure how to make a change, we need to figure how we're going to change hearts and minds." And I feel like this instance, this round that we're in, has involved a lot more of like, "Hey, maybe I'm the problem." It's been a lot more like, "hey, maybe it's not about finding some external solutions." Working in the arts, working with a lot of arts organizations, I've heard so many people in those organizations questioning their own role in that. And like look, there's a lot of qualified white people in the arts that I've worked with and I love and it's wonderful, but a thing that I've talked about multiple times is when I do talkbacks is, I've been performing since I was 16 years old. And this is most of what I've done for my life. And I've never worked with a Black artistic director in my life. Ever! One time. Even when I do work focusing on Black people, and Black life. I've never done a major project with a major organization that had a Black artistic director, because there just are so few. And I feel like this combination of self-reflection and the fact that because everyone's been so... because of quarantine and because of... We have to stop and reevaluate what all these organizations look like when they come back. We're at a point in reflection, even if all this other stuff wasn't going on. And as someone who art and music and comedy and these things, they are the central to my life. I'm really excited about the idea that maybe, just maybe, when people have to rebuild after this, some of these ideas will be part of the rebuilding and they'll get put into the foundation of what comes after this and not just as an afterthought, not just as a band aid, not just as... this is a thing that we can do to look like an organization that understands this thing. No, we have to rebuild, let's let our cornerstone be people of color. And this is an opportunity to do that I don't know has existed in this level in modern times. And that's something I'm excited about in the future. It might not happen. It might comback worse than it is, but I'm excited that--

- Everything might be Amazon.

- Yes.

- Yeah. That's exciting, though. I mean, I think we are always presented with new opportunities, and it's collectively what we decided to do with them. And I think that we should always be excited when all new opportunities come away and try it rise to it and try and get people excited about it. Where are you finding Black community right now? We're social distancing, we can't actually be in a room with other Black people. We are two related Black people who are rarely in a room together. Where are you finding that community right now?

- I don't know. I don't know that I am. I think that's the thing that is as we figure all this out, that is the thing that is missing in my life right now, a sense of any community but particularly, especially because a lot of my... As I talked about earlier, my connection to Blackness centers a lot around music and because that's what I've done, that's been my life forever. And to not be able to perform and not see these people that I've been playing with since I was a kid. I've playing with the same people since I was a child, the same Black people since I was a child. And now we can't play anywhere! There's no shows and I have noticed that it's the thing that's really missing in my life. It's good to see you though.

- Yeah it is. I guess I'll do for now.

- You're not good at music but...

- Do you know what a complex you've given me about music through the years? Like maybe I could be good, maybe if someone hadn't told me I'm not good at music my whole life.

- I'm your younger sibling I can say whatever I want. I think I can blame you for everything that--

- I think for me, I feel in some ways really similar, in that it's very obvious how white Seattle is when you can't leave. And I have missed Black people. I am very glad that the last trips that I took for work, and I took my partner with me, were to DC and to Georgia, Atlanta. I remember getting a Uber or Lyft in Atlanta and - after eating shrimp and grits - and the Lyft driver opening the door and going, "Hey family!" and welcoming us into the car. And just feeling like "Oh my god, we belong." The one thing I will say that has been helpful is the writer community in general, like the Black writer community, we've been reaching out to each other and I've been getting messages on Instagram. And they're wonderful too because I think especially right now if you do any kind of activism work around race or even if you just a Black person existing like you've probably gotten this too, right? You're hearing from all these white people like, "I'm so sorry about the world, Oh my god, I'm so..." Have you heard about it? I'm sure you've heard-- What's happening, I'm really sorry about it." And it's a lot. It's overwhelming. I'm less helpful than it might seem actually. And what I've been getting from the Black community is like, "Hey, girl, check out this great dress that might look good on you."

- Yeah, with videos.

-Yeah, with this funny video, here's some great dance scenes. "This is a song you will love. Here's some Black joy your life, buy these earrings I know you love earrings. Can I send you some tea?" You know, really looking out for each other in that way that I have loved, and understanding that we need some space to breathe in a world that seems very suffocating right now. And so, for those brief moments where I can look and see a message, and it's just someone saying, "Hey, checking in on you, did you eat well today? Check this out. Hey, did you laugh today? Here's a really cute video." Has just reminded me how strong our community actually is and strives to be that. I don't have a Seattle Black writing community because the Seattle writing infrastructure is incredibly hostile to Black writers. I've FaceTimed with like Marcus Green, there are a couple people that we talk, but it's not a big community and I don't think any Black writer in Seattle would feel like they have a Black writing community in the city. And so knowing that even someone out in DC, or New York is going to take the time to say, "Hey, how are you doing out there? Here's a smile for your day." Has helped remind me that we are so creative as people and that family transcends states, that you can have family across the country, which has been, you know, little moments, it's not enough but it's helping me get by.

- I've been thinking about a thing. I was just thinking about this just now. When I went to Nigeria, which was a really important thing to me, and something that I dreamed of doing my entire life, and for me was really special because we had this kind of disconnect with our Nigerian family. And a lot of my work, my stage work kind of centered around that. And when I did Now I'm Fine at the Moore. I kind of took whatever money I made from that, and I use that to take a trip to Nigeria, to go see our family and then that trip then became a large part of what my next show was. But there's a thing that happened that I didn't include in the show, which was that... Forever I just thought that going to Nigeria was this impossible thing it was, we grew up poor it was. It might as well been a million dollars to Nigeria when we were kids, just was not going to happen. And then as I got older and then I realized, "Oh, now I can just buy a plane ticket, I can go and it's a thing that I can actually do." I bought a plane ticket with that money. I was so excited. I made my plans, everything like that. Showed up to the airport, was checking in for my flight, I'm ready to go to Nigeria. And they're like, "Okay, we just need to see your Nigerian visa." And I had no idea that I needed a visa to go to Nigeria. Because of just this American privilege that you're American you think you can go anywhere in the world. But no, you need a visa to go Nigeria. So they're like, "Oh, you can't go to Nigeria today because you have to apply for a visa." And get approved for a visa and everything like that. And I was kind of heartbroken but also just jumped right on it and started the process of getting an emergency visa. It was a really horrible process of like, this intercontinental transferring money from here to there, having the Nigerian consulate in DC fax this thing to somewhere and just this horrible thing. It took several days but I was able to get it done. I was able to get an emergency visa. And then I went back and I bought a new ticket. I went back to the airport, and I landed in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. And I showed them my passport. The front page of my passport, my Nigerian visa was taped to the back. But the front page of my passport just had my name and my picture. And I handed it to them, and they looked at my name: Ahamefule J. Oluo, they looked at my picture. And they didn't flip to the other pages, they didn't look at the back then look for my visa. They just said, "Welcome home." And that is a moment of connection that had been missing my entire life. It's a moment where I was given the benefit of the doubt. That my presence, not only was welcomed, but my presence was natural. That I was supposed to be there. And it's a feeling that I think not very many Black people get to feel in America. And it's a feeling that that made me feel different about my my Blackness from that point forward.

- Wow, that's amazing. I've never been back and which is something that every Nigerian is dismayed about when they hear, "What do you mean you've never been back?" Once I was in the hospital for a couple of days, my name is very distinctly Nigerian, as it's yours, right? But Ijeoma, it's like the Susan of Nigeria. I'm Facebook friends with like three other Ijeomas. And everybody--

- My name is like a long, old name. Like my name is like Ebenezer . So when I'm in Nigeria. People are like, "Ahamefule? You go by that whole...that's like a weird old long name."

- Yeah, but like Ijeomas everywhere, right? And so, if you are a Nigerian in America and you wanna make your family proud, you go into pharmacy or nursing. And so I remember when I was in the hospital for a couple of days, I had gotten really sick when I was pregnant with my younger son. And I remember I've had LASIK but before then, I'm like practically blind without my glasses there was--

- I have perfect vision .

- Braggart. Whatever. And so my glasses off when I was sick and I couldn't see. And my name was out at the door and every morning I would wake up to, "Hello! I hear there was another Nigerian in the hospital. I had to come say, hi." And then they'd be like, "So I hear you have never been home." And I was like, "Can I just put my glasses on first before we start..." "Why have you not been? You need to go." But I've never been... The community I found, you know? I think you and I have somewhat different relationships to Nigeria to our dad, to that legacy. I think the closest, the most recently, where I felt really connected to Blackness. You know, in the work I do talking about race actually can... I spend a lot of time in front of white people. Believe it or not, it's not the idea of a good time for most Black people to hang out and talk about violent white supremacy all the time. It's just not a party. And it can be really draining to sit in front of rooms of white people. And once again be like, "This is what racism looks like. Please try to do less of it." And we're doing this to survive and it's really draining. And you're looking at a few faces of people that you're hoping will understand. But - I last year went to the Anti-racist Festival at American University that Ibram Kendi put together. And it was like - I walked into this mixer. And there's Christine, all these beautiful Black women who write all about all sorts of things about race and children's books and adult books and self-care books. And then, Damon Young was there, we hung out and I got to speak to a majority Black audience about these issues that means so much to me, we got to talk not about why racism is bad? Or is racism bad? how to be less racist? but instead how to preserve joy, how to preserve community, and my partner was there and he had never have the best time at my speaking gigs. I had really been like, "You really don't have to come," because he's Black as well, was at times very drained and--

- It's almost like if you're a fish and then you go to a meeting, and it's like, "Did you know that water is really wet?"

- It's like, "Oh, god another meeting about this water and how wet it is." And so he came with me on this trip. And I was doing this panel, we were talking about, writing about issues around race, but it was like a Black audience and the concerns even, even when things got tough, it was tough as like a Black person saying, "How do I keep going? How do I find joy? How do we, you know?"

- Yeah.

- And being able to reach out to another Black person and say, "I see you I love you, I care about you." And I remember I left and my partner was like, "Wow, you're a totally different person in this space. I've never seen you talk like this. I've never seen you connect to an audience like this. You look so alive. I can see what keeps you going in this work. I wish you could do this all the time." I do too. But it was beautiful to know that even in the work there's this downstream effect that there is still a community that lives this and that we can still life each other up. And it was a beautiful thing. I mean, I hope to live in a world one day where I don't have to write about this anymore. I want to write murder mysteries. Murder mysteries that don't glorify cops. So, I'm obsessed with British murder mysteries, mostly--

- We've just watch some Cadfael earlier, which is a great way to celebrate Juneteenth. With a British murder mystery about a 11th century monk.

- See this is what I love about British murder mysteries, okay? It's these quaint areas, where everyone's dying. It's rampant white on white crime just, rampant white on white crime.

- I think it's in their culture.

- It really is, you know? We need to look at the family structure in British white communities. What is causing everyone to murder? You could just get a divorce, as anyone told the British -- 

- And the plague is 'cause of how they're living.

- Absolutely, and so you know. I when I get tired of writing... I read this British murder mysteries I love this world filled with white on white crime. Where Black people are just off not murdering each other. And white people are just like man, this sleepy cottage town, everyone just keeps doing murder all the time. I would love to look at mysteries one day, and I've told you some of the things I would love to write were like Black people exist and as whole people and have whole mysteries to their life and it's not about the cops, it's not, it's just interesting stories that live within the realm of Blackness. So, one day, I hope to write really, really bad fiction, and then that will eventually become good fiction and not be pulled back once again into documenting the horror that's happening right now in this world, that's like my goal. I hope to make space for that soon. What are some of your goals in your art in the future?

- You know with the last show, with Susan, my most recent show, I noticed, it wasn't really intentional, but I found that show just resonated much more with an audience of people of color and in a Black and brown audience. I feel like, forever, I've been working to make my art as broad as possible, while maintaining true to my principles, I don't waver on what I intend to do and in terms of principle, but in terms of how do I make that translate to as many people as possible? And then I did this show that deals so much with gentrification, deals so much with what it's like to feel like a Black person in America now and I noticed this difference in how particularly older white people reacted to it versus people of color, particularly people of color. Well, people of color of all ages, but particularly younger people of color. And for me, it was like, maybe I don't need to chase every audience, maybe I should make work that's going to be most appreciated by the people that are going to make up the world that I want to live in, you know? And write things for that beautiful future world and hope that it manifests, hope that it comes into fruition. I mean, I think that's my plan, is to is to keep making things that make Black and brown people happy and not really care about as many other things. Because the things that we're talking about now, as these beautiful, exciting moments are really built around kind of commonplace existence and being recognized as a human being because that's what happens when the standard is like, don't kill me, and let me own property, and when that's the standard, you know? Basic elements of joy seem like these extravagant things, and I guess what I want is for them to not be extravagant things for them to, you know? For this to just be the work that I do and for this to just be the audience that I work for, and the people that I work for, and the people that I hopefully enrich their lives.

- Yeah, just be like, yeah, of course you would.

- Yeah.

- Yeah.

- I think we're about out of time.

- Yeah, I think we are, I think we're about ready for--

- I've never done one of these--

- Yeah, I don't know is somebody--

- Does someone jump in?

- Do questions magically become a thing? The screen did something.

- Can you hear me?

- Ah, yes.

- All right, okay. So this is Emily from the Library System. I have some questions, we've got way more than we'll have time for but I've chosen a few of them.

- Okay.

- So, in the spirit of celebration and joy, can you tell us some of your favorite, this person asked specifically about fiction by black authors, but I'm curious, just in general about black artists that you are turning to for joy right now.

- Yeah, I had the most amazing conversation with Nora Jemisin, N.K. Jemisin. The amazing black, speculative fiction writer has won, I think three Hugo Awards, the only black woman in history to do so. And it was so fun, we got to talk about science fiction and imagination, this revolutionary tool, right? And how important it is when, just like you were saying, you know when the world itself tells you that victory means you get to not die, right? That victory means the terror is lessened, to instead throw it out and say, what if I created a whole new world? What would it look like to create this whole new circumstances and envision that as a black person? That was just so amazing to me, and I'm also super pumped about Jason Reynolds, he's a young adult writer, writes the Miles Morales series, a lot of other books for black youth, he's like a superstar of young adult fiction, and just the energy he gives, the love he has for kids, the love that black kids have for him, just knowing, like dude has like a tour bus like-- its just ridiculous, And he's like this tall black dude with long locs and tattoos and you know? And just living the life, just writing to please black children. Like oh, I just adore it. So, that exists, I'm giving a lot of inspiration from that right now that's making me really happy.

- I love Samantha Irby so much.

- Oh, me too, she's the best.

- I love her books, but right now, a thing that has been getting me through this pandemic, is that Samantha Irby, if you don't know her, she's the best selling author of several books, you should look her up, she's incredibly brilliant and hilarious, but she also has a newsletter that is almost daily, where she does recaps of episodes of the show, Judge Mathis. and it's just the best thing that exists and nothing gives me more black joy than Samantha Irby, then black Samantha Irby talking about the black people on Judge Mathis is really like, if you wanna see nuanced life communicated through just one of the most brilliant narrators of our time, I recommend it to the highest degree.

- Yeah, Sam is a genius, absolutely at the highest order. I adore her and like, as a black queer, fat woman who grew up poor to read stories that seems so familiar and somehow are hilarious and you're like, wait, I didn't realize my childhood was hilarious, but here it is, it's hilarious. Oh my god, like it's just brilliant and beautiful. if you don't have her writing in your life, well, you're missing out.

- And if you're just hearing about her, this is why white supremacy has to end. You could have heard about it earlier.

- Exactly, you could have had Sam Irby in your life for so long if it weren't for white supremacy, burn it down.

- Yeah.

- Okay, sorry, I'm just so distracted, I'm thinking about Sam Irby, she's great. Sarah says she's curious about whether the moment we're experiencing is spurring either of you to create new material, whether it's celebratory, joyful material or sort of commemorative or more somber. What are you working on, and is the current moment informing that?

- I wish it was, I think what it is spurring for me, I mean, I'm working more than I ever have but it's all out of necessity, it's not out of like, a creative growth spurt, like it is staying up all night watching protesters, hoping they're okay, talking, trying to get people to understand why we have to support this movement, trying to get people to understand you know what police actually have been doing to our communities for a long time. It's really actually a brutal time creatively, my creative, you know I just finished writing a second book on violent white male supremacy and my goal was to not do that, to get a break from that and this has definitely made sure that this is all I'm going to be talking about in the near future but what it is spurring, I think, for me, at least, and that I know for a lot of other black writers that I talked to is how much we need self care, and it is spurring my future plans to prioritize my creative life like I'm saying to myself more and more. God Ijeoma, didn't you start writing because you love writing? Because, I don't remember loving writing and I don't feel it right now. And so, I'm going to have to find a way to spur that so it's giving me the need, I don't have the creative juice right now, it's more of a survival instinct in me saying, you can't do this forever, you're gonna have to prioritize. If you care about black people, you're a black person to care about and don't let this steal writing from you, and so I've definitely started making more plans than I had before, it's like, okay, what workshops can I get into? What healthier spaces can I get into that are going to balance this? Because, I think we look at what black people create in these times, and we think, oh my God, it's amazing, see what they did and when I look at in these times, especially as a black creative is, Oh, shit, what could we have done?

- Yeah.

- Like, what could we? There is no, I'm sorry, but if you live at the crosshairs of this, there is no, I got inspiration you wrote the greatest thing of my life in the middle of terror and trauma. It is, I tried to survive, and I came out with something, and it could have been 10 times better if half my brain wasn't taken up with fear and terror. So, it's recognizing that like, okay, I can't martyr myself to this, I can't martyr my creativity to this that my creativity is worth more than this and that I'm going to have to find a way, to nurture my art and my talents, that's what's driven home but right now, I'm not there. Right now it's every day is this present emergency we're in and I have to find that so that's kind of my goal.

- Well, sometimes it does happen like that, so sometimes it does happen that people find this incredible inspiration and then they write Change is Gonna Come, or they write Strange Fruit.

- But like Billie Holiday threw up after singing Strange Fruit at the time, you know? like, these are huge risks.

- But what I'm saying is like, there's always gonna be living in this random universe, there's always gonna be these points and connections, you know?

- Yeah.

- I feel angry right now I think about, everything that I thought I'd let go every time that I had been just sucked with by the police for no reason and I thought it was behind me and then it comes back and I get angry and I guess if I had some creative idea that was inspired by that, it might give me some fuel for that that might create this perfect storm and life is random and those beautiful things happen and beautiful things do come out of terrible things, But it's misguided to think that beauty itself is created from those things. Beauty itself shows its power by making it past those things, by exploding through those boundaries and when when people have a vision so strong that it can even be held back by that and then we see those we see those beautiful things but... my beauty isn't because of oppression, my beauty exists inside me. And yeah. I again, I wish that this were inspiring me and who knows, maybe something will come out, but I know one thing, I'm not sleeping better, my mental health isn't better. my workflow isn't better, you know, we'll see.

- Thank you. Going back to the idea of celebration and sort of the time that we're living through, I'm curious how you are planning to celebrate Juneteenth this year and also how your family has celebrated it in the past when you're able to gather in person.

- I mean, mostly we just say Happy Juneteenth. we're not the most social beings

- I mean, this is our Juneteenth--

- Yeah, good, happy Juneteenth and--

- Right now getting to see you after not getting to see you and getting to celebrate--

- This is the highlight of my week, Year, for sure. obviously, it really is. I mean, I think like creatively, like, I'll definitely, we reach out and I'll be saying happy Juneteenth to a lot of people, I know that my partner is going to be doing a Juneteenth celebration on KEXP, he does this every year. For him, it's definitely bringing together music community--

- Lets start by getting everyone the day off.

- Oh, love it.

- And then-- we'll ask that question again.

- Exactly, I will still be working on Juneteenth, I will still have deadlines on Juneteenth, but I will say happy Juneteenth to people, and I will be happy at seeing other people where they can celebrate, but it's just a moment, I think to recognize other black people, like for me, the connection is just in knowing like, oh, here's the thing where other black people are reaching out to other black people and saying like I see you. It's like a collective nod, you know? Which, by the way, Seattle start teaching your black kids to nod 'cause they're not doing it. It's not like you see black people all of the time here, nod, when you see like, oh my god, teacher kids to nod, anyways, but it's like a collective nod, a celebration that we're still here. That's probably what we're going to do, we're gonna say happy Juneteenth, I usually force my children to watch some videos, read some things, so it's not their favorite.

- I would normally be doing some kind of Juneteenth gig.

- Yeah.

- That kind of show.

- Yeah and luckily that the internet exists so I can still force that upon them. And it will be like the Juneteenth of old but we're not incredibly social people, you know? And we're going to just keep doing the work and you know? It'll be a nice little reminder it's like reach out that we still have community but especially when you can't see anybody, can't get out to a thing.

- Yeah.

- Sorry, that's like a such a downer. We're kind of, but we're not the most fun people.

- We have some requests from white folks who are not familiar with "the nod" in the comments to get a demo. Can we get a demo of the--

- No.

- Not fair.

- It's not for you anyway so you'll never see it again so I don't know why. You're never gonna see it, you know?

- So Eric--

- You'll be able to crack our code

- We don't want you tricking us. we're like maybe that's a really light-skinned black person, how do I know, they nodded at me.

- Eric wants to know how old you were when you found out or first celebrated Juneteenth and did you learn about it in school, or was it something that you found out about elsewhere?

- The first time I did it was when I did a Juneteenth gig when I was like 18 years old. As the first time I heard about it, I didn't know anything about it before that time, I never learned about in school, you know? It's I think probably the least taught about holiday that there is.

- We did nothing in school at all, I found out about it in high school because I was in Running Start and I was another black student association at Edmonds Community College. And so, it was my job to coordinate celebrations. So, I used to celebrate, I guess when we talked about past celebrations, I definitely celebrated then, but I had not heard about it at all and it was definitely something when I would go back to like my high school and talk about, people are like, what are you talking about? Or like just, there will be music, please come, you know? and it's sad because it's a beautiful holiday and like I said, I think especially, I speak at a lot of high schools, and when I talk to kids, they talk about how much they dread February coming around and the actual trauma of it. Juneteenth would be a great, you know, counterbalance to some of that trauma. If it could be taught in schools and celebrated in schools, I would love to see some of that.

- Right, a lot of people are calling me out in the comments for asking the nod question, and I hear that and I apologize. They are right, I should not have asked it. We're working on learning in public so sorry about that. Let's see. there's so many. Okay, so here's a question from Sherese. She says, "What are your thoughts on ways to manage the implicit thought that to be black means that you speak for all black people?" She also says, "I'm a black therapist, and I've been thinking about reasons why the black community is not accessing behavioral health services as readily right now." And she thinks it's important. She's wondering if there's anything she can do or the community can do to raise that up.

- It's hard because it's not a thing that we chose, it's not like black people speaking for all black people, like gets imposed upon you, when every time someone invokes black on black crime, when talking about anytime someone invokes... Well, if you want improvement in the black community, you need to start it from the inside, like anytime someone says a thing like that you're creating kind of this dynamic that white people are individuals and black people are this amorphous blob with some internal communication that speaks some language that the rest of the world can't understand that we have to figure out our message and filter through some translator. And we really get put in a position where you are supposed to speak for black people. I don't even speak for myself sometimes. But it is a situation that we get put in, like you get put in that situation, and not only that, but you get put in that situation every time that you're out in public in the way that you present yourself in the way that you act and this idea that everything that you do isn't just representing you, it's representing black people as a whole. And if you do something wrong, it's black people doing something wrong. I mean, that is a thing that needs to change, but...

- Yeah, I don't know anybody who's like, "I speak for the blacks." Who's actually black, plenty of white people-- who claim to speak for black people. When we talk about mental health so in therapy too, it's interesting to me is I think a lot of times and maybe this is what the person has some question was thinking of as a mental health professional is people saying black people don't get therapy. What's actually being said is that therapy wasn't built for black people. And the truth in that is like I love therapy.

- Me too.

- You love therapy. Finding a black therapist very difficult. Being a black therapist, I've talked to black therapists, also incredibly difficult. It's an industry it is a business built not to serve us not to help us. and the people who are serving and helping us are doing so against an entire system that tells them that we are to be pathologized, and that we are abnormal in the way in the way in which we live. And that we are to be emphasized with... They're finding an educational system that doesn't actually look at us, like full human beings, looks at us as problems. And so when people say therapy isn't for black people, what they're saying is that it didn't help me, it didn't help my mom, it didn't help my grandma. I'm going to try to save you the trouble. That's what needs to actually change. It's not even our conversations around therapy, therapy has to change, right? The industry has to change. It has to want to be a place that proves it can be trusted to trust someone with your mental health. I'm gonna take this really dark. I have a friend whose cousin went to a mental hospital to seek help with mental health issues, and was murdered yesterday by one of the guards, a young black man was murdered by the guards there in an altercation. So I'm not trying to convince black people they need therapy. I want mental health just like every other sector to see us as whole people worthy of full lives who have full lives and to serve us first. It is not good for our mental health to go into any space and consistently be harmed. And that is happening to a lot of black people in the mental health spaces and it sucks because a good therapist is amazing, like a good therapist does so many great things and part of me wants to say keep trying. But what I really want to say, is change the industry. Fight for the industry and if you are a therapist of color, if you're a black therapist, a black mental health professional, keep fighting for change and try to force your colleagues and let us know how we can help force your colleagues to actually make that change happen so that it can actually be a safe spot.

- All right. Thank you for that and one more question. While we're talking sort of about centering whiteness or decentering whiteness, there's a question from someone who's on a diversity curriculum taskforce for her organization, and was recently struck by the comment, diversity from what how would we talk about being inclusive without the premise that whiteness is the center of everything? She's looking for a language that can change the way that we think about that. Wondering if you have any suggestions.

- That's an Ijeoma question.

- One thing I'll definitely say there's a couple of pitfalls that companies and organizations make when I try to look at their diversity work. One, is they're coming from the idea that they've been sold this idea that you watch these TV shows, where it's like, "The bunny rabbit was scared when the tortoise moved in, because they didn't think get along. Turns out they all like the same things and now they're best friends." Difference is great, right? That's not actually how that works. We have people from different backgrounds, different needs, different life experiences. And sometimes you get in the same room and you don't find out you have the same goals, the same personality, the same likes, and you still have to respect that person and appreciate that person. And I think that's the biggest fallacy that comes through is this Pollyanna story that you're going to quote unquote, diversify a work spot, and you're just basically gonna have a whole bunch of white dudes who happen to have different skin color. And so you have to let that go. You have to let go of the notion that a true equity and diversity is going to be painless for the majority. It's going to be an adjustment, it's going to be uncomfortable because you have to shift things. You have to make room. You have to let go of the things that you were doing that are harmful. And then the one tip I'll give 'cause honestly, I usually charge for this. You have to start seeing the lived experience with people of color as a value add in itself. It is not I'm going to hire an engineer who just happens to be black. No. It's I'm going to hire a black engineer because what they've learned as a black engineer is valuable to me, right? And that is where you have to understand the value of lived experience the value of different community practices, you have to understand the connection to different communities that people bring in and what it actually means to your environment and you have to value that on its own. Instead of treating it like an afterthought as if we are dragging our identities behind us, instead of it being a huge part of who we are.

- Thank you. I think that is helpful. Even if it's not the language necessarily, we can't just make a quick change. But I think that's a really helpful way to think about. Like you said, the value add. So as we wrap up, Ijeoma can you tell us about your upcoming book when it's coming out and a little bit about what it is?

- Sure. It's coming out in December, and it's called Mediocre: Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. And it's pretty self-explanatory as to what it's about. But it's looking at about 200 plus years of the formation of a particular white male identity in this country. And what it has cost us as people to continue to define success as how people white men in particular can dominate, and control and exploit other people, and what it costs everyone of every race, ethnicity and gender in this country and try to get people to look at breaking away from these dangerous patterns, to save us all.

- Sounds necessary. So thank you again, both of you for being with us tonight. Happy Juneteenth. and thank you to all 5000 audience members as well. We really appreciate it.

- Thank you so much. It was so great to talk to you.

- Happy Juneteenth

- Happy Juneteenth.

- So we hope you enjoyed that conversation as much as we did hosting it. We were so honored to have these two hometown heroes in conversation. We learned a lot, both from a technical side of things and also about how better to facilitate these conversations. And one thing we're really dedicated to doing is involving more people of color in both the planning and execution of events like this.

- We're looking forward to a series in the fall, that features authors of color. We're working with community partners to make sure that the moderators for all of those events are from the same community as the authors themselves. Thanks again for listening. We can't wait to be back with you with regular episodes soon.