2.26.2015

'Leaning In' Too Far: Why Critics Should Lean Out of Jessica Williams' Business

In case you haven’t been following along, The Daily Show host and political satirist Jon Stewart recently announced that he’s leaving his chair later this year, after 16 years of acerbically skewering the donkeyish behavior of the conservative media, politicians and pop-culture, much to the dismay of viewers. Comedy Central said the network plans to continue on without Stewart, prompting many fans to speculate on who’d replace him.
Many names have been jockeyed about (Samantha Bee, John Oliver—who already has a pretty cushy gig on HBO—and even Aisha Tyler), but the one that landed at the top of the heap was that of 25-year-old actress and comedienne Jessica Williams, who has been knocking it out of the ballpark for the past year or so as a correspondent; unabashedly tackling hot-button issues like street harassmentsexual assaultraceracial profilingthe politics of Black hair and inter-political relationships.
To her supporters Jessica Williams was a shoo-in to replace Stewart after his departure. But recently Williams tweeted, 
“Fact 1: I’m not hosting. Thank you but I’m extremely under-qualified for the job! At this age (25) if something happens politically that I don’t agree with, I need to go to my room & like not come out for, like, 7 days. That being said I am super not right for it, but there are quite a few people who are! Can’t wait to stick around & see what happens.” 
Fair enough. But alas, while Jessica's answer dimmed the enthusiasm of hopeful fans, it stoked a debate over her use of “under-qualified.” Some folks honed in on semantics and seemed to politicize her statement, likening it to the common mistake many women (especially Black women) make in the workplace, of downplaying their prowess to avoid coming across as too ‘uppity’ or intimidating to micro-aggressive white co-workers and supervisors.
One presumptuous writer named Ester Bloom took it a step further, and accused Jessica Williams of fake humility and of being a “high-profile victim of Impostor Syndrome.” And condescendingly insisted that she needed a pep-talk from Lena Dunham (really?) and others, as well as the “best Lean In group of all time.”  
Well, of course! Indecisive Negresses who humblebrag need saving (from ourselves) by white feminists, who’ll whip us into tip-top shape, am I right?
Re-enter Jessica Williams, who swiftly collected Ms. Bloom for her chiding screed, and reminded her that she’s perfectly capable of making sound choices about her own life and career, 


Look, while Jessica's self-reference as “under-qualified” may have rubbed some people the wrong way and in another, more applicable, circumstance the "know your worth" speech would be useful, in this instance I think it's without merit. Jessica never expressed any feeling that she wasn't sharp enough to take over for Jon Stewart. She, more or less, said she wasn't ready. And I think she's more equipped to make the decisions she deems best for her career. Everyone’s approach to tackling goals isn't the same, and no matter how over-qualified, proactive and self-assured Black women are at their jobs, we still come up against resistance, scorn and hit speed-bumps. I know this from experience. It's not a matter of engaging in self-flagellation as much it's making sound decisions and self-assessing.
And no matter what words Jessica employs to measure her experience in comparison to others in her industry, perhaps she doesn't want to host The Daily Show. She's entitled to exercise autonomy over her life and career; however, some folks can't stand it when Black women set boundaries and show freedom of choice. Particularly a segment of feminists—namely white feminists—who love to invoke Sheryl Sandbergisms as a way to cudgel and patronize working-class and upwardly mobile Black women and women of color moving at their own speed and to the beat of their own drum; because they think they can steer and dictate our narratives and lives better than we can... lived experience be damned.
This is one of the things that vex me about white-owned and white feminist media. Things often get taken out of context and devolves into a shit-show, as was also demonstrated by TIME writer Tessa Berenson, who wrote and tweeted the erroneous headline: "Jessica Williams fires back at fans who want her to replace Jon Stewart,” as opposed to the one woman she was actually addressing, perhaps in an attempt to paint a portrait of an ABW,  before being called out for being dishonest.

Tracie Powell, who has written extensively about the need for diverse media voices, does a great job dismantling why  stink think-pieces like Ester Bloom’s do more harm than good, and suggests that writers like Bloom and Berenson could contribute to the discourse in more productive ways if they’d stop making assumptions about a subject’s motivations, acknowledge their own biases and give the people they’re writing about a voice, particularly those people who don’t get the benefit of having a say… e.g. women of color and Black women.
In the grand scheme of this entire discussion, and once again, it’s Jessica’s life and I think she sums it up succinctly when she implores critics to “Lean the fuck away from me for the next couple of days,” and reminds: "I am a black woman and I am a feminist and I am so many things. I am truly honored that people love my work. But I am not yours."  Women as captivating and talented as Jessica Williams is don't get this far being wayward and uncertain. 

2 comments:

  1. What is up with all of these White faux feminists?

    First it was Patricia Arquette with that hypocritical speech about POC's and gays owing White ...8 cough...women equal. Thankfully, I find the Oscars to be racist and very boring because if I would have been into it, I think that I would be throwing my TV in the garbage listening to her saying WE owe women equal right. hmm.. excuse-moi?! Where does this lady get of saying that? Our fight is still being fought and we're still waiting for our equal due and everytime some incident that involved Black women take place , they are nowhere to be found. So someone out to remind Miss. Aruquette where is OUR due?!

    Jessica knows what she wants. She is not 3 years old. I just get sooo sick of feminist pretending that we're all on the same page. They really could care less about the well being of Black and other POC's because as I've just mentioned with Patricia Aruqette faux speech, when we need their help , they are nowhere to be found.

    " Jessica fires back at fans who want her to replace Jon Stewart...'

    That headline reminds me of how White media will tell you that Black women are " aggressive" for asking questions or telling them the truth about themselves. I don't see how anybody could mistake Jess's modesty of doing his job for being mean. I'm glad that she clapped back at Esther because she's full of it ( referring to Esther). I guess it really hurts her feelings that Black women like Jessica didn't bow down and said what she wanted to hear. I thought that she was a full fledged adult who is capable of making her own decisions. Then again White society still think that Blacks are still beneath them.

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  2. And no matter what words Jessica employs to measure her experience in comparison to others in her industry, perhaps she doesn't want to host The Daily Show.

    And maybe that's it. She simply doesn't want the gig. And she's an uppity Negress for not wanting/being grateful for such an opportunity.

    Meanwhile, had she gladly thrown her hat in the ring, she would've been criticized for being a shameless vulture/Icarus.

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