Interview with Kenrya Rankin✨
Recently we got a chance to access "Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas" through #Netgalley in exchange for simply an honest and thoughtful review. While we read and reviewed this book, we had the opportunity to connect with its author Kenrya Rankin, who graciously accepted our request for an interview. So, welcome to the first ever 'Pemberley Dialogue,' where we talk to some inspiring figures in literary world!
We'll start off with a brief introduction of the author:
"Kenrya Rankinis an award-winning author, journalist, editor, speaker, and on-air talent who creates dynamic, high-impact content that amplifies the lived experiences, advocacy and work of people of color and shifts the narrative around who deserves liberation, justice, joy, and dignity in America. Kenrya’s insight has been tapped by leading media outlets such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and ThinkProgress. A 20-year veteran in the editorial space, she is an author of five books, including How We Fight White Supremacy: A Field Guide to Black Resistance and the forthcoming Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas (August 2020)."
(Bio and image sourced from kenrya.com)
Here's our conversation with Kenrya, hope you enjoy!
- What motivated you to focus your career as a journalist and writer on highlighting the lives of people of colour, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other minorities?
As a Black woman living in America, I don’t really have a choice! My very wholeness depends on my ability to render others whole, to use my privilege to lift up my family who have less than I do, to disrupt a world that revels in pushing us to the margins. So I’ve made it my life’s work to pull us to the center of the page where we belong. To expand the conversation around who deserves liberation and justice in America. To push audiences to expand themselves and their thinking around the intertwined concepts of identity, justice and liberation. While this work isn’t easy, it brings me joy to create community, help folks parse threats to their autonomy and bring them together to fight back collectively.
- We would love to get to know a little about your writing process, as well as your experience in the publishing industry?
I’ve been working in the publishing industry in some capacity since I was in high school, so just over 20 years now. I thought I wanted to work in PR, but in undergrad I realized I wanted a more creative challenge, and I shifted to working in magazines. I moved to New York City where I was on staff at Reader’s Digest, Latina and Uptown magazines, then moved into working as a freelancer full time for several years. Most recently, I was the senior editorial director at Colorlines, where I led a staff that explored the news through the lens of racial justice. My work as a journalist and editor have appeared in dozens of national publications—including Fast Company, Ebony and Glamour — and has been translated into 21 languages. These days, I am primarily an author, speaker, producer and editorial consultant, helping nonprofits, corporate orgs and publishing clients create dope projects.
As for my writing process, I’ve found that it’s really easy to expend all my energy and time on client work if I’m not careful, so I use block scheduling to ensure that all my projects get some shine each day. I’ve also learned the hard way that I am most creative right after I wake up, so after I make breakfast and get my daughter situated with an activity (lately, that entails sitting beside me writing her novel!) I spend two solid hours working on my book. I’m in the early stages of this project, so a lot of that time is spent on research and writing interview questions; I’m always excited for the days when I can actually write a chapter. I either write in silence or I listen to music without words so I don’t get distracted. Lately, I have the gorgeous soundtrack for The Photograph on repeat. Then I switch gears and work on client projects for a few hours. Most days I also have a meeting or two and interview folks for my book. And a couple times a week, I write and record segments for my podcast, The Turn On. I have a hard stop on client work at 5:30 p.m. (boundaries!), then I turn to making dinner and cuddling with my daughter. We usually fit in a dance party or an episode or two of Avatar: The Last Airbender, too. After she goes to bed, I can do up to 90 minutes of work on my own projects, no client work allowed.
- Talking about your book, 'Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas', why did you choose the unique approach of amplifying the voices of some of the most renowned personalities, instead of touching upon your own views on the marginalization of the minorities?
Anti-Racism: Powerful Voices, Inspiring Ideas was conceived by my publisher as a reference of sorts for people who value anti-racism. I love that it highlights the words and wisdom of not just the folks who did this work in decades past, but that it lifts up people who are doing this work right now. My hope is that in reading the words collected here, readers will either see themselves on the page or see the person they want to be and find their own ways to be actively anti-racist every single day.
- How would you define anti-racism? Why do you think its important to be anti-racist rather than merely an ally?
I define anti-racism as the work of actively working to banish racism. That’s not the same as just being “not racist”—this is bigger than not personally engaging in racist acts or being friendly with the Black guy at work. This is using the privilege you enjoy to dismantle the system of white supremacy, a political, social and economic system that thrives on the subjugation of people who have not been let into Whiteness. I’m not a fan of the word ally because it implies that you are “helping” me. But this work doesn’t only benefit Black people, it will benefit us all when we create a new system that isn’t propped up by a dangerous artificial hierarchy.
- Given how crucial the movements against racial inequality and social justice are, what are your thoughts on the notions of 'white saviours' and 'performative activism'?
I’m not a fan, lol. We don’t need white people to save us, we need white people to gather their people and end this shit that they started. Lawn signs are cute, but they need to invest in Black leadership, stop asking Black people to do emotional labor for them and work with groups that are skilled in organizing white folks.
- You are a multi-faceted personality and are involved in so many causes and activities; we'd love to know how you like to unwind. What are some leisure activities you like to indulge in?
What is this leisure you speak of?! No, lol, I find joy in a lot of places. My daughter and I have sooooo many dance parties. Lately, we’ve been dancing to Black is King, Beyoncé’s latest project; as a dark-skinned Black woman, I can’t hear “Brown Skin Girl” without crying happy tears. Walking helps me feel grounded in my body and brings me a lot of peace, so I do that at least three days a week. Listening to podcasts is my jam, and since I no longer spend much time listening to them in my car, I like to listen while I make dinner. And I am always in the middle of a few books, which are my best (inanimate) friends, ’cause book nerd.
- Since you have written about technology and parenting, what is your take on social media in terms of combating or strengthening prejudices inherent in society? Considering this age of social media influence, how can parents ensure their children grow up in inclusive and open spaces, virtually and otherwise?
I think that just like with other technologies, social media can have both negative and positive impacts on our children. So much of how it plays out depends on how we create space for our kids. It’s impossible to completely shield them from the realities of racism and colorism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and transphobia and ableism and all the other bullsht that thrives online—especially as they are increasingly living in a virtual world due to COVID-19—but we can have honest, supportive conversations with our kids about it. Last week, my nine-year-old daughter told me that she got off a server on a popular gaming site because someone was saying racist things in the chat. I told her that I was proud of her for removing herself from a harmful situation and for coming to tell me about it. We talked about how it made her feel, why that young person was spouting hate, how we might hold people who do things like this accountable and how she wanted to move forward. Long before this happened, we’d been having conversations about all the -isms, so she had no problem recognizing it and knowing that she didn’t have to be subjected to it. I think that white parents need to have the same conversations with their children so they can, one, not perpetuate hate, and two, call it out when they see it, with the help of the adults in their lives.
- What is the one question you are frequently asked in lectures or different workshops?
Hands down, “What can white people do?” I tell them to stop teaching their children to be “colorblind,” because you can’t end a system that seeks to kill me if you can’t even see me; send money to organizations and people dedicated to the liberation of Black people, particularly those that support the work of saving Black trans lives; be courageous in holding themselves and the White people around them accountable for the ways they hold up the system of White supremacy; then work with white-led groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice to dismantle this shit.
- Despite being women of colour, we can never claim to truly understand the experiences of black women living in America. Could you recommend some authors/books that we should read to develop sensitivity towards the community?
Yup! I’d recommend reading: Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete?; Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements from Charlene Carruthers, the founding national director of BYP100; sociologist Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Thick; Redefining Realness by Janet Mock; Sister Outsider from the icon Audre Lorde; and All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, which contains theCombahee River Collective’s foundational statement on Black feminism.
- You have been a strong advocate for women's health and parenting, and we learned that your next work considers the intersection of racism in women's health, particularly discrimination against black women seeking medical help. Could you give us some of your thoughts on this topic, and your plans for this next book?
Yes! My next book, Complex Saviors, is being published in spring 2022 by Bold Type Books, the same publisher that released my last book, How We Fight White Supremacy. It will explore the ways that white supremacy threatens the lives of Black women from gestation through old age, and lifts up the ways we are saving our own lives. The book is built on the fact that the combined weight of racism and sexism mean that Black women in America carry a higher allostatic load—which measures the ways stress impacts the body—than white people. Research shows that this cumulative stress not only makes us more likely to develop many diseases, but also makes us more likely to die from them. That, of course, is horrible news. But the great news is that Black women are taking our health into our own hands. I’m excited to share that work with readers.
We are so grateful to Kenrya for sparing her time for this interview with us! It was absolutely lovely talking to her and we couldn't be happier to have Kenrya as our first author in this new segment of our page.
We hope you guys enjoyed this dialogue too, you can check out Kenrya's other works as well, and reach out @kenrya on all social media!