More than anything, writer, blogger and Instagram influencer Jillisblack values honesty — the type of honesty that both captivates and polarizes the millions of people who watch her viral videos criticizing, among other things, White liberal feminists.
“Black people really like to hear me critique White people,” Jill said at the University of Oregon on Tuesday. “It made us feel good. But we didn't like the videos where I moved from ‘dear White people’ to ‘dear Black people’ as much.”
Jill’s intuitive ability to look at both sides of an issue was on display in the EMU’s Redwood Auditorium. She spoke as part of the Women Center’s annual Lyllye B. Parker Womxn of color speaker series, which hosts a keynote speaker who addresses intersections of racism and sexism, among other forms of oppression.
“I don't have a desire to come here and make White people uncomfortable,” Jill said. “I have a desire to come here and make everyone uncomfortable.”
It’s this brand of honesty that garnered Jill nearly 80,000 Instagram followers and millions of views on her videos, several of which have gone viral on both Facebook and Instagram. The polarizing reactions to Jill’s opinions regarding race and gender haven’t slowed her down. To Jill, the uncomfortable nature of these dialogues is the first step to addressing an internet culture that’s become outwardly hateful and divisive.
“These days, what we do is we call anybody who disagrees with us a troll,” Jill said. “And we block them. We unfollow them. We call them trash. We discard them and we say that they're pointless and we don't care if they're dead or alive.”
It’s this knee-jerk reaction of hate and dismissal on the internet that motivates Jill to use her platform and identity to voice opinions that, while challenging for some, aim to bring people together.
“I need us to see that people are important when apparently rhetoric is all we've got and opinions are taken as solutions,” Jill said. “I need us to just get back to seeing people as people and that we need each other.”
Lyllye B. Parker, for whom the event is named, worked with UO’s academic advising department for 17 years, mentoring hundreds of young students of color, said Violet Johnson, racial justice coordinator for the UO Women's Center.
“Ms. Parker continues to give back to the Lane community through her volunteer work and loving advocacy,” Johnson said prior to Jill’s talk.
Parker, who was in attendance, took the podium next for a short speech before introducing Jill.
“I was able to help so many students through this institution,” Parker said. “I was hired to advise students of color, but I have a lot of White students coming to me saying, ‘Ms. Tonka, will you advise me?’ And we just took them right up the highway with us. So what I want to say to you tonight, is that it’s your turn.”
Throughout the lecture, Jill made it a point to reiterate that she isn’t an expert on Black people. In fact, she isn’t an expert on anything. Jill said that the self-appointed expertise that she sees online prevents constructive communication, whether it’s between races, genders or political parties. She said the change doesn’t start by looking at others.
“I don't speak on behalf of all Black people. I don't speak on behalf of all queer people. I don't speak on behalf of all women. I have a very specific experience. It is very important that I use my time to critique myself.”