Elexus Jionde came out of college a changed woman, and she aims to bring us all with her on her new path of enlightenment.
The 23-year-old Charlotte native graduated from Ohio State University in August 2016, and in less than a month was grabbing national headlines for her thought-provoking commentary — and the harassment it provoked.
On September 11, 2016, Jionde, known as @Lexual__ on Twitter, posted a thread of tweets educating folks about the lesser known aspects of racially oppressive American history that she thinks better fit the #NeverForget hashtag that has clogged social media feeds for one day every year since 2001.
Despite her acknowledgement that, yes, people should not forget those terrible memories of 9/11 — but should also keep these other unjustly obscure events fresh in mind — the pitchforks came out. Her personal information was released by the trolls of the infamously reprehensible website 4chan, while racist death threats came from every angle on other social media platforms.
Jionde brushed it off.
"These people didn't know who they were dealing with, because I have spent my life not giving a fuck what people think," Jionde says. "So I was like, 'Oh, interesting.' That's alright. I let them do what they had to do, and they got all that hatred out."
In the meantime, she kept plugging along. She founded Intelexual Media and continued sharing her recent racial enlightenment through YouTube. On Twitter, she regularly schools her nearly 39,000 followers with two-minute videos that tackle topics going unspoken in schools during Black History Month — topics like redlining, skin bleaching and sundown towns (Google is your friend).
Now, she's back in her hometown of Charlotte for the month, as she prepares to move to Los Angeles and release her first book, The A-Z Guide to Black Oppression, one of two books she'll release before the summer is over.
We sat down with Jionde at a bagel shop in EpiCentre, one of her old high school stomping grounds, to talk about embracing her blackness, Charlotte's quiet race problems and beefing with Tomi Lahren (or "Tommy", as Jionde calls her).
Creative Loafing: You graduated from Garinger High School in 2012. It seems things have moved quickly for you since then. What's been going on?
Elexus Jionde: It's been a roller-coaster ride. I spent my entire school career being told I was never going to go to Ohio State. Then I went to Garinger and those possibilities seemed even more slim. But I went, and I graduated in four years. I moved to New York, I started speaking out more about things I learned in college — shit that everybody really needs to know. It was things that I didn't learn in high school, and I just wanted to share my $40,000 a year education [Jionde attended school on The Broad Prize for Urban Education scholarship program] with everybody else.
So it sounds like college was a bit of a reeducation for you.
Very much so. I was under the impression that we lived in a post-racial society because the way I was taught in school was that we don't have problems with race anymore; any problems that you face are because of you, yourself. There's no institutional problems going on that affect a larger population.
I didn't know anything about it. I remember whenever somebody would talk about police brutality my first response was black-on-black crime. That's how I'd been conditioned growing up to think that certain things weren't real. Then in college everything just blew open for me.
I've had this theory, at least in terms of public schooling, and it's not really my place to say it, but it sounds like something you might agree with for the reasons you just explained. Is Black History Month bullshit?
I hate Black History Month. I think Black History should be celebrated every day. If you click onto the History channel on any given day, they're showing more shit about aliens than they are about black history. There are tons of documentaries about Vikings, and American this or that, and Swamp People, but I don't see these stories that I talk about. That's eventually what I want Intelexual Media to grow into. I want to produce the type of content for black people that History Channel is lacking. So, yes, to answer your question, fuck Black History Month.
Before your enlightenment on racial issues, had you always been the outspoken type?
I've always been outspoken. I've never cared about being considered abrasive. As I've grown older I've realized to be more tactful about what I say, but when I was younger, oh no, nobody could get me to shut up. I always said what I wanted, but I always backed what I said with facts. When I was younger there were less facts to be had so there was less real shit to be said. But now as an adult, I'm more well-read and I'm more up to date on political and social issues. Everything I say is of substance. I don't just say things just to say them.
And you've carried that research-based approach into your first book, which is a collection of relatively short essays that read like term papers, only fun.
I'm trying to make college education more accessible to my own people. At Garinger, only 11 percent of the people in my class went to college, and most of them were going to community colleges and the rest were going to small HBCUs around North Carolina. I was one of a handful who went to a bigger research institution and that's where I learned how to research, how to think objectively. I've always loved history, but that's where I learned true critical thinking about history. Ohio State definitely catalyzed me to be who I am.
When was it that you started gaining a following for expressing these views?
When I first went to college I was known as @OhioStateLexi. I had a blog, it was very popular. It got so popular that Ohio State wrote me a cease and desist letter and ordered me to shut down the website. I talked about sex, politics, history, I talked about everything, and to them it wasn't of Ohio State character. I cussed a lot. The sex thing, they really weren't going for that. So they made me shut it down. I had a good 8,000 followers on Twitter who were there from the beginning. Then, when the 9/11 thread happened, that's when I got about 25,000 followers overnight.
What was that experience like, going viral in such a controversial way?
It was completely unexpected. When I tell you I wrote that thread a day before I went on a cruise with my boyfriend at the time. I was like, "You know what, there's are all of these things that people don't know, I need to put all this stuff out."
I was just doing research for what will be my second book, The History of Black Sexuality, and I came across something and I was like, "I wonder how many people don't know this." I think it was the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. I wonder how much people don't know about black history period. And I'm not talking about this person invented this or this person invented that. I'm talking about, this is what has been done to us over generations.
It was September 11, and I sat down with the stack of paper I had and I was like, "I am pissed." Because I looked on Twitter and there was all these people like "Remember 9/11, Remember 9/11," and I was like, "Yeah, I remember 9/11 every year, but I wonder how many people remember these things that still have long-lasting effects on American society." And that's why I tweeted the thread.
Were you expecting the reaction you got?
I did not expect anything. Around that time is when I couldn't really see anything from anybody's mentions on Twitter, except I did see the hate. I got a lot of, "You should die bitch. I hope your first child has cancer. Back in the day you'd be hung from a tree." A whole lot of just nasty, racist stuff.
Just days after that thread, the Charlotte Uprising occurred. What was it like watching that unfold from New York?
The whole thing was very surreal to me because, Charlotte — from Swann vs. Board of Education to the 2001 case where busing ended in Charlotte — Charlotte has a habit of acting like we don't have a race problem. We're this charming, sweet southern town; we don't have race problems. Then why are our schools so segregated? Why did I go to a school with such shitty resources? To me, the people speaking out and "rioting" as they call it, it's pretty damn warranted. And to me, it signaled that people here were waking up to the issues in Charlotte, and they were like, "Hey, maybe things aren't as good as we thought they were."
Do you still feel a strong connection to your hometown?
I know I'd like to come back here one day to raise my kids. I love Charlotte. It's very cute, but it has a long way to go — just like America has a long way to go — in recognizing that some of our black citizens are disadvantaged and they have been disadvantaged over generations.
Eventually I want to come back and be able to help Garinger teens specifically, because I know what it was like going to Garinger. I was lucky because I had gone to lottery schools before that. I went to all predominantly white schools where I had SAT prep and teachers who cared and we had extra curriculars and stuff. Garinger didn't even have a yearbook. All of those kids who went through the schools that led them to Garinger — the school that feeds into Garinger, and an elementary school that feeds into that — those kids are just used to being tossed aside. And me, when I got there, I was like, "What the fuck is this?" That's why when I got there I took charge; I did the announcements, I did volunteer stuff.
I want to start a scholarship fund at Garinger, because if nobody had ever helped me to go to college — because I definitely didn't pay for my own college education — if nobody would've helped me go to college, I wouldn't be sitting here today. I would be at a fast food restaurant.
How does that Charlotte upbringing inspire your work now?
Charlotte has taught me that if nobody speaks up — because I recognize how privileged I am — if nobody uses their privilege to speak up about the disadvantaged then the disadvantaged are just going to keep being disadvantaged. Charlotte can keep sweeping its race problems under the rug, but somebody's going to trip and fall. And I'm here to lift that rug back and be like, "OK Charlotte, and everywhere else in the country, let's get real about these race issues. Let's stop being so polite. Let's stop trying to coddle racists."
These people are out here saying, "Civil Rights was a long time ago, the KKK really aren't around anymore." Yes, the fuck they are. Something as ridiculous as comparing Black Lives Matter to the KKK, that's the kind of shit that motivates me, to get people to think critically and stop being dumbasses.
When you say "coddle racists," I can't help but think of Tomi Lahren, whom you've called out on video to much acclaim?
She ticks me off so much more than anybody else, because when I would watch videos of her I wanted to like her. I wanted to understand her opinion, because one of the things college taught me is you have to listen to the opposition. So I listened. I watched her shit and I felt sick to my stomach. I'm like, "Girl, you are so well-spoken, articulate, and you're speaking such bullshit. And you went to college? You make me look bad. What were you doing all four years?" She pisses me off mainly for that reason, in addition to being a bigot.
When I see Trevor Noah or Charlemagne Tha God — somebody with a similar platform to her or larger than her — and they coddle her and they treat her like, "Oh, we're going to listen to your opinion because it matters." She's saying the same horrible bullshit that racists have been saying for years. But because she's pretty and blonde and blue-eyed, she gets this special treatment. "We're going to listen to your opinion." Nobody calls her an angry white woman, despite the fact that she's very angry. She always calls people out for acting like victims, but she's always complaining how liberals are coming for her and everybody else.
So when I did that video, people were telling me, "Oh you're just going to boost her, you're making her more popular." That's a lie. It actually made me more popular. I know what I'm doing, thank you very much. I'm getting my 50 Cent on. I'm calling her out because eventually she's going to have to reply, and she doesn't want to reply right now because she knows if she does ... it's over for her. She doesn't want a good chunk of her followers to know I exist. So I understand why she doesn't reply to me. I'm here to counterbalance all of the people holding her hand and everybody else like her. I'm not here for that. I might hurt your feelings, but I'm coming from a place of facts, so you can't hate me for it. Well, you can hate me for it, but you can't be mad at me for that.
How much of a role does sexuality play in what you do at Intelexual Media?
I'm not interested in appealing to everyone. I have a saying that I'm a juicy peach and not everybody likes peaches. So I talk about things that matter to me, and as a sexual black woman, I know that one of the biggest issues facing black women today is sexual violence, domestic violence. Pro-black movements don't talk about that often and white feminist movements leave black women out, so I'm trying to fill that void.
A lot of my black male followers normally hate talking about things like feminism. They still slut shame. I've been trying to get them out of that. I'm trying to flip them like pancakes. A lot of them are starting to get it that oppressing women is similar to oppressing black people, that it's all connected.
Sex is fun, but with sex comes a lot of problems. Like being black is fun, but with being black comes a lot of problems. Sex has always been one of my biggest interests, and so has history. I feel like letting people know that you can be both sexually liberated and intelligent is possible. That's why Intelexual is the name, intelligent and sexual.
What is your 2017 looking like for you, ideally?
2017 is about expanding the Intelexual Media brand, getting more people to think critically and having a solid foundation of knowledge about black oppression in this country, which is why the first book is so crucial. I'm expecting during the holiday season this year, a woke white person who understands the struggle, when they're listening to their racist uncle at the table, they are going to slam the book down on the table like, "Shut up and read this." Like, "This isn't full of jargon, you're not going to be bored reading it. Just shut up, read it and try to argue with her. You can't."
Also, I'd like to see Tomi Lahren in a face-to-face debate.