We all know about the current conversation about race. POC have coalesced to form protective factions on social media, taking on racist Twitter accounts while relishing in cultural experiences. Writer/Illustrator Mira Jacob wants you think about where you stand when it comes to talking about the gray areas of race and culture. That’s to say–do you see yourself as part of a collective, or do you value your individuality within that collective?
Last month, I was able to speak with Jacob about her experiences within these gray areas which fueled her graphic memoir, Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations. The book, which focuses on identity and multiracial family relationships, has received tons of advance positive reviews, including one from Little Fires Everywhere author Celeste Ng. “Good Talk illuminates the increasingly fractured world we live in. By turns hilarious and heart-rending, it plunges fearlessly into the murky gray areas of race and family, of struggling to find common ground, of trying to talk to our children and help them make sense of it all,” she wrote.
Even though the book has only been out in the world for a few days at this point–it was published March 26–it has been optioned by Film 44 and is in the development stages of being turned into a TV comedy with Fresh Off the Boat author Eddie Huang as executive producer.
In our interview, we spoke at length about our own frustrations with identity as well as how our current president has fueled much of these racial and cultural divisions. We also discussed what it’s like to reckon with yourself in the midst of cancel culture, when any admission of mistake could cause your name to become a pariah online.
Your book Good talk is being turned into a TV show–congratulations!
Thank you. Yeah, it’s really surreal.
The book is all about identity within a changing America–why do you think a show like this is necessary?
Good question. There are so many answers to that question, but with the last three years with the constant attacks on people of color and immigrant communities, we’ve been turned into a monolith for reasons.
There’s the solidarity that we need to feel and there’s the resistance against this really detrimental and insane president who’s wreaking havoc on our communities. But in that moment, the minute you have to be in opposition to something, you lose some part of your agency. Or rather, you give some part of your agency to the whole and erase parts of your own identity and own complications.
I hate that part of his [Trump’s] presidency. I hate that we’re no longer having the nuanced conversations we could be having when we were allowed to think of ourselves as individuals with our own completely valid concerns and ways of moving through the world. This is my attempt to talk about that and what it feels like. Not to represent all brown people or all people of color or all human females who are not white. But as a very specific kind of person who grew up East Indian in New Mexico at a time when there weren’t a lot other Indian people in New Mexico.
I identify with that. There’s a lot of things I’ve experienced as part of the Black diaspora, but there’s also a lot I haven’t experienced that have now become like memes. For instance, Black Twitter can sometimes be an amalgamation of all these tropes of Black Americanism. A lot of them are true things, but then there’s a lot that only happens within certain groups.
Black Twitter is largely African-American, but there are other parts of the diaspora that don’t feel included. But people don’t realize that those parts of the diaspora need to be included as well. And, as you said, there’s a lack of nuance about what it means to be one specific person in a group. But that gets overshadowed by either wanting to feel like a part of the group or the feeling of having to be a part of a coalition to go against a Trump or someone like that. So I think a show like this, if it gets picked up, would be great because it could hopefully start some nuanced conversations about how not every person from your background will do the same thing. Hopefully it’ll start conversations around the whole POC culture as a whole. Because according to Black Twitter, I’m supposed to know to play Spades, and I don’t know how to do that.
Right, exactly! Well then, the obvious reason, Monique, is because you’re just not black enough. [laughs] Because I am also not Indian enough in many of these circumstances. Who is the ideal Indian? Who is this mythical person we are supposed to be in this moment? Whose gaze is informing this? Is it coming from our own community or is it the white gaze that is holding us in this position?
That’s something I’m always wrestling with when I’m looking at responses online. Who is making this idea of what Blackness is, or, speaking of other diasporas, what that is? It shouldn’t be monolithic and it’s not monolithic, but online and in spots of real life too, it’s almost like it’s easier.
I think it is easier. There’s a way in which having that kind of an answer solves a problem. It solves the problem of the great anxiety of feeling like your world is in peril. If there are numbers and can be counted in a community, there are more of you and there’s a means and a mode of building a coalition. I think there’s a way in which we want to do that, and there’s that way in which we lose so much of ourselves in trying to emulate this level of…this combination of wokeness but also racial pride that I think people of a diaspora are asked to perform over and over again. And not being able to think through the complexities of those things is horrific. That’s a crime. What if my son can only build himself in opposition to [an idea]? Who are you when you always build yourself in opposition to [an idea]? What about your own quiet life? What about the things about you that are remarkable and interesting and wonderful and deserve as much exploration as anything else?
I hope this show gets picked up, and when it comes to the television screen, I hope it makes people think differently about if they are putting diasporas in a box.
Whether or not it gets picked up, I hope the book will generate that kind of conversation.
This series is going to be a comedy. How do you think comedy will help people broach the subject of race and multiculturalism differently and more successfully?
I’ll speak strictly from the book since I haven’t started writing the series yet and it’s still so far into the future. But what the book is right now is essentially that–it uses a lot of humor to talk about things that are really painful. I think that’s because that’s where I go–when I’m usually at my angriest it’s when I’m at my funniest. I think that’s because the rage could obliterate me if I don’t find a way around it, a way to look at it from some kind of distance, it could consume me. This isn’t to say that I’m not angry when I’m writing this stuff-I usually am. But it’s a way of creating air around it.
I understand that, because my sister and I make fun racial stuff that makes us angry with horrible jokes we probably can’t repeat out loud. But that’s how we handle certain things.
And there’s a reason for that–people can tolerate humor more than they can anger. But for this book I did it in a graphic form instead of an essay because I think people will look at pictures in a way they won’t look at words. They can be in a private space with a picture, and it can feel less combative than words on a page. I did that to reach people who aren’t having this conversation at all, but I also did this to reach people who have had these conversations and are just so exhausted by it and so tired and can not bear to read another article or pick up another book because this place has been broken and wounded for so long. I just wanted to have a way to say, “Yeah, me too.” I see this, here’s me. Maybe here’s you too.
When the book comes out, what do you hope readers take from it?
That’s a good question. I think one of the things that I hope for more than anything is that it makes the need the talk to each other and turn to the other person, “I need to talk about this in a different way.” And that it brings up the stories in which we’ve been less than sure about ourselves and our behavior.
One of the things I’ve noticed about white Americans in this moment is a real resistance to the idea that anything they could do could be perceived as racist unless its wearing a white hood and burning a cross. In that positioning, there’s so much shame and a real unwillingness to see the moments that they are right now, today, enacting these things that they would swear to never be doing. I think there’s a way of hearing the information “You are hurting me” as “therefore you are a bad person.”
I have done things to my friends, I’ve said things I regret. I’m a work in progress and I would assume I would continue to make enormous mistakes my whole life in this trajectory. The point I hope people can understand is not to say that you’ve never done something or simply focus when you hear about someone’s pain about what this means about your person in the way that you only want to hear that you’re a good person. What I hope they would hear is “Okay, I’ve got some work to do” and have a place to hear it and move from that place. Don’t let it paralyze you or anger you or turn into retribution. That’s your fear talking. So what else is there?
In one way, it’s like your book is trying to counteract cancel culture.
Right. And I say that knowing full well that there have been people who have been cancelled for really good reasons! And I’m sure people will cancel me. I also know that it feels good to cancel people when you cannot cancel your president. There is a huge amount of this that is amount having control and feeling safe and I don’t feel the need to stand in between somebody’s need for safety. But if that safety can not imagine you as a person–if that safety can not imagine a world in which you exist because you aren’t even aren’t perfect enough to live up to your own standards, then let’s imagine something else.