Don’t Interrupt: Borrowed Interest
Becky Brinkerhoff is a copywriter and manic pixie meme girl at Hill Holliday in Boston. She’s a diversity & inclusivity activist in all things and hasn’t been “chill” a single day in her life.
What's to be found at the intersection of being female, brown, and in advertising? Borrowed Interest, a podcast hosted by three ad-women of color, sheds some much needed light on that question. This month, we gave the floor to mono producer Amalia Nicholson, mono copywriter Shareina Chandler, and Fallon art director Leeya Jackson.
Getting To Know You
What were you like in High School?
Shareina: A drama-kid who wore clothes that didn’t match and read 18th-century literature because I wanted to. Yeah…I didn’t have a lot of friends.
Leeya: I was the hippy-dippy, mad-science geek, but was really cool with everybody. I did majorette dancing with the band, which is apparently a lame thing in white schools, but in black schools is everything. Also I was a math nerd. And an art nerd. And a sci-fi nerd. Basically, I was a nerd, but a cool nerd.
Amalia: Probably very similar to how I am now. I had hot pink hair. I was into punk music and French cinema. You can’t see me, but I'm rolling my eyes as I say that. I don’t want to say I was popular because I don’t want to sound like a monster, but I had a lot of friends in a lot of different groups. High School sucked, but it was fine.
What keeps you up at night?
Shareina: I’m only up late if my anxiety is playing up and I’m anxious about random stuff. I’m usually thinking things like “should I get a wax? Should I email this person? Should I text this guy? Maybe I shouldn’t text him.” It’s never the important, esoteric, existential-crisis questions. It’s just very mundane.
Leeya: I’m the opposite. Mine's always existential. I’m always laying there like, “Wait...what if we’re not even here? What if everyone I know is a figment of my imagination?” It’s always some black mirror shit.
Amalia: I’m really good at blocking things out of my brain, so I don’t stay up at night worrying about stuff anymore. But, if I did, it would probably be about the pile of dishes in my sink that I refuse to acknowledge.
What is the most embarrassing professional faux pas you’re willing to admit?
Amalia: I would image it has something to do with being drunk and doing karaoke. But, I’ve embraced that side of me, so I refuse to be embarrassed by it.
Leeya: When I first started designing, I didn’t know that you couldn’t take pieces of other people’s drawings and incorporate them into your designs. I didn’t know anything about copyright. There was a piece I did in my first photoshop class that was on my website. A guy contacted me saying, 'Hey, saw you made this poster, and it’s a cool poster, but you have this drawing on it that I did.' And I was like, 'Yeah! I just learned photoshop!'
Shareina: I don’t have anything, I’m not that easily embarrassed. Every once in a while I’ll do something where I’m like YIKES, but it’s like “oh well.”
Has there ever been a situation where speaking up would harm your career?
Amalia: I used to have a job at a small company that was run by a white dude that liked to talk about politics a lot. It was never appropriate. It was one of those companies where your boss is also HR so you have to be really careful. I had to learn really quickly to never give my real opinion or be my true self because I could get fired. So, that was fun. I don’t think I ever actually spoke out. I never had a moment there where I was like, 'I’m going to tell them how I really feel.' It was too scary.
Leeya: If they’re not fostering an environment that you feel comfortable speaking up in, just move on. For me, there have definitely been things I’ve wanted to say, but I was still in a learning position so I was doubting if I was even right. That’s weird, when you're not quite sure if you’re right. I feel like It’s only been in the past year that I’ve become confident enough to trust myself, to know that I’m good at gauging stuff. If I see something and it hits me in a weird way, there is probably something wrong with it. I’m doing you a service by speaking up.
Shareina: Before I was in advertising, I worked in start-ups and those are really bro-y. I worked at one company where I got sexually harassed a bit. It was interesting because I was the only woman and but I wasn’t the only person of color. People were fairly vigilant about racism but didn’t seem to care about sexism. I never felt comfortable enough to speak up.
Are you satisfied creatively?
Leeya: Yes and no. Career-wise, it’s part of the puzzle. The skills I’ve learned as an Art Director are applicable for a bunch of different paths. I’m interested in a bunch of different things, so I wouldn’t say that there’s any one job that would fulfill all of that. I’m content with the fact that I can get my problem solving, creative side out in advertising and my hands-on, making, tactile side out in my personal paintings. So, yeah I am satisfied overall, but not just within advertising.
Shareina: I like what I do and it makes me happy. That said, I write a bunch of other things in different mediums because I want to and because I can. Advertising is just one facet of my personality. There are a lot of other things I'm interested in that I want to write about. It’s not all going to be in advertising, which is fine.
Amalia: The idea that only creatives are creative people is a thing that I’ve seen a lot since I’ve started working in agencies. As a producer, it kinda sucks. I went to film school. I’m a film-maker, director, and writer. All of those creative avenues feed the work I do as a broadcast producer because, if I wasn’t interested in that stuff, I wouldn’t be a very good producer. Advertising's not the most creatively fulfilling world, but it does feed part of a creative side. Working on the podcast has been more of a creative process for me. There isn’t that delineation between 'the creatives' and me as just the person who makes things happen. We all have equal voices.
Let’s Get Intersectional
If you could ensure that non-minorities woke up tomorrow with one piece of knowledge about your experience as black women, what would it be?
Amalia: You are here because you've been supported by a system that is crumbling and we are coming. We are starting to be here because of diversity efforts, but we are going to take over because we are fucking awesome and very smart and very good at what we do.
Shareina: Anyone want to follow up after that? Because I don’t.
Leeya: Amalia blew that up. That’s pretty much it.
What can female empowerment organizations do to be more intersectional?
Amalia: In my time working with non-profits, I’ve seen people with really good intentions go into other communities and not understand that they can’t walk in and say, “Here’s how you’re going to fix things” without listening or learning. So, hire more people from those communities. And work to understand the complications that come with being part of these communities.
Also, listen to the voices of color because they are probably saying what you want to be saying, so help them amplify instead of benefiting from their ideas without crediting them. Don’t be a Rose McGowen and profit off the work of Tarana Burke with the Me Too movement.
Shareina: One thing that anyone involved in those organizations can do better is realize that the way your life is organized and your viewpoint on things is not universal. For example, the feminist movement really opened up a lot of space for women to be able to own their bodies and their sexuality. And that’s great, but there are still lots of cultures where women do not do that and, furthermore, don’t want to. So pushing that agenda on those women is, in some ways, oppressive.
Leeya: Don’t be those people who go to Africa for charity and take selfies. Don’t go to the hoods and do that. Be a support, but don’t make it about you.
Borrowed Interest is a perfect name for the podcast. But, if you had to pick a different name, what would it be?
Shareina: Black Girl Adgic.
Amalia: Yeah, that was our working title. We still use it as a hashtag because it’s so good, but we felt like it wasn’t inclusive enough.
Borrowed Interest is definitely getting a season two, yes?
Amalia: That’s the plan.
Anything in discussion for season two we can look forward to?
Leeya: Amalia, you want to tell her about your intro episode idea?
Amalia: I was standing in line for a coffee and it hit me—
Leeya: No, you were in the bathroom.
Amalia: Oh, yeah, you’re right. I was in the bathroom. Thanks for that. Anyway, the first episode of season one is going to be called 'The Business of Beyonce' and it’s going to be every business, advertising, and career lesson we’ve ever learned from Beyonce. Because why wouldn’t we dedicate an entire episode to that woman?
Shareina: We pretty much talk about her every episode already.
Amalia: And I think a general thing in season two is trying to be even more inclusive. This isn’t just a podcast about black women, we just happen to all be black women. We really want to make sure that we’re including people from a lot of different backgrounds, religions, abilities. It’s really important to us. Hopefully people will be more interested in talking to us now that we’ve put out a season.
Don't Interrupt is an interview series from the 3% Movement that showcases inspirational indust
Illustration by Raphaela Putz.