A Conversation with #FuckboyFiles Founder Yahdon Israel
by editor, Brett Rawson
You might know Yahdon Israel as the man behind #LiterarySwag, the hashtag that blazed a new trail between brands and books. For nearly two years, he has been burning down stereotypes and silos through his poses, prose, and fifteen-second interviews with every author you’ve ever wanted to meet.
Yahdon is not hard to follow — he’s been featured on BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and his own writing, much of which centers around race, gender, class, and culture, has surfaced in The New Inquiry, Guernica, and LitHub — but he is hard to keep up with; he seems to appear everywhere simultaneously, and if there is anything frustrating about it, it’s that each appearance is more stylish than your closet has ever been. It makes a person wonder: Is there a limit to what this mind can do? The short answer is no. The long answer is Yahdon Israel has no limits: far more than an idea or brand, Yahdon is a quiet mind that sees the world slowly. He posts with rapid pace, but nothing ever gets lost or old, either because his thoughts always have fresh honesty to them, or because they’re always growing. With each post, you see his positions and opinions get more profound, accurate, and focused.
Case-in-point and purpose of this side conversation: his hashtag #FuckboyFiles. To date, this collection of micro-essays covers more than 150 people, all of whom share one thing in common: Fuckboy Logic. Whether you’ve heard of these people before or not, his words will change the way you see them from now on. But just what makes a person a Fuckboy? For two early-morning hours last week, Yahdon talked me through the making of the #FuckboyFiles, what it means to find one’s voice, and equally important, what to do once you find your voice.
You might think you know what this label is about, or who will come next, but as you’ll see, you don’t. No one does. Not even Yahdon. The only thing Yahdon ever knows is the way in, but that’s because it is the one thing he has been doing all along: searching within himself to understand the potential, problems, and possibilities we all contain.
THE SEVENTH WAVE: Who was the first person the #FuckboyFiles started with?
YAHDON ISRAEL: The first person it actually started with was Don Lemon. He was interviewing one of the women who was — they say allegedly — raped by Bill Cosby. Lemon asked her about what happened, and she said how Cosby made her perform fellatio on him. And Lemon’s question was, “Why didn’t you bite him?”
A photo posted by Yahdon Israel (@yahdon) on
And I just thought that was the worst fucking question you could’ve asked someone who was in a traumatic situation. It’s like, why didn’t you do something to get yourself out of the situation? It completely nullifies what a traumatic situation is — that’s why it’s traumatic: you realize your powerlessness in the moment. Lemon’s question suggests that the powerlessness is illegitimate because that person did not react in a way that overtly showed she was not what the situation was simplifies.
Everyone has been in a situation when you think you’re gonna react in a way and you don’t — and that goes both ways — sometimes you think you’re gonna be brave and you shrink, or other times you think you’re gonna shrink and you don’t. In both situations, that pride and shame is so linked. The first “#Fuckboyfile” wasn’t analysis. It was just, this is what he did, and he is a Fuckboy.
TSW: How do those early #FuckboyFiles compare to the more recent ones?
YI: At first, they were summaries. But they slowly started turning into analysis. It went from reverberating what I had heard to telling, interpreting, and giving a lens to how I saw it. For example, after Garner had gotten killed, and with the protest of the non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo, the news anchor Gretchen Carlson was more worried about the Christmas Spectacular at Rockefeller Center being canceled because of the protest than the fact that someone had lost their life. So that’s what the analysis was about: We care more about Christmas lights than a human life?
So minutes after the Grand Jury decides not to indict Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner with a chokehold, this #fuckboy Gretchen Carlson worries herself about the protests that are sure to happen tonight. She’s not all that concerned about why people keep protesting, nah that would be too hard to fathom. She’s worried about how this is gonna affect the Tree Lighting Ceremony. A man had his life taken but nah, Christmas lights. Definitely another case in the #fuckboyfiles #ericgarner #gretchencarlson
And it kept going. Around the time it all started, you had the first Black Lives Matter on 14th Street near the New School, you had the Tamir Rice, the Eric Garner, and the dude that killed the two officers. And so it happened in a time of social turmoil. The reason, on a psychological and emotional level, that I created it was I got tired watching the news and yelling at the TV and getting mad at the misrepresenting and the false narratives. But I realized that everything I was criticizing them for, I could just create that space to say what I want. And so it became for me a cathartic release to say how I felt about something.
A lot of my friends look at me as the person they wait for. They weigh what they think against what I think because a lot of people don’t have the language to describe how they feel, so I also saw this as something where people could borrow a language until they find their own. If you look at a lot of comments, you’ll see people say, it took the words right out of my mouth. So I started to see how it was becoming a form of social activism on social media, which has become the primary tool for how social activism is working for this generation.
When I was the president of the Black Student Union at Pace University, not a day went by without someone asking me “Don’t you think it’s a bit racist to have a club just for black people? What if I made a White Student Union?” 🙄 And not a day went by without me having to explain the reason for why a BSU needed to exist. The most obvious explanation was the fact that–all jokes aside–Pace WAS a white student union. At the time I attended (2008-2012), less than 10% of Pace’s population was comprised of black students. The same went for Asians and Hispanics and the most tragic category of them all: Other. This was in comparison to a close to 76% concentration of white students. If Pace was graded on it’s whiteness then it would’ve passed with a C+. If you think that’s low, consider the fact that a C+ was all George W. needed to graduate from Yale ☕️🐸. But the kids asking this fuckery never calculated this into the equation. They never thought about how culturally alienating it was to see and interact with people who not only didn’t look like you but didn’t understand where you were from and had done even less to find out. This wasn’t just the student body; it was the whole damn school. The most color the school had was security, janitorial and cafeteria staff. Which is why when most of us weren’t with each other, we were with them. But none of this was considered. All they saw was 40 black kids, in a school of 8,000–8,000!–hanging out in the cafe wearing “Original Gangster” buttons and that bothered them. I don’t just mean white students but black students too. Black students who only asked that question when they were in the company of their white friends and wanted to be that “black friend.” Ya’ know, the only black friend white people like because it makes them feel less racist about the shit they already think? Them 😒. A black friend like Stacey Dash who criticizes why BET and BHM exist without contextualizing that these things only exist in RESPONSE to a racist system and not the other way around. So let white America have their “black friends” because the truth is: we never fucked with them anyway🖕🏾 #fuckboyfiles #staceydash
A photo posted by Yahdon Israel (@yahdon) on
TSW: With these “files,” it is keeping a record of what people have said and done, but it’s also a way to keep people honest, or expose dishonesty.
YI: Right. People who don’t want to see the truth claim they need proof to believe anything. With these posts, you’re getting a play-by-play of what happened, and so part of it is, I think, to create a place where people can come to and gather information. I think another way in which we ingest culture and politics is how it’s interpreted. The interpretation is sometimes more dangerous than what actually happened, because to a lot of people, the interpretation is what happened. So there is this abrasiveness to the #FuckboyFiles. Like, it can’t all be true because it’s just too absurd — with this loud Fuckboy label over the eyes.
There is a limit to which you first take it seriously, but then because the post itself is so serious, you realize this person on the post might actually be what the text says he or she is. The media and news post things under the context of pretense, and they operate under the guise of objective, but the language is so partisan — why not just say you’re partisan? For me, the #FuckboyFiles is very partisan, it is very opinionated, and it is very personal; but it’s just articulated well, so it seems like fact.
TSW: Did you ever have people who reacted negatively to your #FuckboyFiles, or how you interpreted them?
YI: I had done a #FuckboyFiles on the people who support the NYPD, but then when Malik Chavis killed the two cops, somebody had the audacity to get on the post and say, You caused this with your post. I’m like, you really think somebody read the #FuckboyFile post and was like, Yep I’m gonna go get my gun and kill those cops because of a #FuckboyFile. He sounded like one of those mothers who blame school shootings on video games — there’s so much missing. And then I saw the power of it — or not the power of it — but the stupidity of how people will try to transmogrify what you’re doing to their edges. And so for me, the responsibility of it was to never make it something that was for people, or what people want to see or read, but to do the difficult work of what writing is: to expose yourself and to put yourself constantly against the things you think or the things you think you know. So the #FuckboyFiles is also a mirroring of my own Fuckboyness.
A lot of them are interspersed with personal narratives of things that while I may not have done, I understand only from having the context of having done it in a different stance. I, too, share in this. I understand these parts of myself that I’d rather not think about or talk about. When things happen on a public platform, it’s a way for me to sort of admit something about myself. To see it on celebrities is a way to externalize it and see how it looks on someone else because so many of the things we don’t want to see about ourselves we submerge beneath a lot of excuses and a lot of evasions. And so to see that happen to someone, now I have a language to talk about it so people can see it in action.
The biggest thing about the #FuckboyFiles is that I can’t write about any person without understanding or having done the thing they have done.
TSW: You mentioned earlier the “dangerousness of interpretation.” I think about that a lot. How we represent, reflect, and project what we see and hear. It seems like the media gains a lot of its power through distraction, or by distracting us long enough for people to lose interest in reacting through actions.
YI: I think for a lot of people, as a culture and a society, we have this idea that celebrity media is distracting or vacuous, and that there’s nothing there. But how could there be nothing there if it runs so much of our lives? To me that’s a cop out — to not reckon with the thing we know governs our lives is socially and morally irresponsible. These are billion dollar industries. How can we look at that and say, these industries don’t mean anything? They profit off these things. There’s something very visceral to me about all this.
Think about Cosby. I have my own reasons for not believing him, just like the people do who do believe him. The interesting thing is when one person tries to posit their reason as the reason to the other. That’s one thing I try to provide through the #FuckboyFiles: a space for people to feel comfortable with disagreeing. Some people look at the politics of one post and they become completely undone by the next one. What you think you’re getting is this talking head who represents your thoughts, but then you realize I don’t.
I had one situation where a dude that I knew from undergrad — a homosexual black dude — posts on my wall and was like, you should do something on what some politician’s daughter said about how drag is like blackface, how she doesn’t understand why blackface is offensive but drag isn’t, and how there’s a undercurrent of misogyny in drag. And I was like, personally, I see that. Do I think it’s the exact same? No, so I can’t do it. I wrote him back and said I really don’t think there’s anything here, though I personally agree. He’s said maybe you don’t know enough about drag and I should get you some history. And I was like, hold up. Don’t assume what you think I know. If you want to do a #FuckboyFile, have your go at it. And I told him this: I’m not your intellectual pitbull. I’m not this person you sic on people because you’re sick of people. That’s not the way this works. I do this for me. You don’t own this.
TSW: Right, this is just how you see things. I imagine it has to get difficult at times. Do you ever lose steam in posting them, or is there something in particular you struggle with or against?
YI: You have to constantly fight for voice. Even long after it’s being heard. People start to assume that your voice is theirs because you quote unquote speak for so many people. They think, this is my voice, this is how I sound. But no, this is how I sound. So part of it is staying honest to what I feel and that’s not always easy.
When certain things happen, I know in theory people are waiting, but I also know I can’t let that determine what I write. I have to constantly keep the intention the same on every post. I have to constantly say a thing that puts me at war with people I don’t know I’m at war with. I imagine that already I have a lot more enemies than friends. I’ve featured people who know people who know people, and this may in the future cut off some avenue I thought I had, but I believe that wherever I end up in my life is where I belonged all along.
I don’t believe that honesty can get you in trouble, but just what you were always supposed to have. When you’re honest with yourself, you can’t allow other people to tell you what to do, because only you pay for that. Let’s say I get a lawsuit for this at some point and I have to change the whole approach. If that happens, it’s something I have to sit with and decide on my own. But that is to me what is powerful about it: it is a vehicle for agency, for my voice. And that one voice is literally just that.
Some people may not have their voice yet, but this is to help them find their voice, not to use mine or fall back on me. That’s why sometimes I don’t post when I know people expect me to post. Sometimes, I don’t have anything to say. And sometimes, I don’t want to. I’m reading, I’m in an MFA program, I have to write things — I can’t entertain everything that happens. That’s not my job. You get them when you get them, and I think that raises the appreciation level for them. At what point does it just become a performative act?
TSW: Right, and if you wanted, you could spend every day profiling Fuckboys.
YI: Yeah, I could.
TSW: Let’s talk Fuckboy Logic. Before our conversation, you said that it isn’t what a person necessarily says or does that makes them a Fuckboy, but the logic behind their action or critique. What are the some of the key components to Fuckboy Logic?
ISRAEL: The analogy I have is it’s like a bad joke — that sounds good at first, but then you think about, and then it doesn’t sound good. But it’s predicated on you not thinking. It is surface-level sound bites. Every case is different, but for a lot of them, this action or critique blames the victim. It’s the language of anyone who doesn’t want to take accountability for their role in something.
In the case of the Bill Cosby, he was telling black people to not believe what the media was saying about him. But the Fuckboy Logic playing there is that he was the same person who came out of Howard University who told black people they shouldn’t name their child Jamal, and to pull their pants up because of respectability politics, but now he wants these people to defend him. That’s Fuckboy Logic. You can do that, but it’s contradictory. This sort of feeling that you deserve this thing in which you did not give others. You want this sympathy and empathy, but you’re causing these chasms and those bridge. So that’s the Fuckboy Logic: anything that widens the fucking bridge, and anything that splits worlds as opposed to find ways to reconcile them, because we all live on this world.
The Fuckboy Files is a way to hold people accountable. For a lot of these Fuckboys, there’s no one to hold them accountable, because to hold someone accountable, you have to be in a position of power to make them take that responsibility.
TSW: What role does the audience play?
YI: I was talking to a few friends who are writers and filmmakers — people who create things for audiences — and this is one thing I have been fighting for: audiences have to be held accountable. I feel like that is not being done enough, simply because something fulfills a capitalistic pursuit of money. You don’t want to make that person who is spending their money feel like they have any responsibility besides giving you their money. That’s all they need to do — you don’t care if they burn the DVD after they get it — just give you the money for the DVD, and do what the fuck you want with it. But this is an immature approach.
Part of the art is the response. Sometimes you read a book and you may not think much of it, but then someone else comes along and galvanizes it so much that you then go back and you do the work again, because you probably didn’t do the work the first time. If the audience is keeping a certain level of expectation or accountability for themselves of responsibly interacting with what’s created, I think that elevates what artists create because they know they’re being held accountable. The media is a place of no accountability — that’s why everyone says it’s the media’s fault. But no, it’s not the media’s fault. The media is telling you a story you partially want to believe, which is why you’re not challenging it, but also not taking accountability for that inability. You choose to not challenge because you don’t care.
If you look at #FuckboyFiles, none of it spurs statistics at you because none of that informs the way I think. I don’t need a statistic to tell me how I think. I don’t care if a statistic is in my favor or not, I think this way because I think this way. I often get into these conversations with people who are faux-rational: this is not my opinion, this is only fact, or, I only think this because a study showed. But when you interrogate the statistics and start pointing out the inconsistencies in them, you get to the heart of their opinion: Well, I just think he did. And it’s like yes, there you are, that’s what you need to say — don’t create a language of this is just what it is and I am just the messenger, because you’re not.
With the #FuckboyFiles, I am stressing interactions with the audience. If people comment, I comment right back. You need that. I have to hold you accountable. But it’s ironic because I don’t get as much negative or death-threat shit because in a weird way, what can you do with someone’s personal opinion besides respect it? It’s not coming from an assumed place of I know what I’m talking about, but I know what I know, and insofar as what I know, this is Fuckboy. Some people have said, well you’re a Fuckboy, and I’m like why. And they say, listen, I just wanted to troll you. And it’s like, okay, well now I’m trolling the troll.
Some people need to be made aware of their presence in a setting. That’s why some people don’t like to go to a comedy show, because you’re just as much a victim in a comedy set as you are the aggressor. You can sit there and interrupt my act if you want, but I can ruin your night. If I turn that spotlight on you, the whole dynamic of power — the whole power in which you function as this invisible body — is completely subverted when I say, let’s talk about you for a moment. Sometimes you need to cast that light on people who think they’re not seen or people who don’t feel like their opinions matter.
TSW: Speaking of hecklers, I read way too many comment threads. I used to get all upset. How could this person think this way? But I realized that by reacting that way, I actually cut off my ability to see where these comments could possibly come from.
YI: I read a lot of comment threads, too, just to see the logics, and you see a lot of it is centered on knowing how to get other people upset, but that’s also because the person showed you a thinking pattern in which you can also predict what they’re going to say on this next thing. One thing about the Fuckboy Files is if you look at all of them, you really can’t posit any particular way I think on anything. You can’t use one to suggest another. On this moment in this very issue, this one thing happened and I can think the way you think, but on the very next one, I can think nothing like you. And that’s disruptive. They don’t know what to think. They have to just sit there and watch what this person is saying.
TSW: Has there ever been a time when your opinion on one of the #FuckboyFiles changed after the fact?
YI: No. And it’s like I said, it’s because I’m completely honest. Will they change? Absolutely. I would hope so. That is a part of growing up and getting older, but I would never regret what I felt at that moment. That’s the beauty of growing up, and something that I get to see with these #FuckboyFiles — how much I have grown up. Even being able to articulate some things and express some things in certain #FuckboyFile posts, it’s a process of that growth.
TSW: Is the Fuckboy label always over the eyes?
YI: There’s one person where it’s not. For that one — when Raymond Tensing shot Samuel DeBois in the head in the car — I put it over his mouth because in his mug shot, his eyes said too much. I wanted to show what they were saying.
At first, honestly, it wasn’t that deep. I’d seen those pictures from the Federal agent files where there’s that black bar across the eyes — that hiding of an identity. But what it does in a weird way is make you want to know more of who this person is because you don’t get the full picture. But it also means another thing — you’re not seeing correctly. These people see the world in Fuckboy Lenses. So that’s why it covers the eyes because they literally see the world filtered through Fuckboy.
TSW: Right, and the idea, or image, of being just a mouthpiece.
YI: Right, all you are is talking that shit that covers your eyes. At first, I tried to post anytime something happened. But now, I’m starting to resist posting when people think I should post.
For example, there’s something Meryl Streep said recently, and its one of the boldest and most ironic statements to diversity: we’re all from Africa. It’s like, that’s when you want to use that? So technically, y’all are black? Okay, that’s a good one. But why do I have to post that immediately when people need it? That’s the thing about literature — that whole idea about “evergreen content.” I don’t try to make it evergreen, just honest, but because of its honesty, it ends up being evergreen. So there are people who are still liking posts from months back.
TSW: One thing I appreciate is the evolution of your perspective. We don’t always see people being so self-aware on social media. You readily own up to your own short-comings in some of these posts.
YI: Doing this let’s me know where I am in my own body. When you become a public personality, sometimes you forget that you’re a person. I had been talking to a big website and they were interested in the idea of the #FuckboyFiles. I was excited. I was like, oh this is going to get a bigger platform. But then I was like wait, if it goes up there, then it’s not mine anymore. This is something that fully represents me and I can’t sully that with money or more exposure. I have to just do it and if money and exposure come with it, fantastic, but that can’t be the end goal. I feel like sometimes with certain writers, that stifles their writing because they’re not writing anymore. They’re literally just regurgitating or anticipating reactions. I just hope I can maintain my intentions.
TSW: I noticed that you reach far and wide when it comes to content for these posts and critiques — from film to books, news to entertainment.
YI: I see the #Fuckbo Files as an interlocutor of culture. You’ll see analysis of stand up comedy, but you’ll also see me talking about scenes from movies. I’m not only trying to give you how I think or what I have lived, but the way in which I live it. Sometimes I need a particular scene in a movie or book to explain something.
For example, I’m reading Joan Didion’s White Album. I don’t know if you saw that Black Panther Vanguard of the Revolution, but it was doing all this work of showing just what the Panthers were, how they came through, and the tragic fall of them. It had to do with the fact that all these myths were being made about these people. It completely went beyond that it was people doing these things. So when they did people shit, like go to jail for x amount of years, you’re changed by that, right? And it’s funny to read Joan Didion’s book because she’s analyzing the whole fever that surrounded the Panthers. This was a time when Huey Newton had just went to jail for murder and Didion was watching all the other Panthers speak his name. She was like, at some point I’m starting to think he’s better off in prison to the people who are using him than he would ever be free. She was analyzing one of his interviews, and he had all these catch phrases, and Didion is like, I wonder how he feels, though — I get you’re the chairman of this party, but there was something else — that willingness to challenge what was being looked at, when everyone else was in awe of it, but they were never really looking at it.
And so to actively look at something and say the thing that you see — and sometimes what you see is something you don’t want to see — that’s the hard part of it.
TSW: Were there other things or people that either you or the #FuckboyFiles were influenced by?
YI: A lot of what I was informed by was Dave Chapelle. I grew up with him enough that I was hurt when he left comedy because I know his leaving had little to do with what he wanted for himself, but something he was forced to do.
He described this on Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton — he said to check your intentions when you do something. It got to a point where he wasn’t sure what his intentions were. And all everyone can think about is, Chapelle walked away from fifty million dollars. So forget his real life and what he loves, which was this comedy thing that brought him the fifty million, but remember that he walked away from that much money. That money has a price, though. It has expectations. Once you grab that money, you no longer belong to you, in a weird way. And that scared me. That’s why the respect for him is so high — not because he walked away from the money, but because he said I don’t want the money. It was never really his to begin with, because if it was, he would have had it from the beginning.
It’s scary to see what you can live without. You think you need these other things. Sometimes I think I need fame and access, but then I’m seeing I’m able to do everything I need to do without the thing I think I need to do it with. I think I need press credentials to be able write these things, but I’m doing these things without those things. That’s what James Baldwin was saying — it’s a devastating thing to live your life on a crutch, but it’s twice as devastating to divest yourself of that crutch, because now you have to learn to walk on your own. And that is so much scarier, but you have to always figure it out. That’s what writing is. In fact, when I start any Fuckboy File, I only know how I’m going to start. I know the way in, but from there, it’s just me in the dark, feeling and groping for the walls, trying to find the light.
TSW: Take us through a single post — what’s the rest of the process like?
YI: First, I read several sites laterally. I don’t want to be the person that jumps on something and becomes another cog in the wheel of misinformation. I want to do the work of seeing what this thing is about, and if I can, I love to watch the video because I want to see how that person says whatever it is they said. Sometimes, I don’t point out what the thing everyone else is talking about, but a very particular thing. I write it free form, publish it, and then I edit it for errors. So it’s a live stream of consciousness. You see it change in front of your eyes. By the time it’s done, the thing you “liked” is the same thing, but it gets refined constantly in front of you. So to me, it’s like intellectual hibachi. You’re watching shit get cut in your face.
TSW: I love hibachi.
[insert early morning laughter]
YI: The average #FuckboyFile post rings in around 350 words. I think the max on Instagram is 400 characters. My process, which is so internalized now, is I’ll write a third of the way through, copy and paste it to see how much space I have left. From that point on, I have to hedge my point, which is good for the writing because when you write drafts, you sort of go in a direction with no road blocks. To have those parameters and blocks, you streamline. If you go on a tangent, you have to come back real quick. With long-form writing, you get to get away from the point, but sometimes that’s dangerous because you drive so far and no longer know where you are. I’m constantly telling myself, next exit two miles. You’re driving but you’re seeing — OK, I got three sentences left, OK, next sentence I gotta exit.
It’s formulaic, too. It opens up with an abstract idea, experience, or observation, and then it transitions into who the Fuckboy is, talks about what they did, analyzes that, and then it gets to this quote unquote punch-line, which undermines the very thing I set you up with, but it also brings you back to the thing I set you up with. As a user, you look at the picture, you read the text, and then you look at the picture again. The picture is nothing without the text and the text is nothing without the picture. Like a wanted poster — you look at the face, then what they did, then you associate the face with the act, and that becomes the act itself — that’s a killer.
And to me that is why it is called #FuckboyFiles because it carries that veneer. You have all these faces, the representation of all these larger acts. Tomi Lahren doesn’t become the woman who said the thing about Beyonce, but the person who stands in for the idea of articulating white supremacist ideas without knowing it. But then you have a face and a name. Too often we rely on the language of they, we, us, and them, but if I ask you who they are, you can’t name them. But now? You have names. Now, you have dates. And that’s why it’s similar to an investigation: if you want to understand how white supremacy works, you have, in a moment, what it looks like. What the #FuckboyFiles also shows is that it — white supremacy or whatever else someone represents — often does not look the way you think it looks. It doesn’t look violent. In these pictures, no one’s getting gunned down. But that’s not the only way violence exists. Sometimes, violence is at its height when no one is getting cut down.
Y’all are gonna have to forgive me for falling behind with these for the past few weeks. There’s just been so much fuckery, I’ve lost track. But we’re back on the rails with this case of the #fuckboyfiles which features television host Tomi Lahren. Since Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance–where she sang “Formation” clad in gold bandoliers and flanked by backup dancers fashioned as Black Panthers–many people, mostly white, have criticized her performance for being both anti-police and anti-white. Tomi Lahren is one of such critics. But critique alone is not what makes someone a #fuckboy What makes someone a #fuckboy is when their critiques are informed by #fuckboylogic A logic functioning like a bad joke. The types that require you to not think about them to find them funny because if you think about it, even for a second, you’re gonna be tight you ever listened in the first place. This bad joke calls herself critiquing Beyoncé’s use of Black Panther iconography on the basis that the Black Panthers were “a group that use[d] violence and intimidation to advance not equality but an overthrow of white domination.” 😳🤔 Besides the fact that many of the Black Panther’s tactics were legal–carrying firearms if they weren’t concealed, policing the police but staying safe distances away as not to interfere, free health clinics and free breakfast for children–and besides the fact that these things were all done to advance equality, Lahren, without even knowing it, talks about the overthrow of white domination as if white domination isn’t the very thing that undermines equality to begin with. But in the white imagination, white supremacy and equality are the same thing. This could help to explain why so many white people perceive true equality to be violent. In their minds it is. It makes sense. If I was someone who thought that equality could only exist if I had all the power, I’d be losing my mind too anytime someone even half-suggested I share. Lahren’s “critique” sheds light on this. If you’re gonna throw shade, throw shade. But don’t ever do it under the false pretense that you’re brighter than you really are. That’s how you end up in the dark #tomilahren #lightsout
A photo posted by Yahdon Israel (@yahdon) on
TSW: Since it began, have you ever thought about other platforms for the #FuckboyFiles?
YI: Somebody suggested — and I thought about it, too — making it a show, but I was like, I don’t like that idea because what I’m really trying to do, and this is in connection with the whole #LiterarySwag thing, is force people to read. Because TV to me is too gratifying. You’re being fed, whereas this is you’re eating here. You’re picking up your own fork.
It gets harder because of that — and that’s why they don’t get written as much — the work gets harder. The few ones I can put out, they are at a higher level because there is more interrogating. I have to bring it and I don’t always have it to bring. Some days I just don’t have it, and that’s a scary thing.
Sometimes, you have to drop back and let other people do the work. You’re never doing the work by yourself, and it’s a farce to think that it’s your duty to do other people’s work for them. The work you have to do is the work you have to do. If you don’t want to write a Fuckboy File, then don’t write it. You’re not getting paid — this doesn’t keep lights on — and thank god, because if it did, it would get ruined.
TSW: But to add to what someone is “doing,” you’re adding to what someone is “seeing,” but also how someone is “seen.”
YI: I have this deep conviction that I don’t feel like there are many people in this culture who sincerely want to be famous, or rich, or CEOs or whatever. I think what everyone needs and wants is recognition for what they do. In our culture, we have such an immature language of what deserves recognition. We won’t recognize the guy who sweeps confetti on NYTimes, but we’ll appreciate Justin Bieber for ringing the bell or whatever, so that guy eventually wants to be Bieber, and not because he wants to sing, but to get recognized for what he did.
I think that’s why, in a sense, fame is so debilitating — people just want recognition. When you think about the narratives of people who are rich and powerful, it always comes out of this space of being denied something that is central to who they want to be, and so they aggressively compensate. But we want our own recognition, too. So when someone comments, they are wanting to be made real: say you see me. I try in a lot of ways to show that I’m reading those comments.
Personally, I’ve learned a lot more from the people I can’t stand than the people I do because to me that’s where the work starts: the people you don’t fucking get. I have a lot of white friends who are racist to the T. Some people look at me like how could you have these friends, but these are people are honest to me and I learn a lot. A lot of what people appreciate about who I am comes from these other people. And so I understand myself as having more responsibility than to the people I think I have responsibility to. I’d like to think I only have responsibility to poor people who grew up in Brooklyn, but when you get some information that’s so uneasy to you, you become responsible to that and for them. It becomes unfair to keep telling one kind of story when you have these other stories that are informing your story. So in the analysis I gave in the #FuckboyFile I did on Tommy Lauren, to me it was a little empathetic. Saying, I understand why white people are anxious about this whole idea of parting with power, because if my definition of equality was having everything, I would lose my mind, too.
If you’re a person of color in this country there’s an 1000% chance that you’ve had to explain your existence to someone, your reason for being there. By “there” I mean anywhere: a nice restaurant; waiting for a friend in their apartment complex lobby; even in front of your own house. But something pernicious happens when you find yourself having to constantly explain your existence: instead of questioning why you’re being questioned, you begin to question it yourself. This is especially true for students of color who find themselves having to legitimize their presences in colleges with predominating white populations. We become so preoccupied with legitimizing ourselves, that we seldom question the legitimacy of the interrogating parties. This case of the #fuckboyfiles features Abigail Fisher, the subpar student who’s been suing The University of Texas since 2008 because she believes the school’s Affirmative Action policy, to enroll students of color, is what’s to blame for why she was rejected. But there are two things that are as funny as they are sad about this case: (1) the fact that a case about a white girl’s mediocrity has somehow become a way to question the credentials of students of color and (2) the assumption that a student of color was the reason she didn’t get in. Of the 47 students who were admitted with below par grades that year, only 5 of them were students of color. The rest were white 😐. So why couldn’t the other 42 white students been the reason she didn’t get in? 🤔 Better yet, why aren’t the 42 white students being questioned as to how they got in? Why only the 5? It’s because the 5 are used to the questions, it’s because the 5 are used to having to explain themselves, which is why many people of color feel the need to post their accomplishments to prove that they do belong, that they’ve earned their right to be in college, and the world at large. But fuck that! This case has nothing to do with with us, affirmative action, or “reverse racism.” This case has to do with a white girl who felt her white skin should’ve been enough and–probably for the first time in her life–it wasn’t. But understand: that’s her problem; not ours. #staymadabby
The #FuckboyFiles is less about shaming people, but putting things into context. We all have the capacity, at any moment, to be the next #FuckboyFile. I could be the very next one. That’s what it does to me. It’s checks and balances me. I sometimes have to remind myself, even with someone like Abigail Fischer, because I was just as much of a Fuckboy for believing I did not deserve what she so believed she was deserving of. We were both Fuckboys in that transaction, and so for me, you realize how much more you become responsible for in these interactions, and to betray that responsibility is to betray yourself.
Yahdon Israel writes about race, class, gender and culture in American society. He has written for Avidly, The New Inquiry, Guernica, LitHub, and ESPN Women’s. He runs a popular Instagram page, which promotes literary culture as style with the hashtag “#LiterarySwag.”