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Uncomfortable Conversations With Dom Roberts    

Uncomfortable Conversations With Dom Roberts

Art by FISK

By Meadowlark Monahagn

When The Local Optimist made the call to profile a series of prominent Black creatives for February, there were a lot of names that came to mind. But it also brought up some complicated thoughts and emotions about my role, as a white woman. 

Fortunately, those feelings helped crystalize who would be an incredible interview subject, a woman who has turned uncomfortable conversation into a career. My friend, Dom Roberts.

Dom is a creative activist and host of The Uncomfortable Podcast. She skyrocketed from typical college student to Instagram fame with smart and powerful graphics about racism that tell a story as unique as the woman behind them. Her work gained added attention following the murder of George Floyd. Her “Don’t ignore something because it makes you uncomfortable” post was shared by friends and celebrities alike (ahem, Reese Witherspoon). 

Dom’s willingness to be vulnerable and speak about human experiences and what it means to be Black in America is her superpower. It can also be a burden when there is a need to sustain a platform built on trauma. But she doesn’t shy away from sharing that part, too. That’s what makes  her work so important. 

I connected with Dom to talk about the role pain plays in her creativity, getting out of her comfort zone, and how a discussion about colors led to an important realization.

As a nod to the ice breakers on The Uncomfortable podcast, I have an icebreaker for you. When was the last time you changed your mind about something?

This is not that deep, but we were working on a collection for The Uncomfortable and [my co-founder] Quentin was trying to show me a colorway that he thought was sick and would work really well. I just said, “No.” I didn’t think people would like it. Then he showed it to me and opened my mind. I was fearful and was trying to stay comfortable in what I knew would work, but he changed my mind. 

How did you decide to do a podcast? How did you want to make it different from everything else out there?

During that time [Summer 2020], there weren't a lot of podcasts focusing on these issues. My biggest thing was relating it back to truth. If we know all these things, what are we going to do about it? Tangible is everything. If there are no actions, you’re a problem talker. You’re not a problem solver. No one pisses me off more than people who just talk about their problems. Listen, I like to talk about my problems, too, but at the end of it, I think “So, what’s the plan? What do we have to do?” If there’s no gameplan, don’t talk to me. 

Many of your creative assets revolve around mental and community health. How does your mental health influence your creative work?

I would say that I selfishly create stuff based on how I am feeling or what I see happening. It’s really hard to create from a place when you have a lack of understanding. A lot of the things I create come from a place where I am personally going through [what I am depicting]. I believe that if I am going through it, how many other people are going through the same thing? Anytime I have shared anything that comes directly from a place of how I feel, I receive a huge response of people saying “Thank you. That’s how I feel, too.” 

The Uncomfortable Podcast places an emphasis on getting out of your comfort zone to facilitate self growth and personal development. Do you think the same thing goes for creativity? Is your creativity born out of being uncomfortable? 

I think every creative pushes their comfort zone. Maybe not in the physical sense of the art you are creating, but more so in the mental sense. You offer yourself up to a level of vulnerability by creating. To open yourself up to that vulnerability and accept that your art is going to serve a purpose is hard to do. When you are able to become uncomfortable and be at peace with opening yourself up to creativity, you’re able to break boundaries. Or even break through a creative wall! Going back to my story with the colorway and Quentin, a lot of the stress of that situation had more to do with my fear of us not selling clothes, rather than the actual colors he was combining. 

What are your thoughts on the classic trope of the “tortured’ artist? Does one have to fully experience feelings in order to encapsulate them in their art? Would your graphics resonate the same way without an emotional pull or understanding behind them? 

A lot of what I do comes from a place of experiencing a lot of pain. That’s just the reality of my platform. Those very high, intense emotions that caused me to create, or even the words that I put together to talk about issues, comes from a place of pain. I don’t know if I would have the platform that I have, or have impactful conversations like I attempt to have, if I didn’t experience those things. 

But at the same time, I don’t think it takes pain to create great art. I will say that in my case, it helps. That sounds weird but it puts passion behind what I do. That’s the only flame that will keep you going. You can’t do it for any other reason other than you care. 

Last year, when my podcast was new and I still wasn’t making one penny, it was really hard for me. I was used to having the comfort and support of my old job. The only thing keeping me in the game was the passion. 

Did you set any boundaries this February for Black History Month? 

First off, anyone who isn’t willing to pay Black people doesn’t actually care. You will always buy what’s important to you. If you’re hungry, you will buy some tacos at Taco Bell real quick. If you need foundation, you’ll go to Sephora and spend the money. So if racism and all these different change initiatives mean something to you, then you will pay people to talk about these things. What’s the difference? If you’re a brand that will pay $20,000 for an influencer to wear a dress, and you say racism matters to you, and you want people to host conversations on your platform, then pay them the same rate. 

How does being Black impact the creative choices that you make?

Well, it’s hard. On one end, you want to speak your truth. At the same time, there is the reality of being “palatable”. A lot of people won’t agree with this because the truth is we don’t need to be more “palatable.” I’m not suggesting we silence our voices. But, I understand that the people listening to me talk also don’t have the best understanding of racism so I do have to form things in a way that is palatable. 

What is the creative accomplishment you are most proud of?

This last drop with The Mayfair Group. I’m really proud of that one. Sam is the most beautiful person too. She’s a mental health advocate as well! 

When you are challenged creatively, how do you adjust to that?

The more I push myself, the worse I do. I push myself too hard, and the messaging gets lost. When I take steps back and realize how not deep everything is, I’m able to get ideas flowing back into my mind. It’s not that serious. We’re on a floating rock. When I tap into that perspective, I’m able to bring it back. 

What projects lie out there undone for you? What are the big things you hope to accomplish?

I want to dive into our clothing. I want to tap into it because even people who bought our latest collection were talking about how they feel everyone stares at them when they wear it. I feel like that can be scary, depending on where you live, but also, I think that’s really cool. I definitely want to go more into our clothing and expand that and have more meaningful conversations.

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.