Interview by Sheila Dianne Jackson
Five years ago in the month of May, Kim Williams launched Ink Spot Entertainment, and her first web series, Unwritten Rules. The series is based on her book, “40 Hours and an Unwritten Rule: The Diary of a Nigger, Negro, Colored, Black, African-American Woman,” and explores the realities of being a Black co-worker in a predominately white workplace.
SHEILA: You did a great job in Unwritten Rules of showing both overt and nuanced racism in the workplace, and your main character, Racey’s ongoing challenge to pick her battles – from the people touching her hair and disrespecting her and challenging her competency, to the work itself.
KIM: If you say something you are perceived as the black person who is always thinking about race. It’s a matter of choosing which battles to fight – and that’s what you’re doing on a daily basis. And you can’t fight all of them. You must ask yourself, “Is it worth it today?”
SHEILA: What was the response to Unwritten Rules? Was it surprising to you how people responded?
KIM: I knew people were interested. But I didn’t think the response would be as big as it was. I wasn’t expecting what I got. The web series opened a new audience. What really surprised me was the white audience that embraced it.
When I wrote the book, I originally wrote it for white people. So they could see the authentic journey of a Black co-worker. But then when I created the web series, in my mind I was thinking, “Oh white people are not going to watch it.”
I’ve had white people email and say, “I am Pattie – and I did’t realize that I was Pattie. Thank you for opening my eyes. I didn’t realize I’ve been doing this for all these years and I didn’t know what I was like.”
SHEILA: I think that’s awesome because people need to understand what racism looks like in the workplace – and what it’s always looked like to us. It’s not what the perpetrators think it is. Because they don’t believe they’re racist in other aspects of their day-to-day lives. They get into the workplace and go into this autopilot mode of how they treat and regard people of color.
I love what you did. And I love that you achieved it independently, so it didn’t get watered down. Because it takes an authentic journey – a real story – that’s not edited, pushed and pulled in different directions for the network, or watered down by what other people don’t want to say, to really touch people. There are issues that come into play when you’re doing something that’s never been done before for mainstream media, as opposed to independently. It’s nice that you didn’t have all those filters. You were able to really share an authentic experience.
In the web series Racey ultimately left. And a lot of people don’t leave – for practical reasons, and for all sorts of reasons.
KIM: It was important to me, as far as the ending, because I wanted to show people that you can leave – that it’s an option. Racey leaves and starts her own business. She starts writing. And I thought it was important to show people that it is possible. Because we think we don’t have options, that we have to work in these spaces because that’s what we’ve been doing for all of these years.
SHEILA: I loved the introduction of the black, female boss (See episode 11, season 1 below). The black boss was such a source of satisfaction for Racey because she had the power to do things Racey could not. But still they both did a dance of sorts when it came to confronting issues of race.
KIM: Remember this series was launched during the Obama era. The funny thing about the black boss is I introduced her because I wanted to show the parallels between her and President Obama.
SHEILA: I thought so. The parallels with Obama, particularly with how she was regarded – all of the questioning of her abilities – reflects what comes along with being a black female boss.
KIM: And that’s really what Season 2 was about, to show what was going on in the world with President Obama, and that connection. A lot of people didn’t get the connection.
SHEILA: I definitely got it – and loved it even more because I was enjoying the references.
KIM: The funny thing is I even took from President Obama’s speeches. The speech she gives when she first arrives is from Obama (episode 11 of season 1). Just about every time she gives a speech, I’ve taken a snippet of a speech from President Obama. And a lot of people didn’t make the connection.
SHEILA: What elements did you see as her being in alignment with President Obama.
KIM: Just her being the CEO, being in charge, and the reception she gets from the white employees. Even though she’s qualified to do the job, everyone has some issue with her being their boss.
I think white people will sit back and say, “Oh I’m not racist.” But as soon as the power shifts, they have a problem with it. They start doing things unconsciously, and still don’t think they’re being racist. When subconsciously the thought is, “Oh how can she be better than me?” or “How can she be ‘over’ me.” It was important to show, because I feel that was happening with President Obama, all the time. Black people were talking about it. But it didn’t get white people talking. So I wanted to bring it out. I felt that this was an important piece to discuss.
SHEILA: I know that one of your goals now is to see Unwritten Rules picked up for TV. How do you think it would be received in the current climate that we have right now? Do you think the timing is right for Unwritten Rules as a network series, and if the realism and authenticity could be maintained?
KIM: I think the timing is great! My book, 40 Hours came out when race wasn’t a popular topic. Even when Unwritten Rules was launched, no one wanted to talk about race. But now race is a main topic of discussion. I think it’s the perfect time. However, I still don’t think that it could be as authentic as it was on YouTube. And that was the reason why I didn’t push it. I did it for 3 seasons without focusing or concentrating on getting it picked up. Because I really wanted to do it the way I wanted to, and with an authentic voice. And now that I’m done with it, I’m ready to give my baby away, in a sense. I know that wherever it gets picked up – especially network television – they’re not ready to talk about it in the way it should be talked about. They have advertisers to consider, and there’re just certain things that I don’t think the regular network studios are willing to risk.
SHEILA: Also, many of them are perpetuating the very issues and situations you are talking about – case and point, FOX.
KIM: Exactly. When I finished the trailer, I took a few meetings for television. In one of the meetings I remember someone saying, Oh well you know we need to bring in a white writer.” And I was like, “What? Huh?” (laughs) That was when I decided, not to focus on getting it on TV, but to do it myself – in my voice. And I think that’s why people are drawn to the show.
The funny thing is even though television is supposed to be an escape, people like to see themselves on TV reflected in the characters. And I think that we’ve [Black women] been trained to think that it’s not possible.
SHEILA: Well we’ve been traumatized. Not seeing yourself reflected in the landscape around you is one definition of trauma. So Black women have really been traumatized. I have never seen my life or anything that resembles it, reflected in the media or in stories on television – ever.
KIM: Even with black programs, even though I loved the Cosby show, that wasn’t my reality. Even though I love Scandal, I am not Olivia Pope.
So that’s my goal. It’s why I write – to give women and people like me that voice in the media, because it’s been absent for so long.
Unwritten Rules is available on Ink Spot Entertainment’s YouTube channel, along with The New Black, Everything I Did Wrong In My 20’s, and Start A Conversation . Enjoy….