May 12


My Thoughts on the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou Incident

By Cassie

May 12, 2020

Rachel Hollis, Rachel Hollis / Dr. Maya Angelou, Rachel Hollis plagiarism

When you’re a small blogger and businesswoman just starting out and you’re about to do what I am it’s downright scary… like stomach turning scary.  That said, some things MUST be done whether you like it or not.  I don’t see a way to know about this situation and not address it.  As a woman, as a professional in the personal development field or as a person who’s had the benefit of white privilege.  Now that I know about this if I turn a blind eye to it, aren’t I complicit?  So, I will be the leader that I know I am, and I will stand with my sisters.  I will help shine some light on this very important issue whether my voice is welcome here or not.  That said, here’s my insight on the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou incident.

Who is Rachel Hollis?

So, let’s start with a little background to set the stage… Rachel Hollis is a thought leader and personal development guru.  She has millions of fans, hosts a daily internet morning show, has 2 extremely popular podcasts and is a 2-time bestselling author.  Also, for the entry price of $400+ you can attend one of her personal development conferences for women.  She’s a mega influencer and leader in the self-improvement world.  And she’s taken the world by storm! 

Who is Dr. Maya Angelou?

There isn’t enough space or words to tell you who Dr Maya Angelou was here.  But I’ll try to do her justice.  Dr Maya Angelou was one of the greatest leaders of her time.  And her legacy lives on.  She grew up through hardship and segregation times, overcame poverty, brutality and racism and went on to become a civil rights activist who was honored twice by the NAACP.  She worked and was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.  She is the first African American woman to author a non-fiction autobiographical NY Times Best Seller, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and the first to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration (Bill Clinton).

Dr Maya Angelou was a pioneer.  She paved the way for ALL women but especially for women of color.  She continues to inspire the world today and will surely be remembered as one of the greatest thought influencers to ever live.  If this is the first, you’re hearing of Dr Maya Angelou I strongly encourage you to learn more about this remarkable woman!

What is the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou incident?

In late April Rachel Hollis’ Instagram featured a post that read “Still… I Rise”.  It was posted on a white background with Rachel’s profile picture and handle.  This is not an uncommon look for the influencer’s posts.  Posts like this indicate that these are the words of Hollis herself.  A quick glance though her other posts will affirm this.  When Hollis quotes another person, the post is colored or has a background picture of some sort with an attribution.  This post did not. 

When this post was made public there was an immediate response.  Many people were upset by it and commented.  Several of these people were blocked for criticizing the mega influencer.

Due to public outcry the post was removed, and an apology was made.  There is tremendous controversy over the nature of the apology.  In it, Rachel says that she “heard once that the only real apology is one where you don’t make an excuse, so (I) won’t”.  Unfortunately, she preceded this statement with the excuse that her social team posted the graphic, not her.  Comments have poured in from every corner of her community and the discussion has gotten downright disturbing and nasty… which leads to this post you’re reading now!

What Are Fans to do Regarding the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou Controversy?

Personally, I believe that we have a responsibility to hold our leaders to a higher standard.  I feel that as fans we should pressure those we entrust with our betterment and those we pay or refer to our friends to do better. 

I believe that we need to take the time to understand what happened here.  To deeply grasp why it was wrong and to support our sisters, women of color, in their plight to be recognized.  Because the truth is what went down here was wrong!

5 Points to Consider Regarding the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou Incident

These are the 5 points we all need to consider about the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou incident and how it was mishandled.

1. Still… I Rise

Despite Rachel’s claim “That is, obviously, an immortal line from a Maya Angelou poem”, it’s not so obvious! It’s become painfully clear to me that many of the people in the Hollis community are completely unfamiliar with the famous poem, And Still… I Rise.  It’s unfortunate that so many have chosen to stay ignorant of it.

Still… I Rise is a poem about the 400-year oppression of the African American community.  Its words invoke images of slavery, brutality, racism and every kind of horror you can imagine.  It is the absolute epitome of resilience that anyone would be able to rise from circumstances such as these.  You would be hard pressed to find a poem that stirs more hope than this one.  The very idea that anyone could survive the circumstances African Americans have and still rise is almost unfathomable!

Minimizing the Message

Using the words “Still… I Rise” to motivate and give hope to predominantly upper middle-class white women is, at best, insensitive.  Especially if you yourself are a wealthy influential white woman.  These words were not written to encourage people who were in the midst being inconvenienced by 6 weeks of quarantine.  And please believe me when I tell you that it’s clear from the other content that Hollis Co creates that they aren’t talking to people who are facing devastation, they are talking to people who are inconvenienced.  Don’t believe me?  Well… just look at the other content about buying a ping pong table during quarantine or the post immediately after the apology about making slow cooker oatmeal (that you store in your jars because they’re so dang pretty even though you can’t heat it in that). 

Posting “Still… I Rise” was insensitive and minimizing in the first place, whether it was attributed or not.  You cannot compare the situation we’re in today to the 400-year struggle of an entire race!  Are you serious with that?!?!

2. Lack of Attribution

Now, not only did she (or her team) think it was appropriate to post it, but they also didn’t attribute it!  It adds insult to injury to steal the words of someone who is part of a community that has struggled more than yours!  You can’t take the words of perseverance in the face of oppression and use them as your own when you don’t have the first clue what that oppression is because you haven’t lived it and NEVER will!  You can’t take the words of someone who had to work so much harder than you ever will to be heard!  White women cannot and should not ever steal the words of women of color and not give our sisters credit!  It’s bad enough when we do it to each other but seriously this is going WAY to far!

How do you post the exact words of another person and not give them credit?  How is that ever ok?  Regardless of who the person is this is just a big fat NO!

3. Plagiarism in the Personal Development Community

Here’s the thing.  Plagiarism is a BIG deal!  It’s a form of theft that allows the perpetrator to continue to siphon off of you long term and that can permanently damage your livelihood and reputation.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in your books, papers or on your social media.  It’s still wrong.  This is especially true when you use your social to generate followers, and customers and to make money.  Rachel talks at length about how Instagram converts to sales for her and in several podcasts even says it’s her biggest money maker (though that may have changed by now).  This means she’s profiting on the inspired words of others!

This is not the first time Hollis has been called out for plagiarism (one of several articles).  It’s just the first time someone as well known and beloved as Dr. Maya Angelou was the subject.  It’s the first time she’s received backlash like this.  Partly because she uses the work of unknowns.  Unfortunately, when you’re speaking to an incident like this and you’re the small fish you’re likely to get eaten up (hence my fear about writing this post). She usually uses the material of other self-help gurus though and they all do that, so it’s rarely called out.

The Trend

Unfortunately, this is a common trend in the personal development community.  Pretty much everywhere you look someone is reciting without attribution or taking credit for the work of another.  In the RiseXLive Courage conference I noticed Ed Mylett did it.  The process of asking yourself “is this true” to monitor and control your thinking was created by Byron Katie and documented in her book “Loving What Is” (which is excellent by the way).  So, let me ask you… are we cool with other people taking credit for our work.  Does it bother you that a man took credit for the work of a woman?  I know that it would bother me more if he wrote it in a book or an Instagram post rather than casually mentioning it off the top of his head, that’s for sure!

What would happen if we actually held our thought leaders to task?  What would happen if we insisted that they credit the creator of the content?  Well, I’ll tell you, most would be crediting someone else so many times it would be almost impossible to listen to them.  Then, when we all got tired of that they would have to actually think original thoughts!  Forge new paths!  Imagine the growth if we were getting original insights rather than regurgitated copy!

4. The Apology

So, what are you to do when you’re in an industry that supports plagiarism and you’ve created a corporate culture that does as well?  Well, when you get called out for neglecting to credit an original author, I suppose you blame your team.  Even though you created that culture.  See, the problem here is that this wasn’t the first time.  If it had been people would likely have been more likely to forgive.  This is a consistent problem.  I understand that there are plenty of places where Hollis Co does site their sources and give credit but there are just as many examples where they don’t.  That inconsistency is not acceptable. 

When you, the leader, have been allowing or condoning this and the first thing you do when you get caught is to throw your team under the bus it’s going to come off as insincere.  If you don’t realize that misusing a quote of this magnitude isn’t death by a thousand cuts, it’s a knife to the heart you’re seriously missing the point. 

If people don’t believe the sincerity of this apology, well, I don’t blame them.  I struggle to believe it myself.  To me it sounds like a kid who got caught and is apologizing but who’s only intention is to not get caught again.

It ends in the trite statement “we’ll do better” which begs the question… how???

5. Adding Insult to Injury

Let me just say that a good place to start would’ve been to continue contact with the people who were “harmed” and the community as a whole!  If you don’t believe something has gone really awry here, check out the comments on the apology. In the wake of the Rachel Hollis / Maya Angelou incident fans are in rare form.

They’re shouting down women of color who are asking reasonable questions and expressing their disappointment and frustration.  Going so far as to tell everyone that they need to drop it and accept the apology.  That anything else is just cruel.  Or most disturbing of all, some have taken to name calling and shaming.  Telling people who’ve been hurt that they need to get over it and have no right to be upset is out of line.  Continuing to perpetuate the very, VERY racist idea that women of color are unhinged, aggressive, nasty or hateful (some of the actual words listed in the comments) and instructing them to basically sit down and shut up.  YIKES!  Take a look at yourselves!  Why are you blindly defending Rachel Hollis.  Is she a child?  Is she unable to defend herself?  NO… she’s off making oatmeal!

What is Rachel Doing?

I wish I was kidding about that last bit, but I’m not!  While this war is going down on the apology post Rachel Hollis is no where to be found.  I have no way to defend this and if you’re honest, neither do you!  She KNOWS this is likely to happen because this isn’t the first time her fans have shouted down dissenters (she encourages it).  Yet, she made no attempt to call it off.  She didn’t stop comments on the post. There’s been no response at all.  She hasn’t posted again asking her supporters to be empathetic to their sisters.  It’s just crickets…

Doing “Better”

So, what does doing better look like?  How do we move forward as a community?

Many have said that they’ve received tremendous benefit from the teaching of Rachel Hollis and I agree.  I don’t think this recent incident has to take away from the wins you’ve seen in your life.  I do however think that taking some time to step back and reassess may be in order.  Trust has been breached and whenever that happens it needs to be earned back.  That takes time.

HollisCo doesn’t define what “doing better” looks like.  We do!  As a community we have every right and dare I say responsibility to hold our leaders to a higher standard.  While they are human and may make mistakes from time to time, as a whole we should be inspired by them.  We should be proud to follow them. 

Stand with Your Sister

It’s time to demand more.  It’s time to create a standard for those in positions of influence!  So, I expect Rachel Hollis to rise to this occasion and I expect her to do better, as she promised.  If something doesn’t change, if she doesn’t make an effort to make this right, she’s lost a fan.  But despite the possibility that many may be parting ways with HollisCo I hope you’ll keep in mind that these women are still your sisters.  I hope we can continue to support and encourage one another.  I hope the relationships formed in this community are genuine and strong enough to withstand this storm because the biggest shame of all would be going back on the progress we’ve made uniting as a sisterhood. 

Please share your thoughts regarding this incident here.  This is a safe place to talk about your concerns or confusion related to this issue and to support one another.

Pin it for later!

Let’s start a dialog! Share this post in support of the women of color who are your Rise Sisters! It’s time to clear the air and shine some light on these important issues!

  • Just came across this. Thank you! I had been following Rachel Hollis after reading one of her books. I was bought into the brand until this happened. The. How it was handled didn’t sit well with me. Finding out she has done this before to another woman of color author was disappointing too. She didn’t address it on her show either. She actually didn’t do a live morning show for two day and I believe it’s because she didn’t want to face it. Comments were also being deleted off that post. Mine was one of them when I disagreed with someone for saying Rachel obviously didn’t mean harm because she has a black best friend. What?! Both comments were deleted and many others claimed theirs were too. I emailed the company to express my disappointment and asked how this would be address especially with her touting she empowers leaders but yet did not act as one. I received a thank you for my feedback but not an answer. She went on to do her Rise event.
    I unfollowed her and her husband and brand. Sent his book back and unsubscribed to their emails. I will not support this brand. Given the current state of the nation and what has been brought to light, I will not be silent.

    • I’m glad to hear you reached out and sorry you weren’t responded to appropriately. I commented several times on the IG post as well. I’m beyond disappointed at the entire way this was handled. I appreciate your feed back and I’m glad you found this post and know you’re not alone!

  • I hope you do more posts like this (if you want to of course). I like reading stuff like this because I’m usually behind on drama, but I like to read about it haha.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I’m usually behind too but this was brought to my attention on social and I was shocked by the way it was being handled. Once you know you can’t not say anything.

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