Faces Of Black Twitter: Meet Jamilah Lemieux
Jamilah Lemieux photographed by Shayan Asgharnia for Okayplayer
Name: Jamilah Lemieux
Profession: Cultural Critic
Twitter Handle: @JamilahLemieux
There isn’t anything in this life or even the next one that Jamilah Lemieux cannot do. If her name seems familiar, it is because she has been reading the tea leaves + dragging disrespectful Twitizens on the popular social media network since 2008. As a Brooklyn-based, New York-stamped-and-approved columnist, Jamilah has offered multiple seats to those unwilling to give people of color their propers. In fact, she is such an appreciated voice in the online space that the 31-year-old editor and creative has been asked to share her opinion on television (The Nightly Report with Larry Wilmore, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show), radio (NPR’s All Things Considered, WBAI’s The Spin) and on college campuses (Harvard, Stanford and New York University) across America.
Ms. Lemieux, a Howard University graduate, has battled trolls, gremlins, racists and Donald Trump in her attempt to take a stand on social concerns about gender, sexuality and race. She created The Beautiful Struggler, the now-defunct personal blog which won her an award for her meditations on relationships and race as an appetizer. Sharp-witted with the wordplay in written and spoken forms, Jamilah would go on to become a three-time Black Weblog Award winner and a contributor to other publications including Essence, JET, The Washington Post, Mic, The New York Times and Gawker to name a few.
Formerly known as @SisterToldja on Twitter, we asked Jamilah just what the term #BlackTwitter meant to her. Is it an empowering phrase that connects her to her fellow comrades-in-arms? Or does it limit who she is as a professional? “I don’t think of the term [#BlackTwitter] as a good or bad thing,” she told us in an email interview. “[It’s] just a thing. I’m not bothered by the term—just the inability of people to see what it actually is: a sub-network that is incredibly diverse.” The daughter of former Black Panther Party member, David Lemieux, who some would best know as the character “Pretty Willie” from Sam Greenlee’s film The Spook Who Sat By The Door, is unafraid to share her real name with her followers and the haters. “I stopped using my old Twitter handle (@SisterToldja) in 2011 when I first was hired by EBONY, because having my real name out there is important to my work.”
Born in Chicago, Illinois, the Whitney M. Young Magnet alumna came of age to become a strong force who doesn’t hold her tongue when it comes to critiquing politics, pop culture, race and sexuality in the media. “I’m a bit more brusque online at times,” Jamilah explained to us, discussing the difference between who she is IRL versus her online persona. “[It’s] largely because of the number of replies I get and the rudeness/trolling [that] I get on social media. Sometimes, I step back and remind myself that I have to consider that without hearing someone’s tone of voice, it is easy to take their words to be more harsh than intended, and to be patient.” Perhaps mistaking such virtue for vulnerability has emboldened people like author Kim Foster, Hoteps and black conservatives to throw rocks at the throne, all to no avail.
On Twitter, Lemieux has clapped back at sycophants, suck-ups and sour-pusses with numerous popular hashtags. From #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen to #AliveWhileBlack, Jamilah has offered herself and her timeline as a meeting ground for black people to share stories, inquire about advice and cheerlead alongside her as she championed the likes of Marc Lamont Hill, Michael B. Jordan and Kierna Mayo. In fact, it was Mayo, the recently departed editor-in-chief of EBONY who was inspired by Jamilah Lemieux’s commanding online presence to bring her into the fold. “[Kierna Mayo] is someone who I deeply admire as a writer, editor, thinker and somebody who is very much a mentor to me in so many ways is incredible,” Jamilah told Nylon’s Lara Adekola earlier this year. “I don’t have to explain my hair [to her], or why I’m upset about George Zimmerman being found not guilty or why I needed to go to Ferguson and the company had to pay for it,” she said in that same interview. Her drive and passion has, in some ways, incredibly fueled the online space that has enabled other places to flourish with blackness.
“I am here to provide commentary, laugh, learn and promote my work.”
After contributing to numerous publications, Jamilah Lemieux arrived to EBONY.com in 2011, where she became the News & Lifestyle Editor for the site. Her sharp wit, timely stories and “fight the power” sensibilities quickly made her the fulcrum point of conversation on the site. With that in mind, we asked Ms. Lemieux if #BlackTwitter had any direct impact on her life and/or professional career. “My career took shape because of social media and Twitter had a lot to do with that,” she told us via e-mail. “Twitter has been very good to me despite the attempts of trolls to take my words out of context in hopes of professional setbacks—still I rise [laughs]!” Alongside Kierna Mayo, she helped to launch EBONY.com (the duo brought in pop culture critic Miles Marshall Lewis) and eventually earned the role of Senior Editor in 2014 for the dot com. The following year, she became the Senior Editor for the print magazine side. “[I had] no clue when someone first used that term [#BlackTwitter] to refer to me,” she told us while discussing how she became a trusted source of information. “I joined Twitter in 2008 and I’m what they call a “Power User,” meaning I tweet a lot. Those two things have a lot to do with the modest level of influence I have on the [social] network. [Also] having a verified check tends to lend [a level of] credibility to my tweets as well. I wish more folks understood that I have it because I am a journalist—the blue check is not an affirmation of popularity, nor wealth [laughs].”
It is hard to argue the popularity point, as Jamilah compels almost 90K people to engage, discuss, argue and marvel at her social media prowess. Serving truth with no hint of shade (well, sometimes a bit of shade is needed) — Jamilah “fell in love with [Twitter] early” and clearly, it loved her back. “[Twitter] helps me connect with people across the world, stay in touch with loved ones and follow news all at once.” In addition to Twitter, you can find the verbose writing veteran on Instagram, Facebook and she’ll “post a Snap every few months,” she tells us. “The rapid speed of Twitter engagement and the pace of the timeline just makes it a good fit for me.” Armed with colorful commentary, a sincere sense of humor and a host of stellar clips, Jamilah Lemieux’s impact comes not just from her professional life, but from her personal. “I met my ex-boyfriend (with whom I had mutual friends) via Twitter, so I suppose I can also credit the platform with the birth of my daughter.”
In fact, one of Jamilah’s greatest Twitter moments came courtesy of the phenomenon known as #MiniMilah. Her now three-year-old daughter has captivated the Internet world with her cuteness, precociousness and love of blackness and music as well as her improv sensibility. “A video I posted of my daughter got 19,000 retweets and 26,000 favorites awhile back. It was even picked up by a few news outlets,” she shared with us about her daughter’s viral power. For those who missed it, publications and outlets like The Week and ABC reported on #MiniMilah’s frustration with the mother-of-us-all, The Sun. At the time, Naima can be heard telling her mom, “I want it to come back.” “He’ll come back tomorrow,” Lemieux said, trying to comfort her daughter. With all the aplomb of a six-year-old, Naima quickly corrected her mother, insisting, “No! It’s a girl!” It is in that moment—and countless others—that showcase the power of influence that Jamilah carries. “I think I helped a lot of people to consider feminism in a more meaningful, accurate way, which is something I am proud of,” she shared with us when discussing her #BlackTwitter online legacy.
As a leader, a voice amongst the many, Jamilah Lemieux stands out by speaking truth to power. She is a sharp contrast from the shock jocks and Breitbart trolls who get off on trying to make millions of views from being messy. “I’m part of a group of young writers that got opportunities via Twitter because we deserved them—not because someone was desperate to mine the network for content or hire millennials,” she said. One example in particular was when the murder (yes, we said it!) of Sandra Bland in a jail cell made national headlines. The 28-year-old college graduate, summer counselor and volunteer was also speaking out against police brutality of black people on YouTube. In one video she said, “You could stand there, surrender to the cops and still be killed.” Her death incited the #SayHerName hashtag in part because she (and other women of color) were having their situations swept under the rug by the media. Although, Ms. Lemieux was not a part of that group, she crafted a tweet about Sandra Bland’s death being linked to marijuana use that ended up being retweeted over 5,000 times. “It resonated because what happened to her was despicable and it was painful to watch certain media outlets implicate her in her own demise for something as insignificant as smoking weed.”
For that, it is a must to thank Jamilah Lemieux and #BlackTwitter for creating instantaneous awareness + positive change in real time. “It may be a while before we truly can understand the impact of the platform,” she said to us, “but I’ve observed changes in certain people, and we saw how Twitter helped moved the needle in terms of understanding police violence.” While those negative neanderthals, Twitter trolls, Megyn Kelly and other bitter folk may believe that they know the real Jamilah Lemieux, she has helped to spark genuine paradigm shifts in people both on-and-offline. In the tradition of Michele Wallace, bell hooks and Joan Morgan, Jamilah Lemieux doesn’t hold back her opinion and she excels at engaging public opinion through Twitter debates. So, what’s up next for the media savvy #BlackTwitter standout? “A book,” she told us in our email interview. “I may [even] delete Twitter from my phone for a while to finish my proposal.”
No matter what Jamilah Lemieux embarks on in the future, nothing and no one will stand in her way.
>>>Follow Ms. Jamilah Lemieux on Twitter @JamilahLemieux.