On the latest episode of Ziwe’s Instagram Live show, host Ziwe interviewed comedian Grace Kuhlenschmidt and former Pretty Wild star Alexis Neiers, leading to interesting conversations that went long on breadth, but lacked depth. Each interview subject came prepared with something different. Grace came with written out notes about prominent figures in Black history, while Alexis brought emotional honesty and vulnerability to the table. Ziwe, rocking a gingham outfit, choker, and signature white eyeliner, was able to push both guests to further explore their relationship with race, while also going along with them for an, ahem, Pretty Wild ride, which in Alexis’s case took them from prison to parenting to blackface and more.
How many Black friends does she have? Six close Black friends.
How many times did Ziwe lean in? Two
Jessica: Grace is the white person that got invited to the cookout and understands it’s a big deal. Grace is ready to “ACT RIGHT” and proves this in the “name Black friends” question. I see you white people out here learning before you come on the show! There’s a lot more work to be done, so don’t get too comfortable. (I doubt Ziwe will allow that.) I want to be friends with Grace! Chris do you have a short list of whites that would be invited to the cookout? ’Cause I am for sure inviting Grace, Brigitte Ganger (my partner), Jojo, and Grace. Forever uninvited tell I say otherwise: Straight white men.
Chris: Off the top of my head, Kelly Clarkson, Jane Elliot, and Phoebes Buffay, Bridgers, and Waller- Bridge. (Better luck next time, white men!) And I support your burgeoning crush on Grace! She seems like a genuinely sweet and funny person. That said, I think her interview showed the difference between breadth and depth. Yes, Grace studied hard for the exam and had many of the correct answers on paper, but I’m not convinced she knew what she was talking about. I mean, let’s dive into the reparations of it all …
Jessica: Yeah, Grace is hitting me hard on my soft spot for “ learned” do-gooders. I do agree with you about the depth. It’s not enough to just generally know facts about race, we wanna know how you internalize it and what are you going to do about it! The “reparations for all” statement — I think she was trying to be inclusionary, which maybe had the opposite effect?
Chris: The truth of the matter is that nothing that Grace suggested are reparations. Donating to charity, talking to friends and family, and, god bless her, “spreading awareness” are not reparations. Opening your purse and giving cold, hard cash to all of the black and brown descendants of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade? That’s reparations. I didn’t hear those words come out of Grace’s mouth and neither did Ziwe, which prompted one of her two lean-in moments during the interview. I don’t believe that Grace is against reparations, I just do not think she fully understood the concept that she name-checked.
Jessica: YES! I totally agree with you. This brings up the breadth vs. depth idea again. We want systematic change that’s not just mutual aid donations and Venmo payments to Black charities, which you, as the white donator, STILL benefit from. You are able to write it off in your taxes. We are talking about actions that don’t/won’t ultimately be beneficial to you. Alexis touches on this later.
Chris: Absolutely. We’re talking about sacrifice, honey! Actions that won’t benefit you, but will actually cost you something and perhaps ask you to give something up that you may have gotten unfairly because every facet of society is rooted in white supremacy in order to create a more equitable world for everyone. That reminds me, I may be looking for a new apartment soon, so if anyone white people want to just … give me one, that would be a great place to start, reparations-wise.
Jessica: Another part that stuck out to me was Ziwe’s question about whether or not Grace has experienced Black love. I was like, “okay yes, Grace that’s correct! You wouldn’t know Black love ‘cause you’re not Black!” But I think you can be witness to Black love. (I have some questions about Black love. Do you think it only exists in relationships? Are Black love and Black joy the same thing? ’Cause what is joy if not love amplified?) I died when Ziwe threw in the quick bait after Grace answered no! “So you feel nothing when you see Barack and Michelle?” Just incredible. When I see Barack and Michelle I feel sad for the time before, when white people were semi-hiding their work. Now I can’t go anywhere without white people showing me their study guides.
Chris: Her answer made me a little sad. I think Black love exists in many forms. There’s Black-on-Black love, which Grace hasn’t experienced for obvious reasons (read: she’s white), but I also think one can experience Black love via friendship and relationships. As much as this pains me to say, there are white people that I love (!) and it would make me sad if they said they’d never experienced any type of Black love before. It’s the only love I know how to give! I don’t know, maybe I’m being too emotional and in my feelings — I’ve been listening to a lot of Summer Walker lately.
Jessica: You know what got me really excited? The Black Celebrity rapid fire! She took the list right out of my head! Nayo?!? That was a DEEP CUT. Nayo (pronounced Nīyō) Jones is a musician from Chicago, I highly recommend watching (198) summer streams! I also stan that she corrected herself when she almost misgendered someone. It’s okay to correct yourself when you are wrong, white people!
Chris: Love NAO (stream “Orbit” on Spotify) [Editor’s note: we’re talking about two different artists: one named Nayo and one named NAO. They’re both great]. I gasped two times during the history test: when she knew who A. Phillip Randolph was (go Grace!) and when she didn’t know who Thurgood Marshall was. Clearly Grace’s parents didn’t make her go see Lawrence Fishburne’s one man play, Thurgood, on Broadway when she was 12!
Jessica: Chris I also didn’t know who Thurgood Marshall was, but I am going to blame the education system there. I love when Grace said she would lie to the cops if Ziwe ever stabbed her. Lying to cops is hot and I don’t care who disagrees. What kinda activism gets you excited Chris? Reparations? I think that answer is always correct. Invest in Black people! Let’s drop our handles here: @Jessicahenderson08 on Venmo + @Chris-Murphy-6 on Venmo
Ziwe’s “are you white ally vs. Black ally” question … tricky tricky. There are two interpretations of this and it had me confused. I don’t know the answer, did you have a clear answer?
Chris: That’s a straight up semantics question that I do not have an answer to. Is a Black ally a Black person that’s an ally or a person that’s an ally to Black people? I should read up on the grammar rules around that. Speaking of reading, I actually love when people proudly say they don’t read. It’s like, okay do you get text messages from your friends? You know that involves reading right? Okay, now let’s try that again, but in book form. I appreciate the honesty, though.
Jessica: That was my GASP moment, when Grace said she “doesn’t read.” I was like “why? how?” BUT does decolonization and re-education have to be rigid? Should you be able to have fun while educating yourself when Blacks don’t have the same luxury of having fun?
Chris: That’s a great question that touches on an interesting point that New York Times culture writer Jenna Wortham brought up on her podcast Still Processing with fellow NYT culture writer Wesley Morris. In the episode “Ziwe May Destroy Hamilton,” Wortham remarks on how baffling it is as a Black person to see white guests show up to Ziwe’s interview unprepared, which really resonated with me. We don’t have the luxury to show up unprepared or just sort of wing it, at least not in the same way our white peers do. And Ziwe shows that every episode, the amount of research she does for each guest is truly exhaustive. No stone is left unturned, no page unread.
Jessica: Okay, Grace doesn’t read, which isn’t very gay … but she’s proven herself lesbian with this fact knowledge. Second GASP moment, she knew Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture and said it correctly.
Chris: Wait, last thing. I could not believe the GABRIELLE UNION of it all. For Grace to say Gabrielle Union was her favorite Black actress, forget the name of the film Bring It On, and for Gabrielle Union to be present IN the chat … a divine moment.
How many Black friends does she have? “I’m not gonna do that.”
How many times did Ziwe lean in? Six
Chris: “Nancy Jo, this is Alexis Neiers calling … okay, now let’s run that back 30 times.” Absolutely thrilling to know Alexis recorded that phone call 30 times. And even more thrilling to see Ziwe call that out for what it is: white privilege.
Jessica: I got so excited for Alexis Neiers, like a middle-schooler headed to the first sleepover of the school year. I knew how many times she recorded that message, that tells you the level of fan I was of Pretty Wild. Ziwe is asking the questions of the people! Call her out on her white privilege. I also loved Alexis’ on-the-spot rebranding of robbery as “wealth distribution.” She must have put the stolen goods back into her community or sold the Marc Jacobs bag and donated it to a mutual aid fund.
There were a lot of twists and turns in this interview from the jump. PLOT TWIST #1: Alexis Neiers has never seen The Bling Ring. PLOT TWIST #2: Ziwe mixed up two white women. “Reverse racism!” That’s not a thing, BTW.
Chris: Ziwe mixing up Emma Watson and Emma Roberts was watching racism be dismantled in action. Why should I have to know the difference between Emmas Watson and Roberts? Gotta say, I really enjoyed that film despite Emma Watson’s attempt at an American accent. As a fan of Pretty Wild, I fully expected Alexis’s interview to be an absolute train wreck, but I thought she did a good job. That woman has been through a LOT in her life.
Jessica: Yes, I was relieved early on in the interview once I realized Alexis was being really open and vulnerable. She’s been through a lot (sexual abuse, drug addiction, and a stint in prison) and I appreciate that she was open about her past without using it as a defense.
The conversation about the ethics behind white parents adopting Black children really stuck out to me. I am so sick of seeing white people adopting Black children and saying “All this child needs is love.” Okay, crazy. The Hallmark card statement does not a parent make! They need you to be educated. They need to see themselves reflected back in your actions, your community, your words. AND PLEASE LEARN HOW TO DO BLACK HAIR! Chris, do you think that white people should be able to adopt Black children? I have to say I didn’t even think of that. But now that it’s been said, I agree. At this moment in history we have agreed that (majority) white people have caused a lot of harm. Sometimes purposeful and sometimes “accidental” harm, but none the less they are harmful. Adoption is about taking the child out of harm’s way and giving them a safe place to grow up. I don’t think you can guarantee that with a white parent adopting a Black child.
Chris: It’s complicated. White parents adopting Black children gives me pause, but then if the alternative is that a Black child grows up with no parents, obviously I’m in favor of adoption if the would-be white parents are good people (lol but what does that even mean). Also, I’m a hypocrite because growing up I used to dream of adopting an Asian baby, an African baby, and a European baby with my Jewish husband. Please don’t cancel me for saying this.
Jessica: Chris, I’ve retweeted Shaun King before, this is a safe space. There is no cancelling, only accountability. So we now know that both of us have fucked up. Alexis has grown so much, it’s really a sight to see. From Pretty Wild to doula! I’m so glad she educated herself on racism in reproduction. Is she the first white person to admit that she is racist and that the real work happens AFTER you have come to terms with that? That statement made me feel like I was watching a child walk for the first time.
Chris: Incredibly brave of you to admit that you once retweeted Shaun King in the year of our lord 2020. I think the interesting thing about Alexis and what makes her such a great Baited subject is that she’s lived life at such extremes. She’s been the pinnacle of white privilege, and yet she’s also gone to prison. Coming from privilege doesn’t negate the fact that she’s been through some really hard shit in her life, but going to prison also doesn’t negate the fact that she has been and still is a huge benefiter of white privilege and the trappings that comes with it. She showed that she was aware of that dichotomy when she spoke about how her whiteness and privilege coalesced to make her the safest person in the prison.
Jessica: I have to admit to my mistakes, so I can educate and learn. I am happy to say that I am about 200 days Shaun King free. Yes, Alexis is a fascinating Baited subject. She understands the trauma she’s been through and how it is different from the marginalization of Blacks. She acknowledged her privilege even as an inmate. That’s what I want to talk about. I don’t want to compare notes on oppression, I want to talk about just how deep white privilege is. That even as an inmate, someone who is already stripped of their rights, being white will still give you more rights.
Also can we talk about white kids yelling at their parents for a second? I have always wanted to unpack the mind of a white kid yelling at their parents. What is that like? How did you not fear for your life? You know what I call yelling at my Black parent? A dream, cause that would be the only place that would happen, and it would quickly turn into a nightmare. Because a Black mother’s wooden spoon is not bound to any reality.
Chris: Oh my god, 100 percent. Yelling at your parents in my mind is absolutely a Black/white thing I’d say. It is perhaps the last true cultural divide.
Jessica: Another GASP moment for me: “If Buddha can sit under a tree for four days and meditate, I can do this.’” This was the verbal equivalent of the “spiritual gangsta, namaste in bed” T-shirts. YIKES.
Chris: There were also some genuinely thrilling moments, “my husband’s fiancé” being on that stands out in particular. Alexis later clarified that she meant to say her mother’s fiancé, but for five whole minutes my mind was racing. I was like, “Okay. Is this a throuple situation? Is he bi (fingers crossed)? What’s going on here …” Those five minutes were the most exciting part of my quarantine to be sure. I thought that would be the dramatic high point of the episode, and then Alexis drops the bomb that she’s done blackface …
Jessica: I was sooooo excited with the husband’s fiancé thing, I was like, “WOW were are unpacking all the lies white supremacy tells us about love and sex!” But alas, she misspoke. I am still going to hang on to the dream that they’re in some hot throuple situation. The admitting of blackface without being called out first was a GASP moment. I saw my inner monologue reflected in Ziwe, with her eyeball to camera and mouth open. I mean, it’s “the work” right? Admitting and reflecting without asking for guidance or sympathy? I mean is she a totally different person now? I hope. She was addicted to heroin and 15, not at some Yale phrat party poppin’ fresh roofies in drinks.
Chris: Ziwe was all of us in that moment. Her facial expression screamed, “Oh my god, I can’t believe this white woman did blackface and I absolutely can’t believe that she is telling 5,000 people about it right now, but I’m going to let her speak her truth.” While blackface is obviously deplorable and harmful and so, so easy not to do, I appreciated hearing Alexis’s story. She was 15, addicted to heroin, and shooting a music video for Marilyn Manson. None of these are excuses for doing blackface, but they are mitigating factors, and these were actual parts of her experience, for better or worse. To be clear, fuck Marilyn Manson though.
Jessica: Oh yeah, fuck Marilyn Manson, being ALT doesn’t mean you can’t be ALTERACIST.
Chris: Speak on it. All in all, I think what both Alexis and Grace lacked in specificity, they made up for in honesty. I wish nothing but the best for Grace, Alexis, and Alexis’s husband’s fiancé.