Unfollow Me: Essays on Complicity is a memoir in essays about identity, hierarchy, and the illusion of being right. It is a book about a hard fall from a high horse, the trouble with attempting to hear yourself in an echo chamber, and the pursuit of honesty over agreement. It is a book intended to appeal to those of us who understand that infinite rage, revenge, and rhetoric will not solve our problems. They will simply create more.
These days, race, gender, and sexuality aren’t just human categorizations. They are also trending topics, creating the need for identity-centric conversations, necessitating corporate overhauls, and inundating course loads across the Western world. But in a society where social conflict is most often settled with even more categorical capitalism, it seems that it will always be more advantageous to sell the solutions and avoid the answers that reveal our own complicity.
Politics and media have been our choice methods for making our points and proving universal connection. Instead of saying what is true for ourselves, we allow a president, a television show, an album, a breaking story, or an influencer to do all the heavy lifting for us. We identify symbols as selves and spend our lives trying to fill in the gaps. But what happens to us? What happens to our own story?
Under the handle @jillisblack, from a parking lot in Olympia, Washington, I posted a video on Instagram about my frustration with the (then) current narrative on gradualism and race relations in America. It was 2016. Barack was out and Trump was in and the flimsy walls that separate comfort from conflict were toppling. The video went viral, seemingly changing the course of my life overnight. Suddenly, there was the possibility of more fame and influence and I found myself happily trapped in what I had started—a rehearsed performance of my self-righteousness, scripted by my own frustration, and uploaded by ego. As I ranted about race online (always ending with a memorable one-liner) my number of followers and opportunities grew. But my personal happiness had become secondary.
As a black queer woman, and as a writer, cultural commentator, and reluctant social media influencer, I wrote this book as a way of examining humanity through my own progressive performance. I wanted to shine a light on all the places fear disguises itself as truth, and confront the contradictions of society’s assigned and chosen cultures. I was tired of pointing fingers in rooms without mirrors. I was tired of being told that I wasn’t responsible for the parts of myself that looked a lot like what I was claiming to fight against. I wanted to change and actually be honest about it. I wanted to disagree in a way that was more generative. I wanted to hold myself accountable for my part of what isn’t working and others accountable for theirs. I wanted to talk about my real life instead of continuing to curate a digital one. I wanted to stop bending to fit every identity narrative that made me feel safe and accepted. I wanted to do that in public, as an invitation.
This book is that invitation, and this award is an RSVP. I’m proud to have started this part of my journey in the Pacific Northwest, recording in the rain and writing in the clear.
I’m grateful to be connected to so many people that still believe in the kind of connection that can happen without sameness or a shared enemy. And I’m honored to be here with you in this beautiful moment of welcome discomfort, on a quest for more of who we really are underneath all that we’ve learned to lie about.
In the meantime, you can watch a virtual event from Florida’s Books & Books with Jill Louise Busby and Jason Reynolds here.