The Anti-Blackness of Showing Up Unprepared
Women of color journalists rarely get the opportunity to conduct such an interview, much less do the absolute least
This article’s main purpose is a critique of the Vogue cover story about Rihanna, written by Abby Aguirre. And let’s be clear, I’m not a celebrity stan but a journalist who holds a degree in the field and many years and publications to back my experience. I am also a Black woman who is undoubtedly insulted that major publications continuously sidestep Black writers, as a whole.
I first learned of the cringe-worthy article by other Black women writers that I respect, Shanon Lee and Hunter Harris. I didn’t catch the buzz as quickly because I am based in China. I’m 12-hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and as a writer who constantly has to be prepared to send pitches, edit content, reply to emails and be on top of when publications are putting out calls for submissions, I was up at a quarter to 3 am. And if it helps set the tone, I am also the mother of a 2.5-year-old, so I am also often sleep-deprived and yet still prepared because I have to be AT ALL TIMES!
Firstly, let me overstate that as a Black person there is an unspoken requirement for us to do shit on a certain level that goes above and beyond the constant mediocrity that White people cuddle with under their covers at night. (See: Simone Biles, Beyonce, Serena Williams… you get the point.) In this business, it is even harder to break into writing for major publications, let alone get the opportunity to write cover stories and do it on a level that’s extremely mediocre.
Imagine the caucacity (Caucasian audacity) to not only be ill-prepared for an interview with one of the biggest celebrities/moguls/people in the world but then verbalize that to them.
In the article, Abby audaciously opens what is supposed to celebrate Rihanna as the titan that she is in the game with, “RIHANNA is ready. First she moved our interview from Thursday to Wednesday. Then from evening to afternoon. When I get word of this latest change, on a slick and humid August day in Los Angeles, I have just enough time to shower and get to the Hotel Bel-Air. Waiting for Rihanna is practically a journalistic genre all its own.”
There is nothing bolder and more brazen than to begin an article damn-near in a complaint that you, the journalist who no one knew prior to this sloppiness, had to wait for Rihanna. Especially, since this is this writer’s second cover story with Rihanna. I would’ve camped out ALL DAMN AUGUST in the hotel or wherever to get a Vogue cover story with Rihanna — stank ass and all!
She then states, “Normally I bring a list of questions, but I didn’t have time to prepare one, which I make a split-second decision to confess. ‘I’m winging it, so you have to help me,’ I say nervously.” Imagine the caucacity (Caucasian audacity) to not only be ill-prepared for an interview with one of the biggest celebrities/moguls/people in the world but then verbalize that to them. Just throw insult right on top of this injury sundae!
Our literal job as writers/journalists is to find the story, create a story, and tell the story with all of the tools handy to do so — requiring research and PREPARATION. It is our job to be prepared especially when you are set to interview anyone because the story is for an audience, not your diary.
What I find even more absurd is that this is just a branch on this badly executed tree. There’s an editor somewhere who had to ‘okay’ this. There’s an editor for one of the top magazines in the world who thought it would be a great addition to keep the fact that this writer was ill-prepared to do her job. An editor, that I can safely assume and would bet money is not a Black woman which matters in terms of how whiteness presents itself to Black women as though we are not worth the investment of skill.
The ultimate point: had this been a white celebrity and Black writer, this writer would more than likely be stained with a forever mark of “she was ill-prepared”. Yes, editors/pubs blacklist writers AND WE KNOW ABOUT IT!
Also, for those unfamiliar to print magazines, there’s typically a 2–3 month lead prior to it being sent to print granting more than enough time to frame the piece in the best way possible. This interview was in August for a November issue, granting enough eyes to turn mouths and say “this is not going to work”, giving Rihanna the respect she deserves.
The ultimate point: had this been a white celebrity and Black writer, this writer would more than likely be out of a gig and stained with a forever mark of “she was ill-prepared”. Yes, editors/pubs blacklist writers AND WE KNOW ABOUT IT!
And I’m sure, for people unfamiliar to the writing business and white women looking to show solidarity that people are being “harsh” to the writer, imagine a few things. Imagine an attorney showing up to trial without a prepared deposition or cross-examination. Imagine a singer showing up to a concert that you paid to attend, not knowing their set and just “winging it” while asking the audience for help. Imagine a teacher coming into class without an actual lesson plan.
Each of these professions, no matter how many impromptu moments you may have, requires a level of professionalism that you can still show up and excel without anyone ever being the wiser. This is just as much absurd as a writer assigned to do an interview, knowing who they’re interviewing, and still failing to provide the standard that Vogue is supposed to set. Hell, they’re one of the only magazines who can still afford to be printed and people purchase it, worldwide.
Prior to beginning my professional career as a sideline reporter covering college sports, I had the pleasure of shadowing and sitting down with Pam Oliver — who at the time was covering Monday night NFL games for FOX Sports Network. She, a Black woman and fellow HBCU graduate told me something I will always remember. Something that Black women are groomed to have to know before they step foot in the world. She said to me that people are always going to test what I knew as a Black woman in my field, but that it was my job to know my shit, know it well, and implement it on a level that only we can. (I’m paraphrasing in my own words)
She only assured something my father had already been telling me my whole life about Blackness and having to be 10 times better to be seen as only half as good, if seen at all! No one cares about Black women tears in the event we make mistakes. We are not allowed to — cry or make mistakes!
So, for every Black woman writer/journalist out there who is scratching and clawing to get their stories told, to get assignments that the unprepared are readily offered, to constantly be overlooked and underpaid while being gaslit that it’s just your imagination — it isn’t! But, as we continue to show up prepared and ready to snatch edges may our doors continue to open as we set the standard, be the standard, and raise the standard!