There are some women who command attention as soon as they speak. Media personality and former TV host Eboni K. Williams is one of those women. She’s bold, unapologetic, and has already had quite the career. Recently leaving her position at Fox News as co-host of The Specialists, Williams is now on a different journey, fueled by passion and faith.
While some questioned Williams’ decision to work for the controversial Conservative news network in the first place, the attorney-turned-media-personality said she made it her business to “show up” for Black people during her tenure. Her no-nonsense attitude landed her on ESSENCE‘s “Woke 100” list. She also became a regular guest on the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club, and wrote an award-winning book, Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success.
Williams, who left Fox News in December, spoke candidly with us about her experience there, why women should embrace being pretty and powerful, and what’s next in her budding career.
MadameNoire: You’ve had a very full career already. You’ve been a criminal defense attorney, media personality, and author, but it came with intense transitions. Most recently, you left Fox News after a four-year stint. What have you learned about yourself during these transitions?
Eboni K. Williams: My transition from Fox has been uncomfortable and at times scary; but it’s a requirement if you’re going to grow and get to that maximum purpose, which is my goal.
What prompted you to leave the network?
I left in December, and my contract wasn’t over. I actually haven’t spoken about this in detail before, but I hosted a live therapy session with Charlamagne tha god and Dr. Jess on VH1, related to mental health. I went to Fox and told them that I’d done it and they basically said no. They weren’t comfortable with one of their anchors doing something like that. I’ve been vocal about suffering from anxiety and felt as if I had a spiritual obligation to be a part of this groundbreaking show. So, I had to make a decision. And that’s exactly how that went down.
I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
No. Not at all. It’s not like I walked into another job; but I believe in spiritual gifts. I believe that God gave me this voice and these experiences for me to be able to share it. If what I have to say is being compromised, then what is it all for? I am being disobedient to God if I’m not using the gifts He’s given me.
You’ve mentioned that your tenure at Fox News was challenging, but you were there for four years and you made great strides in representing for people who may not be their target audience. However, it came with a price. Some people questioned why you would take a job at the controversial network. Do you think working there helped or hurt your career?
I actually don’t take it personal when people pre-judge me because I worked at Fox. I actually addressed this with Charlamagne on The Breakfast Club when I did my first interview there. He thought the same thing and we had an on-air conversation about that. The presumption would be, understandably, that if you are a Black female who is choosing to be on Fox News, you must echo the sentiments of the network. I don’t think that is a far-out assumption, but I took the position of I’m not going to let them run wild with the narrative they were presenting of Black people. I wanted to challenge that.
There are some people who would argue, who cares what they think at Fox News? What would you say to them?
When I was a criminal defense lawyer, I had to put 12 people on a jury who had to determine the fate of Black and brown people. And guess where a lot of those jurors are getting their understanding of Black people: Fox News. They’re the number one network for a reason.
For instance, think about the R. Kelly documentary. One of the jurors said during the trial he didn’t believe the alleged victims as soon as he saw them because he didn’t like the way that they looked or the way that they spoke. And what this said to me is that there is a lack of humanity and a lack of understanding of Black people and we were not being humanized.
And while in theory it would be great to not give a damn what they think of us, I know that it has real-life consequences and I saw it firsthand as a criminal defense attorney. On a matrix-like level, I was doing social surgery during much of my tenure at Fox News to deconstruct the assumptions of who Black people were and what our communities represent in the sincere hope that it would move the needle as to how we are ultimately perceived. So it could change outcomes.
Speaking of your tenure as a criminal defense attorney. Why did you decide to stop practicing and become a media personality?
I felt that I was fulfilling a purpose, helping one client at a time, and that is certainly how justice can be achieved. But I thought it was very slow moving and rather limited in terms of my limit to have maximum reach. To me, the media and the network that I went to work for needed me more because Black people are grossly underrepresented in those spaces. Especially when I made the transition in 2010, 2011. This was before Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Michelle Obama had just been in the White House for a couple of years. This was before Angela Rye and all of the others. And if you looked on cable news in particular, you mostly just saw white men and some white women. I thought that this was unacceptable.
You’ve mentioned that you went to Fox News to disrupt. You’ve been very vocal and unapologetic about your decisions and your commitment to uplifting Black people. Where did this boldness come from?
I have to give credit first and foremost to God, but also my mom. I talk about her often. She is the nexus of my strength. She was a single mother raising me in the deep South. My mother is only 58 and did not go to high school with white people until her senior year. So, I think when you come through the world she comes from, you have to be strong. Although my mother didn’t finish her formal education, she became an entrepreneur. My mother disrupted that narrative in our family. She wasn’t particularly liked but she was highly respected.
You wrote a book in 2017, Pretty Powerful. You’ve declared it your love letter to Black women. Why?
I felt heartbroken with how Black women were portrayed in mass media, and in other places from the board room to the courtroom. We were presumed to be lacking our youth, our femininity, or presumed angry on sight. This book is my letter to Black women to say that we’re not apologizing anymore. We’re not dimming our light. Time is up for us not showing up because people are uncomfortable.
You’ve mentioned that you got some backlash for the title of the book and from those who just glanced at it and may have felt it sounded a bit superficial. Why did you think it was important to discuss the topic of appearance as it relates to power?
The preface of my book, I open it up with pretty is not a dirty word. I believe in disrupting the taboo in affirming and acknowledging the aesthetic of young women. I tell women that they are beautiful all the time because the reality is that it does matter. It’s the world that we live in. Until we wake up and no one has a dollar to make on what people look like, especially women, then that’s when I’ll stop. I grew up in pageants, and I know they’re often demonized, but honestly that experience is what helped me get on Fox and present like I present.
When did you realize that you could have a real impact as a media personality?
When I left law I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I took a personal inventory. I would recommend everyone to do an inventory. Think of the three to five most trusted people in your life: your man, your mama, your boss, and ask them, what are the two to three things that you’re good at? To answer your question, one thing that I was repeatedly told is that I’m an excellent speaker, so go build a career around that. Why not lean into those things that you naturally do well? If you can do that then you’re on the road to success.
You’ve mentioned that you’re on a journey to fulfilling your maximum purpose. What would you like your impact to be?
I want my impact to be for everyone in this country, but I’m specifically compelled to speak to Black women and Black girls, to find the opportunities. The system is rigged, but I want to inspire us to be creative and perhaps disruptive in creating those opportunities.