Black men – we need to take the racist online harassment of Black women more seriously
No Black woman needs me to tell their story for them, but I become an enemy when I say they don't deserve to have their pain recognized.
by Donnie Moreland
“I get harassment as a woman and I get the extra harassment because of race and being a black woman. They will call white women a ‘c*nt’ and they’ll call me a ‘n*gger c*nt’.” – Imani Gandy, Rewire.News
“You’re a fucking fat ass nigger. Hang yourself bitch.” – Anonymous
The following is an excerpt from a text conversation I had with a few good friends of mine, regarding a subject unfamiliar to mainstream sociological observation: Black Cosplay.
I’m sure there are difficulties being a black woman out there, but it’s cosplay not environmental terrorism. I can’t take that shit too seriously when folks are dying, in real life.
I was referencing a Cosplayer, a Black woman who took to Instagram, to speak about her experiences with race-based sexism embedded in the community. Now, before I continue, I want to provide some context. Cosplay is the performative act of dressing as a figure of popular culture, often from culturally specific animation, in honor of the character, intellectual property, etc.
Cosplayers commune primarily at popular culture conventions, i.e, San Diego Comic-Con; however, access to this community has increased due to: 1) the legitimization of popular cultural references in the public domain at the turn of twenty-tens, and 2) the advent of media sharing and social networking services garnering recognition for the performance as a modeling sub-category. Somewhere in all of that are Black Cosplayers.
The Cosplayer who posted, whose Instagram account I do not believe is active anymore, spoke of her rage relating to racist comments made in comment sections and direct messages. They addressed her garb, who she could (or could not) portray in performance, and the inappropriateness of what parts of her body her costumes accentuated as compared to her white female counterparts.
Now, as someone who has written about what is imported onto the bodies of Black boys online, I must acknowledge my initial apathy as gendered hypocrisy, but more as a symptom of an underserved crisis: the cultural neglect of Black bodies in a digital space, specifically the neglect of Black women (and other marginalized genders) by cis-heteronormative Black men.
Sticks and Stones
Black women, and their aliveness, continue to be maltreated at a rate unseen by other ethnic, and gendered, orientations globally, and the internet is nothing but a perverted mirror of such observations. Whether a Cosplayer, such as Mica Burton, a Trans Socio-Political Activists, such as Kat Blaque, one of the few public faces of the Black Kink Community, such as Black Girl Thought TV – anything along the spectrum of online performance is bound to attract the attention of assumedly white men who bite their bottom lip at screaming “nigger” online.
I say assumedly due to the protections of user anonymity across the internet, both on the Vanilla and Deep Web. And improper community management of services such as Twitter, according to a 2018 Amnesty International Study, means that social abjection can easily be reflected in online services meant for fair, equitable, and tolerant community dialog.
According to Auditi Guha, of Rewire.News, “The data shows Black women were 84 percent more likely than white women to be disproportionately targeted. One in ten tweets mentioning Black women was abusive or problematic, compared to one in 15 for white women. Women of color were 34 percent more likely to be targeted.”
And while this study reflects general modes, or patterns, of racialized, and gendered, online harassment, how these patterns have morphed increases the severity of concern for Black women, especially of niche digital orientations. It is very easy for the comment section of YouTube personalities such as Kat Blaque to become a theatre of trans fetishism, unsolicited sexual transgressivity, and off kilter expressions of racial domination. And while it is easy to dismiss this harassment as empty provocations, to the receiver they, and the hands which typed them, can be as unnerving as if they were in the next room.
If She Hollers, Let Her Go
When it was discovered, on July 14, 2019, that pictures of Bianca Devin’s mutilated body were being shared on Instagram, and presumably other services such as 4chan, 8chan and Reddit, I wondered: What if she were Black? Not out of some cynicism against the tragedies which befall white folk, but out of a growing concern for Black women who have been made invisible as survivors of the wave of white male barbarity, known as Gamergate, or the origin point for recent American incel activity in the twenty-tens.
Though Black women aren’t frequently recognized as E-Girls, like Bianca, they are certainly as vulnerable as YouTubers Christina Grimmie, who was shot dead, in June of 2016, by a man, while signing autographs. Both Christina and Bianca are victims of a type of insidious white male fragility which the public only recognizes as some quirky millennial personality defect, but what Black folk have known to be a cause of transgenerational misery, and despair.
And for Black women, the violence which befell Bianca and Christina is an all too real possibility, especially as the judicial leniency of white male violent aggressors continues to fail us and the conditions of free speech continue to be disfigured, encouraging the gross oversaturation of identity-oriented online attacks, against an already shamefully underprotected group – as indicated by such statements like my own, “I can’t take that shit too seriously when folks are dying, in real life.”
Unmaking the Digital Dog Woman
Let me be clear, no Black woman needs me to tell their story for them or be their hero, but I become an enemy when I say they don’t deserve to have their pain recognized. And, as a Black man, I can say that cis-heteronormative Black men have grown comfortable with decrying Black women of their right to something this simple.
And let me say, I am not placing the onus of online harassment on our shoulders, but I am acknowledging the hypocrisy in which social happenings we mobilize for online. Sporting events, primarily, but also hip hop album releases, and political theatrics. Not for much else, especially if the subject of discord is a Black woman. Unless it’s a horde of hoteps or Black Isrealites, shouting about the consequences of white femininity on Black women’s reproductive health, individualism, and sexual orientation – often echoing facist leaning eugenic theory – we don’t say much.
Well, you’ll also discover the discontent of the Black Manosphere or emotionally arrested brothers who recognize consent, sexual rejection and education, or professional, achievement as barriers between themselves, Black women and intra-racially harmonious existence. Or you’ll discover us, most of no community, much like YouTubers Aba & Preach, shaming propositions on accountability and abuse as fictitious, or baseless.
And while there is much to unveil, in determining the origins of contemporary Black misogynistic expressions, we should consider present alleviants to our errors – misaligning the values of costs. It costs nothing to believe, to trust, to comment in support of, to inquire amicably, to shun the slanderers of our Black family. And with the same fervor by which we participate in online debates about Lebron James and Micheal Jordan, Jay Z and Nas. What costs is when we do the opposite. When we shame. When we abandon. When we become, as the rest of those faceless voices – devils in the dark.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.