At the 2017 Emmy Awards, we made history. Donald Glover—who directs, writes, and stars in the dramedy Atlanta—and Lena Waithe—the writer behind Master of None and The Chi—became the first Black creatives to win in their respective categories. Moments earlier on the red carpet, Issa Rae—the mastermind behind HBO series Insecure—foreshadowed the historic wins on the red carpet with her now-iconic words: “I’m rooting for everybody Black.”
Quickly after, T-shirts and tote bags were printed with Rae’s new slogan and rapper Wale even flipped the line into a full song celebrating Blackness. But this wasn’t just a clever soundbite. Black pride has always been the cornerstone of Rae’s creative outputs. From her blackity-black-black web series turned award-winning HBO series to owning her own multimedia company Hoorae (formerly Issa Rae Productions) to her newest endeavor, co-owner of natural hair brand Sienna Naturals.
And with the global pandemic disproportionately affecting minority-owned small businesses, Rae is rooting and helping everyone Black. The actress is offering her tips and advice to fellow business owners as part of American Express’s new video podcast Built to Last. The podcast, hosted by Elaine Welteroth, the author and former EIC of Teen Vogue, features Rae and Hannah Diop of Sienna Naturals on one of the first episodes.
Ahead, Rae talks, “rooting for everybody Black” three years later, joining Sienna Naturals, and how to create a company that’s “Built to Last.”
What’s been inspiring you lately?
Watching the news, reading, and the different conversations I’ve been having. But to be honest, this is a very dire time that it’s been hard to find inspiration. I’ve been more inspired to make a change as opposed to being creatively inspired. We’re in an Insecure Writers’ Room for season five right now, and that has been a challenge because so much of our lives, so much of the writing depends on our lives being lived outside. We’re just not really living right now.
Given the current climate, how has the meaning of “Rooting for everybody Black” changed since you first mentioned it in 2017?
It means Black Lives Matter. It means prioritizing us. It means upholding our values. It means going hard for us in a way that only we can. This year made it very clear to me that we matter the most to each other. And it’s a matter of people kind of opting in to care about us and to do something about our injustices. But it’s really up to us, unfortunately, to be vocal. That’s why I’m just unashamed about rooting for us.
You previously said that it’s better to network across than network up. Is that why you wanted to join Hannah Diop at Sienna Naturals? What opportunities did you see at Sienna Naturals?
I’m glad that you framed it that way because it is. I have had other opportunities to partner with haircare brands and Hannah [Diop] is someone that I’ve known for such a long time. I’ve seen her make this product from scratch in her kitchen and I’ve tested out early versions of the product on my hair. Witnessing the evolution as she brought in a chemist and starting to learn more about making skincare for hair was inspiring. Essentially, I have so much confidence in her and these products, and I just think that she’s made something great. It was only natural for me to partner with her—no pun intended.
What do you hope to bring more to the company?
Approachability because I don’t claim to be a hair expert. I’m a regular Black girl with regular Black hair, and I want to learn how to take care of it. These products allow me to do that. I want people to feel like they’re on the ground level with me trying these products out.
As someone with several businesses under their belt, what was one of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome to get Issa Rae Productions—now, HooRae—off the ground?
There’s a lot that I didn’t and don’t know. There was a lot of learning on the job because it’s not something I necessarily set out to do. I set out to be a creator for life and the business side of things came along with it. There were just a lot of obstacles and stumbling blocks along the way and growing pains. Then, there’s finding a balance because sometimes I just want to write. I don’t want to deal with employees and collaborators. That’s just a whole muscle, another muscle that I’m not an expert at. That’s a full-time job in and of itself, so that’s something that I wrestle with daily. Even now, I just got out of the writer’s room, and now I have other business calls. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. I’m done. [laughs]
In what ways have you built your company to last and what does that mean as a Black business owner?
I’ve always been aware that my time in this industry is short, and the way to have longevity is to support other artists. That’s what makes this so fun. What makes my job feel less of a job is getting behind other artists that are up and coming or even established artists, providing a platform for them to do the same thing and thrive, and then hopefully continue to open the door for other people. In that way, my business is built to last because not only are we standing on the shoulders of others in the past, but we’re also being stood on.
Do you often think about your legacy?
I think about my legacy, and I hope that I’m lifting Black lives. I think that’s extremely important to me in all aspects. It’s never about me solely, and a lot of the joy I feel is propping others up. Rooting for others, rooting for everybody Black.
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