The pop culture and internet star on Facebook as community, the side-eye emoji and courage via necessity and faith
Blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi is living her best life. In June, that included an interview with Oprah Winfrey herself. At a screening of OWN’s Greenleaf, America’s long-standing living room doyenne was captured in a Facebook live stream rubbing Ajayi’s freshly cropped hair. After years of growing out her trademark dreadlocks, Ajayi was starting anew. Now that she’s been anointed by that most intimate of public interactions, Ajayi is in the midst of a national tour promoting her new book, I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual. The acerbic side-eye Ajayi’s been doling out across the interwebs for more than a decade on her blog, Awesomely Luvvie, has now been captured in tactile form, with an ISBN number and everything.
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Ajayi, 31, has been cracking up her readers with her indispensable recaps of Scandal and Game of Thrones for years, which she intersperses with social commentary on race and gender. Her many fans include Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, Lupita Nyong’o, Amy Poehler, Jennifer Weiner and Ava DuVernay. “It has been surreal,” Ajayi said. “I keep calling myself Forrest Gump.” I’m Judging You is a collection of essays on everything from how she got her nickname to feminism to social media.
Apple or Android?
Android. Everything else I have is Apple, all the rest of my gadgets, but my phone for the last seven years has been an Android. Samsung.
Last podcast you listened to?
My podcast interview with Myleik Teele. It’s my favorite interview that I’ve ever done. I actually listened to it three times, and I never listen to podcasts that I’m on because I typically don’t enjoy my voice. We had such good conversation that I was like, ‘I’ve got to listen to this again.’
Current fashion obsession?
I’m a blazer freak. It’s not even a current thing. It’s been like that for years. I love blazers. It’s like my uniform, my power suit, my power armor. I throw on a blazer and I feel dressed up automatically. I actually like very classic pieces.
What’s the one app you love that no one else loves?
I don’t know if no one else loves it, but my scheduling app [ScheduleOnce] that allows people to add themselves to my calendar and I approve. Any time I send it to people, they’re like, ‘Oh, my, God. This is really cool!’ It makes my life so much easier.
What is your favorite game to play competitively?
I always take breaks and I always come back to Words with Friends.
Favorite/most ridiculous meme right now?
My favorite meme right now is one of this monkey sticking its lips out and it says ‘mtchew’ on it. That’s where you suck your teeth, but the monkey does it in such an exaggerated way that it’s hilarious.
Last print magazine you purchased?
Good Housekeeping because I’m in the September issue. And O Magazine, also because I’m in there, too.
Last panel you spoke on?
The last panel was at BlogHer last month and it was a Comedy for Social Change panel with Jenny Yang and Taz Ahmed.
Last talk/keynote you gave?
I spoke at the Black Girls Lead conference, which Black Girls Rock throws every year for 100 teenage girls. I gave them a talk on digital branding and how they really own their voice and can create a digital reputation.
So people are creating digital brands as teenagers now?
They’re getting YouTube channels earlier … now they have bloggers to look out for and be like, ‘This is who I want to be’ … I drilled into their heads that whatever they do, it needs to be real to them, it needs to be authentic. That’s what I emphasized: Don’t do something just because you see your friend doing it or somebody next to you doing it. What makes you sustain it and do it for a long time is that you are doing it because you love it.
What were they curious about? What did they ask you?
They asked about backlash and how you handle that.
How do you handle that?
You have to figure out where the backlash is coming from. If it’s coming from people who are giving you constructive criticism, you could listen. But if it’s just people who are randomly trolling and hating you, and there are those people, throw that away. Do not give that air, do not give that any type of power and don’t let it change the work that you do.
This has come up again because of the vitriol that Leslie Jones faced recently.
We get more vitriol than anybody else. Being black women, we are a double minority, so we’re getting the ‘b——‘ and the ‘n——‘ at the same time. It is a double whammy. Which is why I am a huge fan of self-care and not feeling guilty about it. It means block who you need to block. It means mute who you need to mute … A lot of these platforms don’t do enough to protect us. If you need to log out for a day, do that, too.
What about sites like Airbnb where people aren’t necessarily — well, in some cases they are — maybe someone isn’t spewing hate, but they refuse to rent to people of color.
Airbnb finally had to listen because there was another platform that popped up called Innclusive that basically was like, ‘OK, if Airbnb is not going to do anything about this, then we will take our business elsewhere.’ It kind of made Airbnb peek up and be like, ‘Oh, I guess we need to pay attention to this’ … It comes down to them also actively fielding discriminatory practices out. Nextdoor is a great example. Nextdoor app — which has been known to be a lot of white people being like, ‘Oh, my, God, I see suspicious folks in my neighborhood,’ is run by a man of color, an Indian man, I believe. He was very concerned about it. So Nextdoor created a series of tasks … to ask people before they submit suspicious activities, which kind of made them check their privilege. Things like: Can you describe this person? What color are they? If you remove their color, would this still be considered suspicious? They said it reduced the amount of discriminatory posts by like half.
Most frequented news blog or app?
Honestly, Facebook. Facebook has actually become a community forum — unlike Twitter. Of course, Twitter is a community forum, too, but Facebook is different — every day you are seeing each other’s lives. In your news feed, you’re seeing pictures of babies, their joys that day. You’re seeing their thoughts about what’s happening around life. So Facebook creates a strong community where you actually really get to know people and who they are.
Most frequently-used emoji?
The side-eye emoji. By far, I didn’t even have to think about it.
Last show you binged through?
Power. Power is amazing. People used to compare it to Empire. I was like, ‘What are you watching? That is not even the same. You can’t even compare them, that makes no sense.’ I think it’s incredible and Courtney Kemp Agboh, the showrunner, is a black woman. So I’m like, yes, come through.
Last museum you walked through?
Probably the 21C Museum Hotel in Arkansas. It’s a hotel that’s also a museum. So like when you walk into the lobby, you’re looking at art pieces. It’s really cool. They have branches all over the country, but I was in Arkansas for the film festival.
Last concert you went to?
Last week, I went to a Lauryn Hill concert … Lauryn showed up two hours late, of course. Here’s the thing, I had prepared myself for her to show up late and to sing a few words of her songs, and that’s exactly what she did. So it wasn’t like I was disappointed. I had a good time with my friends … and Lauryn happened to provide a little bit of soundtrack, but it was basically at a picnic.
Where does your courage come from?
My courage comes from my faith. I feel like God is … I feel like I’m a part of God’s grace, and that holds me up in a way. I also feel like it keeps me humble, and it also keeps me true. I’m hoping I would be true without the faith, but I think it’s really important to be a good person and a part of that includes speaking your truth and speaking it even when it’s hard. My courage also comes from necessity. Understanding that if none of us are brave, then how do we get better. If it takes me to be the person to say that one thing difficult to say and inspire somebody else to do the same, then I’ve done something right.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. You can see dates for Ajayi’s book tour here.