Blogging While Brown is more than an organization for Black bloggers. It’s a verb. A community formed by and within community. It’s an experience. Last weekend that experience came to NYC in the form of the 6th annual Blogging While Brown Conference. I had the privilege and pleasure of speaking at the Business of Blogging portion of the conference last Friday not knowing, by that very same afternoon, I would not only have to defend my words and my rep, but I would learn just how essentially valuable community is to experience.
I spoke in the morning at BWB with Jodie Patterson of Girl Crush fame about monetizing a blog via smart offline synergies and how important it is to be authentic, to have integrity and to be liked and respected by your peers. Our talk went really well. We had such a wonderful, dynamic energy during our presentation and the feedback from the conference attendees was great! I was amped and relieved that it was done and done well. I guess I shouldn’t have gotten too caught up in the afterglow of accomplishment though because that afternoon another speaker who I had interacted with once many years ago took the stage and proceeded to openly disparage my reputation and, in the face of what I had spoken of earlier, to make me out to be a fraud.
To make a long story somewhat short, 3 years ago I approached a PR agency (owned by the woman who attempted to defame me) with a pitch for Vogue (where I was a contributing writer) about doing a Q&A with Kerry Washington while she was at the Urbanworld Film Festival promoting her movie “Night Catches Us.” I got the green light. I interviewed Kerry and stressed to this individual that I would need to submit my story and have the photos from the event by 9am the next day. I turned-in my story at 8:45, but still had not received the photos from her agency. I emailed and called them, but nothing. 9am had come and gone. Finally, around 11am I got the photos from their publicist. I knew this was not going to fly with my editor, but still I submitted them. The editor immediately responded that it was too late and they had missed the deadline and so Vogue was going to kill the story. That interview has never seen the light of day. It NEVER appeared on theHotness.com as this publicist claimed. I never tried to manipulate that story or my relationship with Vogue for any self-serving reasons as this woman intimated. You can Google “Kerry Washington” and “theHotness” and you will find that there is no trace of such an interview ever posted. For some unknown reason this “professional,” I guess, felt that fiction would be more provocative than telling the truth.
To say that I was completely taken aback and shook would be an understatement. I was deeply hurt and angry. As a writer, the two things that propel us forward are our clips and our reputation and this woman, in my presence, tried to sabotage half of that. In that moment, I wanted to physically rectify the matter. I raised my hand and then I leapt to my feet. I had more than a few choice words for this storyteller and I needed the moderator to call on me right away! The man next to me stood up and tapped my shoulder. “You’re hands are shaking,” he whispered in my ear.
I looked down. He was right.
“You were brilliant this morning. Don’t let her take that away from you. Sit down and gather yourself first. She’s already losing,” my new comrade of Prune Juice Media further assured. Without hesitation I sat down because I knew he was right. Scenes of Evelyn Lozado standing on a table, wine glass in hand were fancifully dancing in my head, and I knew I was about to lose my shit. By the time the session ended, another 40 minutes had passed and I was able to compose myself. I confronted this individual and asked her why she felt the need to publicly disparage my blog and tell lies about me. At the end of a very brief, but very tense convo, she said she thought she saw the interview on my website and that she was told her rep submitted the photos on time (I have since emailed her with proof proving the very opposite). She was basically like “my bad” and she apologized. Said she would tweet a public apology, blah, blah, but the damage had already been done. So what do you do when someone tries to recklessly take you down? I relied on three things and came out a winner:
1. Stay Calm: My godmother always tells me to start at a simmer and work your way up to full-boil anger. Hands-down, this is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten because when I get mad I’m immediately enraged—cursing, throwing stuff and ready to fight. My spiritual ma always asks me, “So when it escalates Nicole, where do you go from there? You’ve left yourself no room to emotionally expand.” By the time I spoke to the publicist I was focused and, best of all, I was in total control of how our talk was going to unfold. #powermoves.
2. Confront with Class: Instead of name-calling, I asked my defamer a number of questions about motive, proof and reasoning, which gave me agency and made her feel uncomfortable. I made eye contact and was succinct like a mug. I walked away from that convo with a smile on my face. She did not. By the time I left the conference I had collected at least 50 business cards of people who wanted to connect with me because they thought I was just so class-say.
3. Don’t Hide: There was an opening party the evening of my “disparagement.” I didn’t really feel like hanging out and making small talk. Even though I was wronged, I felt embarrassed. But I was advised to pick up my lip and go on out there and shake a tail feather. I wasn’t at the cocktail reception for 5 minutes before a young woman approached me wondering if she could ask me something personal. She wanted to know how I felt sitting there while this woman dogged my blog and my work ethic. By the time I answered her question, 5 more people had joined our convo. They admitted that they were all mortified by the lack of professionalism and consideration of the PR rep. They commended me on my grace and, as a result, I was asked by the conference organizer to address all of the attendees with my side of the story that very next morning. It was an incredible moment of growth and redemption. You can’t save face if you don’t show up!
Lastly, Black folks in social media and tech are breaking new ground and I just need to stress that we do not have to do so by bringing someone else down. I know there are still so very few outlets for us as black writers and professionals to express the full-bodied beauty of who we truly are and so we tend to turn in on each other as we scramble for leverage and space, but trust, there is more than enough room for us all to be great.