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Samirah Raheem

Talking to Samirah, the woman from the viral SlutWalk video

The model and actress faced off with conservative pundit Jesse Lee Peterson – we chat personal politics, icons, and legendary quotes

Slut, whore, hoe, thot, slag – all heavily gendered, cutting words used to oppress and disempower women. But when model Samirah Raheem was interviewed by reverend Jesse Lee Peterson at LA’s SlutWalk 2017, she showed the world how to turn outdated, sexist social constructs inside out and into oblivion.

“We are all sluts!” she declares. In a now-viral back and forth with Peterson (a well known right-wing personality with an ultra-conservative YouTube channel), Raheem aggravates his idea of what a ‘slut’ is. Among the hundreds of activists out that day to demonstrate against rape culture, Raheem speaks with speedy wit about misogynistic attitudes and the demonisation of women’s sexuality.

“I own my body,” Raheem says when Peterson asks why she considers herself a slut. “My body is not a political playground. It’s not a place for legislation. It’s mine and it’s my future.” The young LA-based woman spars with Peterson at top-speed with quotable clapbacks and intuitive, feminist observations. At times she’s surreal, and totally hilarious: “Your mic’s a slut.” 

A year since the actual event, the video has spread rapidly across the internet, and Raheem says she’s continued to work as a model and actress, meeting with agents in LA and starring in an upcoming Aerie campaign. She’s also spent time in Uganda working to rehabilitate child soldiers. She’s growing, and of course ultimately, continuing to speak her truth.

Below, we speak to Samirah about life since going viral and facing off with right wing trolls.

Tell me a bit about you – you’re a model right?

Samirah Raheem: I’m technically a curve model – totally body positive, and an aspiring actress. I’ve studied at the New School, and I’ve been in theatre my whole life. I was totally making my transition into film when this happened, but I’ve been acting since I was 6, I’ve been like the theatre in plays like Sarafina and Guys and Dolls. I’ve been professionally modelling for the last four years.

What designers do you like?

Samirah Raheem:  These days I love Rick Owens, just when everybody is over it! I’m a thrift store junkie too – I love going to Goodwill and Salvation Army and cutting things up and tailoring them. Before I got those designer hand-me-downs from friends I would have to make-believe my thrift store stuff was the newest Chanel.

What kind of music are you into?

Samirah Raheem: It's kind of eclectic – I'm in the states so I really like trap music, it’s a world that resonates with me.

Let’s talk about the SlutWalk – what was your plan for the day?

Samirah Raheem: Honestly, I wasn’t planning on going to the SlutWalk. I didn't follow the event. But I had a friend who is a dancer and she had recently come into some weight. She just doesn't fit the body politics of ballet anymore, this institution where she grew up.  We saw the casting for extra dancers for the SlutWalk and I knew we had to get her to the auditions. She totally made it and I was just here to support my girl and wear a crazy outfit! I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. I was just out to support my friend in this new part of her life and letting her know that she's an amazing dancer. No matter if ballet doesn't think so, or if anybody doesn't think so – she’s still a dancer.

“My body is not a political playground. It’s not a place for legislation. It’s mine and it’s my future... ayy”

How did Jesse approach you to do the interview?

Samirah Raheem: We were just leaving, and he kind of just walked up to me and was like ‘Hey! Can I interview you?’ Kind of straightforward. I was in such a good mood so I said sure. I thought he was just some older guy trying to live out his anchorman dreams, I didn’t think he had any views like he did. I was like ‘Aw, this is so cute! Let me talk to him’. What’s the worst that can happen? This isn't gonna get anywhere, so I thought.

So you had no idea about his platform and that you were going to go viral?

Samirah Raheem: No, I definitely didn't think it would go viral. At all. My friend showed me a couple of months later and I realised this has a YouTube channel, and that he's a Conservative.

I was really embarrassed, honestly, when I first saw it. I thought my agency was gonna drop me – I shouted at a client, I kind of broke all the model rules. I just felt all these friends I had in the industry were going to think it was bad and tasteless. I wanted it to just disappear, but I just wasn't comfortable in my skin yet. I was just out of college, feeling very young and still figuring things out for myself.

You come across so eloquent and passionate in this video, and so many people love it. What have you made of the support?

Samirah Raheem: Amazing, amazing! it just made me realise that you have to be your true self and that’s what people are gonna resonate with. I never have felt this kind of unconditional support from my peers. It showed me to relax and be yourself, because people love that. You know it's the cliché – be yourself! It works! But it’s like every cliché shirt you read, the first time somebody told you it, it was an a-ha moment. People really love your authentic self. That’s wild.

I love when he demands to know your age and you tell him you’re ‘grown’. You just refuse to give into any reason for his to negate your opinion.

Samirah Raheem: Don't worry about it! I’m grown. You know honey, I’ve done lived a life! I got an old soul. I’m grown.

Is there anything you want to clarify from the video or you think came across differently than you hoped?

Samirah Raheem: I guess I want people to know that this irate response was to the irrational environment. I think a lot of people are taking my words so seriously. It was after an event, it was after a festival, energy was high. A year ago, the political environment around women and rape culture was very different. At that moment, I was responding from that energy. These words still resonate with me and they’re very much still all my thoughts and ideas. The delivery and the shocking language comes from being put in a position to defend everyone there. I’m not the face of this movement, I’m not the most in tune with gender studies. I'm just trying to grow every day and align with what I should be. I'm just trying to work on myself, like everybody else is.

Do you attend political events or marches often?

Samirah Raheem: I have always had a political activist spirit, but it’s something I’ve evolved with too. I used to go in a hoodie to just sit far back and watch all these amazing, passionate women who were like actively doing work on the street. I always felt that I didn't have the vernacular or the education to go toe-to-toe with some of the opposition. In the states we have a lot of tension going on with our political climate, especially with police brutality – I try to be at everything that I can make time for.

It’s all about learning and listening and engaging with other people – sometimes you don't know what the issue is until someone taps you on the shoulder and is like ‘Hey! Did you know this fact? Did you know this was happening?’. I just love to hear other perspectives.

Have you experienced much backlash?

Samirah Raheem: Yes, from a lot of right wing, conservative people. So much toxic masculinity, like ‘Oh I would never let my daughter talk like that’. A lot of men have been really pushing back on it with some kind of concern for me, I guess? I want to try my best to understand and empathise with where they come from, see how they see things.  

That’s pretty nice of you considering the aggressive approach people like Jesse and right wing trolls have.

Samirah Raheem: Oh yeah – they’re like, ‘This girl is an idiot’ and I’m like ‘Aw, I see where you're coming from”! The hate is mostly in my Instagram comments. I’m really not used to having a following at all – I went from 2,000 to 150,000 in a day! I have to watch what I post, making sure not to offend. That’s very different to how I tend to operate. I started Twitter too – I never wanted to have one because I didn't want to hold my thoughts or the things I say up like that before. I was just trying to make myself smaller at a previous time in my life. Like, I didn't want to be opinionated, I don't want to be anything that I naturally was or was born into – I was literally denying myself my lineage, denying my right to speak.

You’re being held up as an icon right now for speaking so articulately about sexism and attitudes towards women’s sexuality. Who are your icons?

Samirah Raheem: I have a lot of local icons – I’m very proud of my mother and her spiritual journey, her ability to always play devil's advocate. She's changed so much and we've been able to grow together. My father and my stepfather too, who has a very Christian background and he showed me that Christ’s real value is in love, and as long as my heart is ok, then I’m ok. Growing up, my biological father was part of the Nation of Islam, and has some really interesting political thought. People around me have helped mold me.

What advice would you give to those who loved the ideals you put out into the world at SlutWalk?

Samirah Raheem: Just be yourself, that will mean something to somebody somewhere, and free your unapologetic tongue because there is no hiding. Your energy never dies, whether or not you step into your destiny. Right now, I’m trying my best to be a better model and a better person. So be careful about who’s interviewing you – you never know when it's gonna go viral – and wear a nice outfit!

I loved your outfit, your hair ties are the cutest.

Samirah Raheem: Ay, thrift store!

Follow Samirah on Twitter and Instagram