Rashida Jones on Black Lives Matter protests: 'This is the time to show what kind of country we can be'

Rashida Jones
Rashida Jones. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

As Black Lives Matter protests enter week seven following the death of George Floyd, the demand for social justice and racial equity continues despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — but maybe that’s what it took to get here in the first place. Actress and activist Rashida Jones spoke with Yahoo Entertainment about the “weird perfect storm” that created possibly the largest movement in history, although systemic racism is not some new concept for her.

“I think being a Black woman and growing up with a Black family — nothing has changed,” Jones, who is the daughter of music legend Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton, said on Wednesday. As for what’s changed now, she believes COVID-19 has probably “forced” a lot of people to look inward, “like an awakening in terms of how we deal with each other.”

“This pandemic, I think, was probably the impetus for people to really, really get an understanding of the deep, deep systemic injustice in this country,” the Parks and Recreation star added. “I don’t know why it took that to make people really pay attention, but it seems like people are way more interested in the depth and the girth and the complexity of the issue than they’ve ever been before. Maybe it’s because people have time? They have nothing but time!”

Jones noted, “We’re just at a crossroads” as a nation because “it feels like some really crucial things have to be decided about what it means to be American.”

“You know, what kind of world and what kind of country do we want to see? It feels like it all hangs in the balance of the decisions we make and what we decide to stand for at this particular moment,” she said.

At this particular moment for Jones, that means making socially conscious decisions about brands she’ll partner with. On Thursday, the 44-year-old actress will participate in Michelob Ultra’s live stream workout, as it benefits a Black-owned fitness studio affected by COVID-19. (More on that below.) While the BlackAF star had already been making professional decisions based on causes important to her prior to the current movement, what’s going on around the country is still having a personal impact. Like many people, she’s having those real — and often tough — conversations with friends.

“I think because I’m biracial it’s always been this thing, whether I like it or not, I’m sort of a bridge,” Jones said. “So, I’ve had conversations with my Black friends, my other friends of color, my white friends, the people who consider themselves allies and don’t think they’ve done enough. And it’s great because there’s this massive awakening, but it’s also — I think a lot of people have said they’re tired because they’ve been doing this work for a long time. So, when people wake up and they want to catch up, it becomes this thing of how much can you self-facilitate as opposed to depending on other people to do that for you.”

For white allies, the Office star stressed the importance of people not relying on their Black friends or colleagues to do the work for them.

“It has to be this thing where people are determined to find things out for themselves and do the research themselves and get through all the disillusionment and get to the realization on their own without burdening the people who live the struggle every day,” she said. “The privilege is not having to know what that feels like. That is the ultimate privilege: You don’t have to think about it and you only have to think about it when it’s in your face, when someone makes you think about it.”

Jones explained that she has “empathy” for people who are coming to terms with this now and how it might be “difficult.”

“That’s just humanity,” she said, “but I also feel like this is the time, man. This is the time to show what kind of country we can be.”

It’s also time for Hollywood to tell more Black stories. While Jones has seen change within the industry in the last “couple of years,” she’s encouraged that this movement will push “it over the edge.”

“You know, it’s this weird dance where the industry should be a mirror of society, but it should also be aspirational and it should push the conversation forward because, you know, ‘Hollywood is progressive’ and we should be progressive thinkers,” Jones said, but added, “We’ve lagged in a lot of areas.”

“At the end of the day, Hollywood is a place where people make money and it is a reckoning for Hollywood, and for music, and for everybody to really understand the history of this country and understand their personal responsibility in that, and now, to help fix it,” she said. “It’s way beyond time to fix it. But representation is incredibly important, and Hollywood has not had a great track record when it comes to representation of darker-skinned people, the spectrum of Black storytelling — they’re very specific about the kind of Black storytelling they’ve allowed to make it through the gauntlet.”

Jones hopes the entertainment industry opens the “gates” to “allow there to be a cultivation of young Black storytellers so that it doesn’t feel like just a couple people make it through.”

Black Lives Matter protests peaked on June 6, when a half million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the United States, according to the New York Times. As protests around the country are still taking place daily, Jones encouraged people to continue “to do the work” and stay “curious.”

“I think we spend a lot of time — everybody does — sort of justifying and creating confirmation to live the lives the way that we live,” she said. “We can no longer do that. I think we have to really, really kind of push through the looking glass and be ready to ask really difficult questions about yourself and how you’ve contributed to how we’ve gotten to this point. And I do the same, I have my own level of privilege myself.”

When asked about her privilege, Jones said she’s privileged on “so many” levels.

“I won a lottery in terms of the parents that I have and how I grew up and what I was able to do, what I was afforded to do, my personal safety,” she said. “All of these things that have nothing to do with anything I’ve earned, they just are the way that I was born. I think this notion of privilege is now starting to really resonate with people, but it’s a spectrum. Privilege is a huge spectrum and you have to keep asking yourself the questions about the privilege that you have, and how you can use it to help amplify the people who don’t have that privilege.”

Jones is using that privilege to put her time and energy into projects with meaning, like Thursday’s live stream workout with Brad Goreski and John Havic to benefit TRILLFIT, a Black-owned gym hit hard during COVID-19 closures. The actress stressed giving back is “essential” in partnerships she chooses.

“I feel like we live in a time where everything you do and everything you put out into the world is critical, and it’s critical that it feels like a reflection of you and a reflection of the world that you want to see,” Jones said. “Because we have this weird perfect storm of battling COVID-19 and what seems like an awakening in terms of how we deal with each other… As we come out of the pandemic, we will see Black-owned businesses hit very, very hard. That’s sort of been a theme historically when there are hard hits — Black and brown people get hit harder than anyone else. That to me feels like — if we can [give back] and also give someone a little bit of levity and entertainment and fun, then we’ve checked a lot of boxes.”

Movement by Michelob Ultra Live is a weekly virtual workout series that will provide financial aid to local gyms and fitness studios across the country that have been affected by the pandemic, while also offering people a fun way to stay active at home. To show its support for the Black community, the company has focused donations over the past couple of weeks on Black entrepreneurs to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Jones said she was impressed by its “commitment to supporting small businesses at a time when it really is make or break.”

Jones said she hopes to bring people some “nice, joyous, brief respite from people’s lives” with the live stream. “It's just really to provide a good, big breath of fresh air and fun for people in the middle of the day,” she added.

Check it out on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT on Michelob Ultra’s Facebook Live.

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