Jessica Williams is in Control
BY: ELISHA BROWN
Ms. J Willy has signed off.
Jessica Williams, the 26-year-old comedienne, made her last Daily Show appearance on June 30, marking the end of her four-year stint on the show. Williams was the first black woman and the youngest ever correspondent on the late-night fixture. She started the gig fresh out of college, and even found out she was hired during finals.
But don’t cry for her – she’s getting her own damn show. In an exclusive Entertainment Weekly interview about her departure, she revealed she’s working on a series for Comedy Central about a “politically-minded young woman who may be ‘woke’ but doesn’t know what she’s doing.” Wow – truly the show that I daydream about on public transportation. The Blackprint team is open to being creative consultants on your show, Jessica.
While much of the internet is happy for Williams, the hyper-focus on her professional life a little over a year ago was patronizing, to say the least. When Trevor Noah took over the Daily Show front desk from Jon Stewart, some were quick to say Williams deserved the top spot. There’s nothing wrong with wishing to see a famous person you admire succeed, but The Billfold’s Ester Bloom went too far, in a post that diagnosed the then-correspondent with “imposter syndrome,” a workplace phenomenon when you constantly undermine your qualifications.
Williams took to Twitter to say thanks, but no thanks: “No offense, but Lean the Fuck away from me for the next couple of days. I need a minute.” Williams went on to explain in a series of tweets that she personally didn’t feel like she was qualified for the job. Still, in her thread (mostly white) people replied with condescending remarks and links to Harvard Business Review studies about how women always shy away from promotion in the workplace. A little over a year later, it’s clear that Williams wanted to wait for the right opportunity and take ownership of her own project.
The whole Lean In movement can be damaging. As writer Jia Tolentino recently put it in The New York Times, the term “women’s empowerment” has evolved into a mentality that pigeonholes equality as always taking the promotion, saying yes to whatever gets you ahead and focusing on making money. While there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, this particular spin on feminism has been co-opted by upper-middle class white women and force-fed to us in mainstream media.
So news of Williams’ departure is a big “you thought” to those who assumed she didn’t know what was good for her and said she lacked understanding of her “self-worth.” And for a young, black girl like me who often wonders if she’s successful enough, hearing about Williams’ future plans shows me it’s okay to not always say yes to things or make a career move just because everyone else says you should do it. Take a page out of Jessica’s book* and lean out.
*or just follow her aesthetically-pleasing Insta. #Eatcraylove, y’all.
Cover: (The Hollywood Reporter)