The identity of the woman who perfectly expressed a sane person’s reaction to being at a Donald Trump rally by whipping out a book and refusing to put it down has been revealed. Twenty-three year-old Johari Osayi Idusuyi is the woman behind the head flip heard ‘round the nation.
A writer and student at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Illinois, Idusuyi found herself not only in the right place at the right time, but with the right book in hand. Citizen is an award-winning work by Claudia Rankine that explores the pervasiveness of racism and microaggressions in America.
In the viral footage, we see Idusuyi interrupted by an older white couple and scolded for not paying attention to Trump’s speech. “I’m a young 20-year-old black woman who doesn’t care about this Trump rally, and I’m pretty sure that angered her a lot,” Idusuyi says.
Many assumed that the incident was planned, but it was actually a bit of a fluke brought on by Trump’s own terrible behavior. Idusuyi decided to attend the rally with a surprising amount of optimism and willingness to at least hear what the second-place Republican candidate had to say. What ensued was an accidental protest, of sorts, but one that got its message across quite clearly.
I spoke to Johari Osayi Idusuyi on the phone about how she ended up at a Donald Trump rally in the first place and what exactly went down during her exchange with the angry couple. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
I have to ask, are you a Donald Trump supporter?
I came to the rally with genuine intentions, but I’m definitely not a supporter.
How exactly did you end up at the rally in the first place?
I heard about it the night before and I wasn’t really interested in going, but my friend Gabby Chavez said, “My family bailed out on me.” I was going to go to just see Donald Trump. It’s an opportunity to see a presidential candidate. We tried to take an unbiased stand. Maybe he’ll talk about something of substance, we thought. So I think it was just to see and if that failed, then we would have a good story.
Well now you definitely do!
I guess so. I could have never planned this.
How did you end up right behind Trump?
Basically, ask and you shall receive. I asked if anyone was sitting there and I didn’t know it was the VIP section. I just asked one of the volunteers and she said, “No, it’s VIP.” Then a gentleman approached us after I left the original volunteer and he said, “Would you like to sit in VIP?” and I said, “OK.” I mean, why not? I think we were chosen for obvious reasons. We are minorities and there weren’t a lot of minorities there. He also instructed us to sit in the middle, so we kind of already knew what this was.
The people sitting next to you were your friends?
Yes, I was sitting with my friends Gabby Chavez, Montel Morgan, then it was me and then DeWayne Williams. Those were the friends I was with at the time. We weren’t trying to start anything. We weren’t trying to make a scene and it wasn’t originally planned to be a protest. We just wanted to go in with an open mind and it turned into something bigger.
Did you see any other people of color being led to the VIP area? It seemed like a pretty diverse crowd for a Donald Trump rally.
I’m not sure how the other people got there, but I think of how we got there and how we were instructed to sit in the middle. So that was very strategic.
Why did you decide to start reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen in the middle of the rally?
Like I said, we went with an open mind and then it all started. There were some “Dump Trump” protesters. The way the supporters treated the protestors was really unbelievable and that’s what made me mad. All four of us as a collective group, our energy shifted. The way Donald Trump said, “Get them out of here”—when you say those words, that activates your supporters to be able to be the same way. Then there was a man who snatched a lady’s Obama hat. She was one of the protesters and was leaving and her hair just went with the hat. Then he threw it into crowd and everybody cheered. I thought, “That’s bullying. That’s aggressive.” I don’t think Trump handled it with grace. I thought, “Oh, you’re really not empathetic at all.” That’s when the shift happened.
You saw his reaction and you decided to react?
Exactly. And there was also another incident. There was one protester left and the crowd started pointing at her and booing. First of all, she’s a young woman. She doesn’t have her friends anymore. If she’s the only one left, just let her be. There was just a lot of bullying going on and I didn’t like that. And some people were cheering. To hear 10,000 people cheer for something so disrespectful is what made me so mad. And that’s when I was like, I am now genuinely not interested in your speech. I wanted to leave, but I came, I’m in the middle, I’m on camera, so I might as well read because I don’t have anything else to do. I’m not going to waste my time listening to somebody who I can’t respect anymore, so I started to read.
Was it just a coincidence that you had Citizen on you?
I was just reading the book at the time. I actually wanted to bring two books. It was The Alchemist and that book, but I forgot The Alchemist on my table. I just started to read it. Then I was like, I’m in the middle, I’m on camera, so why not use the opportunity to promote a great book? I didn’t expect to get in an argument with the people behind me.
Yes, explain that exchange.
I got tapped on the shoulder. I think it was a couple. The man, he was mad but not as mad as his maybe-spouse. He had a more calm demeanor, just like, if you don’t want to be here, leave. They both said it but hers was more from a place of genuine disgust and anger. I feel like he was a mouthpiece for her. And he probably was kind of mad, but I don’t think he would have tapped me on the shoulder if it wasn’t for the woman. The woman kept saying, “If you don’t wanna be here then leave. You didn’t even stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.” I said, “I do want to be here, that’s why I’m here. You don’t know who I am. I’m reading my book because I’m uninterested. Did you not just see what happened? This person disrespects women, minorities, everybody and you’re still supporting him. He’s not saying anything of substance.” If I met this couple at an event or a dinner party, I would think they were nice people. They probably are nice people. But I don’t think they have any right to tell me what to do. The lady, actually, she mumbled something. I didn’t hear but my friend told me the next day that she said, “I’m so glad you’re not my daughter,” or something along those lines. And I was thinking, “I’m glad I’m not your daughter either!”
So I guess it’s safe to say that Trump doesn’t have your vote?
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Image courtesy of Johari Osayi Idusuyi