Samirah Raheem is an NYC-based model and actress who’s booked campaigns with brands from Spotify to Target. But for the past few days, she’s largely been known as the viral Queen of #SlutWalk, Amber Rose’s annual protest against rape culture and the sexualization of women’s bodies and choices.
At the 2018 event, Raheem encountered conservative pastor and shock jock Jesse Lee Peterson, who interviewed her. He asked her personal questions and implied that she should be ashamed of reclaiming the word “slut.”
The video, uploaded four days ago, has been viewed 70,000 times on YouTube, shared hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter, and reposted widely on Instagram.
Since the video went viral, Raheem has been praised for putting the interviewer in his place, and for owning every part of who she is, without compromise, and with humor and grace. But the best part of the video is when, after he attempted to twist her words, Raheem explains why she’s OK with calling herself a slut. “Because I own my body. My body is not a political playground, it’s not a place for legislation,” she says. “It’s mine, and it’s my future.”
We spoke to the woman behind the empowered speech about everything that’s happened since her interview went viral.
Jerico Mandybur: What made you want to attend #SlutWalk?
Samirah Raheem: Originally I was going to support my friend who was struggling with not having a “ballet body” and experiencing body-shaming in her craft. I encouraged her with my own experience as a model, because I was often told I was too small for plus size and too big for runway. Which motivated her to try out and ultimately book her event.
What made you want to speak to the Reverend?
I was not familiar with Jesse Lee Peterson before the encounter, and I noticed how other women he was speaking to were leaving flustered. It’s not like me to shy away from a challenge, so I didn’t think twice about speaking to him.
“Not responding is ultimately also a political choice, and on that day I chose not to stay quiet.”
Were you frustrated by his questions afterwards?
Honestly, I was very chill about it, never thought the interview would see the light of day. Whether or not someone took it out of context, I knew I was being my most authentic self. I was surprised and felt very vulnerable afterwards. I didn’t consider the magnitude of the conversation at the time—I’m handling it just one day at a time and trying to process the public response in the best way.
As a model I’m immune to critique, but it’s usually on my weight or walk, not on the clothes I wear or how I carry myself as a woman in society. This man knew nothing about me or the women there, and was ready to label us. I never expected to speak on it, nor did I anticipate that it would be seen by anyone or get that many views!
What was your reaction to how viral the video went?
All political views don’t have to come off like jargon. I get the impression that people felt it was genuine because I don’t look like everybody who usually talks about these things. I look like your best friend’s neighbor or talk like your classmate. I’m from the same place as everyone that watched that video millions of times. I am an everyday human and we are still part of the conversation, especially as women.
For the most part the support has been extremely positive. I am also aware that I can’t please everybody.
“Anyone can have as much voice and power as the next person—it is important that we don’t forget that.”
What has this whole situation taught you about the word “slut,” and our perceptions of it?
This experience has taught me that people who are ignorant on a topic associate vulgarity and “passion” with challenging whatever their preconceived notions are. We all have messages we want to deliver, and just because you’re not an educated scholar or a politician, you shouldn’t feel the need to stay quiet. Not responding is ultimately also a political choice, and on that day I chose not to stay quiet.
This experience has made me more aware of how much influence the things we do and say can have on others. Anyone can have as much voice and power as the next person—it is important that we don’t forget that.
I want to continue to educate myself and voice my opinion on topics that matter to me, as well as surround myself with more positive leaders that stand for them.