By Jay Dodd
Earlier this week, Arrogant Internet White Man #456 or Chuck C. Johnson used Twitter to fundraise a “taking out” of community organizer and movement curator Deray McKesson. The threat spread quick and many mobilized to hold Twitter accountable for allowing such threats. While Black Twitter was critical in the quick response, McKesson’s high profile status signaled a larger issue around threats and harassment on the platform.
In the days following, news broke that Twitter permanently suspended Johnson from the site and many rejoiced. Johnson, however, is allegedly trying to sue stating, “Twitter doesn’t seem to have a problem with people using their service to coordinate riots, but they do have a problem with the kind of journalism I do.”
This case study in Arrogant White Man self-victimization is commonplace from academia to entertainment and seems to have found a complex home online. While Black folk experience threat and harassment in a variety of forms online, social media, Twitter especially, has provided a critical space for folks to claim identity and combat erasure. These are seemingly new tactics in Black survival and socio-cultural resistance; keeping up with the modernization of White terror.
We are undoubtedly not living the world of our parents or grandparents’ racism. As technology, wealth, and power continued to shift, strategies of systemic or covert racism has become standard. Erasure and silencing now gag the throats of Black resistance and scholarship. Overt actions of racism, like lynching and fire bombing are easier to shame but those, too, are still happening. The false outcry of many (white) millennials is that we are living in a “post race” utopia with President Obama as a beacon of that cultural shift. However, consider his welcome to Twitter.
Red-blooded American spoke to the President of the United States with the most vitriolic racism. Whatever you want to say about patriotism, or the lack of surprise, consider how quickly American pride is proven as a fallacy. Any reverence that POTUS would be afforded is lost because of his Blackness. Not only is there the disrespect of alleged nationalism, but with the prevalence of threats and harassment on Twitter, are these trolls unbothered by potential repercussions. (by the way, threatening the president of the United States is a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.) Only racism’s arrogance can reveal such disparities in cultural codes or standards.
While technology and social media a multitude of ways to communicate and build, technology does not undo or minimize intergenerational racism. New media has unfortunately also meant a lack of ethics, accountability and safety for many Black folks online. There have been concerted efforts to defame, silence, and threaten Black/Indigenous (Trans) Women online. Government and news organizations vulture social media to co-opt/disable resistance movements.
While Black folk have truly begun mastering the digital landscape as a new world for us to connect through, we (unfortunately) are still vulnerable to White threat. It is on us to build our digital literacy and demand safety for our voices and narratives.
Photo: Jay Dodd/Twitter
Jay Dodd is a writer and performance artist based in Boston, originally from Los Angeles. After recently graduating Tufts University, Jay has organized vigils and protests locally for Black Lives Matter: Boston. When not in the streets, Jay has contributed to Huffington Post and is currently a contributing writer for VSNotebook.com, based in London. Jay Dodd is active on social media celebrating Blackness, interrogating masculinity, and complicating queerness. His poetic and performance work speaks to queer Black masculinity and afrofuturism.