Olivia Cole Says ‘F$?# You Miley Cyrus!’ [INTERVIEW]
You may know Olivia Cole from her frequent contributions at Huffington Post. Or, you may know her from her own site. If you don’t know her yet, let me introduce you. She is a writer, poet, and activist who offers her bold perspectives via the written word. I am smitten with this young lady. She perfectly sums up what I mean when I talk about “allies” outside of communities of color.
I asked Cole about her forthcoming book “Panther in the Hive.” The book is about Tasha Lockett, a bad-ass black woman with a knife and a Prada backpack in the inner-city of Chicago amidst a cybertronic Armageddon. I wanted to know what made her pick a woman of color to helm the dystopian sci-fi zombie novel.
COLE: “Well, first, sci-fi and fantasy kind of deal with what my friend Lamont actually said to me recently. He said ‘You know, it’s the people don’t wanna listen to current events issues that end up reading them in dystopian books.’ So, you know, people who are not necessarily into economic issues are reading the ‘Hunger Games’ and they’re like ‘Yeah!’ But, you know, I feel like it’s a sly way to get people thinking about these issues. And, my blog is the more blatant way of doing that. But I have been a writer, a creative writer my entire life. So that just seems like the most natural way.”
To answer the dystopian question, she made it quite simple.
COLE: “It just kind of happened that way. My other fiction isn’t like that necessarily. It’s always a little weird. Things aren’t just straight fiction, you know, just regular day-to-day stuff. It’s always a little weird, but most of my work isn’t like that. So, Tasha…she is this amalgamation of two major women in my life who inspired me very heavily and then there’s other women kind of thrown in there also. But, she just kind of came to me one day. I was in my kitchen cutting chicken and I had this knife in my hand. And I was like hmmm….”
COLE: “You know I had been living in Chicago for a few years then. I’m from Louisville and I moved here and I was just really inspired by the city. But I was also kind of uninspired by the city. All the things that Chicago is known for: police brutality, and segregation here, and all these things. All of those things kind of show themselves in my book. It was a way for me to talk about all these things that I saw, but in a way this is the apocalypse already. So, it just kind of came that way.”
When I asked her why her main character was a woman of color, she illuminated with the following.
COLE: “She had to be. You know? She had to be.The woman that inspire all of my work are women of color. The women I spend my every days with are women of color. So, it makes sense to me that my heroine would be. It never really crossed my mind to make her otherwise. She is who all my heroines look like. I wish I had a better way to answer that question. That’s the unconscious part of it. The conscious part of it is all these women in my life and all the women I grew up reading like Toni Morrison and all these women who have inspired my work – Octavia Butler especially – that’s the unconscious. The conscious is, you know, why do we want to do another book with Katniss Everdeen? You know, there’s enough Katniss’…we got enough Katniss. How about Rue gets some of the heroine action this time instead of dying in the first book.”
I also asked Cole about whether or not she was working to inspire social change with her iconic heroine. She was gracious and explained that “there’s other women that are doing it already…women of color…that aren’t getting enough attention.” While she hopes for social change, she is fully aware that there are others who deserve some shine for their work as well. Cole was adamant about whites writing people of color responsibly. I couldn’t agree more. She wants the social change but was clear that she doesn’t “want to lead it.” She wants writers and women of color to set the tone for progress.
I wanted to know more about Olivia Cole as the “curator” of sorts. She previously described herself in that way. And while I totally believe her sentiment, I wanted to know how she felt about her unique position in social activism. I wanted to know if she thought it was possible for her to be the curator she means to be.
ME: “I didn’t want to skewer you at all”
COLE: “Oh, I know. But that’s the kind of stuff that’s gonna happen. I don’t want to take up more space than I should. Because I have this passion, I am going to end up taking up a little space. But I just always want to be kept in check. I always want to be kept in check like ‘okay, now you’re taking up too much space.’ I don’t know if it’s my personality or if it’s my white privilege because, I feel like they get so…you know I don’t know which is which sometimes. Both are so prevalent in my life. So, it’s like ‘which is it that’s keeping me from sitting down right now?’ Either way, I want someone to check me on either one. But, then it’s also not black people’s responsibility to watch me. You know, it’s my responsibility to police myself…I don’t know what’s possible yet.”
I lauded Cole for her humility and her ability to acknowledge her white privilege. Then, I flipped the script to Miley Cyrus. I had heard from a little birdie that Olivia wasn’t a fan of Miss Twerks-A-Lot, but I wanted to hear it from her myself.
COLE: “It’s kind of like what I just said, there is no one checking her. There is NO ONE CHECK-ING her. Not her mother. Not her father. Not her agent. Not her PR person. No one is checking her. That’s bad parenting but it’s also just bad friendship. She’s surrounded with bad friends. I’ve been wanting to rant about this for a while. I feel like white people are always surrounded by bad friends. But friends that they see as good friends. Friends that they can ‘just be themselves with.’ And do this thing that is not okay. No one is checking them. That’s one of the things that white privilege allows us. We can insulate ourselves from the rest of the world and we can do this thing that we think is cool. We got a bunch of white people around us telling us ‘oh yeah, that is cool.’ “
Then she brought up the Harlem Shake thing that happened last year.
COLE: “All these white people were saying ‘yeah, this is cool.’ Because they say it’s cool. No. That is what is happening with Miley. No one is checking her. She is surrounded by, not just ‘yes’ men, but white privileged ‘yes’ men. And that’s the worst.”
I agreed with her but went on to express my deep disdain for the particular brand of appropriation Miley has pursued.
ME: “There’s appropriation and then there’s Miley Cyrus.”
COLE: “That’s a great way to say it: There’s appropriation and then there’s Miley Cyrus. Because she is a whole other level…she’s doing it and it’s like ‘I don’t care. I don’t care.’ ‘I hear that you’re hurt and I don’t care.’ She is just so disrespectful. It makes me crazy.”
This was when my absolute favorite part of the interview happened.
COLE: “She’s young. She’s young you know. I think I tweeted something about her the other day. Marc Jacobs, he was like ‘oh I just love Miley. I love her intelligence and her being and just everything about her.’ She’s got billionaire gazillionaire white people in her corner saying ‘yes’. So, I don’t just hold Miley accountable – although I do – but fuck you Marc Jacobs. And you too Billy Ray Whats-His-Face that’s her dad. And you too like all these rich people that support her and think she’s funny. Who dressed up as her for Halloween and thought it was cute? Was it like Paris Hilton or somebody? Well fuck you Paris Hilton. Fuck you to all of you, all of you. Because they’re all the problem.”
I then told her that I loved her and wanted to bottle her for commercial distribution. Anyone who says ‘fuck you’ to Miley Cyrus and all of Hollywood gets a gold star in my book. If you want to hear this rant in the pre-recorded flesh, head to right around minute sixteen.
We chatted a little more about women of color in Hollywood and what to expect next from Cole as her star gets brighter and brighter. Look out for (and support) her novel by visiting the IndieGoGo site here.
Suffices to say, this was probably the funnest interview I have done in this series. Cole is consistently honest, undeniably talented, and unforgettably earnest about her craft. I am lucky to have met her.
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