Luvvie Ajayi is a self-described supporter of shenanigans, a side-eye sorceress and social justice warrior. But that’s not all. She’s also a culture critic, digital strategist and executive director of the Red Pump Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to raising awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls.
She’s known as Awesomely Luvvie across various social media platforms, where she’s organically amassed a large, devoted following. Her blog is the go-to place for “Game of Thrones” recaps, rants about Spirit Airlines (she’s nicknamed them “break your spirit airlines”) and politics.
“It’s really important for me to talk about what’s on my heart and my mind,” she said. “I’ve always written humorously without necessarily trying because it’s who I am in general.”
Luvvie is now a New York Times bestselling author with the book, “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual,” released last month. The book is filled with advice about how to conduct oneself at group dinners, the importance of proper hygiene and online etiquette. It’s a playbook for today’s “hyper-obsessions with pop culture, social media sharing and outright navel gazing.” Think of her as a sassy Emily Post for the Information Age.
She doesn’t shout judgment at the reader from a high perch free of fault.
“I also judge myself,” she said. “We can all do better, including me.”
In everyone’s business
The book begins with Luvvie “minding everyone’s business” on Facebook when she comes across a picture of someone’s dead grandmother being prepared for burial.
“I gasped and then immediately got mad. Who does that? Why would you upload a snapshot of your deceased relative? What are you trying to prove? Because I’m pretty sure we didn’t need to see receipts showing that she really died. We believe you,” she wrote. “Furthermore, why would you post a picture of her body before it’s casket-sharp? Her wig wasn’t even on yet. People are so disrespectful. I promise you this: if I die and someone posts a picture of my body before my lipstick is on and I’m looking amazing (for the state I’m in), I will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Ghost Luvvie would be turning on random faucets in their houses in the middle of the night.”
And that’s just the beginning. What follows is more light and funny commentary with references to “Scandal,” Harry Potter and Netflix. She also sprinkles her own lingo throughout the manual. For instance, readers will come across the following words and phrases with their definition in the footnotes: iSweaterGawd (“I swear to God”), it’s more polite than swearing to God; talmbout because “talking about” is too many syllables; UGlass gives “ugly ass” some weight. You might be scratching your head at these but, trust me folks, it works. She has a glossary on her website so those reading her posts for the first time will understand what she’s talmbout.
In the culture section of the book she tackles more serious issues. She addresses the problems with feminism (because it at times excludes Black women), rape culture and the view of Africa as a country rather than the diverse continent it is. Luvvie moved to Chicago at 9 years old from Nigeria. She knows firsthand how damaging stereotypes people believe can be.
“I talk about how being ‘othered’ has shaped who I was,” she said. In fact, her first name is Ifeoluwa, which means “God’s love.” She goes by Luvvie because she quickly tired of people butchering her name.
“I give you a little bit of sour and finish it with some sweet. It’s more digestible,” she said with a laugh about the content in the book. “I think it’s really important also for me to not just critique but also offer something of substance for people to walk away with.”
In her book and in a blog post titled, “Another Day, Another Hashtag. White People, You Gotta Get to Work NOW,” she implores White people to join in the fight against systematic racism. Her suggestions include listening rather than debating when Black people talk about their experiences with racism, demanding accountability and amplifying the voices of Black and brown people. Many people took notice of the post.
“I’ve gotten so many notes from White people who were like, ‘Honestly your post has changed how I actually deal with my people on Facebook now and people in my family,’” she said. “I’ve gotten notes from people who have been, like, you just gave me the courage to speak up because I’m typically the person who is just rolling my eyes because I heard something ridiculous, and now instead of me just rolling my eyes, I’m actually going to say something and address it.”
Luvvie recently stopped by the central branch of the Seattle Public Library for a conversation with Lindy West. About 400 people showed up for the event. The audience was made up of mostly women, from many racial groups of varying ages.
“My writing goes beyond my color,” she said.
Luvvie specifically didn’t want her photo on the book jacket because she didn’t want readers to think the book was only for Black women. She didn’t want her words to reverberate in an echo chamber. Instead, there’s a JudgeyPop serving side-eye.
“My super power is holding grudges,” she told the crowd, which responded with laughter.
Television show creator, writer and producer Shonda Rhimes has Shondaland. Luvvie has LuvvNation, a group of followers who often comment on and share her commentary. Believe it or not, she’s created a space where people want to and look forward to reading the comments. It’s a unique community of love, laughter and sometimes a place to share pain. Luvvnation is fiercely protective of their leader and don’t want the space ruined by trolls. Often, they’ll handle a situation before Luvvie can get there.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve built this audience that is, one, very protective of the space and, two, thoughtful and hilarious and super smart. Because they say your audience is a reflection of you, which is the best compliment because my audience is the best,” she said. “It’s a combination of, one, trying to set the tone for the space that I wanted to have and also moderating my space. I have no problems deleting and reporting as spam if somebody drops hate.”
In addition to topping the charts with her book, Luvvie has also won more than two dozen awards this year alone, including being named one of the SuperSoul 100 by the OWN network. After leaving Seattle, she headed down to Silicon Valley to speak at Google headquarters.
Her success is more than a decade in the making. She’s one of a small group of people who have risen above internet fame and turned it into a sustainable career. “I’m Judging You” and the various accolades she has received are proof.
“I feel like I’m watching a movie of someone else’s life,” she said. “A really cool movie.”