Summary List Placement
Jessica “Jess” Natale was better known as “So You Want to Talk About” on Instagram, where she created the handle “@soyouwanttotalkabout” in February 2020. The account isn’t associated with Ijeoma Oluo, the author of the 2018 New York Times bestseller “So You Want to Talk About Race,” a massively popular nonfiction book about race in America.
On April 12 of this year, Natale announced she would publish her own book, “So, Let’s Talk About It,” which would cover topics that include anti-racism and Black Lives Matter.
By announcing her book, Natale — who had run the page anonymously up until that point — also revealed she is white.
The slideshow graphics on Natale’s Instagram page distill social justice issues into chunks of shareable text. In August 2020, Natale told Vox’s Terry Nguyen that her account targets millennial women who like “mimosa pictures.”
Natale’s account is popular among celebrity Instagram activists, influencers, and white people who want to show their support for a range of trending topics about human rights and global political crises. Recent posts include tidbits about climate change and activism in Ukraine; a James Baldwin bio and quotes from the novelist; and an infographic defining terms associated with emotional manipulation, from gaslighting to guilt-tripping.
“It’s actually been really heartbreaking to hear from hundreds of people who didn’t know this wasn’t my page,” Oluo, who is Black, said on her own Instagram account, which has just over 517,000 followers. “I think this whole thing was really duplicitous and really shady and it’s harmful.”
In response, Natale said in an Instagram post that she would rename her account — it’s now @So.Informed — and that she would acknowledge the contributors who write her page’s viral posts more clearly, begin paying contributors for their work, and would create a separate place for critical feedback of the page to be answered.
Natale also said she was “pausing” the publication of her book while she reconsidered her responsibilities to her audience. Unlike the Instagram page, which has posts contributed by or written with others, Natale claims sole authorship of her book.
“I am not interested in the meme-ification of anti-racist and social justice work,” Oluo said about the page in a recent series of Instagram story videos. “I would never turn people of color, disabled people, queer and trans people into footnotes of building my brand.”
She continued, “I am not interested in making this over 400-year-old complex system simple for white people to digest,” criticizing the way accounts like Natale’s simplify systemic issues like racism for easier consumption.
“I’m not trying to give you an easy way to feel like you have been doing something just by reading a post. That is not what I’m about, that is not the work that I do,” Oluo said.
Oluo and Natale did not respond to requests for comment.
‘So You Want to Talk About Race’ and its Instagram copycat both ‘skyrocketed’ during the summer of 2020
Oluo published “So You Want to Talk About Race,” her first book, in January 2018. It re-entered The New York Times Best Seller list in June 2020 after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd ushered in a wave of sudden popularity for anti-racism books and resources, The Times reported.
“So You Want to Talk About Race” was also a critical success, receiving praise from Harper’s Bazaar, Publishers Weekly, and many more outlets, including Insider. Oluo was praised for writing “punchy” but “not preachy” prose that offered advice for readers seeking to better understand systemic and institutional anti-Black racism in America’s political, economic, and social systems.
At the same time that Oluo found additional literary-chart success for “So You Want to Talk About Race,” the conversation online around race was booming — particularly on social media, where activists gamified platforms to engage users in discussions about racial justice in America.
Other pages like Natale’s sprung up to show racial pay gaps. Celebrities like Selena Gomez handed their Instagram platforms to activists of color for a day or more. Artists found viral fame with graphics about Black lives. Instagram story filters encouraged people to donate to funds and charities. Black squares abounded.
According to the Hachette Book Group — which signed both Oluo and Natale under separate imprints — Natale became involved with politics during former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign as a volunteer. Then, while volunteering on Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, Natale launched “@soyouwanttotalkabout” on February 11, 2020.
Natale’s page slowly picked up followers in the proceeding months but things changed after Floyd’s death. According to her interview with Vox, Natale had 10,000 followers in June, then 1 million by August.
“And so in the middle of this, while we’re dealing with the trauma of being a Black person in America, dealing with all the new weird attention on the work, I’m getting these messages from people referencing this account,” Oluo said of Natale’s then-blossoming page in a recent Instagram story.
“They’re saying ‘Is this you? It looks like you but not.'”
Oluo said she contacted Natale in 2020
When Oluo clicked on “So You Want to Talk About,” she said she immediately noticed it was “exactly one word short of my book title that is currently selling out in stores everywhere.” She said she messaged the page, which was then still anonymous, and asked for more information. Natale followed up by adding a small disclaimer that she wasn’t associated with “So You Want to Talk About Race” to her Instagram bio, Oluo said.
The disclaimer remained on the page until recently, when she rebranded with her new title.
“So I blocked the account, I just tried to moved on. But I’ve literally been seeing this account everywhere,” Oluo said. “And now of course there is a book deal coming out of it that I know a lot of people out here doing the real work would absolutely love to get. It is frustrating.”
Natale responded to Oluo in a post titled ‘the truth matters’
Since then, Oluo said in Instagram stories that Natale reached out to apologize to her directly. Oluo also said it was “really gross” that Natale’s book deal came from another imprint of Hachette, Oluo’s own literary umbrella.
Hachette didn’t respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“That subscriber count isn’t going away,” Oluo said in a follow-up Instagram story. “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.”
Oluo also said that most of the responses to her Instagram stories were positive, but that a few angry fans of Natale had asked Oluo if she had the legal right of ownership over the page’s name.
“If you thought you’ve been following an anti-racist page and yet you are going to show up on the page of a Black woman saying she doesn’t have the right to be upset at the theft of her work, uh, you didn’t actually learn anything from that page,” Oluo said.