SAM SANDERS, HOST:
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(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
SANDERS: From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. Today I am bringing you one of the most uplifting conversations we have had on this show in a while. And it's a conversation with a guy you may know, whose actual job is to help people live their best lives. His name is Karamo Brown, one of the Fab Five on the hit show "Queer Eye." That is the Netflix reboot of the hit Bravo makeover show.
Netflix's "Queer Eye" just launched its third season. But also, Karamo's out with a new memoir. That book is about his path to "Queer Eye" after doing social work and psychotherapy and struggling with addiction and drug abuse. Heads up, listeners - we cover all those heavy themes in this chat, so some parts may not be the best for kids. Anywho, the Karamo Brown and I spoke in front of a live audience at Sixth & I - that's a historic synagogue and event space in Washington, D.C. I give him a proper intro onstage.
SANDERS: This is so cool. I love going to church.
SANDERS: So a big ol' hey y'all to all of you guys. Thanks for being here. I am Sam Sanders. And I should be clear right away; I'm not Karamo Brown.
SANDERS: I know what you're thinking. He's black. He's bald.
SANDERS: He's wearing a bomber jacket.
SANDERS: But no, friends, I am not Karamo Brown. I actually brought this bomber jacket today. I bought it today at Zara down the street...
SANDERS: ...In Karamo's honor and also in hopes for just one selfie with Mr. Brown that I could caption - twins.
SANDERS: Fingers crossed. (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, yeah. I want to talk more about the man of the hour, Karamo Brown. Where to start? We all know him as one of the Fab Five on the Netflix show "Queer Eye." Yes. Again...
SANDERS: ...Again, again. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So in a show that makes me ugly cry, but happy cry...
SANDERS: ...Every time, Karamo is the mental health expert and psychotherapist on "Queer Eye." So while there are others on the show - who I also love - teaching people how to cook better or take care of their hair and skin or dress well and organize their closet, Karamo is out here trying to help folks live better lives, trying to unpack some trauma in the process and give them a big boost of self-help.
I would argue it is the hardest job on the show. So before this - years before, I first saw Karamo, actually, as the first openly gay black man on reality TV.
SANDERS: Yes - when he starred in season 15 of "The Real World" - where was it?
KARAMO BROWN: Philly.
SANDERS: Philly. Yes, yes, yes. He was not the Karamo that we see now. And over the course of his life, we have seen him come to embody many of the principles of uplift, self-love and optimism that he now preaches on "Queer Eye." It has been beautiful to watch. Karamo's new book is called "Karamo: My Story Of Embracing Purpose, Healing And Hope." We'll talk about the book. We'll talk about the show. We'll talk about bomber jackets. I'm so excited.
Karamo, come on up.
BROWN: Hey, friends.
BROWN: Hi. I'm about to get emotional. Thank you all for showing up for this conversation. It means the world to me. You have no idea. I don't take any of these moments lightly because there was a time where I didn't feel seen, where I didn't feel like I was good enough. And so to have you all be here, be part of my dream and make me feel seen - I just want to say thank you, friends. I appreciate you so much.
SANDERS: I love it. Take a sit.
SANDERS: That's you. OK.
How are you?
BROWN: I'm really good. Are you kidding me? I almost started crying already.
BROWN: I feel good.
SANDERS: This is how many days after book launch?
BROWN: The book launched yesterday.
SANDERS: Oh, my God.
BROWN: Oh, yeah.
BROWN: I know. Just yesterday - I'm super excited.
SANDERS: I talked to a lot of authors. And like, the thing that I always realize talking with them - it's, like, the writing of the book is probably half of the work. Like, once it's done, getting out there to market it and push it and be - and I've seen and heard you everywhere these last few days and weeks.
SANDERS: I heard on Marketplace yesterday or the day before. You were...
BROWN: I was.
SANDERS: ...Just doing - everywhere.
SANDERS: What is the craziness of your life right now?
BROWN: It's just one blessing after another. I mean, what I said at the beginning of this is my truth of, like - I'm telling you. This is such a blessing to be in a space with people who I want to send love to and I feel your love. And so touring and - the whole experience of writing the book has been exceptional because it took - it didn't take me that long. They were like...
SANDERS: How long did it take you?
BROWN: Two months.
SANDERS: Wow. OK.
BROWN: Yeah. I shot - I know, right? See, the reason...
SANDERS: Teach everyone your ways.
BROWN: Well, to be honest with you, it's because I was honest and transparent. So they were like, well, it's going to take you longer because you're going to want to figure out what to censor and what not to say. And I was like, nope, not a problem.
BROWN: I'm like, no, I'm just going to tell the truth.
BROWN: And once you do that and you just open yourself up, it just makes it so much easier. So, really, the hardest part was, like, me sitting in my kitchen one day with a Coca-Cola, some gummy bears, and Bobby was on my couch. And I was like, well, what's the format going to be? And then once I figured out the format, I was like, bluh (ph) and it just came out, you know?
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.
BROWN: It was just done.
SANDERS: Well - and it's like this is the thing about being confessional and being truthful and being honest - as soon as you say the thing that you were afraid to say, you realize everyone else or most of everyone else is dealing with the same stuff.
BROWN: Oh, my gosh.
SANDERS: I'm sitting here reading your book like, me too.
BROWN: (Laughter) OK.
SANDERS: Me too.
BROWN: It's the truth. All of us experience these same universal truths that make us feel as if we're separate from the world, yet every single one of us in here are going through it. Let's try right now. How many people in here have ever had a sad day?
BROWN: OK, there we go. How many people have ever had a dream but have been scared to go after that dream? OK. How many people have had a family member, a boyfriend, a girlfriend say something to you that affected you deep, like told you you didn't look good enough - people - I didn't even finish and people are raising their hands. Y'all already know what I'm about to say.
BROWN: Y'all already know what I'm about to say. It's all of us. And the thing is is that when we talk about these issues, we don't feel so alone. One of the things that I learned early on which helped me with writing this book was - when I was young, I used to lie a lot. I loved it, you know, because it was easy, but then I realized it's not easy because the thing about lying is remembering it.
SANDERS: And you've got to keep lying.
BROWN: You've got to keep on lying, but that memory part really got me.
BROWN: I was like, my memory's not good enough to lie because, you know, I'm like - I'll tell somebody on Tuesday, well, listen, you know, whatever the lie is, and then on Wednesday, they come back, and I'm like, what was the lie again?
BROWN: That's just too much energy. When you know the truth, you just say the truth, and then two days later, it's still the truth. And so that allowed me just to be free in writing this book.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. You open with the story of your name.
SANDERS: You did not like your name...
SANDERS: ...And it was a process to get through that and learn to love it.
SANDERS: Why didn't you like that name?
BROWN: Well, you know, my parents are from Jamaica. My sister's here. Hi, sis (laughter).
BROWN: That's my baby sister right there. So our father is a very unique man. And...
SANDERS: You write about him in the book a lot.
BROWN: I do write about that man in the book. But he literally decide - you know, he came to a space where he decided that he was going to start following the Rastafarian faith. And a lot people, when they think of Rastas, they think of Bob Marley smoking weed on the beach, like life is good. Y'all going to lie. You know that's what you think. You know that's what you think. But there's a lot more to Rastafarian faith. And one of the things that he really came up with is that he wanted his son to have a name that had meaning, and it was part of, like, the African culture and that could sort of shape the way I went. And in the bubble of our home, it was great. It was like...
SANDERS: Yeah - well - because the translation - so it's - the full - it was Karamo Karega.
BROWN: So my name is - yeah. My name is Karamo Karega, which means educated rebel in Swahili.
BROWN: Thanks. I mean, it's cute now.
BROWN: Try saying that five times when you're 5 years old in Houston, Texas, and - no.
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE MEMBER: Whoo.
BROWN: Yeah, OK, shout out to Houston. But nobody has ever seen someone who looks like you or has ever heard a name like that.
SANDERS: Because you were going to schools where there were a lot of white students there that...
BROWN: Yeah. I went to predominately white high schools. One of the thing that my father wanted to do for his children was put us in schools that he thought were better. I'm doing air quotations for people who can't see me. And the unfortunate part is that schools that were better are the schools that were more funded, had a better student-to-teacher ratio.
BROWN: And those are predominately in white neighborhoods because of the systemic issues we have in this country. And so me, I'm now young, and I'm going into these schools where I'm the only African-American kid. And I walk into a classroom, and I'm like, hi, I'm Karamo and they're like, Kakoowho (ph)?
BROWN: Ka-what (ph)?
BROWN: You know, in the book, I describe this sort of - this scene that's very vivid of - before I was in school, my father would protect me with my name. So if someone said something, whether they're in our race or out, he would say, you got to love this name. This name is prideful. And it made me feel prideful, and I would stand there like, yeah, yeah, you better learn my name. And then the first day of school, he wasn't there with me to protect me. And what I realized is that when he was protecting me, he never gave me the language to protect myself.
And I think a lot of times, just as human beings, we want to support and protect other people. But, really, to support and help them is to give them the language so they can support themselves.
BROWN: And so when I walked into that first day, the teacher who innocently - you know, I don't think - and I write this...
SANDERS: He was trying.
BROWN: Yeah. I don't think he was being malicious. You know, it was like, Sarah, here, John, here, Kakoo (ph), Ka (ph), and I was like, Karamo, and the - there was a question that I still get to this name. I don't - it doesn't have the trauma it had then, but was what kind of name is that? And that stuck like a dagger to me. And I remember just shrinking in my seat and feeling like I don't want to be different. I don't want - there's nothing special about my name anymore. But when I got to Florida A&M University, it was the first time - I remember walking into freshman orientation, and there was a girl by the name of Karima (ph) and I was like, oh, my gosh, your name is like mine. And she was like, oh, your name's Karamo? She was like, cool. What is your meaning? And it was the opposite of what I experienced. And then I walked in and was just like everyone, you know, was, like, embracing of the name. There was no issue. And so I immediately just was like, I'm falling in love with my name and my identity again.
BROWN: And it was beautiful. That's what started that whole transition of me saying I can be honest about who I am and love all parts of my identity.
SANDERS: Support HBCUs.
BROWN: Oh, yes, support HBCUs.
SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders talking with Karamo Brown, star of the hit TV show "Queer Eye."
BROWN: We'll be right back.
BROWN: That was a good one.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
SANDERS: So you mentioned your father in that story, and he is a constant theme throughout the book.
SANDERS: And you are extremely candid about your relationship with your father, and there are so many positive values that he instilled in you - education, hard work, et cetera, the name that he chose for you - but you talk about him being abusive, not accepting of every part of who you are. All relationships with parents are complicated, but you put all of the complications out there. Was there any pause?
BROWN: There was not one piece of a pause for me. Again, I wanted to make sure that I laid it all out so that I can say, yes, this relationship was challenging in many ways. And I want to do a fair picture of painting my father in a way to say he's not just a bad guy.
SANDERS: No, I liked him, you know? I'm reading the book and I'm like, I like this guy, but there's obviously stuff.
BROWN: Yeah because we all have stuff. We are all likable. We are all lovable. But there are days when we are challenged by the narratives that have been fed to us. You know, if you have a mother or a father or a cousin or a sister or a brother or a friend telling you that certain people who look a certain way or do something is wrong, after a while, you believe that, and that becomes part of your subconscious and the way you approach the world. And so it doesn't take away the good parts of you. It just means that you have an ability to grow through those negative parts and those negative messages that you've learned. But how do you do that? And that's why I shared these stories with my father and didn't have any issue with it. I wanted to show that he is a good guy. He tried to put us in the best schools. He tried what he could do, but he also was conflicted in a lot of ways.
And what happens is that when we get hysterical about something - y'all going to be with me real quick, OK? When you get hysterical about something, it's usually historical. Say that with me. When you get hysterical, it's usually historical. Say it with me 'cause I'm dropping some knowledge. Listen; we going to do this a couple of times. I grew up in the black church. And so in the black church, you turn to your neighbor and you repeat what the pastor has said. I'm not calling myself a pastor but in this context.
SANDERS: It's fine. You're in a - you're in a place of worship (laughter).
BROWN: So Pastor Brown today - God forgive me. So you're going to turn to your neighbor and say, neighbor...
UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: Neighbor...
BROWN: ...If it's hysterical...
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...If it's hysterical...
BROWN: ...It's historical.
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...It's historical.
BROWN: So think about that. Anytime you get to a place where you start feeling yourself being full of angst or reacting in a way that you normally don't react, there's probably some root trauma that you had. And what I realized with my father is that he had a lot of that root trauma from his parents, from his childhood that he never dealt with.
So though he was a good guy in many areas, when he would hit my mother and abuse her, that was part of the trauma he experienced when he saw his father hitting his mother. And when he would drink into a stupor or, you know, use drugs, it was because he couldn't deal with that trauma. And so now, he was trying to medicate himself into a space. And so I - when I was younger, I didn't have that knowledge. But as an older man, I can look at that and say, oh, something is wrong. You're hurting.
And that's how I approach a lot of people, and I encourage most of you to do that. When someone is doing something that you don't agree with, it's not just because they want to be a, quote-unquote, "bad person." It's because a lot of times they're hurting, and they don't know how to express it. That's how I healed from that trauma with him.
SANDERS: What is the status of your relationship with him right now?
BROWN: It's still conflicted because he says things like he loves me. But that love is really conditional - really conditional. So he will talk to me when he more so needs something. He says that's not the only time he calls me, but my phone record says different...
BROWN: ...And so does my bank account.
SANDERS: Yeah. Is he comfortable with who you are?
BROWN: Not at all. So that's the second part. He will - because I - healing the trauma...
BROWN: ...My children have a great relationship with him. They can call him.
SANDERS: Two sons.
BROWN: Yeah, my two sons. And I set a clear boundary with him. You can speak to my family, but you cannot influence them with your trauma. So none of the negative things that you grew up with can you now try to put on them because I am equipped to help them heal, but...
BROWN: ...You're not allowed to do that. So when he speaks to them, he will never ask about me or my partner - my fiance.
BROWN: We were at a funeral recently, and my fiance was there because we went to the funeral as a family.
BROWN: And he literally stayed on the opposite side of the room. Yet a week prior, he told, through a sibling - because he likes to do that whole telephone chain where he don't call too much. Am I right, little sister? She ain't going to tell me anyway.
SANDERS: Spill it.
BROWN: He didn't speak to me the entire time. And so actually, when we were shooting season three, I wrote a three-page letter to him. Now that I just said that out loud, I should have did it like a "4 Page Letter" like Aaliyah - made it cute.
BROWN: Y'all know that song from Aaliyah?
SANDERS: Oh, yeah.
BROWN: (Singing) I'm sending him a four-page letter.
SANDERS: But that was like a - that was a different kind of letter.
BROWN: I know that was a different kind of letter.
SANDERS: That was a different kind of letter (laughter).
BROWN: So it's probably better that I did a three-page letter.
BROWN: But I wrote him a three-page letter. It just was on my heart.
BROWN: And I just said, listen. I know we're healing through this. I know that you're going to have to come to a space and find the language to accept who I am...
BROWN: ...Unconditionally. But as you're going through it, I want you to know that I forgive you, I forgive every action you've ever done, I love myself enough to love you as you're growing...
SANDERS: All right.
BROWN: ...And I hope one day we can get to a space. And I am not expecting a reply, but I would love one. He told my sisters he was going to write me, and I've never gotten a letter.
SANDERS: Well, that's maybe the first step - maybe a little bit. But whatever it is is fine. It's healing.
BROWN: Again, whatever it is, I'm loving him through his healing process.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.
BROWN: And that's all that matters.
SANDERS: You are also very open and honest in this book about the good and bad in your past.
SANDERS: You talk about being involved in relationships in which you were abusive. You talk about your struggles with addiction. You talk about struggles with suicide - like, a attempt. What of the stuff of your life that you shared in this book are you still having to work on the most?
BROWN: None of it, yeah.
BROWN: (Laughter) I mean, I'm not going to be arrogant enough to believe that I don't have to constantly do work on myself every single day. But those major issues of domestic violence, drug abuse - those things I don't have issues with anymore - depression, suicidal ideations. I've gotten to a place now where I'm able to understand what I'm feeling in the moment.
You know, in the book, I talk about how, before, addiction started for me from food and porn - because a lot of times, when people hear addiction, they just think drugs and alcohol. But addiction comes in many forms. There was even a period of my life where I was addicted to exercising. You know, not anymore - whoo, thank God.
BROWN: I do not like the gym.
SANDERS: Were you a CrossFitter (ph)? They're the worst.
BROWN: Say it again.
SANDERS: Were you a CrossFitter person?
BROWN: Yes. It was, like, four times a day.
SANDERS: No, no.
BROWN: It was like, I'm going to go. And I realized anytime you're doing something in excess, it's unhealthy. And I realized that the reason my addictive personality went from these things to then even drugs and drinking was because, first of all, I wasn't dealing with the issues and emotional turmoil I had. But secondly, it was because there was a trigger in me. And I think when we can realize those triggers, we'll start to realize why we have the same behavior pattern in different parts of our life. So for me, I realized that addiction comes up anytime I feel pressured. And so once I understood pressure will cause me to feel as if I need to do and engage in behavior that becomes addictive, I can check myself.
So prime example - I used to use a lot of cocaine after "The Real World" - a lot, a lot. And I was so careless with my life and was so embarrassed. I detail a story in the book where we were going to a New Year's Eve party - it was me, my best friend Tre, one of my girlfriends. We were in the back of a cab. And my mother had flown in, and she was in the front seat. Now, me being a little bit arrogant, always being truthful, my mother and family members knew that I was using. But because they didn't have the language to support my father, of course they didn't have the language to support me. So I sort of "got away" - quote, unquote - with the bad behavior.
But we're in the back of the car, and I took out a bag of cocaine. And my mother's in the front seat, and my friends are gasping. They're like - what are you doing? I'm like - oh, she knows. And I'm, like, doing bumps of cocaine as my mother's in the front seat. And she turned around, and I just saw the pain and hurt and sadness in her eyes of, like, not again. Really? I'm dealing with this. I'm looking at this. I cannot believe it.
And that was one of those, like, rock-bottom moments for me as I reflect. In the moment, at that time, I was like - oh, look at me. I'm being honest. I'm living my life. (Singing) I'm living my best life.
BROWN: But I wasn't. It was not my best life at all.
BROWN: And so when you talk about, like - what are the issues I'm still dealing with? - I don't deal with that anymore because I realize, in that moment, I was feeling pressured about what is going to be my next step in my career.
BROWN: I was feeling pressured about - from - everyone else in my family were buying homes and doing things. I was feeling that pressure of, like, I'm not living up. So since I'm not living up, I'm going to escape. And I finally did get clean. But at the Emmys - 'cause the guys and I, we won three Emmys. Thank you, everybody, for supporting.
BROWN: That was a little humble-brag, I ain't gon' (ph) lie, but we're happy about it.
SANDERS: You should be happy about it.
BROWN: Thank you. We're happy about it.
BROWN: But at the Emmys, we were getting dressed in separate hotel - well, me and Jonathan got dressed in the same hotel room. And one of my friends came. And he was like, oh, do you want a bump? And for half a second, I was like - ooh - because we were on a whirlwind. And I was like, no. I'm feeling pressured by getting on that stage and performing. Will we win? Will we do well? And I was like, the pressure is triggering me to believe that I might want to engage in this behavior. And so I was able to say it out loud and say, pressure - not today, Satan. And...
BROWN: Like, I do that all the time. I say the emotion I'm feeling, and then I say - not today, Satan.
BROWN: And so I was like, pressure - not today, Satan. And I asked that friend kindly to leave. I said, a boundary for me and you is that, right now, if you're going to still be engaging in that, we can't really hang out.
BROWN: And so I do work on it in that sense of acknowledging...
BROWN: ...And making sure I don't fall back. But there's no real, like, me dealing with those issues.
SANDERS: Yeah. Well - and what I really appreciate in the book and what I think is so healthy about the way you present your life in this book is that when people reach a place where they think they are healthy, clean, responsible, feeling good, there's sometimes - and I'll see in people that I'm even close with - they want to ignore the versions of their selves that weren't where they wanted them to be.
They want to ignore the hot mess of 10 years ago. They want to ignore the person who was just not all the way there. And what I like about your book and your journey and your story is that you are taking every version of yourself to the party.
SANDERS: And I think, you know, there is...
BROWN: Can I tell you why, though?
BROWN: Part of that is because I realized very early on that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of it. And so the reason that I bring all pieces of myself - the hot mess part, the good guy here...
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.
BROWN: ...Is because I needed those moments so that I could be here today. If I wouldn't have went through those moments...
BROWN: ...Then I wouldn't be here. So I'm proud of it.
SANDERS: And also, when you think of the moments in your life where you can most celebrate your growth, the version of you that would most enjoy the party is the hot mess version of you.
SANDERS: Let them come. Like, let them be part of your success.
BROWN: But let me tell you. It's not our fault that we all like to leave the hot-messing behind. It's Instagram's fault.
BROWN: Let me tell y'all right now.
BROWN: Instagram got us all fooled to post only the best moments of our lives. And...
SANDERS: Oh, yeah.
BROWN: And so we're like - oh, of course I'm not going to show you that I had an argument with my husband or my wife before. Of course I'm not going to show you that I was crying in my pillow yesterday. I'm going to show you the car that I just got. It's like, look at what you can get if you just like my post.
And we're all guilty of it, every single one of us. We put only the best moments. So that's sometimes when I see myself or other people post, like, four years ago and they throw - you know, the throwback. I'm like, girl, I know four years ago, that might have happened. But four years ago and two days, you was not in that space.
BROWN: And it's OK for us to admit that. It's OK because being in that other space allowed you to get to that space where you did have a good day.
SANDERS: Exactly, exactly.
I want to talk about one of the reviews of your book. Folks are...
BROWN: I haven't been reading reviews, so this could be bad (laughter).
SANDERS: It's not bad.
BROWN: OK, OK.
SANDERS: It's not bad, but I found it quite interesting.
SANDERS: So I wanted to bring it up.
SANDERS: A friend of mine who works for Out magazine - his name is Tre'vell Anderson - he wrote of your book the following. Quote, "there's the countless explanatory commas on aspects of blackness and black queerness strewn throughout the book, like noting how black people call light-skinned folk high yella or how clocked means, I see that you're gay or part of the community, even if you haven't expressed it. And though no one necessarily writes a book to only be consumed by a particular group of people, such inclusions - perhaps at the insistence of an editor - signal a capitulation to a general - read, white - audience."
I did not think that reading your book. But when I read that, I said, oh, I'm - we got to ask about that.
SANDERS: As someone who is of color...
SANDERS: ...As someone who is gay in a world that's still mostly straight, what are the pressures you feel to explain who you are and the community you come from to people that don't know that in your book and, also, on your show.
Like, I know from my show, for instance, like, the majority of our audience is white. And so there's things that I have to think about differently in explaining for that reason. And I don't know if it's good or bad, but I know it is a thing that I think about. And so I wonder how you work with that.
BROWN: Well, I, first of all, think that education is important in any way it's coming. So we did an episode with our first trans hero - Skyler, who we love. And you know, Jonathan and I have many trans friends. We understand the trans experience. We've never lived it, but we have - we get it...
BROWN: ...Where Antoni and Tan boldly said, I've never met a trans person. And so with me in this book, you know, sharing, you know, what the language means - it wasn't just to say - oh, if you're outside of being black or gay, let me explain to you. I also was understanding that there is people who could be black or gay...
SANDERS: And still not know the language.
BROWN: ...Who also might not know it.
BROWN: And I think that we get, sometimes, caught up in this place of thinking, like - oh, for this shady reviewer...
SANDERS: I really brought this from a place of love. I'm sorry.
BROWN: Yeah, we get to - I'm OK with it, you know what I mean? There - we get to this place where I think we get to - we start saying, like, oh, don't pander to someone else. Don't, like, have to explain yourself. But why is it bad to educate someone who doesn't know? I mean, I think that's part of the divide in our country right now, is that people are afraid to ask the questions because they don't want to seem like they are - fill in the blank - racist, homophobic, sexist. So we're all walking around with questions in our head. And we're scared to ask someone else.
And I'm like, go ahead and ask me because I can see the difference between intention. And I think intention is really important. And so when someone is saying something to me, I understand that their intention is to be malicious or if it's just to grow and learn. And if their intention is to grow and learn, I'm going to explain it. And if their intention is to be malicious, I'm going to ask them why they feel the need to be malicious. And then I'm going to still teach them because education is paramount.
SANDERS: Yeah. Well - and it's also at this time - yeah. That was a good one.
SANDERS: See? That negative 'graph (ph) brought some really reflective, constructive comment.
SANDERS: You know?
BROWN: (Laughter) It did.
SANDERS: But I do think it is a particularly important time, perhaps, for over-explanation of where people are coming from in this moment for the LGBTQ community 'cause things are changing so fast.
SANDERS: The language that I was thinking about using when I was experiencing whatever 10, 20 years ago - some of it is irrelevant now.
SANDERS: And the language that young people are using today is going to be different a year or two from now.
SANDERS: And so to that I say, it doesn't hurt to over-explain or make sure you can bring folks along with you.
BROWN: And that's really what I try to accomplish. So, like, some of those examples he says in the book of, like - in the chapter I talk about - there's a chapter in my book where I talk about colorism. You know, I come from a Caribbean background. And my granny used to say to me all the time when I was younger, don't darken up my family anymore. And it caused me, many times as a child, to not go outside and not play outside because I didn't want to embarrass my family by darkening up the family.
And as I got older, I started to realize that colorism played into so many things, you know, even today, like the jokes about light skin versus dark skin in the African-American community. You know, they'll - there would be memes about Drake, you know, versus - who's a rapper, if y'all don't know...
BROWN: See? I'm explaining.
BROWN: See? 'Cause somebody in here might not know who Drake is. And I don't want you to walk out and not get this context, going to be, like, who's Drake? You know what I mean?
SANDERS: He's a fair-skinned black rapper.
BROWN: Yes, he is.
BROWN: Who I used to have a crush on until I saw his knees.
BROWN: I know. He was on "Saturday Night Live" - y'all look up Drake leaves (ph) later. Y'all goin' to see his knees.
SANDERS: What's wrong with his knees?
BROWN: I don't know why - I don't - listen; I love everybody who loves themselves. But for some reason, I was like, Drake, I can't do you with them knees.
SANDERS: I'm sitting here rubbing my knees now...
BROWN: I know, exactly.
SANDERS: ...Like, are they OK?
BROWN: I mean, my knees might not be cute, but Drake's knees in that one day was like, mm-mm. So...
SANDERS: The knees.
BROWN: The knees. It was just his knees.
BROWN: Knees. So, you know, even, like, with Drake, people talk about him being light-skinned and being more sensitive. And then, you know, we see sort of, like, darker men - they say they're rougher and they're, like, stronger. You know what I mean? And then I also look at the media. And I'd looked at the media that I was consuming that I loved.
You know, when it came to, like, "The Jeffersons" - that played in my house. For there to be a powerful African-American couple, there had to be a light-skin person who was married to a darker-skin person to balance them out. Then the Huxtables came along, and there was a light skin, dark skin. Today, "Black-ish" is around. There was a light skin, dark skin. There was "Martin." There was light skin, dark skin. And you see these repetitive behaviors and how colorism is still playing a part. And I subscribed to those - that for many years, I thought the men that I need to date to be an ideal couple needed to be lighter than me.
BROWN: And the reason in the book I explain those nuances is because if you are white, you might not...
SANDERS: You don't...
BROWN: ...Understand what it is to have experienced colorism or have had your grandmother tell you, don't darken up my family, and the trauma and the pain that causes you. And I wanted them to understand, like, that's what I experienced. And if you have a friend who's going through that, now you won't be like, oh, I don't get it. You'll get it. You know what I mean?
And I'd talk about that again with, like, even some of the gay terms. You know, like, I say things because there could be my straight girlfriend who doesn't understand what that term means. Doesn't mean she's homophobic, but I want - I think we just got to get to a place where we're not feeling as if everyone's out to attack us.
SANDERS: Yeah, and there's the...
BROWN: It's OK to talk...
SANDERS: To talk...
BROWN: ...And share.
SANDERS: And I think a lot of people who come from a place where they've been marginalized - you're hurt. And sometimes, there is this thought that if someone doesn't get you, it's because they hate you.
SANDERS: And sometimes they don't get you just because they don't know.
BROWN: They don't know. They don't know.
BROWN: I mean, with all - with ole Google out there, we still don't know.
SANDERS: We still don't know.
BROWN: And that's OK. It's OK.
SANDERS: And Google be lying.
BROWN: Let me tell y'all something.
SANDERS: I don't trust it.
BROWN: I call my fiance Doctor Google because...
BROWN: ...Every time something happens to me or my sons, he's like, so, listen. I know what you have. You have some, you know...
BROWN: ...Disease that originated in Korea in 1912.
BROWN: And I'm like, who told you that? And he's like, Google.
BROWN: And I'm like, well, I do. I have it then, of course. You know?
SANDERS: Done. That's done. It's done.
SANDERS: You know. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders talking with Karamo Brown, star of the hit TV show "Queer Eye."
BROWN: We'll be right back.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
SANDERS: Can we talk about "Queer Eye"?
BROWN: Yes, we can talk about "Queer Eye."
SANDERS: All right. OK. Good, good, good. I guess, like, the first big question that probably all of us have is - what Season 3 spoilers can you give us? Not spoilers - tips, tidbits, peeks.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No spoilers.
SANDERS: No, no spoilers. Information.
BROWN: I will say that when we met a year ago - can y'all believe it's only been a year?
BROWN: Oh, my gosh.
BROWN: Yeah. A year ago, the five of us were strangers and did not know each other. And you know - so when we were recording, we were still learning each other.
BROWN: We were still learning Jonathan's jokes, you know.
BROWN: Yeah. We were still learning Antoni's smolder. You know what I mean?
BROWN: We were still learning, you know, Tan France's way of telling you to piss off but in the kindest way possible.
BROWN: You know? We - the four of us would be out partying, and Bobby would not be there because he was at work.
BROWN: And we were still learning like, oh, we got to kind of bring the party to Bobby because he's building a house right now.
BROWN: You know?
BROWN: It's the truth. And so, you know, for that reason, like, now, in Season 3, we know each other so well. So like a prime example is, like, the guy - you'll see this because I saw the cuts. They know when I'm about to go in for the, like, let's get deep and cry.
BROWN: Bobby - and I say this in the book - he calls me Kar-Oprah.
BROWN: And so they'll all make reference. They're like, Kar-Oprah's coming. Let's leave.
BROWN: And because I do the lean, I'll be like, so tell me what really happened?
BROWN: And then they're like, oh, tears are coming. We're going. We're going.
BROWN: And so I think that's probably one of the most exceptional pieces of it - because we know each other.
SANDERS: You've gelled.
BROWN: We're a family now. We've fully gelled. We feel confident who we are. We're not allowing anybody to dictate how we help the heroes. Like at first, there used to be some like, oh, you should kind of do this. You know, there was a - oh, my gosh. I can't tell you how many times Jonathan would come to us, and we'd all be consoling him because he'd be so pissed that he had to shave off a beard that he didn't want to shave off.
BROWN: Oh, listen.
SANDERS: That kind of hurts my heart. Really?
BROWN: It hurt our heart, too. And it really hurt our baby J.V.N.'s heart.
BROWN: Because he was mad about it.
SANDERS: Also beards are glory.
BROWN: Exactly. I agree. And so did he. And so he was like - but there was this - there in the first seasons, you know - and I talk about this a bit in the book - it was sort of like they were still figuring out how to transition from the original "Queer Eye," which was groundbreaking and amazing. But physical transformations were paramount.
So if you see a guy and he has a beard, the way to show the audience that he looks different is there's no beard. But it's 2019, and the beard might be cute if it's styled right. And so you know what I'm saying?
BROWN: And so, like, he had those...
BROWN: ...Those things. It was the same thing with me. I talk about in the book about, you know, like the sort of pushback I got of, like, I went in there and I'm like, I am trained as a mental health professional. I am fixing their insides.
BROWN: There's nothing - and they'd be like, well, as you're fixing their insides, can you also put together a photo album? And I was like...
SANDERS: No (laughter).
BROWN: And I'm like - I'm over here like this. I'm like, OK.
BROWN: I really want this job, so...
BROWN: Here's an album of you and your dad.
SANDERS: So you guys have become more of the executive producers now, it sounds like.
BROWN: No. We have two amazing executive producers.
SANDERS: But you're...
BROWN: ...Say this is because we have - our show - and a lot of people don't know this - the network executive at Netflix who runs the show is a woman. Our executive producers, both of them are women. Two of them are lesbians.
BROWN: And I think that's important.
BROWN: Because I don't think the show would have had the growth it would have had if there would have just - if there wouldn't have been diverse voices in the room. And so it was so important for us to see these women leading it because it allowed us to be more careful with what we said and how we interacted. You know, now, it's like they realize from the response of you all - which I'm, like, so thankful for you all - because of what you are putting out in social media, they were like, Karamo, your piece is important. People are craving how to fix their mental health, how to fix their emotional parts. And we're not going to stifle it. We want you to go forward, and we want you to really show people the tips and tools of how to have really cathartic moments and grow and heal. And I was like, I'm here.
BROWN: And I'm ready.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDERS: You know.
SANDERS: We're going to get to audience questions that I have on these note cards, but I have two quick more questions for you from me.
BROWN: Yes. OK.
SANDERS: First is - what one piece of advice should people, all over the place, stop giving to folks that we love and care about?
BROWN: Not give to folks - I mean, I wish you would give me - this going to be multiple choice?
SANDERS: But, like, that...
BROWN: 'Cause there is so much...
SANDERS: 'Cause these are, like - yeah.
BROWN: There is so much bad advice out there, OK?
SANDERS: Give us some lists. Give us some lists. Like, what are the heavy hitters?
BROWN: - oh, I mean, this is not really advice, but something that people say a lot is, like, get over it. I hate when people tell people to get over it. Like, if - I was telling someone earlier tonight - you know, they were in a relationship. They broke up. And they were, like, mad because friends were like, ugh, you've been talking about it for, like, two years - you know, a year. Get over it. And it's like...
SANDERS: Take some...
BROWN: Girl, if I was in a relationship for five years, you not going to tell me to get over it in a year. It took me five years to get to this place. Give me another five to get over it, please. Like, you know, it's very important that we allow people to heal at their own pace and not rush their journey. OK, y'all like that one? All right.
BROWN: I like - you can always see when people get it. So we going to do that one. Neighbor...
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: Neighbor...
BROWN: ...Allow people...
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...Allow people...
BROWN: ...To heal...
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...To heal...
BROWN: ...At their own pace.
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...At their own pace.
BROWN: Yeah. So I think that's part of - y'all - all of y'all are going to be in the black church by next Sunday.
BROWN: My grandmother would be so proud right now if she saw this.
SANDERS: Well, see - but the thing is, this is going to be an hour. They don't know how long those black church services are.
BROWN: OK, yeah. Oh, yeah.
SANDERS: I don't know if they're ready for that.
BROWN: Do not go unless you've already eaten a big breakfast and have a snack in your purse...
SANDERS: Yes. Yes.
BROWN: ...'Cause you will be there for 4 1/2 hours. And between the dancing, three collection plates...
SANDERS: Yeah. And on the fifth Sunday, they'll have two church services...
SANDERS: ...Just because.
BROWN: Let me tell y'all something.
SANDERS: That's just - that's a real thing.
BROWN: Let me tell y'all something.
SANDERS: I'm sorry. We digress.
BROWN: Yeah, oof. I was - and let me tell you something. When I was with my mother, she wouldn't allow this, but as I got older, I was good for a sneak in and sneak out. Like, if it starts at 7, I'd get there right at 8:30 to catch the word. And then, like, as he's about to go into collection, I'd just leave my money in and leave...
BROWN: ...Because I'm like, I don't need all the accoutrements that come with this.
SANDERS: Can I tell you how bad it was for me?
BROWN: Come on, go.
SANDERS: So my mother was a church organist.
SANDERS: So whenever the doors of the church were open, we were there.
SANDERS: And there was a certain time in my life during the summers where we would go to six church services a week.
SANDERS: We're going to get to these questions from the audience. We had folks send them on note cards to us. And we picked some that we liked. But in the spirit of the black church, we're running over on time. So it's going to be a speed round.
BROWN: OK (laughter).
SANDERS: (Laughter) No name on this one, but the question is, what is your skin care routine? The people need to know.
BROWN: Ooh. Y'all saying I'm glowing?
BROWN: Well, right now, it's Cover FX, a nice little beat.
BROWN: Cover FX is a makeup, if you didn't know. And - but what I usually do on my skin to take down inflammation and to keep pimples down is ice. If you rub a piece of ice on your face - Google it later. Oh, don't Google it.
SANDERS: No, no.
BROWN: We just talked about Google being a liar.
SANDERS: All right, don't do Google.
BROWN: You know, go to a skin care professional. They'll tell you. But I use ice on my face. And so I just rub a piece of ice - it's free. It takes down inflammation.
BROWN: Free is cute. I don't know about y'all.
BROWN: I like free. I don't care how much money I got in my bank account. If someone says it's free, I'm like, sign me up.
BROWN: So I just put a piece of ice - I, you know, go under it gently. If it starts hurting, I stop. You know what I mean?
BROWN: And that's - it's not hurting because it's hurting - it's like doing something to you. It's just, like, your skin gets numb and so it feels like it's hurting. Also, I use sunscreen, which is something - yes, right? There's a myth in communities of color...
SANDERS: Yeah, black people have to use it, too.
BROWN: ...That we don't need to use sunscreen. And let me tell y'all, people of color, you need sunscreen. OK? Skin cancer does not care if you black, Asian, Latino. It's going to come for you. So please use sun cream.
SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.
SANDERS: Yes, yes.
SANDERS: Next question - what advice would you give to a budding social worker?
BROWN: Ooh, self-care. Take care of yourself.
BROWN: And it goes back, what we said earlier about setting boundaries. When I worked in social services, I was very much the person who was in my boss' office constantly and was like, listen; so my caseload's a little heavy, and I'm going to be needing a 2 1/2 hour lunch, just to let you know. And this is a boundary for me to find time for myself and for me to be in a space where I can come back and give myself fully to the children we're working with. And if I ever got any feedback, let me tell you what I would always say. I would say, why is taking care of me affecting you?
SANDERS: Writing that down.
BROWN: OK? Oh, we're going to do that one?
SANDERS: I wish my boss was here.
BROWN: Say it - turn to your neighbor and say, neighbor...
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...Neighbor...
BROWN: ...Why is taking care of me...
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...Why is taking care of me...
BROWN: ...Affecting you?
UNIDENTFIED AUDIENCE: ...Affecting you?
BROWN: And it is the truth. I used to say that all the time. And let me tell you something. He would look at me like, I guess it's not. I...
BROWN: Take care of yourself. So it was important of like, take care of your - find times.
BROWN: And if people are not carving out the time for you at work, in your family, find that time for yourself because, you know, when you're giving, you're giving, you're giving, you forget sometimes that you got to give to yourself. And so it's just so important.
I mean, what do they say on planes? You know, if the plane's going down, put your mask on first before somebody else. You know what I mean? And it's the same thing in mental health. If you see yourself going down, put your mask on before you go help somebody else - whether that's a client, even your kids. You know what I mean? If you're not feeling that good and your kid is crying - (imitating deep breathing).
BROWN: My mask is on first. I'm going to get to you, but let me get my mask first because you're not doing anyone any service if you're trying to help them half-full.
SANDERS: Yeah, I love it.
SANDERS: Two more questions and we're going to get out of here. Sylvie (ph)?
SANDERS: Is that - you're there?
BROWN: Hey, Sylvie. Hi, friend. How are you doing?
SANDERS: Silvie wrote, I have a big interview tomorrow. What tricks do you use to get into a confident headspace?
BROWN: Ooh. First of all, congratulations on the interview.
BROWN: I think the first step in acknowledging and getting to that calm, confident headspace is acknowledging you got an interview. There is a lot of people who didn't even get that. So don't ever doubt what your experiences are because, clearly, it's got you into the room. And so be confident and be proud of those things that you've been through. Secondly, remember; there are other pieces outside of what's on that paper that make you the best candidate. So there is things you've experienced as a child, as an adult, with friends that have given you a perspective. And just know that it's OK for you to tap into those things and not to stick to what's on the paper.
I'm sure you've been through a ton of job interviews, so you might know this. But I just want to reaffirm it for you. If this job is not for you, believe me; there is something that is better and more designed for your expertises (ph) that is coming right around the corner.
BROWN: Good luck.
SANDERS: Yeah. Everyone, give her a big good luck. Good luck tomorrow.
BROWN: Yes. Send the energy. Send the energy. You got this job.
SANDERS: Take those vibes.
SANDERS: Take those vibes. OK - last question from me. Oh, go ahead. You want to say something.
BROWN: Yeah. Well, no, ask your question.
SANDERS: OK. The Fab Five is a boy or girl band. What boy or girl band and why?
BROWN: Unfortunately, we're not Destiny's Child because we are not breaking up.
BROWN: Although I would love to say that I'm Beyonce or Kelly - but the girl band we would be is the Spice Girls.
BROWN: We loved it.
SANDERS: Which Spice are you?
BROWN: I would be Scary Spice - not just because she was the only black one.
BROWN: But because of...
SANDERS: She could sing, though.
BROWN: She can. She can sing. I can't at all. But there was a fearlessness to her...
BROWN: ...About how she approached every part of her life - the character - in the Spice Girls. And I have that fearlessness of like, we're going after it. You know what I mean?
BROWN: Like, go after it.
BROWN: So that's who we'd be.
SANDERS: Yeah. And y'all's audition was kind of like something resembling an audition for, like...
BROWN: Oh, it was an audition...
SANDERS: ...A boyband.
BROWN: ...For a boyband. Like, they brought 200 gays in a room and were, like, fight.
BROWN: And so - it's kind of true. There was a lot of us there. And you know what? In the first five minutes, the five of us actually met. We've told this story before. But the reason we all connected - didn't know what category we were - we literally were melded together from the beginning. And the reason was was because the other guys in there were competing, and we were not. We were like - so like, they would go in the room and they would come out. And people would be like, well, what did they say in there? And they'd be like, I'm not telling you. This is my job.
And we would go in the room. And we'd come out and be like, listen; they said this. I think I messed up, but if you can use the information to be better, take it. And we did that the entire interview.
SANDERS: Do you think the producers saw that, too?
BROWN: You know what? To be honest with you, I do.
BROWN: I think they knew...
SANDERS: They watched the - yeah.
BROWN: ...They wanted the intention to be people who were giving. And so if the show's about giving and you come out of a room and you're so closed off of giving the information, then they already see a bit of your character. And so we just were like, yeah, here it is. And because we were like that, we stuck in a corner. Before the end of the first day, we already had a text chain that Bobby started called the Fab Five. And I literally said to him - either you're delusional, or you're a psychic.
BROWN: And he's clearly a clairvoyant psychic.
SANDERS: That's how he gets these houses together. He, like, sees it in the crystal ball or something.
SANDERS: I love it.
BROWN: But yeah. And so I - it was a very special moment. And we didn't know until the second day that we were all in different categories because, as it was dwindling down and we realized - oh, my gosh, we're getting closer - we were like, are any of us competing? And we were like, we're not competing? Oh, snap. This could happen.
SANDERS: And it did.
BROWN: It did happen, yeah.
SANDERS: Yeah. I love it.
SANDERS: I love it.
SANDERS: I want to give a special thanks to the entire team at Sixth & I for bringing me and Karamo here tonight.
SANDERS: I want to thank the folks of my crew who were here. Carline Watson, head of NPR's All Things Considered; Brent Baughman, who launched the show that I host; Joanna Pawlowska, who is our live events producer extraordinaire and some other NPR folks in the building - thanks. Good night.
BROWN: I love you all.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
SANDERS: Thanks again to Karamo Brown. His book is called "Karamo: My Story Of Embracing Purpose, Healing, And Hope."
Thanks to the whole crew that helped us make that live event a reality - engineers Andy Huether and Patrick Boyd for recording and Joanna Pawlowska for making the whole thing happen. She worked with NPR's Events team. Also, thanks to Nicole Schaller and Pilar Fitzgerald of NPR's events team and to NPR's senior events director Jessica Goldstein. Also, many, many thanks to Jackie Leventhal and Lindsay Adams at Sixth & I.
All right, listeners. We're back on Friday with our Weekly Wrap. And if you listen to those episodes, you know that it's a group effort. Every week, we hear from real live listeners sharing with me the best parts of their week. That should be you this week. Record your voice telling me the best part of your week, and send that file to me at firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com. OK. All right. Until then, thank you for listening. Talk soon.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")
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