The crimes of white supremacy have not gone unrecorded. They are etched into the bodies of brown and black people the world over. Our scars, past and present, physical and emotional, bear witness to the violence white men and women insisted they were not inflicting. White society marked the bodies of women of color as a receptacle for its sins so that it may claim innocence for itself, and, as the chosen symbol of the innocent perfection of whiteness, the white damsel with her tears of distress functions as both denial of and absolution for this violence.Ruby Hamad, White Tears/Brown Scars, p. 101
(Trigger warning: racism, colorism, fatphobia, ableism, child abuse, sexual abuse, and suicide.) 90-minute read.
Throughout the history of this blog, I have praised Brenda Marie Davies, the Progressive Christian and exvangelical behind God is Grey, now In the Grey. I have admired her and publicly endorsed her on this blog for years. (Some examples are here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Because I paid her monthly via Patreon, I attended several Zoom calls with her and her other Patreon fans—and this is in addition to my preorder and rave review of her memoir.
Unlike her, I am not a Progressive Christian and I have never been evangelical. While I find her view of religion interesting, that wasn’t really why I watched. Instead, I admired Brenda’s social views, her sex positivity, her logic and compassion when fighting for abortion rights, and her approach to LGBTQ+ freedom.
So I am beyond disappointed to see that when Brenda was faced with an opportunity to be an ally to her Black and Brown sisters, she failed them. She failed them and she harmed them. The one time that her goodness was truly put to the test, she assured us loudly and clearly that that goodness had always been a façade. I know our relationship was parasocial, but I still feel like I’ve been lied to by a friend.
This isn’t about me, though. I’m white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, and thin-passing. Instead, it’s about Brenda’s Black, Brown, fat, disabled, and trans followers that she actively hurt. I make this post for you, so you know that I see you and that not all of Brenda’s (former) biggest fans want anything to do with her behavior.
Bluntly, I also make this post for those who have no idea who or what I am talking about. Resist the urge to see this as Internet drama or to dismiss it as “woke cancel culture.” It is my hope that this important story doesn’t get lost or forgotten. This post can serve as a place where you can learn all of the important aspects of this true story, hear the voices that matter, and come away understanding the impact that you can make on the Internet with your words and images.
Of course there were many people applauding the women for not being ashamed of their bodies, and there were many angry religious folks saying that the photo was sinful. These are the responses that Brenda anticipated and even wanted.
Then, after buckets of praise from white women, came the first critical comment, from Carla Daniela, gently pointing out the photo’s blatant lack of representation.
Love and applaud this, but my critique is this: Freedom in deconstruction and self-acceptance from purity culture is a lot more accessible when the bodies are white and (seemingly) abled. Our conversation re: the harms of purity culture needs to go beyond white bodies and the success of deconstruction must also expand beyond self-acceptance of naked bodies. The comment section isn’t enough to explore this but dropping it in to expand the conversation!! Huge huge fan of your work, Brenda and hoping you can continue to push the conversation.Carla Daniela, Instagram comment
When I first saw these comments, I thought they were fair enough but I understood that the photo was not part of an ad campaign. You’re allowed to have a friend group with skinny light bodies. I truly think it is better to have no Black friends than to tokenize someone or befriend someone solely so that you can then claim to have Black friends.
Even though I wasn’t personally bothered upon first seeing the photo, it doesn’t matter. I hate the way that it made some people feel, like this commenter, Shelby Clifford:
What a disappointing saga. Platforms aren’t that different than podiums, and I know for me and my folks there is more deconstruction to be done surrounding leaders in this space and what that means. Also, I want to say that when my body and mind told me this picture made them uncomfortable, they weren’t wrong. Partially uncomfortable because of my own issues, partially uncomfortable because of the criticisms everyone else has already stated. But more telling than the picture has been the fallout.Shelby Clifford, Instagram comment (emphasis mine)
Brenda’s dismissal of comments like Shelby’s speak volumes. Brenda and, from my understanding, all of the women in the photo greatly emphasize embodiment and listening to your body when recovering from purity culture and sexual shame. It is Jamie Lee Finch’s and Tara Teng’s (two of the women in the photo) entire brands. So when someone point blank tells you “my body and mind told me this picture made them uncomfortable,” suddenly those messages are invalid? Mind you, Shelby is white-passing. Never mind the trauma of religious racism that must have resurfaced for and activated any women of color who saw it or felt silenced afterward.
Side note: at this time, Brenda was the only person in the deconstruction space that I followed, so the photo itself was the last thing I saw in this situation until early March when it resurfaced. Everything else in this post I’ve learned only recently—which is why I never acknowledged this in November.
Jo defends the photo
Following many more comments like Carla’s and Shelby’s, Brenda went on an Instagram Live broadcast (which from now on I will refer to as Live) on the following day, November 6th, with Jo Luehmann. Jo was the only visibly non-white woman who went on the trip during which the photo was taken, but notably she was not in the photo. Still, at Brenda’s side, she defended the photo and Brenda’s allyship:
When people that are white, who start recognizing their privilege, befriend me for the purpose of feeling better about the racism that they were conditioned into, I know. I always know. I always know when it’s tokenizing. I always know when people are befriending me to look more diverse. I always know when I’m added into pictures to be more diverse and to avoid the things we are dealing with now. I know when that’s happening. And the fact that you are intentionally not doing that to not harm marginalized bodies matters. And that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to take pictures until that reality changes.Jo Luehmann, IG Live with Brenda Davies
Meanwhile, Brenda emphasized that she was going through things in her own life such as a battle for her toddler’s health. I also felt while watching it that Brenda was hyper-focused on the image itself, the people in it, and the circumstances surrounding it, while many of the comments like Carla’s had expressed hope that this would be an opportunity to explore the wider context of what is honestly a pattern of segregation and oppression in the online deconstruction community.
Even here, Brenda could not look past her own reputation and experience to consider her photo’s impact on others whose marginalized identities have intersected with their deconstruction every step of the way. Although she was the only well-known YouTuber in the photo, and the only person who I followed, Brenda is not the main character of religious deconstruction.
Jo picks up the pieces
For all her good intentions, this Live was what first brought Jo so much further into this mess than she ever should have been. From my understanding, she took a lot of heat for defending the photo in this Live. I don’t know how many people privately messaged Brenda because she’s never told us. But here’s something you can get used to learning: Jo showed up. She heard the complaints of women of color in her DMs telling her the photo was wrong and she learned from them.
(And it was wrong, but notice that Jo, who’s a Colombian American immigrant, becomes the primary target for complaints, when she was not even in the picture; she only defended it. Once. Contrast this with Brenda, who is white, who was the only woman in the photo who went on to share it publicly.)
Admittedly, earlier on November 6th, Jo shared the following tweet. She also shared it as a screenshot to her Instagram feed with the rest of the thread in the caption.
By the 9th, after meditating and reflecting on what had happened, Jo realized the harm she had caused and addressed it in a Live of her own.
Importantly, she first explained that her tweet had been written before the trip ever happened. It was in reference to a separate situation in which a fellow marginalized person had belittled and insulted her, but she knew it would be too difficult to hold them accountable due to their level of marginalization. She noted in her Instagram caption that the tweet also felt applicable to the Joshua Tree situation. In her Live, she said,
I didn’t understand why I was being held accountable. And the people that were holding me accountable… most of them were either Latin American folks that are clearly LGBTQ or white women whose bodies were not the “ideal body” as defined by supremacy culture. And I was so confused. I didn’t understand why I was being held accountable for a photoshoot that I didn’t participate in. . . .
I felt very protective [of the other women on the trip]. . . . I became very defensive. And the thing is, if me standing with marginalized identities means that my belonging from a group is removed, then it is. I’m not saying that it will be. I don’t think it will be. . . .
Intention doesn’t matter. Intention does not matter whatsoever in my opinion. The picture was harmful, because there was no context added and because the bodies that are portrayed there, regardless of the identities that are not obvious, are the “ideal body.” And when we are showing the ideal body, to the rest of the people that are watching, without context, it looks like, “I am not welcome here. I am not safe here.” . . . Does that mean that the way I was being held accountable was right? No. I was held accountable in ways that were not right. . . . And? That doesn’t matter. I should have taken it. I should have listened, but I was activated, and I felt protective, and I felt defensive. . . .
I have communicated that I do think that harm was caused. I do think that posting the picture without context was not helpful. I do think that the people who were raising valid issues were not validated, were not listened to properly in that Live that I did with Brenda. . . . What I communicated is literally what churches communicate back to us. “You’re just bitter [and jealous]. And that’s why you’re angry at the church.” In that, I was wrong. I apologize. . . .
I did exactly what the [tweet] is all about. I’m talking in the [tweet] about, if you’re a marginalized identity, is it okay for you to cause harm because you’re angry? And I did that. I did that.Jo Luehmann on IG Live (emphasis mine)
If you couldn’t tell, the Live was really, really good. What an impressive display of accountability.
From what I can find with my sleuthing abilities, things looked like they would be quiet after that. It seemed like everyone who had gone on the trip was happy about the photo except Jo who had apologized for defending it. Brenda had gone Live to justify why she posted it, so she was guiltless. The situation was over and many fat women, LGBTQ+ women and femmes, and women of color were upset but apparently their voices were not worth listening to. That was the best they would get.
Alice Greczyn’s white supremacy
Not a safe space, not a safe person
Until this point, all we had seen were bad takes and a lack of representation. Brenda could have so, so easily taken the photo down and simply apologized, and the majority of concerned people would have forgiven her. Instead, Alice, who was in the photo and who probably could have gotten away with saying nothing, decided to publish a 5,176-word blog post on November 15th. It was entitled The Photo: How a Girls’ Getaway in Joshua Tree Became a Symbol of White Supremacy and Why I’m Not Here to Do Better.
Mind you, this was especially shocking considering that, from what I gather, the latest thing she had said on this publicly had been a comment on Jo’s Live which read, “Thank you for sharing your truth, Jo. I learn from you, I honor your perspective and experiences, and I am so sorry you’re going through a hard time and that I have contributed to your hurt.”
There is one thing I can applaud about Alice’s post, and that’s her trigger warning. (She also privately emailed Jo to warn her that she would not be safe reading this post and that she should protect herself and keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to read it.) In her post’s disclaimer, Alice writes,
I am not a safe person and do not endeavor to provide a safe space. . . . You are in my space now. Consider yourself trigger-warned.Alice Greczyn, The Photo
Alice’s blog post is a “19-minute read” of bad takes. And by bad, I mean, violently racist, white supremacist, fatphobic, ableist takes. Oh my god, this blog post was magnitudes worse than the photo ever was.
The biggest point I believe Alice attempts to make is that intent matters more than impact. I sincerely believe that this is a tactic that she used to turn herself and her friends into the victims of these Black bullies, which Ashlee’ Thomas would later call “absolutely coded language.” Brenda, according to Alice, is absolved of any wrongdoing since her intent was not to exclude. Problem solved. (This great article explains very clearly why intent does not matter more than impact.)
Tellingly, Alice also writes, “I find it far more empowering to hold grace for intention over impact because it puts the power of restoration into my own hands and no one else’s.” This creates a dynamic in which no one’s response to her actions matter to her. Her readers are responsible if they are offended by her words which are… objectively offensive. It’s a way of controlling the narrative, dismissing extremely valid concerns, and playing the victim.
White and light victimhood
This might be a good time for us all to go back and read that Ruby Hamad quote I shared at the top of the post.
You are wrong. You who accused us of racism, fatphobia, ableism, and other cruelties, you are in the wrong. Not us. You are wrong for the presumptions you made, for the unkind ways you expressed them, and for the conclusions you’ve come to about our character and integrity. I will not kowtow to your egregious blame, or your jealousy disguised as concern, in some self-flagellating display of public apology and doing your idea of better. I don’t exist to do better. I exist to do me.
Oh, no, don’t worry, it gets worse. Like, way worse.
We were shamed for being light-skinned. We were shamed for appearing able-bodied. We were shamed for being attractive. We were shamed because I am not curvy, because Brenda is not Black, and because Sophia is not visibly disabled. If we were these, the shame would not have been hurled our way.
Of course, they don’t call it shame. They call it accountability. So did the church.
Comparing valid calls for accountability to religious abuse is a theme that we will see a lot more later. And it doesn’t get any less gross.
One of the women pictured is half-Chinese. Another woman is of Native American and Mexican descent. I am as Korean as I am French, with so many other ethnicities mingling in my blood that to name them all would be boring. . . . Yeah blah yeah, light-skinned privilege and all that, go ahead, school me like I haven’t heard it before. Go ahead and miss my point so you can gain points for virtue signaling. Go ahead and think you’re the one who’s going to give me an aha-moment where I bow down to your idol of anti-racism.Alice Greczyn, The Photo
This point that “there were people of color in the picture… you just can’t tell,” would return months later in Brenda’s “apology letter.”
Ashlee’ Thomas, who I will introduce more fully later, explained better than I possibly can why this is an extremely harmful position:
It’s so fascinating to me to see white-passing people of color who are mixed race who try to capitalize on their person-of-colorhood but aren’t actually experiencing that in their life. . . . Your inability to name that you are white-passing and really lean into that shows me that you have done none of the work to what it actually means to be a person of color. . . .
You [Jo] even called Alice a person of color last night. I would not classify Alice’s racist, bigoted ass a person of color. Has she had an ethnicity that is different than whiteness in her life? One hundred percent. But does the world look at her as a woman of color? No. Does she get to write racist-ass posts as a white person? Absolutely.Ashlee’ Thomas, IG Live with Jo Luehmann
Further, Rebeka Jones explained in an Instagram story following the blog post’s publication why Alice’s white persecution complex is inappropriate and un-called for—and not the point. At all.
The point of anti-racism isn’t to make white people throw up their hands and say “Well, I can’t help being white, woe is me.” No one is trying to make you feel bad about your skin color (unlike white history towards people of color, ahem). Rather, the work begins with recognizing your privilege, but instead of lamenting it or being shamed, put feet to that privilege and work for change to provide an accessible and equitable society for all.Rebeka Jones, Instagram story – AG’s Article highlight (emphasis mine)
Know what I think you really hate us for?
Yeah, I said it. If the three of us in the photo who are of mixed ethnicity were fat, unkempt, and conventionally unattractive, would the bronze of our skin be more visible to you? Would we have ticked enough of your diversity boxes to spare the other women your whitewashing blame? Would the kink of my coconut rug curls and the almond crescents of another woman’s eyes and the umber undertones of another woman’s décolleté be more apparent if we hadn’t enhanced our natural beauty with hairstyling, makeup, and lotion?
Maybe. Maybe perceived disadvantages would have been enough to qualify us as brown. But we’re light-brown and pretty. Our intersectionality carries multiple privileges, so our races don’t matter. Except that they do when you accuse us of not being racially diverse.
Your calls for racial diversity are calls for Blackness. Let’s be plain. . . . When you don’t specify that Blackness is what you are calling for, you whitewash the diversity already present. You are guilty of the very erasure you think you’re calling out. Yes, it hurts.Alice Greczyn, The Photo (emphasis mine)
Beauty privilege? “Light-brown and pretty”? Blackness is synonymous with being fat, unkempt, and conventionally unattractive?
As furious as this makes me, like I said, I am a “conventionally attractive” white woman. I’m not the one that has been hurt by Alice’s words. So I want to share what Janice Lagata wrote after reading this article.
In her manifesto, Alice admits to the fact that nobody asked for what she thinks everybody was really asking for which was Blackness. And yes, maybe “Blackness” has become shorthand for ultimate diversity. But that’s a trauma response. That is whiteness admitting what it sees as the ultimate other. That is why, in Alice’s mind, beauty and Blackness are not only opposites, but opposing forces. Because she sees us as “conventionally unattractive”, she imagines that we live in a perpetual state of jealousy. Because everything is zero sum. There can only be one kind of beauty. And we’re mad that we’re not it. But we are it. We are beautiful. With or without white women in comparison. But she can’t imagine us recognizing her beauty, without envy. She can’t imagine that we can just live and let live. Because the colonist mindset doesn’t know how to do that – it doesn’t know how to like something without inserting itself and taking it over, so it cannot comprehend that others can appreciate something and leave it alone.Janice Lagata, My Kind of Trauma (emphasis mine)
Those most viral paragraphs from Alice’s post were not the only ones that were alarming. She turns the idea of “the impact of your intent” around so that she can victim-blame those who held Brenda accountable.
The impact of your intent is the painful reminder that purity culture still exists outside the church—it’s just called accountability culture now and demands unambiguous racial purity (but go ahead and keep calling it “diversity”). . . .
Perhaps the most grievous impact of your intent is the dissolving of what were blossoming friendships among this uniquely beautiful and yes, diverse, group of women. . . .
I know these were not your intent. But since you think that impact matters more, I felt I needed to let you know.Alice Greczyn, The Photo (emphasis mine)
I think it’s important to emphasize again what Jo had said in her Live the previous week: “If me standing with marginalized identities means that my belonging from a group is removed, then it is.” I feel the same way. Brenda had been one of my very favorite YouTubers, and honestly, an idol for years. It has been emotionally difficult for me to discontinue following and supporting her, but after seeing her do what she did to marginalized communities, there’s no question that she will not continue receiving my support. It’s a non-issue. Consider it done. I can follow other people, and Alice could have made other friends.
Not that Alice had any credibility left after the racist things she said above, but if you were in doubt, at the end of the post she essentially falls off the deep end. Earlier in the post, she writes, “Cancel culture is a secular version of a Christian sin circle,” “The Woke brigade is a morality mafia,” and “The church and the Woke both teach that impact matters more than intent. . . . Both are harmful.”
I am leaving the cult of Wokeness. . . .
I am deregistering as a Democrat and re-registering as a Libertarian. I am going to be more vocal than ever about my disaffiliation from the Left, about the grotesque hypocrisies and harms of the Woke, and about the cycles of harm perpetuated by people bullying in the name of anti-bullying. . . .
I am more secure than ever in my public disavowing of identity politics, in my sacred rebellion against cancel and accountability culture, and in declaring with calm confidence opinions like how I loved Dave Chappelle’s last Netflix special. . . .Alice Greczyn, The Photo (emphasis mine)
After I’ve spent so much time railing against Alice Greczyn, you might be wondering what this has to do with Brenda or my disaffiliation with her. Well, it’s simple. First of all, I’ve always held Brenda to a high moral standard, because she set one for herself in all of her advocacy for Black Lives Matter through the years. And second, she started the mess in the first place. She planned the trip to Joshua Tree and she posted the photo.
These crimes were not that egregious in and of themselves, and as I’ve explained, they could have easily been set right. But then when Alice wrote this horrific blog post in defense of Brenda’s photo, Brenda was silent. And the silence was deafening. However, thanks to Jo, we do know a little bit about the involved parties’ opinions on the situation at this point. I will get to that momentarily.
It’s relevant here that I mention this November 18th apology (is it an apology?) from Jamie Lee Finch, who we met earlier. It was very long and vague and included a lot of ifs, ands, and buts, mixed in with a couple of “I’m sorry you feel that way”s. In between talking about her relationship with her mother and apologizing, she writes,
Because I have not been well. And in my state of mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical sickness, I have taken it out on you in so many ways. I have lashed out, I have called out, I have punished, I have shamed — and I have called it all righteous. It has made me defensive towards your asks to be acknowledged and considered.Jamie Lee Finch, Instagram post
In the days following Jamie’s post, Jo shared a little bit of behind-the-scenes intel in a story.
I genuinely didn’t see a point to me being [in the group thread] and some of the “thank you for your blog Alice, it’s beautiful,” or “I can see both sides to this, I appreciate you all,” were hurting me too. There was also some silence of course.
The response to my apology was mostly silence, or accusations of betrayal. [In my apology,] I kept coming back explaining how this was harmful and I was the bad one in all of this, but someone [Alice] doubles down on the harm and we are cool with it? . . .
Then to see the comments [on Jamie’s apology] made it all the harder for me, because women who went on the trip loved her apology. I apologize clearly and spell out that fatphobia and racism are real in the world, including the ex-evangelical/deconstruction world, and I betrayed them. Mind you I wasn’t in this picture!!!! But Jamie issues a vague apology and she’s lovely.
What in the world?Jo Luehmann, Instagram story – Public Journey highlight (emphasis mine)
In a Live on March 2022, Jo revealed more of what went on privately following the photo and blog post.
See, I was harmed in all of this, but I was willing to go all the way to LA, leave my [four] children and my husband, and go all the way to LA to sit down with Brenda, pay for dinner, and have a conversation. I offered that to her. I said, “I would love to go up and have a conversation about this. This isn’t that big of a deal. We can fix this. If you just listen to the people, then this doesn’t have to keep escalating.”
She never replied to me. Never. She just ghosted me. I never got a reply back. Ever. . . .
With Jamie it was the same thing. I tried to talk to Jamie and they said, “I do not have the bandwidth right now to have this conversation with you.” I remind you all that I was harmed in all of this. I was tokenized, I was mistreated, I was abused, and the reason I wanted to talk to Jamie was because she liked Alice’s [Instagram post publicizing her blog post]. Because she [Jamie] liked it with both her personal and her public Instagram account. . . .
Every single one of them, except Blaire from @talkpuritytome [who was on the trip but not in the photo] and Rachel from @yourfavoriteheretics, ghosted me and said that I had harmed them, they wrote me and said that I had misrepresented them, that I had caused harm to them, they called me narcissist, they called me all sorts of names. And the rest of them just ignored me completely and stopped talking to me altogether. . . .
We see you not hold your own accountable. We see you. And for the people that are liking Brenda’s post [from March 2022] and not saying anything about her absolute lack of integrity, about the fact that she never brought anything up about Alice, I see you. Do you think that we don’t see you? . . .
They said that the reason people are angry is because we are more healed than them. They said things like that. In private.Jo Luehmann on IG Live (emphasis mine)
Brenda may not have publicly endorsed Alice, but her silence said enough. I’m sure that she was one of the people to praise Alice in that group thread. And her ignoring Jo’s calls for reconciliation and explanation speak volumes. By not publicly disavowing Alice’s post, she was publicly complicit with Alice’s racist actions.
So as far as I can tell, this is where things (publicly) left off in November (other than this post from Lauren and this series from Jamie). Half-apologies, name-calling, ghosting, and hurt feelings. Aside from the support of Blaire and Rachel as she mentioned, as well as the team from @dobetterchurch, Jo was left to try to heal from this on her own, with no closure. But would you believe me if I told you that Brenda came back four months later to add gas to the dying flames, double down on her harm, hyperfixate on her photo, demonize Jo, and cry victim? Because she did.
In the Grey: Brenda returns
I said at the beginning of this post that I supported Brenda on Patreon. Those monthly payments continued all through her eight-month break from YouTube, from July 2021 to February 2022. I knew she was going through hard times, moving and building what I knew would be a beautiful set for a new studio for her YouTube videos. So I continued paying even when I was receiving no content (and no Zoom calls). Around December, she finally announced that “Season Two” of God is Grey would premiere on Valentine’s Day. I was so, so excited for her return.
Now I’m going to stop you right there. “In the Grey” sounds sexy and intriguing and maybe a little less religious than God is Grey, but consider what it means. God is Grey makes sense. Brenda’s old motto was “In Heaven, God resides in black-and-white absolutes, but down here on Earth, we are left to contend with the Grey.” (Yes, she always spells “grey” the British way even though she is American.)
Yeah, God is gray. Religion is super complicated and convoluted, and the Bible needs a lot of interpreting. But In the Grey? What exactly is in the gray? Morality? Reality? Is truth subjective now? Can something be true for you and not for me? Racist to you but not to me?
Her new motto is from medieval polymath al-Din Rumi, and it reads, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I couldn’t tell you why, but her very first video of In the Grey on Valentine’s day did feel off. The set was nice but something was weird.
(Oh, and then she started getting her videos sponsored by the very problematic brand BetterHelp. Her being sponsored by BetterHelp on a video, having people in the live chat of the premiere tell her BetterHelp is harmful and a scam only for her to tell them, “Chill out. I’ll look into it. And besides, it works for me! xoxo” and then be sponsored by them again is like a micro version of her response to the entire photo situation. So that was awesome.)
I have made a commitment to myself, as a person who is so honored to have a platform like this, to stand in the gap. To ask all of the awkward questions. To be willing to be vulnerable and make mistakes. And to not take on shame when I do. . . .
I have been sued, I have been pummeled, I have been harassed, I have been bullied, and again, I know many of you have been, too. . . . This channel, this space is a place where I will protect My Beautiful People. I do not accept shame or bullying from myself and I do not accept shame or bullying from you.Brenda Marie Davies, Welcome to In the Grey
This sounds so innocent if you had only followed Brenda on YouTube to this point. Her followers know the story of her being sued by evangelicals for helping a young exvangelical woman share her story of corporal punishment as a child. That was both very sad and tremendously brave. So it concerned me when Brenda invoked the word “bully” that Alice had also used to describe Jo and others hurt by Brenda’s photo only months before, as if sharing how you were harmed and asking someone to check their privilege is equally as evil as actual (alleged) child abuse.
After setting up her followers to take her side using Instagram story polls asking if we had ever been “shamed,” on March 2nd Brenda released this video entitled Why We Need to Stop Public Shaming.
This is… public shaming?
Beating around the bush
Brenda spends about two minutes on her BetterHelp ad read and then launches into a confusing, vague, and honestly very disjointed list of examples of people who have been unjustly shamed. She lists Justine Sacco, Lindsay Ellis, Emmanuel Cafferty, and Simone Biles, and more in about thirty seconds. She even said later,
With Russia declaring war on the Ukraine, and Texas declaring war on trans children and their families, this is no time to check out and fall into the toxicity of social media. We can use these platforms for light or darkness, for our mental well-being or our mental unraveling.Brenda Marie Davies, Why We Need to Stop Public Shaming
Was that necessary? What does that have to do with this? Also, Brenda, the country is called Ukraine. Not the Ukraine. Do research before trying to use the trauma of an entire country to make your self-victimizing point. And how long is it going to take you to stop using the metaphor of light and dark, of white and black, to refer to good and bad? Do you not see how language matters and how the words we use subconsciously shape the way we see the world? Oh, but that wasn’t your intent, only your impact, so I guess it’s okay.
Brenda then launches directly from sharing the story of August Ames, a porn star who took her own life after receiving death threats following a homophobic tweet, to Brenda’s own experience of “public shaming,” which contained only gentle love and calls for community with no death threats. (Don’t forget that you can go back and read all 459 comments on the desert photo right now if you want to remind yourself what they say.)
The “woke mob” is name-calling her
I myself spent months being accused of being racist and ableist and fatphobic by people who flattened out a single image of myself and a small handful of my friends.
And you could have proved them wrong at any time.
What I did not expect was a mob of voices from my own community flattening that image, creating false narratives, and refuting the truth that twenty things can be true about a photo or about a single tweet and that all of that nuance is worthy of discussion, is worthy of analyzing, before pelting rocks and hurling names.
Discussion? Your own followers, like Carla Daniela, called for conversation. Jo offered to drive to you and buy you dinner as she does the heavy, emotional, free labor of explaining to you what you did wrong and giving you step-by-step instructions of how you can fix it and save your reputation. What rocks are you talking about?
When the Left shames someone on the Left, the resulting turmoil, confusion, and depression can really spiral out of control. Because usually, the thing the person is being shamed about is an issue they genuinely care about, like not being ableist, racist, or fatphobic. And we are all on this journey making mistakes together.
But you can’t just claim to care about it. Being an ally to the marginalized isn’t an easy thing. You have to show up and you have to put in the work. This need for your voice is compounded by your platform being arguably one of the very biggest in the deconstruction space.
So the shamed party will either be flung into virtue-signaling, frantically reposting Black and neurodivergent creators just to prove to the woke mob that they are worthy and not a bad person. Or they will go inward, tormenting themselves, while their audience demands, “Your silence is deafening. We need you to comment on this,” while having no regard for this creator’s mental health or ability to completely understand the issue at hand.
People explained to you at length why you hurt them. The problems with Alice’s post are pretty blatant, and even in my white mind they are not hard to understand at all. It’s racist. It’s harmful. If you didn’t understand, Jo was right there ready to hold your hand and spoon-feed you the answers you didn’t deserve, but you literally ignored her and now you’re playing stupid and wearing a dunce cap on your head.
This is just like church
And to my fellow religious trauma survivors, why in the hell would we allow ourselves to fall prey to shame and fear all over again, to being told what voices we are to listen to, to being told from outside sources how we are to behave, speak, and even think? Does that not sound like evangelicalism to you? And I am surely not zombie-walking right back into that oppressive mentality, not for anyone.
It was pretty strategic for Brenda to compare what her “accusers” have said to the evangelical church. Interestingly, when I later started learning who Jo was and her side of the story, she was saying the same thing. Both sides were saying, “This is just like the abuse I endured at church.”
In Brenda’s view, the church told her what she could and could not say or do. The church shamed her for wanting to have sex and be free. So she expected to not be required to follow any rules made by anyone when she left. The problem is, there are rules that exist in this world outside of church. The difference is that these rules are not ridiculous.
Consensual premarital sex is victimless and harmless, yet it is something the church unjustly shames and punishes people for. The harm Brenda caused that I have been describing is not a victimless crime, and the calls for accountability are not unjust. She apparently expected to be free to hurt people once she was not in the church anymore, but there is a lot that is objectively wrong even without your pastor watching you. (Things like tokenizing, ignoring, demonizing, and name-calling people of color.)
But like the church, Brenda hid behind intent. Like the church, she tokenized. She believes that everyone but her can be criticized and held accountable because… why? In the church, the reason was “Because we have God on our side.” Here, it is “Because we have whiteness on our side.” And whiteness always gets the benefit of the doubt.
You need to combat [fear and shame] by loving on yourself, by giving your body, he, she, or they, everything they need to feel safe and loved in this world. . . . Listen to the message that your body is sending you.
Unless you’re Shelby Clifford, whose body told her that the skinny white-dominated exvangelical space was not safe for her. Only listen to your body if you’re… Brenda?
Brenda then had the audacity to liken the accountability that Jo called for from her in November to the harassment that Britney Spears suffered in the 2000s. (Not to mention that she suggests listening to Britney’s sister Jamie Lynn’s side of the conservatorship story after Jamie Lynn actively harmed Britney by not standing up for her when she was being oppressed.)
Do you have whiplash yet? Because then Brenda adds in Kanye West. No, she was not saying that Kanye needs to stop and consider the effects that his violent tweets and threatening music videos have on Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson, but she said that we need to stop shaming Kanye for doing that. She compares Kanye’s mental health crisis directly to the one Britney suffered from in 2007. But I didn’t see Britney causing anything remotely like the harm that Kanye has caused recently.
Don’t let anyone bully you into not being friends with someone that you care about, because they don’t share all your views. Or because they’ve said something online that other people don’t agree with. It is key and crucial to maintain friendships and communication with people that don’t share our views. This is the only way to instigate compassionate and authentic change. Follow creators who lean into nuance and who prioritize truth over salaciousness. And on the contrary, unfollow, mute, or even block anyone you want. It is your life. You are within your own power to determine who takes up real estate in your real life and on your social feeds.
I wrote an entire post about this concept once and about why we should not be friends with people who “don’t share our views” when our views are antiracist or otherwise anti-supremacist. I wouldn’t want to be caught dead being friends with someone like Alice. In my post about this, ironically, I used Brenda as the example of a good person to be friends with. I take that back.
(Also, by inviting people to unfollow her, she is ridding herself of any responsibility to post ethically on social media in general—and tightening her own echo chamber—because it’s your fault you followed her in the first place!)
Her next point might not be as obvious initially but it is equally as infuriating as everything she has said thus far. Brenda admits that she feels “wildly jealous” of the wealth of the Hadid sisters and so she doesn’t follow them on social media because it makes her feel less-than.
I would never ask another person to dull their shine to protect my negative emotions from coming up. I don’t follow the Hadids because their posts thrust me into envy and fear of my own lack. What I don’t do is go on the Hadids’ page and demand that they stop posting about their affluence or success. What I do is take that power back into my own hands. I realize what their images and posts stir up inside of me. And I use that information to figure out how I can be better, to ask myself, “Why am I afraid of lack? Why am I afraid of not having enough money?” That is the work that I have to do, and at the same time I choose not to subject myself to those images.Brenda Marie Davies, Why We Need to Stop Public Shaming
When you have the context of why in the world Brenda is sharing how jealous she is of these famous people, any ambiguity she tries to use to cloud what she is really talking about fades away. This is why Jo has recently praised Alice—yes, really—because Alice had the guts to say the quiet part out loud. She didn’t sugarcoat it or hide behind loved people like Simone Biles and Britney Spears. Brenda cooked up this entire word soup and all Alice said was, “You don’t like it? Unfollow. It’s the little button on the left.”
If you’ve stayed with me this far then you know that there is no depth that these people will not sink to. I have no expectations anymore. So I was barely surprised to see Brenda use the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify her racism, and subtly call Jo Satan, in the caption of her Instagram post accompanying her video.
The good news is that this Instagram post has almost 1,000 comments, and they are glorious. One of my personal favorites was this one by Ciara Dacosta-Reyes. (Notably, Ciara’s comment has almost fourteen times more likes than Alice’s comment above it. Many people have noticed Brenda’s racist behavior.)
I say this in love, but I am confused about the intentions behind this video and this post. If POC are calling out racist behavior that is not “shaming” and to characterize it as such is tone policing and not conducive towards engaging in anti-racist work. Additionally invoking the words of a black man to justify your stance as a white woman is… interesting. While nuance is critical in navigating these conversations I also think it’s important to center the voices of marginalized communities AND to listen to criticism if we are committed to moving forward. The examples provided in your video seemed to conflate a lot of issues without addressing the intersectionality of race, class and gender which is crucial when discussing online critiques. Reflecting on your experiences as a white woman is fine since that is your experience but an actually nuanced conversation may have incorporated someone who has a different lived experience than yours.Ciara Dacosta-Reyes, Instagram comment (emphasis mine)
I looked up to Brenda so much. But I am disgusted by this. And honestly? I absolutely hope that she feels ashamed of herself.
A brief history lesson on the W word
When I found out the context of what Brenda and Alice call the “cult of wokeness,” the “woke mob,” or “woke-scolds,” I realized I am one hundred percent in this group.
However, you will not find me using the word “woke.” Ever. “Woke” originated in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the 1930s and meant “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.” It was popularized by the Black Lives Matter movement following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown. In the years following, white people appropriated it like we do with everything else. And by 2020 it was used almost exclusively to disparage the work of people fighting for racial and other social justice.
The word “woke” has deteriorated into nothing more than a way to admit to being racist without having to come out and say it. If you’re against the liberation of marginalized people, then say that. But don’t destroy Black people’s language and make a fool of yourself by calling that liberation “wokeness.”
Brenda’s fans accuse Jo of cancel culture
Brenda’s video from March 2nd was the reason that Jo had to go Live on March 4th and why she opened up about their group chats from November. For those two days, Jo had been receiving direct messages from Brenda’s fans accusing her of shaming and canceling Brenda (who, mind you, still has 140,000 YouTube subscribers and 51,000 Instagram followers).
The only thing that was canceled was my friendship towards [Brenda]. And I didn’t cancel them, they chose that. They ghosted me. They called me names. They said that I betrayed them. Which—yes, I will betray anybody that is racist! I betray racism. Of course I do. But do not ask me to betray myself for your sake. Ever. Because the moment that you do that, we’re not friends anymore. You’re just using me. You’re just absolutely using me. Nobody canceled anybody. And “woke” means people of color. That’s it. “Woke”? What does that mean? If people know the story of where the word “woke” comes from, which is the Black communities, right. “Woke”, by a white woman, is a dog whistle.Jo Luehmann on IG Live (emphasis mine)
Yeah. I do not have anything to add. I’m just sad that she has been repeatedly dragged into this. Earlier in the video, she was brought to tears from being called Satan. Jo is a pastor, and to religious people like her, being called Satan means something. That’s what she was called when she left the church, too. Brenda probably meant it as a cheeky joke, but it was not okay.
You can deconstruct all you want. If you are not decolonizing, if you are not dismantling oppression from within you, you are picking up a different weapon but you will continue to cause harm. Perhaps not through the church, perhaps not through toxic theology but most definitely with your whiteness and most definitely with your privilege.Jo Luehmann on IG Live (emphasis mine)
I share this tweet for two reasons. One, it’s true. Two, because I encourage you once more to read Jo’s story highlight of her public journey with all of this. It’s far too detailed for me to share here. The slide in which she shares this tweet is the point where it picks up in March following Brenda’s shame video.
The story highlight is very important. Jo shares that, on March 5th around 1:00pm (I assume PST), Brenda attempted to call her and Jo refused to answer. A few days later she explained that it was because she would not talk to Brenda on the phone in California where you cannot record phone calls without the consent of both parties. Jo does not trust Brenda at all because Brenda is a dangerous person for her.
Brenda threatens to sue Jo
On her Instagram story on March 5th around 2:00pm PST (I’m EST), Brenda broke. She stopped being vague, talking about Kanye and Britney and media literacy and actually just said the thing.
Brenda says in this story that Jo “hurt so many people I know & has been successfully harming our reputations & damaging our livelihoods for months.” She accuses Jo of “smearing a victim of sexual abuse,” which is the only thing here from Jo that I don’t have clarity on. I would guess that it just means that one of the girls that Jo is upset with is a victim of sexual abuse, although Jo has stated that she is as well, so I don’t know what Brenda’s point is.
Brenda tries to defend herself in the story by sharing a screenshot of her “last text to Jo.” She says, “I didn’t ‘ghost’ Jo,” which Jo points out in her response is not true since the text is from February 2nd (presumably when Brenda was beginning to make the shame video), three months after Jo offered to visit Brenda and talk.
(I also noticed in the screenshot above that Brenda took the screenshot one minute after sending the text, as if her intention was not actually to talk but just to have evidence that she reached out when she knew Jo was upset with her and would not respond.)
I love you. I don’t know how this message will be received but I do hope that one day we can reconcile.
I’m open to an in-person convo at some point but no rush. I hope you’re doing well. ❤Text from Brenda to Jo on February 2nd
Well, the next time Brenda would contact Jo it would not be so nice. After Jo wisely did not pick up the phone when Brenda called her on the 5th, Brenda texted her (and Instagram messaged her):
As someone who has been sued for defamation I have learned the ins and outs of which cases fail & succeed. Your behavior has now crossed into defamation & I want you to stop posting & discuss things with me before I consider legal action.
You are posting stories & videos that both fabricate or alter the meaning of people’s words (which are verifiable through text) & are threatening people’s livelihood by making direct mentions of money.
I am a single mother with a child going through cancer treatments who cannot afford to lose my livelihood.
Call me so we can sort this out.Text from Brenda to Jo on March 5th
When Brenda shared the screenshot of her text to her story, as you can see above, she added, “Of course, Jo will tell you that I’m threatening her but I’m actually informing her that she’s left the parameters of legality.” With some pretty gnarly screenshot-inception, Jo adds in her own story,
You are threatening me. This is a threat. I’m telling you to go ahead and sue me. . . . Sue me and we will let lawyers talk.
FYI I haven’t left the parameters of legality. Not a thing I’ve said is a lie. I have all the screenshots. Currently organizing them into a folder, so I’m 100% ready for your lawyer to give me a call.
Consider me notified that this is the next step you are choosing to pursue. 👍🏽👍🏽Jo Luehmann, Instagram story – Public Journey highlight
Also worth noting is another slide of Jo’s story which reads:
I have never said “I have 4 kids, one of them has health issues and constant doctor appointments” to avoid accountability. I have never used family members being sick, or me being sick as an excuse to avoid conflict resolution. They have.Jo Luehmann, Instagram story – Public Journey highlight
After sharing the Instagram story threatening to sue Jo, Brenda disappeared. Other than occasionally sharing that she would be a guest on a podcast, she was not online at all for weeks. She didn’t release videos on her regularly scheduled release dates of March 9th or 16th.
I was beyond disappointed with her at this point, but I had only known the extent of her harm caused for a few days. I wasn’t feeling the effects of being hurt by her for four months like Jo was, so I still clung onto hope that Brenda could have been taking that time to really think about her actions. But in the back of my mind I knew Brenda was probably spending it suing Jo.
At the time of writing, I didn’t know anything more about what legal steps Brenda has taken or if she actually sued anyone. As of the morning of March 27th, Jo has confirmed that she hasn’t received a cease and desist or any legal action.
All along, from the first comment from Carla Daniela, all anyone wanted Brenda to do (besides deleting the photo and denouncing Alice’s racist blog post) was to use this as an opportunity to dive deeper into the way that white supremacy still affects the exvangelical deconstruction community. Obviously, Brenda refused, kicking and screaming.
But Jo did it. She showed up, and she did that when she absolutely did not have to.
Every single day from March 13th to 19th, Jo did an hour-long Instagram Live interview with a different woman, femme, or nonbinary person of color, using the situation that started with Joshua Tree as an opportunity to teach about a different relevant topic. She called the series Navigating Conflict. Here is the complete list of every Live:
- March 13 – @rogodwynnthefirst Ro Godwynn (they/she) – Siblinghood vs. White Sisterhood
- March 14 – @unashamedly_ashlee Ashlee’ Thomas (she/her) – Accountability
- March 15 – @godhasnotgiven Janice Lagata (she/her) and @dobetterchurch Tiff Perez – Shame, Anger and Call-ins
- March 16 – @jessicaddickson Jessica Dickson (she/her) – Embodiment and Decentering Whiteness
- March 17 – @rebekainwriting Rebeka Jones (she/her) and @dobetterchurch Anna – Community & Relationships
- March 18 – @brwneyedamzn AnaYelsi Velasco-Sanchez (she/her) – Intersectionality
- March 19 – @irobyn Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza (they/them) – Allies, Co-Conspirators, and Traitors
Several of the guests were the same people who had initially contacted Jo after her first problematic Instagram post or who had commented their criticisms with Brenda’s approach. It’s almost like Jo understands that their voices and experiences actually matter and are valid.
Seriously, this whole series is really great. I spent the week enjoying these conversations while I worked, and I highly encourage you to watch and to wrestle with what these people have to teach you.
Update: Jo did one final Live wrapping up the series with Blair Rabun on March 31st. They covered some of the same topics from earlier Lives, especially white sisterhood. Blair was the only white woman that Jo spoke with in this series one-on-one. It was a great ending to an amazing series!
The apology we’ve been waiting for
Brenda could not stay down forever. She had just built this entire set and rebranded for her new season of In the Grey. She had to address her wrongdoings so that she could get back to work.
She finally posted an apology on March 16th. It would have been most appropriate for her to post a clear and straightforward apology video on her YouTube channel, maybe even remove the Joshua Tree photo, the dunce photo, and the shame video, but… who am I kidding? She put a link in an Instagram story to a Google Doc with a typed apology. At least she saved the story in a highlight so it would not disappear forever. (She also put the screenshot in a feed post with comments turned off.)
I don’t want to share too much from the “love letter” because it’s pretty bad and Brenda doesn’t say anything surprising. Of course, she does not denounce Alice’s post. From what I see, Brenda has never publicly acknowledged that the blog post has ever existed, even though she should have because it was defending Brenda’s actions.
We know that Brenda and Alice are on the same page. Brenda’s shame video echoed Alice’s ideas exactly (and made much, much more sense when I discovered Alice’s post after watching it). When Brenda posted the dunce picture, Alice commented and shared her praise in her story. Until Brenda acknowledges and denounces Alice’s “racist-ass” blog post, I will not forgive her.
In her letter, one of the only interesting things Brenda said was,
Text messages, private and personal information, including the medical history of my infant son, have been shared across social media. Friends on the trip have had their personal and sexual abuse history screenshotted, shared, and delivered to strangers without their consent.Brenda Marie Davies, Open Letter
I think you can tell from this post that I have spent a lot of time researching this, trying to find each and every last relevant piece of information about this story. (I have compiled all of these sources here, actually.) Not once, from anyone, ever, have I come across Brenda’s (three-year-old, not infant) son’s medical history or anyone’s sexual abuse history. If those things were shared, then I would venture to say that they weren’t shared very far—and certainly not shared by Jo.
There is no gray area
The only other thing she said that interested me was, “People are allowed to have their own reality and perception.” I have long disagreed with this concept, from the first time someone asked me, “Can something be true for you and not for me?” A lot of things are subjective. The morality of many actions is subjective. But there are so many more things that are objectively wrong.
And even more so, reality and truth are not subjective. Yes, seemingly contradictory things can be true and that’s something everyone has to wrestle with. But people have their own lived experiences, not their own reality. Just because Brenda cannot see the harm of her actions doesn’t mean it’s not there. Impact matters.
There is no nuance to racism, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy. None. It destroyed lives “back then” and it is actively destroying lives now. It is evil. The fact that too many white people still believe that the term “white supremacy” is an extreme tells you everything you need to know about their personal commitment to dismantling systems of oppression.Rebeka Jones, An Open Letter to the White Deconstruction Space
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