Kimberly Drew Is Asking The World To Be Better

Kimberly Drew Is Asking The World To Be Better

A part of Mercedes-Benz's #WeWonder campaign, writer and "thought-maker" Kimberly Drew speaks with V about the power of equity, Serena Williams, activism, and what responsibility looks like in the age of the internet.

A part of Mercedes-Benz's #WeWonder campaign, writer and "thought-maker" Kimberly Drew speaks with V about the power of equity, Serena Williams, activism, and what responsibility looks like in the age of the internet.

Text: AJ Longabaugh

Can you tell me how Mercedes Benz approached your or how that relationship started?

Certainly. I was on a plane when I got the email and I was so excited because I felt like it was an opportunity to do something that felt a little bit out of my comfort zone because I was one of the first people that was part of the collective and so I got the least amount of details. I am such a control freak and want to know everything so it’s kind of like, “okay, you gotta just submit to this moment because everybody who is involved in this is so good”. And, of course, everyone is just a huge fan of Mercedes-Benz and all of their initiatives, so I was just kind of like, let’s see where this takes me. And as the group came together, I was totally blown away.

It's very surreal how super of group group it is and that it's come together in such an important moment in time. I can’t remember a campaign that has felt so timely.

And I think that that’s really a credit of the people who have built it. It’s such an interesting moment where I think people are really finding a particular courage to speak up and to be who they are, and not even in a political sense, but really as an articulation of self. And, so, to have the group of people that were selected with each uniquely bold personalities, it has been such a treat.

I’ve been reading a lot of your writing and I think you have such a significant and inspired voice. It’s very individual, but also it draws empathy and not in a way where it’s forced or manipulative. Can you tell me about a piece or body of work that inspires your love of written word?

At this stage, I think what I love to write is profiles. When it comes to profiles, I definitely love to read Jenna Wortham's profiles the most because I talk to her every day and it’s such a gift to know someone who is so kind, and I think that her writing really communicates the way that she listens and the way that she watches people. Also Carvell Wallace has a fantastic profile and actually, when I was preparing to write the Tina Knowles profile, I reread his profile in GQ on Mahershala Ali and Columbia School Journalism did an interview with him about writing that profile and reading that process was really illuminating because he, very strategically, was interested in just jumping into the conversation directly. I feel like a lot of times as writers, we get worked up about how to engage and he just asks about the kids. You know, it’s changed the way that I interact with my subjects.

In the world of poetry, I’m really into Morgan Parker. When I wrote for i-D about the status of the art world and my frustration with the way that I’m interviewed, I was thinking about her poetry and specifically, her “Now More Than Ever” poem. Let’s just call things what they are and not feel like you have to be living a double life in order to articulate yourself. I would say that those are the most important ones to me right now.

How do you utilize social media as a form of self-expression, and how do you express yourself offline?

I’ll start first with offline. I think recently I have changed my general strategy in terms of what my internet/social media imprint looks like. I realize now now that “influencer” is such a loaded term. And I’ve been talking to my partner about this and he's really helped me to gain a better understanding by saying, “You’re not an influencer. You’re a thought leader.” Taking  on that role has meant me being more thoughtful and also willing to be funny.

I got to a point with influencer-ship where I was wrapped up in perfection and I wasn’t posting memes anymore because I work in social media, so it’s not just for fun. It’s never just a callous thing, I put a lot of thought into everything that goes up and I realize that I was just overthinking it. So recently, I’ve been trying to find a healthy balance between being responsible because I have followers who are 6 and also have followers who are 60. Offline I try to spend as much time as I can with the people that mean the most to me.

In early 2017, I was having a really rough time between work and going through a bad breakup, and a lot of things in my life just felt really out of control. It reminded me how good of people I have in my world. So, my offline time is really just really spending a lot of time with my friends who are a mirror. My friends who inspire me, my friends who keep me grounded, and will cook me a meal, and that is a totally different beat than what’s online. I have so many friends who are doing social in a professional capacity so we share things, but it’s really nice when we get together it's phones down, eyes up, and real connection.

I think authenticity is such a beautiful thing and I think a lot of times we like to call out things that don’t feel authentic. Can you talk to me about  how equity in the age of social media is created and consumed?

Equity in the age of social media. So, to return to the idea of being a thought leader over an influencer... I did a panel for the Mercedes-Benz #WeWonder campaign in Austin, and from the moment that I was selected for the group, I really wanted Mama Cāx to be a part of anything that I was doing because looking at her work specifically, is the direction that I hope we all start to go towards. Because with Cāx, she’s giving you glamour, but she’s also giving you critical thinking and she’s also such an important voice in terms of activism and specifically thinking about the rights and privileges that disabled people deserve and are not being granted in our current political climate. It’s really a global issue.

My theme in the #WeWonder campaign initially was: equality. It’s important to start with that, and I find equality to be difficult because I equality is a part of the same symptoms that sets us back. I think especially in the feminist movement, we want the same thing as men, but I don’t want the same thing as men and I don’t want to play by the rules that set it up so men are the dominant class, right? I feel like equity is great because it’s something that is both retrospective and future-forward. It’s thinking about where we've come from and also where we’re going together. Mama Cāx is person who is always thinking about community and always thinking about how to bring people along, so whenever I get an opportunity to sing her praises, I do.

I think there’s such a power in that there’s ownership behind equity, but more importantly responsibility. Can you talk to me about activism in the age of social media, and what you think is successful social activism and how it reaches people on any platform?

 This is a tough one, right? Because I think a lot about where we all come together and that I have pretty serious social anxiety, it doesn’t look like it, but I have difficulty going to marches. I have difficulty showing up in those particular ways, so when I think about social media activism, for me it’s safer space. I say safer very strategically as opposed to “safe space” because I think “safe space” is bullshit. I feel like a lot more people are figuring out how to raise awareness for issues, and I believe very firmly in the power of that. Or maybe, you could ask a small group of people their opinion on something and everyone would be totally torn on the issue and I respect that too. I really appreciate the figures who are making sure that people know what causes to get behind so they know what to do at the ballot box. I think that that’s incredibly important and shouldn’t be overlooked because not everyone can do the marching, which in reality that shit’s really unsafe. I believe in the power of awareness.

What is your sign and do you see any traits that are written in the stars?

 Yes! Can you guess?

Are you a... Leo?

 Yes [laughs].

Really?! I didn’t even look up your birthday, I swear.

 Isn’t it sickening, though [laughing]?

Yes! It is. I’m a Taurus. Can you describe some of the traits aligned with being a Leo that you identify with, if any at all?

 I love astrology. Can I just tell you Slick and I are both Leos and are a day apart.

It makes so much sense, it really does.

Um, cause she’s the love of my life.

I'm 100% a Leo. It’s interesting, because I’m a Pisces rising, which keeps me… tolerable, and Taurus moon. I am so deeply Leo, it’s ridiculous. I see Leo as a sign of both patience and impatience. I feel like that is a line that we’re constantly straddling, where, we’re really super loyal and dedicated to our friendships and our work and thinking about a better world, but at the same time, we want it now. We want the best for everyone now and we want the best for ourselves right now. That is the thing that’s the realest shit in my life as a Leo.

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What are some goals that you have personally and where have you or do you see real growth happening in your life?

I don’t know if I have an answer necessarily about it growing, but I feel like an issue that I’m following very carefully, is the move towards banning plastic straws because it is an equity issue and it’s settled between two communities that need their voices to be heightened.

So you have the environmentalists who have firm data on how things are going. Then, you have people who represent the disabled community who, historically, haven fought to get bendable straws for people who really need them. Then, you have the companies that want to charge for straws and so, how does that work for one of the most marginalized communities in the world? That is really one thing, as the year is coming to a close, I’m really curious to where we land because I just hope that it’s something that we can all walk away from it in a better spot and that we’re listening to each other really attentively.

Looking back into your youth, can you describe some things that inspired you?

[Sighs] There’s so many things. The thing that feels the most important right now is Serena Williams. It’s absurd the impact that she had on all of us who were fortunate enough to grow up in the 90’s and that she’s still rallying for us and showing up and growing and sharing. Like, watching the Being Serena documentary, I was just crying and crying and crying because she is just so generous with her life and so honest about the things that she’s going through. Growing up, she was everything to me. I was born in the 90’s so I also had the great privilege and my mom watching Oprah everyday. I feel like Serena is a person who, from childhood, has inspired me and seeing her still fighting this fight, it’s just a reminder that there’s a lot more to be done.

How you use fashion or style to speak as part of your identity? 

 You know, it’s like that amazing Devil Wears Prada moment where she’s like, “you think that shit’s only a blue sweater?”

Cerulean blue!

 Right?! [Laughs] It’s that. For me, clothing is such a big part of how I understand myself and a tool for how I am able to track my growth as a person. Fashion hasn’t always been afforded to me in a particular way. And now, being embraced in the way that I am by the world of fashion, I feel very, very fortunate to come in at this particular stage because there would not have been a place for me before. But now, because of so many women like Becca McCharen-Tran at Chromat and many others, I see myself on the runway.

On a grand scale, everything that we wear and everything that we eat are political decisions. But, on top of that, in the world of fashion, it’s exciting to pop in at this stage. I'm learning so much from people like Lindsay People's Wagner, who wrote the Black in Fashion article. Every single quote in that story is sheer bravery and it’s exciting to come in and be able to see people who can and who are truthfully being themselves for the first time in an industry, or not for the first time. I don’t want to de-historicize it, but I feel like designers and figures are finally being themselves at a really profound moment in the industry.

My last question for you to tie in the #WeWonder campaign is: paint me a picture of digital responsibility. What does it look like?

I think the best framework for that is considering something like: digital diplomacy. I think about the internet as a connecting force, and I think when we’re making connections, it’s important to be thoughtful about the way in which we're making them. It’s as simple as it sounds, so it’s very important within the digital space to be conscious of way that the things you’re saying land or sound. You know, you have that atrocity of that girl who posted those flowers with the n-word on it. And, you’re just like, “seriously?” You’re just not thinking. I don’t want your iPhone note apology. Be better.

Credits: IMAGES COURTESY OF MERCEDES-BENZ

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