The last year has been a challenging one for TV host Jeannie Mai Jenkins and her loved ones.
The surge in anti-Asian hate and continued systemic racism against the Black community is difficult for any person to process. But when your job is to talk about these topics publicly, it can open one up to emotional trauma.
It’s something that Mai Jenkins, a Vietnamese American woman newly married to a Black man (rapper Jeezy), has had to carefully balance. In recent months, Mai Jenkins and her co-hosts on “The Real” — Adrienne Houghton, Loni Love and Garcelle Beauvais — have tackled topics including violence against Asians, the dangerous fetishization of Asian women and the exhaustion of being Black in America.
These difficult conversations happen in her private life as well. Mai Jenkins recalled talking to an aunt who changes from dress clothes to casual wear when taking public transportation after work so she can react quickly if she is attacked. Then there’s the cousin who wants blonde hair extensions so that she can pass as white when wearing sunglasses and a mask in public.
So how does she protect her own emotions and energy?
“If you’re going to talk about something that is traumatic, it will always bring up a lot of the feelings that you haven’t visited,” Mai Jenkins shared with TheWrap’s Lawrence Yee. “When you have a lot of issues that are facing you, after you brought up something that was a serious situation, you need to talk about, that means that you’re cleaning out all the junk.”
“It’s very similar to popping a pimple. When you apply pressure, you’ve got a lot of residue that comes out and that’s good — that’s good to come out and clean it,” she continued. “It’s when you try to press anywhere on your skin, you don’t see something that you’re like, ‘Okay, you’ve actually cleaned that out.’ And that’s I want to press in the areas that feel tender and feel unlistened to and clean out what what is there.”
“The first thing to do for people is and for myself is to recognize when you feel these leftover feelings, when old emotions come back, when you get kind of retriggered, that’s okay,” she added. “And to hold yourself in that space and to give yourself that space to talk to people about it to learn more about it. Because the more you understand it, the more it won’t haunt you, but you can tame and control and heal it.”
It took these traumatic moments for Mai Jenkins to realize the insidiousness of racism and how it’s affected all communities of color.
“I don’t want to see history repeat itself towards the Black community, towards the Asian community, and then what group is going to be next?” she said. “We need to recognize that racism exists. And that it also exists within all of us — when we all have micro aggressive or by ways of being biased that we’re not aware of. And it all starts here, and it all starts having the conversation out there.”
Just going out there and having those engaging with others — especially after a year in pandemic lockdown — has helped. Mai Jenkins is also a sideline reporter for the ABC game show “Holey Moley,” which recently returned for its third season.
“It was actually my saving grace, because 2020 was so hard,” Mai Jenkins explained. “I needed to get outside. I needed to connect with people. And the best people I’ve ever met are the contestants of ‘Holey Moley.’ Because when you meet a contestant of ‘Holey Moley’ or person who just comes to support somebody there, you’re meeting somebody who is wild, doesn’t care about what anybody thinks, and wants to laugh at themselves … the best kind sense of humor is be able to not take yourself so seriously.”
She’s also increasing Asian visibility as the latest brand ambassador for Owl’s Brew and her posting to her popular social media accounts.
But if there’s anything that the last year has taught Mai Jenkins, it’s about finding that joy.
“My work, I’ve got to make smart work choices and make sure that I’m doing jobs that I actually feel proud of,” she explained. “Everybody has responsibility for their environment, who you live with even what you score on the ‘gram. This is this can be either really toxic or it can be a tool for you. Making sure that you if you’re sitting there scrolling a bunch of BS, that’s something you have to change because guess what? Your algorithm is also going to feed you more in order to get you to buy into that. So being smart, being conscious and being present is is is the way to fill yourself with more joy every day.”
Check out more of Jeannie Mai Jenkins’ interview above.
“The Real” airs daytime in syndication and “Holey Moley” Thursdays on ABC.