The white woman behind an Instagram account with almost three million followers has apologised for the “harm” she caused to bestselling black author Ijeoma Oluo.
Oluo’s examination of race in America, So You Want to Talk About Race, was published in 2018, and hit the bestseller charts in the wake of the killing of George Floyd last summer. Jessica Natale’s similarly-named Instagram account @soyouwanttotalkabout was launched in February 2020, tackling topics such as voting rights, gun reform and the sentencing of Derek Chauvin, laying out information in a series of slide-shows in muted tones. By April this year, Natale had landed a book deal with Little, Brown, and revealed her previously-concealed identity.
Oluo had said that Natale’s decision to name her Instagram account @soyouwanttotalkabout was “duplicitous and shady”, describing her as a “white woman that is capitalizing off of the work of other people of color and other marginalized populations”.
Oluo said in an Instagram story that she first became aware of Natale’s account last year. “Last summer in the middle of this global uprising for black lives, the popularity of my work … skyrocketed. And so in the middle of this, while dealing with the trauma of being a black person in America … I’m getting these messages from people saying … is this you?” she said. “I’m like, this is exactly one word short of my book title that is currently selling out in stores everywhere, and it’s talking about race and other issues. So I reached out to the page and I was like, this is really similar to my book title, I would like to know who is behind this account.”
Oluo, who has 521,000 followers on Instagram, said her question about the identity of the person running the account was “completely ignored”, but a small disclaimer was added to let readers know Oluo was not affiliated with it. “I knew from their response this was a white person immediately because otherwise you wouldn’t ignore that question of who’s behind this account,” Oluo said. “It’s actually been really heartbreaking to hear from hundreds of people who didn’t know this wasn’t my page.”
Natale has now renamed her Instagram page So Informed, “out of respect for Ijeoma Oluo”. She has also apologised “for the harm” that she caused the author, and has said her book’s publication has been paused.
“I recognise that once again people of colour have had to carry the burden of education, and I regret that my actions have increased that burden,” she wrote on Instagram. “This page is about truth and dialogue. This conversation will be ongoing. Thank you all for holding me accountable.”
Oluo also criticised the way Natale and other accounts such as hers share information. “I am not interested in the meme-ification of anti-racist and social justice work. I am not interested in making this over-400-years complex system simple for white people to digest. I’m not trying to give you an easy way to feel like you have been doing something just by reading a post,” she said on Instagram. “I hope that from here on out those 2.8 million people who come for easy, quick, feel-good information to help them feel informed will actually be connected to the people doing real work.”
This isn’t the first time that a white social media influencer has been accused of taking credit for a black author’s ideas and format. Last year, in a now-deleted Instagram post, the influencer Chidera Eggerue, who goes by the moniker of the Slumflower, said her fellow influencer Florence Given’s self-help book Women Don’t Owe You Pretty was “essentially an amalgamation” of Eggerue’s own What a Time to Be Alone and How to Get Over a Boy.