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The Feministing Five: Britt Julious

Britt Julious is a journalist, essayist, and oral storyteller. Her work spans various media, styles, and themes–ranging from music columns to podcasts –featuring original stories from women of color. We were so thrilled to chat with her about her work, hustle, and style for this week’s Feministing Five.

britt julious Out of all of Britt’s dynamic work, I’ve really enjoyed listening to her podcast The Back Talk. Just starting production for its second season, The Back Talk features conversations, essays, and anecdotes from young women of color in their own voices. Contributions’ subjections range from body image and sexuality to Naomi Campbell. She is currently looking for submissions for Season Two and will gladly chat with folks to work on their stories if they’re unfamiliar to the storytelling world.

You can also find Britt every Thursday and Friday in the Chicago Tribune covering music, nightlife, and culture in her weekly column. On top of this, she also contributes to Vice, Broadly, The Guardian, Pitchfork, and MTV News. She’ll be in Chicago on December 1st, performing at “Tuesday Funk” at the Hopleaf.

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Britt Julious!

Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. In the introduction to your first podcast, you reflect on how [styles of] conversations and speaking have greatly impacted the way you create–whether it’s radio or written pieces. Can you share more on that? 

Britt Julious: It’s the sort of thing where I don’t censor myself any way. I used to think that because I’ve had journals and have been writing since I was really young that it was the way that I was the most eloquent. It was the way that I got my words out. But I really started getting stuck the older that I got and the more I started getting into the journalism world. I was realizing that there was this limitation between what was in my head, what I was thinking, and the pen and paper, or my hand and the keyboard.

Just speaking and talking, that’s how I have always communicated. It’s how I have always conversed with friends and family. I’m known as a really [out there] storyteller with my friends so I’ll gather twenty people around to tell this [amazing] thing that happened on the train. Storytelling through speaking has always felt the most natural to me and the most authentic to me. As I have gotten older, just speaking and talking has been a really great way for me to explore issues and to write without the limitations of that come with traditional ideas of creating stories.

I started dictating stories in the past one or two years for essay writing as well as for my journalism. It’s a really great way to get through writers’ block. It has really been beneficial through and through.

SB: Your work features stories on the lived experiences of women of color. What has your experience been in bringing these types of perspectives to journalism and media? 

BJ: My initial experience reading stories about women of color, black women in particular, was that it was always pretty negative. There might have been some time in my childhood where it was pretty positive, but as I got older and got more perspective, it seemed more negative. To me, it’s negative when it’s very much a binary. I’ve written about this once and I call it “the tragic and the divine.” You either get these really tragic stories about black women’s lives or stories of these figures like Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey which seem like impossible and there is no in-between. There’re no humans, just living their lives.

As I became more of a writer and a journalist, I began to experience that I was often asked to give my opinion on the tragedy of the week. I really had to take a step back from that because it was mentally becoming really debilitating and damaging. Someone would say, “Hey, this black woman died this week. Can you write about it?”

What I have learned and what has become apparent to me is that there is a need for these stories of the in-between, whether it’s about discovering your sexuality, your personal identity, or talking about silly things like beauty. For example, I’ve gotten really into listening and watching videos of women talking about their beauty regime and how happy it made them. It’s important to talk about things like that, the stories of the in-between and the everyday of women of color living their lives and what that means. This is what I am trying to do with my work and what I am the most interested in seeing. It’s what I would like to see more in the media, it will take a while.

SB: Your pieces and your presence have a really fantastic sense of style. How is style important to you as a form of expression? 

BJ: Style is extremely important to me. I realized from a young age that I felt very different from most people. I grew up in a family with these really strong charismatic black women who always lived by the beat of their own drum in a lot of ways. When I was younger, I wanted to fit in but at the age of eight, I was constantly thinking, “This is bullshit! I hate this style! This is a mess!” I’ve always physically been a lot different than a lot of people my age. I grew to be 5′ 8″ by the time I was ten so I was always not looking like everyone else! I was very tall and very thin, and I couldn’t wear these things that other people were wearing. So I took it as a chance to do what I want to and to figure out what works best for me because I can’t go to Limited Too and buy what the other ten year olds are wearing.

More than anything, style has been a way for me to assert myself. It’s been a way for me to navigate the world, especially when I am very insecure or confused about the things that are around me. When I’ve worked in more traditional offices or in offices that feel very homogenous, I have a tendency to actually go even more extremely with my clothing in order to form an identity for myself or to show parts of myself that I feel are being trampled upon.

Style for me isn’t about trends or something like that because I don’t abide by those ever, I’ve always been a very big advocate of people doing and finding the things that make them happy and holding on to them as much as possible. My friend says that I’m dressing as if I’m from a Blade Runner disco, which is very true. It is what has made me feel very comfortable as it as felt like a uniform for me as I navigate the world.

SB: What has been a pivotal moment in your career that has impacted the way you approach storytelling? 

BJ: When I worked at WBEZ, where I was hired to be a blogger and I did a lot more radio work than they or I expected to do. I was taught a lot of fundamentals in terms of storytelling and expressing myself and that to me was a period when I was writing a lot of essays. It was a critical turning point where I knew what sorts of things I wanted to talk about. They gave me the freedom to write about whatever I wanted to three times a week. I took advantage of it and I was able to explore issues that meant a lot to me but I didn’t have a chance to talk about – everything from black women and mental healthcare to body image issues to the transformative power of dance. Even now when I’m writing longer stories now, I always try to incorporate the freedom that I was given and to not feel limited by the type of story I’m currently working on. It was an important turning point.

Also, I wrote this one essay a long time ago before I had really published anything, it was about sexual harassment on the street. I had never really written anything like that before, and I hadn’t written in way where I could be talking about something that was personal but [instead] expanded it so that it was universal. It was a really key moment because I learned that you could actually write about these kind of subjects. I also learned that that type of writing has the impact to be really important for people besides yourself. You can connect to greater amounts of people and not feel like you are trapped in whatever you are going through or suffering through.

SB: Let’s pretend that you are stranded on a desert island and you can take with you one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you choose? 

JB: For food, I’d bring my mother’s mac and cheese. For drink, honestly, I’d just bring a bottle of whiskey. For a feminist, well I’m not sure if she identifies as a feminist, but I’d bring Grace Jones. She’d be a lot of fun, and she’d be very resourceful. To me, she represents strength, independence, and power.

Featured banner image by Stephanie Bassos, smaller image courtesy of Britt Julious.   

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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