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Transcript: Artist Liza Phillip on their journey toward Blackness

An episode transcript from Brave Little State. To access the episode feature, click here.

Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio if you can! Also, transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 

Note: This episode contains strong language.

Cold open

Mae Nagusky: From Vermont Public, this is Homegoings, from Brave Little State. I’m Mae Nagusky. And a heads up: this episode contains strong language.

Liza Phillip: I didn't even realize, like, how much pain that I was in from all the trauma of growing up mixed in Vermont. I feel like the grief, it really started with George Floyd and all of the protesting and, like, you know, finally speaking up and people sharing stories and feeling their pain. 

Mae Nagusky: The murder of George Floyd incited thousands of protests both nationally and across the globe. Tens of millions of people supported the Black Lives Matter movement and rebelled against the history and present moment of police brutality. And for some, an internal reckoning began to take shape.

Liza Phillip: That really sparked it in me where I was like, Oh, wow, like, this is something that I've been struggling with for so long. And now I can, like, let this pain out. 

Mae Nagusky: For Liza Phillip, the murder of George Floyd was sort of like a heartbreaking, momentous catalyst to reckon with the discrimination they’ve endured their entire life.

Liza Phillip: It was like a very, very, like, deep sadness. Yeah. That was, like, slowly being released.

(theme music)

Mae Nagusky: Welcome to Homegoings. Since the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we have been sharing conversations with Vermont artists of color, and taking a deep listen to their art. Today, I’m talking to 28-year-old Burlington-based biracial, queer, nonbinary painter and creator, Liza Phillip.

Liza Phillip: Woah, this is legit! Woah, this is cool.

Mae Nagusky: If you've listened to our other Homegoings interviews, you know that we’ve centered this series on a metaphor for the Black experience: a home, with four pillars upholding it: grief, rage, joy and healing. If there's one pillar Liza aligns with most right now, it's definitely healing.

Liza Phillip: When we come together, and we allow space to, like, talk about the stuff that we're struggling with, I think that that is like a really, like, big part of the process of healing. 

Mae Nagusky: Liza is still very much on their journey. And in part, it’s a journey toward their Blackness, as they navigate their complex racial identity here in Vermont. We have support from Vermont Public sustaining members. Welcome.

(Sponsor break)

Mae Nagusky: Before we get started, I just want to say that I am honored by the trust and transparency Liza had with me, and grateful to them for being willing to share a bit of their story with me. I’m white. And even though I have a sister who’s Black, and Black friends, and I can listen to them all day long, I’ll never truly understand Liza’s experience. It’s complicated. Just listen to their answer to my very first question.

Mae Nagusky:  Do you identify as being Black?

Liza Phillip: Yeah, it's, like, kind of interesting 'cuz I grew up in Vermont, and I was raised by, like, my white side of my family. Like my mom's white and my dad's Black. But my mom raised me. So I've basically been raised, like, as a white person, but I have like, Black skin, and I am Black. And I’m starting to feel more connected to my Blackness. 

Mae Nagusky: The tension Liza displays here with their Black identity is central to their story and life. As you’ll hear, they are constantly processing what it means to have more than one racial identity to navigate in Vermont, in the world and inside their very own body. Liza, like most of us, is just one human being doing their best to try and figure it all out.

Describing Liza Phillip is like trying to describe a moving, breathing masterpiece. They have tattoos all over their body, rock a head-full of blonde braids, and wear whatever they want. But, it wasn’t always that way.

Liza Phillip: I dressed really Femme and so I was like, really just trying so hard to fit in. And so now I'm like, I literally want to do every possible thing I can do to stand out and just have fun with it. And so I will just put together outfits that feel super ridiculous. And I just enjoy it. I just think it's really fun and funny. And it feels like me, you know, like it's in, it's also kind of like tapping into, like, your kid self. You know, like, when you're a kid and your parents let you dress yourself and you put on a dress over jeans with the most ridiculous vest or something, and you just look completely crazy, and you're wearing your shoes the opposite way. Why should that have to be corrected? Why do we have to fit into this little box? So I'm like, no, like, I'm gonna wear two different shoes, and I'm gonna wear a tie. And I'm gonna like, like, push the norm. 

Mae Nagusky: Their bold clothing style is just another area in their life where they challenge what the world tells them they “should be.”

Liza Phillip: I don't actually very feel very connected to like, being like a she/her or a he/him, like, I feel very much in the middle of all that, like, I feel feminine and masculine. And at the same time, like, I don't really want to, like put it in a box. It's it's definitely been challenging, cuz not everybody will receive it, you know. And I just continue to feel uncomfortable. I can't really go backwards. And I don't really want to. 

Mae Nagusky: Liza eventually began practicing acceptance with long paintbrushes and a blank canvas. They learned to not only accept their queer identity, but to love it.

Liza Phillip: I also just think it's really fun, like, the way that it's kind of, like, manifested into my art is just, like, really playful and fun. And funny. And it just, like, it feels really happy. And so, and it feels like it's like being celebrated. And so I really like that part of it, because it's like, I can be like, proud of this part of me. And I don't have to, like, be shameful, which is what I felt most of my life.  

Mae Nagusky: In addition to being a painter, Liza is also a musician and songwriter. And as you’ll hear through our conversation, they use their art to heal the wounds from their childhood, growing up with Black skin in a predominantly white-skinned state.

Vermont and family

Liza Phillip: I mean it's just something that I kind of put up with, just kind of gets like, joked off like, it's like, not that serious, you know, like, little comments made here and there just to like, make me feel out of place. And I don't think that they realize how harmful it is. And also, like, I didn't really feel like I could share how harmful it is. 

Mae Nagusky: In that quote, Liza was referring to some of their white family members. They grew up in Bethel, Vermont, with six biracial siblings and a white mom.

Mae Nagusky: When you were growing to love these white family members, do you think that race was a factor into your love for them? 

Liza Phillip: I didn’t even think about it. I didn't even think about myself as being different until I was like, old enough to, like, have people say that to me in school. But, like, no, I mean, I saw my family and I just thought, that’s my family. Like, I didn't think like, oh, I have brown skin that makes me different. I just thought, like, this is my family. You know, like, I just see people that and there's just love here. And that's it. Like, it wasn't, I didn't really notice. But I think that's also a privilege, you know, at the same time to be, like, not noticing that I'm different from them. 

My mom did her best. Um but she also, like, didn't really teach us much about our like Black history. And so like, you know, she just kind of raised us the way she was raised. And connecting with my Blackness is something that I'm doing now as an adult, and I didn't really have the space or chance to really do that as a kid. 

Mae Nagusky: Liza went to school with about 300 white kids and just a handful of Black kids.

Liza Phillip: I didn't really think that I was different from anybody else. Until my friends would, like, point it out at school. You know, like the stuff that like most people had to deal with, like people touching your hair and like, just like, weird, just weird comments about, like, my skin color. I don't know, I was just like, like, people like saying the N-word. And I would be like, I didn't really know what it meant back then. And it's just something that they, like, heard from their parents. It was pretty challenging, being a kid in Vermont, honestly. 

Mae Nagusky: Do you wish that your parents talked more about race to you and what it means? 

Liza Phillip: I definitely had a really, like, loving childhood. And so I think I had my innocence longer because my mom didn't really, like, focus on that so much. But I also think it's an important conversation that maybe, like, as we got older, it should have been incorporated into us learning that like, this is the reality of the world. Also I've struggled a lot with certain friends who have this anger towards white people. And they, like, kind of really, like, they make comments. And I struggle because I'm like those are the people that I love. And that's how I was raised. And so they're kind of expecting me to jump on board and be like, yeah, like, that's fucked up. And I'm kind of like, I feel like, I'm on the fence, because I have so many people in my life that I love that have that white privilege. And then at the same time, it's like, I feel like, you know, like, that's really valid that other people have had these awful experiences, and have built up this anger as well. 

Mae Nagusky: You’ll notice that Liza references the fact that they grew up in Vermont a lot. But they’re not just doing it for the sake of our geographical orientation: For Liza’s journey to love their Black identity, their environment mattered.

Liza Phillip: Growing up in Vermont, you know, you don't see a lot of people that are, you know, different diversities and like, different, you know, ethnicities and stuff. And so I, I moved to Boston, and I was like, holy shit. Like, there's a whole world out here. 

Mae Nagusky: This was in 2013.

Liza Phillip: I was like woah I didn't even realize that I had felt like such an oddball until I moved to Boston. And I was like, like so many different kinds of people like it felt like I could breathe for the first time.

Imposter syndrome

Mae Nagusky: During my interview with Liza, they expressed this consistent, almost imposter syndrome for living the Black experience. For them not understanding Black culture enough. For them not being in the Black community enough. Liza often feels like they have to defend their Blackness while simultaneously having separation from it.

Liza Phillip: I grew up in Vermont, you know, and, like, my, I also come from, like, a biracial family. So like, my mom's family raised me and my siblings. I definitely feel just from like, my experiences growing up, the way that I look and living in Vermont, you know, I definitely have felt like an outsider. But yeah, I can’t also understand what it's like to, like, come from a Black family and like be raised in, you know, like, a more like, predominantly Black neighborhood. You know what I mean? 

Mae Nagusky: Do you wish that you were?

Liza Phillip: I think in ways just because like, people just kind of have that expectation of me… In a way, I think I would have learned more about Black history just from, like, being raised in that environment. In that way, I do wish that. I did have a very, like, loving family on my mom's side. And so I do feel really lucky and like, super supportive. So in a lot of ways, I feel really grateful for how I was raised in the family that I have. So it's kind of like, you know, but a little bit of both. People are like, you know, they asked me these questions, and they're like, how do you not know about this stuff? And I'm like, I was raised in Vermont. And they don't really understand. Because I think that people just assume so much, just from, like, looking at you.

Mae Nagusky: I did this. I assumed. At one point I asked Liza if they ever experienced colorism within the Black community because I assumed that they knew what colorism meant. They didn’t. And I don’t want to assume that you do either, so: Colorism is prejudice toward folks with darker skin, typically among people in the same ethnic or racial group. Within the Black community, colorism has many layers — since, historically, many differentiations in skin tones had to do with slavery, slave-breeding, and rape.

Liza Phillip: I do think that there is, like, a level of, like, light-skinned privilege and so, like, I don't fully understand what it would be like to have, like, very, very dark skin and be in this world. I think that's, like, probably one of the hardest places to be.

Mae Nagusky: And Liza has experienced discrimination within the Black community. One time, a complete stranger tapped directly into Liza’s struggles with their racial identity.

Liza Phillip: He was like, “That bitch isn’t even black.” That was difficult because it's like, I do struggle with, like, figuring out my place in this world. And so I definitely... like to have somebody actually say something that I already am, like, struggling with. It was like, a lot to process. It made me feel pretty sad. And anxious. 

Mae Nagusky: These isolated incidents hit Liza and like a shock wave. They ripple. They scar. They stay.


Mae Nagusky: Liza says more than once, white cyclists and drivers have raised their hand up in a gun shape, pointed it at them and then pulled the trigger.

Liza Phillip: I was kind of just like, like, why would you why would you do that to somebody, like, that's just such a strange thing to do.  

Mae Nagusky: A different time, a white woman approached Liza and asked where they were from.

Liza Phillip: And she was very close to me, which also was kind of shocking, like, this person is just like getting really in my space. And I told her Vermont. And she was like, I don't believe you. And then that it kind of like shifted because I was like, what is happening here? Like, what is the purpose of this conversation? And so I was just kept repeating myself, like, I'm from Vermont, and she just kind of started accusing me of like, coming into the state. And like, basically was saying that I needed to, like, leave Vermont. And that was super traumatic for me, cause I was born here. And she didn't believe me. And that that like triggers a lot of stuff from my like childhood. And so I think like, that was a pretty tough experience. // I actually cried a lot afterwards, because it was like, really, like, startling. // That kind of just like shifted everything where I was just like, Okay, now I need to like, talk about the stuff that I've been struggling with. // These are, these are things that are happening in Vermont. 

Mae Nagusky: Let’s go back for a second and remind ourselves what a homegoing actually is. It’s a common tradition in the Black community where the death of a loved one can be celebrated as a sort of return home. In ways, this time in Liza’s life is like a return home to their Blackness, embodying and recognizing it on their own time and in their own way.

Liza Phillip: Healing is hard, it doesn't feel good all the time, most of the time. Maybe just one day, you're just feeling really low. And it's like, Oh, I was like, doing all this work. And I was feeling really good. And now I'm like, feeling really bad. So I'm not healing, you know, and it's like, no, actually, you are healing, it just doesn't look like a straight line. Like, there's not like a start and a finish. It's like, ongoing. And it's more of like a long term outcome, a long term joy, it's not going to happen right away.

Mae Nagusky: One of my favorite paintings of Liza’s includes two flowers drooping over one another with the simple message: Healing Isn’t Linear. When we come back, Liza, the artist.

(Sponsor break)

Turning pain into expression

Mae Nagusky: Welcome back to Homegoings, a series from Brave Little State where we talk with artists of color, and take a deep listen to a piece of their work. I’m Mae Nagusky, and today we are talking with painter and singer Liza Phillip.

Liza Phillip: I was always creating. Art was my favorite thing to do in school, even when I wasn't like, when I supposed to be like doing like study hall or something like that, I would always just like go down to the art room and just like work on a piece of art because it just, it made me feel comfortable and safe and also really excited.

Mae Nagusky: And then, in middle school, they kept making art, but their motivation to make it changed.

Liza Phillip: I think like, a way to get people to accept me, I like, had to become something important. So I started making art for the kids that everybody liked, like all the popular kids. And then like, that was like my way to like, you know, not be an outcast. So like, I guess I used art as, like, a way to survive Middle School and high school and, like, feel important.

Mae Nagusky: Do you think you're still in some way making art for those popular middle school kids?

Liza Phillip: Definitely not. I feel like now it's more about me, like, really expressing like my genuine true self, and feeling, like, very comfortable to do that. Before it was more about trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be. And now I'm like I'm not willing to do that anymore. 

Mae Nagusky: Liza was 26 when they started painting colorful monsters. They use acrylic paint, wall paint and paint markers. The pieces are filled with bright colors around genderless monsters. The monsters are often silly-looking and accompanied by an emblematic heart, lightning bolt or Saturn pattern on their chest, wavy pink tongues and a message. Messages include: We R All Connected, Don’t Assume My Gender and Protect Your Energy.

Liza Phillip: When I was creating, I left the characters white, not as in, like, to be like a representation of skin color. It was more of kind of like to be like a blank canvas, so that anybody that was experiencing the art was able to kind of like see themselves in it… and so I wanted that part to kind of be, like, open to all.

Mae Nagusky: While Liza says their art is for everyone, it is a communication of their unique lived experience. It is not just to look at. It is to process. It is to connect with others in their community, those that share in their truth. Those that feel the words in their body.

Liza Phillip: Even though, like, I do want it to feel like it's for everyone, I almost feel like there's just like a lack of understanding about, like, what the messages really mean. And so like, when I'm, like, around, like, I don't know, like the college students or like when I'm around like the queer community, or like the BIPOC community, and they like, give me this feedback, I'm like, okay, this is literally the reason why I do this. But then like, I don't know, when I'm on Church Street, and people are, like, just throwing money at stuff. I'm like, that's not that's not really like, what the goal is here.

Mae Nagusky: Because of growing up in a majority white town with very little positive recognition of their Black identity, they struggled to feel seen. They felt invisible and part of creating these unmistakable, goofy monsters was to finally acknowledge themself and to celebrate their humanness — the silly, the ugly, the beauty, the weird, the simple, the universal.

Liza Phillip: Just to like, really wanting to, to speak to the people who have struggled. And like almost everybody, right? Like, pretty much everybody Yeah. And so yeah, like I'm working on healing that child currently. So I think that like, has played a role in my art.

Mae Nagusky: Liza turned their agony into art. Into their image and work and love and expression. They had every right to get mad at the world and feel crippled by the pain. Instead, they chose to create.

After years of using painting to be accepted by the white kids in school, they sure as hell do not do this anymore.

Liza Phillip: What do I want to make? And that was a big question that kind of shifted things because I was like, you know, like, there's no limits. I could literally do anything when it's just for myself. Really what matters the most is that you, you know, think that your work is good enough.

Deep Listen

Mae Nagusky: In all of this hard work of being biracial and queer and nonbinary in Vermont… and also all the other hard parts of being human, Liza was struggling to connect with themself.

Liza Phillip: I just, like, went rollerblading because that’s what I do when my mind feels really full.

Mae Nagusky: So, they roller-bladed to Oakledge Park and went to the furthest, flattest rock and looked up directly at the sky.

Liza Phillip: I feel like there's moments where we do feel really lost in our lives. But it wasnt that I was lost, it was just that I was disconnected. It was almost that I was returning back to myself. It felt like coming home. So I wrote this song.

Mae Nagusky: So, settle in and truly listen. Listen deeply. Here is Liza Phillip singing an unnamed and unreleased song.

Liza Phillip (singing): 

You were never lost, darling. You were just returning. You were never lost darling. You were just returning.  

Welcome home, welcome home. You are not alone. Welcome home, welcome home. You are not alone.  

You were never lost, darling. You were just returning.


Mae Nagusky: Thanks so much for listening to Homegoings, a series from Brave Little State. To see and hear some of Liza’s work, head to liza_s_art on Instagram or our website While you’re there, you can listen back to our other Homegoings interviews, and sign up for the BLS newsletter.

If you want to see Liza paint live, there’s a Homegoings performance coming up on February 11th at Spruce Peak Performing Arts center in Stowe. Find more info – and tickets – at

Special thanks to Myra Flynn for fostering such a beautiful, important series. Another thank you to Hannah Braun, Dan Cahill and Remi Lemal-Brown.

And also, of course, thank you to Liza for being so generous with your time and words.

Homegoings is a production of Vermont Public, made by the Brave Little State team: Myra Flynn, Josh Crane, Angela Evancie and me. I reported, produced and mixed this episode. The wonderful Elodie Reed designed the graphics. Myra Flynn composed the Homegoings theme music, with other music today by Liza Phillip. That first song you heard was called "Do It Cause It Feels Good." If you’ve liked this episode, please make a gift at Or just send this episode to someone you love.

I’m Mae Nagusky. We’ll be back soon with more people-powered storytelling. Until then.

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