Loud Mouth: Ivie Ani

Photos by Alex Revina

 Photos by Alex Eastman

"I don't want to perform my identity for people, especially when we're in industries that want to pay us to write about our pain all the time or pay us to write our Black experience."  

 

 

I met culture journalist and this month’s #LoudMouth, Ivie Ani, in my least favorite part of Brooklyn: Williamsburg. Speed walking down Driggs Avenue I could still notice the abrupt demographic changes that gentrification produces. Black and Brown youth coming home from school and just two blocks later middle-aged white women checking out overpriced vintage shops with their green smoothies in hand. When I arrive at the cafe, I spot Ivie through the large glass pane windows right away. She is the only Black girl in the space and she’s taking selfies.

It’s the second Friday in May, and her last month being 25. Since graduating from New York University with a degree in Journalism and Africana Studies, her pen has graced the pages of The New York Times, Women in The World, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, Teen Vogue, PAPER magazine, Complex, Grazia UK, NYU’s Social and Cultural Analysis Journal, and more. She's held positions at Facebook, BET Networks, and Associated Press, but now, she’s Music Editor at Okayplayer — a position that had yet to be helmed by a woman until she came along.

Since meeting Ivie as students at NYU, I knew she was a force, not because of what she said, but what she showed. A Nigerian girl from the South Bronx, she came to class with designer bags, glimmery nails, and hair to her ass. And when someone said some ill-researched, racist comment you could feel Ivie’s side-eye from across the room. Although not the first to talk back, it was clear to me that blending in has never been in Ivie’s interest. It is her visual attention to detail that makes her stand out.

DM: Did you have a relationship with the phrase “talking back” growing up and was it ever something you got in trouble for?

IA: That concept is non-existent for me. I'm African— you probably know how that goes. There is no such thing as disrespecting your parents or countering them or talking back. I think Black people in general are taught to respect your elders, but talking back was never a thing for me. I was always more so observing rather than responding, or observing and internalizing before responding. Now I am in a position where I have agency to be loud as opposed to before, especially in terms of my career. I understand that sometimes women, and Black women in particular, who are in these fields are quiet not out of convenience, but out of necessity and survival. They can't get on Twitter and start talking reckless about whatever's going on because it’s going to hurt their pockets.

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I think that idea of navigating these spaces and monitoring yourself in order to survive these spaces is unfortunate but we have to do it....We don't have to do it, but it would behoove us. And When black women are criticized for being silent and responding to things, it’s counterproductive. Why are you criticizing the person, not the institution that keeps people from speaking up?

DM: That makes me think of Angela Yee who has been getting a lot of criticism for her silence on the Breakfast Club in the face of her male co-hosts misogynist comments.

IA:  There are valid critiques about her when she does speak up, because it’s about what she's saying. At the end of the day, you don't just want someone to talk. It's about the quality of what she's saying. So if people have critiques around what she says, that’s valid. But then the critiques about her being silent don’t consider that she gets cut off every single time she tries to talk.

Nobody's above reproach. In that situation, even if you are the marginalized person in the group, you're still a public figure and you still have a journalistic responsibility. If you're saying things that don't line up or that are just not sound, then, of course, you should be open to receiving that criticism. But yeah, it's just two different planes— you shouldn't be criticizing her for being quiet, you should criticize her for what she says when she's given the opportunity to even speak.

DM: Yeah and folks should criticize the Breakfast Club or Charlemagne and DJ Envy for not making that space for her. So have you ever been in a space where you felt like your voice wasn’t welcomed and if so how did you deal with it?

IA:  It's tricky. With workspaces, we're allowed into these spaces, but the tone is that you should feel grateful rather than you should feel valued. And I think that's where diversity falls short in a lot of spaces, whether it's tech, media, or the corporate world. When they give you a little bit of access rather than any agency to be heard or to have your voice amplified or to be in a position to grow past the position you were in. That's when diversity is just kind of optics at that point.

Every position that I've been in is because there needed to be that role filled. I was culture writer at the Village Voice and they needed that voice. They didn't have anyone young or who was a native New Yorker. They had black people, but they didn't have an African person to talk about music and politics and culture who could write about an African play or interview rappers from the South Bronx.

So in spaces like that I felt welcomed because they need that, but in other cases it gets to a point where there's a very specific need for content from a certain perspective, so they'll just commission for that type of stuff. You know the whole thing of black people writing about their pain? It gets to a point where that's your beat, like identity is your beat, but then you can’t write about anything else.

It was to the point where I kept getting called to cover all these African plays and African shows, which I like because it's great and nobody had the range to talk about them like I could, but it just becomes really obvious when people need that beat and on one hand it's necessary because you're just thankful that they're paying attention and they're hiring the right people to come and write things. On the other hand, it can feel kind of limiting personally because you're multilayered so you have an interest outside of African plays and rappers.

DM: Who are some #LoudMouths that inspired you to talk back and really advocate for yourself/others?

IA: I never had an overt racism experience at NYU, mainly because I was never there on campus. I was commuting from the Bronx every day. Except for this one time. You remember Natyna? I love her! I had a class with her and yo, she bodied this white girl.

DM: Natyna is that bitch! She's one of my really close friends and an incredible writer.

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IA: Yes! We were reading something for class about Che Guevara in relation to Jay-Z's Decoded and there was a part where Jay-Z compares himself to Guevara because of their upbringing and this white girl goes, “I don't get why he's comparing himself to Che Guevara. There are no similarities whatsoever.”  And Natyna delivered this whole dissertation in 30 seconds, bodying this girl’s racist, blindsided commentary. She was responding to my analytical take that was in line with the Natyna's. But Natyna hadn't spoken yet and this white girl said something and I just looked at her. I'm a look person, I won't clap you in that type of setting. But then this girl goes, “You're looking at me like you have something to say.” Then Natyna jumped in like, “This is why you're wrong,” just poking holes in all of her logic. I was just like, “Thank you!” Because sometimes I'm not that loud person. That was a couple of years ago. I'll do it now, but back then I was just like, let me eat my food, just do my thing, say my piece. I was a lot more lax in those situations. I wouldn't say I was indifferent.

DM: But it is a lot to take that on, to confront racism head on.

IA:  Yeah, and I didn't want to be that. I didn't want to be the person being mad all the time. But I really learned something when Natyna did that because I could have done the same thing, said the same thing, but I didn't want to waste my energy on her— not realizing that it wasn't a waste of energy. Some things are rightful, and you can be loud.

I got back on Twitter around that time, 2013, my senior year of NYU. That's when Twitter was just turning into “Woke Twitter.” I remember, back then, getting in with a lot of the Twitter people who are big now, becoming online comrades then. When everyone was starting to build their platforms, I remember seeing a bunch of women that were just being loud: Feminista Jones, Trudz, Cherell Brown. Some of these people, I ended up getting to know in some capacity online, and that's when twitter shifted in purpose and I started using that as the platform to speak.

Twitter compared to Facebook is more brief, succinct. There is a different demographic of people on Twitter. There are media people on it and things you say gain a lot of traction very quickly. That's how I found my voice from there, which got me into a lot of writing gates. Twitter was a great tool— just as an addendum to my skill, my craft, my degree and my interests. My whole career is not based on Twitter. It's just the icing on the cake. It just accelerated it to a degree. Twitter is how I ended up in the New York Times when I was 23 because an editor saw my piece online and that led to a meeting. I've been booked for so many things just off people seeing me on Twitter. I've built so many connections off Twitter. But I’m not really on there as much as I used to be.

DM: You were doing Twitter right and so now you’re aware of the shift that its taking.

I’m going to sound like Nicki Minaj right now but….I don’t know about other people but I write. Let the record show I'm sipping my drink! There are a lot of people that's getting book deals and getting bylines off just being loud and visible. But if you're going to do something, it would behoove you to do it well or have some quality to it. I’m not on Twitter as much because I'm really doing the work.

DM: I really appreciate the amount of time you put into your work, it reads on the page. I would love to hear more about your writing process.  

IA:  Process. I've been trying to train myself for years to be faster, better, because in this environment of media and the writing world in journalism, you have to be fast. The news cycle is fast, people want hot takes, fast they want op-eds fast. I'm not that girl.

I can do a little op-ed quickly. The Kanye letter that's doing really well, I did that in about an hour turnaround. But profile pieces, there's no way. There's absolutely no way because I sit and I think, this is a person that I'm interviewing. This is a person who I'm trying to examine on a paper.

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My process varies but for interviews particularly, I take notes when I'm there — what they're wearing, how they look, their mannerisms, facial expressions— because all those are the vivid details you want for a profile piece. So yes, attention to detail. I've always had a penchant for those types of details and then because of those details I'm able to contextualize people into greater themes and still get the intricacies of their personality and their being. But that takes a while to do. I'm not a microwave type of writer. There are people who can push out good work quickly. I could do that too, but these are bigger stories.

DM: I feel like when I read your work I know you're a scholar. I can tell when I read your work that you read. When I think about essays, when I think about good nonfiction writing, it's like braiding all of that work. The cultural thought, the scholarly work, your personal interests.

IA: I love that analogy because braids last longer than twists. A twist is quick little cute style, but braids are beautiful and they last long. There is a lot of braiding and weaving that I have to do. Online, it gets really hard because you have to appeal to different demographics. They need stuff quick so you have to condense everything to a digestible format. So I think that's a skill to be able to write well online and grasp attention. That's a feat. That's a difficult thing to do, and I'm doing it and navigating it.

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DM: Why do you write and why your style of non-fiction, cultural critique?

IA: The process is not very enjoyable but the product is worth it. Writing is so terrible.

DM: Agreed.

IA: But I like the product. I like reading something I wrote, it’s a good way to express myself. I don't write personal essays though. I could write a memoir at this point in my life. At 25 I could write a memoir— let me tell you! But I never was interested in telling my personal story.

Part of being African is this very reserved stoicism. You don't really tell people your personal business. I don't know, my mother's full story. I didn't find out how my mother got to this country until a few years ago. I guess that's how I am. I'll tell you what I want to tell you when I want to.

I understand the importance of performative identity. It works in a lot of instances, especially with entertainers and just being a public figure, but I've seen performative identity functioning in certain places like on Twitter where it becomes fodder for this gaze, a voyeuristic gaze online of non-marginalized people and it just becomes this weird thing.

I don't want to perform my identity or experience for people, especially when we're in industries that want to pay us to write about pain all the time or pay us to write about our Black experience. I also feel like people only want to hear about the Black experience as it pertains to whiteness, but nobody wants to hear that I always knew I was black and loved it. I only lived around Black people. I'm from the hood in New York. I was around immigrants my whole entire life. Never engaged with or heard the word “whiteness” until I was an adult.

I came up with this phrase called “identity voyeurism” because I really do feel like white people in particular just love seeing black people reconcile their identity, whether in real time or in memoir— they want to see us unravel that for their understanding. I feel like that's how a lot of Black voices get heralded as the voice of a generation. Well no, they're not the voice of a generation, you just haven't engaged with anyone outside of this one encounter. It's fine if you’ve had that experience as a Black person but whiteness has only existed in my periphery.

DM: That's a word and a great place to end! My last question is who are your favorite contemporary #LoudMouths right now?

IA: Jasmine Sanders, Najma Sharif, Stephanie Smith, Shamira Ibrahim. Follow them on Twitter. 

 

 
 
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Ivie is a multimedia journalist, writer and on-air correspondent covering culture. She has worked in print, television, social media and on the red carpet to enlighten, engage and produce work with a purpose. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Women in The World, The Village Voice, Teen Vogue, PAPER magazine, Complex magazine, OkayAfrica, Grazia UK, and NYU’s Social and Cultural Analysis Journal. She has also held positions at Facebook as a Trending News Content Curator, at BET Networks, and at Associated Press. Ivie has been profiled in The Washington Post & APM Reports, Revolt TV, Apple Podcasts, Bustle, and Red Bull Radio. Ivie also speaks on panels about culture, pop culture, race, feminism, and journalism.

 
Deria Matthews