In honor of Black History Month starting today, I'm excited to kick off an interview series with several lovely black women. My hope is that this series with be able to inspire black girls like myself by providing stories, advice, and emotional honesty from successful women. Their courage, determination, and all around badass-ness inspires me to do my best, and I'm sure that it'll do the same for you.
To kick things off, I spoke with actress and vlogger Franchesca Ramsey, who also happens to be the host of MTV Decoded.
How do you deal with online trolls?
I guess I'm really fortunate because I've been on the Internet a long time and I think I've gotten a lot better at letting things people say roll off my back. I think you have to remember that people that people that put that much time and energy into hating strangers on the Internet aren't generally very happy in their offline lives. That helps me kind of push a lot of that stuff out. I try not to give them too much energy, but sometimes it's good to have a good laugh.
Are you ever scared to talk about problematic things that you see? Have you ever had a moment where you regretted speaking up?
I don't think there's been a time where I've regretted speaking up, but I have really tried to stay away from talking about specific YouTubers with big fanbases because in the past I've had people with massive audiences and the result was just a constant stream of harassment. While it's something that I've gotten better at dealing with, there's nothing worse than literally having a 100,000 twitter messages from children calling you a nigger or harassing my husband or contacting my job.
I just realized that, as much as those people need to be called out, my mental health is more important than that. I try to speak in generalities and leave specific names out of my Twitter feed and YouTube videos because their audiences are really fanatical and that's additional drama that I don't need.
Do you have any advice for girls who might be facing problematic or rude people in their daily lives? How would you confront someone you know in real life?
That's something we all have to deal with. You have to pick your battles. Some people are never going to get it and don't want to get it, and it's just going to upset you and disrupt your productivity to put time and effort into trying to educate that person. Sometimes you just have to know when to say "I'm going to let that person be misguided because I have stuff to do."
But I also think there's something to be said for having those tough conversations with people. If someone at work says something problematic, that might not be the right arena to shout from the rooftops, but a more successful approach might be more important to take them to coffee or send them an email in order to create a safe space for them to learn, especially if your goal is to make sure that they're educated because it's someone you like or respect. If it doesn't work, you have to decide if this is more important to put time into. Unfortunately, I think it gets easier to deal with as you have a little more practice.
Have you always rocked natural hair? Are you comfortable with it? Do you feel that it draws negative attention to you?
No, I have not always been natural. I went natural in 2003, so I've had my locs for like 12 years. When I went natural, my family was the one that gave me a hard time. I didn't know anyone that was natural. It was difficult because my family was like "What are you doing?" Now it's funny, because all of them are natural and wishing they had gone natural before.
You have to realize that people are always going to be confused or sometimes threatened by someone who has the confidence to do something different. It takes a lot of confidence to go natural, especially if you've never gone natural. You don't know how to style it and you're struggling with what you're doing. I think a lot of times people see that and go "Wow. She's a lot stronger than I am," and that intimidates them or makes them uncomfortable.
Take it as a compliment that they're concerned with what you're doing, and once you realize how to style your hair, they'll be coming to you for advice.
What's the best part of hosting MTV Decoded?
I think the feedback from the audience has been really awesome awesom. I think that's the thing I love about making content online - you get instant response. You get to see people sharing it. It's fun for me to go on Facebook and see people I haven't spoken to in awhile sharing it . It's great that we can create content that I think is important and have it resonate with people.
I know that interracial relationships aren't a big thing at my school. Like, I still get shocked when I see them happen. Do you have any advice for girls who might be struggling with interracial crushes or relationships?
I think that, I don't want to repeat myself, I think that as you get older you kind of realize that you can't control what other people think about what you are doing. You will exhaust yourself thinking trying to think about what other people think about you or trying to live your life in a way that will avoid criticism. You could be Michelle Obama, and people would be like "Why does she wear that dress? Why does she shop there?"
There's just nothing that you can possibly do. It's easier said than done, but you have to make sure that your priority is making yourself happy. Whoever you choose to be in a relationship, if that person respects you and treats you right, I don't care who they are. That is the person that you choose, not anyone else. If anyone else is worrying about your relationship, they don't have someone making them happy.
My advice is to remember that your happiness comes first and that anyone who wants to be salty about your happiness needs to find something better to do with their time.
What do you think about when you hear "Black History Month?"
I think an awesome time to look at the accomplishments that black people have made, specifically to this country, a lot of which people aren't familiar with. It's also a time for us to celebrate that black people are a huge part of the success of this nation and that should not be taken for granted.
Is there a specific black woman from history who inspires you?
Madam CJ Walker was like the black first billionaire and entrepreneur! As much as I've heard people give her flack for coming up with coming up with products to straighten your hair, but I think there's something to be said for how she was able to come up with a whole industry of hair.
Women really love their hair, like our hair is very important. She really got the ball rolling and filled a need in the market that did not exist. I think that's something every great entrepreneur tries to do.
What does being a black woman mean to you?
For me, it's really kind of about embracing and loving who I am, and I think that for black women and women of color, that's a really big challenge. I think it was Amandla Stenberg who said that being a black woman is a revolutionary act. Because there are so many messages in our media, and unfortunately coming out of the mouths of politics, that diminish black women.
Just being in a place where you're confident in your blackness and your skin tone and your body and your hair, all of those things, is really incredible because we live in a world that tells us that we shouldn't be confident about these things. So, for me, being a black woman is just about being my truest self and inspiring people just by being who I am and loving who I am.
Where do you get your courage?
I think that I have of a little bit of an advantage in the sense that since I've been on the internet for a really long time (10 years.) I've been blogging since middle school. I've made a lot of mistakes, but I've learned a lot from other people. It's helped me to be smart about what I share online.
My audience is a big part of that, too. The response from my audience is always so positive and I get people who say "I really needed to hear that message." I realized that it's really important to share this stuff because it's really just not about me. It's about people who get to be exposed to my work and learn and grow from it. There are times where I share things because I share things for these people who don't have the courage or the support.
Why is it difficult to be a black woman today?
I think, as much as I can say in that I'm confident in who I am and proud to be myself, there's still a lot of misconception in what blackness is or what womanhood is, so you have a lot of people saying that you should dress, act or speak a certain way. That can be really difficult, and sometimes I wonder why people can't mind their own business. Why do you care about my husband or my locs or whatever it is? I think that can wear on people, no matter how confident you are. I think that so many amazing black women sharing their content on the Internet is changing the way that people perceive black women and is really chipping away at misconceptions that people feel the need to place on us.
What role do you think black women have played in history?
I think, especially when you look at the Civil Rights Movement, women are always part of the conversations. We are nurturers, we are educators, and that's essential in any movement. You need people to teach people. Women, especially women who are mothers, are their children's first teachers. So who better to educate people than women?
Even if you look at the Black Lives Matter movement, it was started by three black women. If you go to these protests, there's a large amount of women there. I think that's really beautiful, and really important.
What would you say if you could go back in time to speak to your teenage self?
I would say don't compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone's journey is their own journey. Everyone gets to where they are supposed to be. Everyone's journey works out the way they're supposed to. You are going to be just fine.