So, as I’m sure most of you are aware by now, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about my experience with a recent case of online harassment. To be honest, writing this article had a lot of very unexpected outcomes that are all connected to the popularity of the article. On one hand, I’m proud that something I wrote is being celebrated. On another hand, I’m frustrated with how the article is being presented and written about on other blogs because it’s a true misrepresentation of events.
What I think people need to really understand about this situation is that this was something that literally thousands of people watched unfold. My account, in reality, is only part of the full story. Even though i was the one being harassed, Kenneth’s actions on my page were overwhelming. As I said in my article, his conversations became splintered. Running a Facebook Page that is as large as mine, I have to accept that I can’t read everything. Sometimes things get out of control and I can’t help it. Me having a platform as large as mine is still something I’m adjusting to. The reason why I mentioned having about 3,000 followers on facebook until recently is because as my facebook page became more popular, my posts were automatically put into the feeds of people who knew people who followed me and that encouraged a lot of dissent on my page.
On the subject of dissent, I want people to understand that I am not the sort of person who only wants to speak to people who agree with me. People, for whatever reason, have painted me as this person who is angry who just wants to sit in this vacuum of people who agree with her and that’s really not me. I enjoy speaking with people who disagree with me because I find that it’s always important to understand the other side of a conversation. Often times when people come into my posts, they don’t understand my side of the conversation. A lot of what I say is opinion, sure, but a lot of it is also factual. The public education system in America has not presented people with the full truth about racism in America. So, a lot of people enter into my posts and genuinely do not know what they’re talking about. I think I explain how the Irish became white almost every other day because it’s not something we learned in public school. It’s something most of us don’t even learn until we take college level history courses. So long story short, I spend far more time having to give people education on my page than I ever do having a genuine debate or a genuine conversation where we disagree and present genuine good arguments. If you look at how I interacted with Kenneth alone, you’ll see that even when Kenneth was being a complete jerk, I still gave what he was saying some ground to speak. I still gave him a bit of wiggle room and tried to over look how he, as most people do, entered into a conversation with slurs and then demanded that I respect his opinion. One of my favorite things to do on my page is ban people. It’s easy and it’s effective, but I don’t do it with people I disagree with. I do it with people who aren’t adding anything to my page.
Now on the subject of with great power comes great responsibility: screenshotting is something I’ve been doing for about a year on my Facebook Page. There’s a huge debate about whether or not it’s effective. For me, it reduces a lot of stress and makes it so that I don’t have to repeat myself over and over and over again. Frankly, a lot of people follow me because of my screenshots. What I’ve learned is that people who first came to my page and were offended by it, slowly but surely started to read and see the screen shots of what sorta comments I get on my page, and sure enough started to understand what was being said. My screenshots and my responses do educate a lot of people and I have thousands of emails from thankful (white) people who have really changed their views by actually seeing it on my page. Doing what I do, I get so exhausted with people acting like I make things up or I complain about things that aren’t issues. Just being a black woman with a voice, I get a ton of crap on my page. That alone gives me enough material to keep a steady flow of screen shots onto my page. One thing I’ve started to do, really to show that these people are real, is hover over their names and not just screen shot their names but whatever public information is available about them. Now, we can have a debate about whether or not that’s ethical. Frankly I can see both sides of that debate. However, my bottom line is that I really can’t feel that bad for someone who has decided to list their information publicly and then post, usually, racist comments on a public facebook page. To me that just isn’t smart and I can’t act like I haven’t been told not to list that information online since I went to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
When it comes to me “tracking down” Kenneth, the most I did was hover over his name, and screenshot that he was an employee at New York Life Insurance accompanied with is comment. That’s all I actually did. I never googled him. I never looked him up. I never went out of my way to get people to look at his page. I just screenshotted what he actually said and the information that was available on his very public facebook page. Now, I have done this several times before. Kenneth is not the first person to have this done to him. He is, however, the first person I think that has ever gotten fired for it. Keep in mind, the worst thing Kenneth was saying to me in his first post was calling me a “dumb cunt” and talking about how white people “build things up” and black people “tear things down”. To me that was more hilarious than it was offensive. As I’ve said so many times, I get harassed a lot and i’m indifferent to most of it to the point where I just laugh at it because it’s so predictable. But the fact that Kenneth was and Insurance agent actually really surprised me in many ways and it was almost too good because he was making a statement about systemic racism. The way insurance companies have interacted with people of color is just one of the numerous ways that legalized racism continues after it’s technically off the books. Socioeconomic disadvantages that have been created by post slavery oppression and then post segregation oppression has made access to insurance for people of color extremely challenging. So to know that this was someone who not only worked in a field that has a history of racism, that also on top of that felt comfortable enough to announce to the world that he worked for said company while making these statements was a bit baffling to me. When I posted that screenshot, it was genuinely only to point out that this was someone who worked in insurance who most likely managed people of color and this is what he said on his spare time. On my page, I have seen racist comments from Teachers, Doctors, Policemen, and a lot of people who work with the public. I expose these people who leave these comments on my page because we need to understand that these are people working from a position of power and this is how they really feel. While I feel these people shouldn’t be working in said positions, I really never intend on them losing their jobs. I guess there’s a part of me that really does feel like that’s taking things too far. I’ve had a lot of people threaten me real life harm and honestly it’s scary and it does, in my opinion, cross the line. Kenneth did that to me and beyond that he threatened sexual violence against me. I don’t feel bad about Kenneth losing his job and in many ways I’m really happy that he did. I’m happy that he is not knocking on the doors of women or of people of color and being let into their homes.
Kenneth is not a troll. Trolls usually hide their identities and say things simply to get under your skin. Trust me, I’ve dealt with trolls for the past 10 years I’ve been blogging. Kenneth is a real world example of a type of pathology that I see repeated over and over on my page, publicly, with pride. The only difference between Kenneth and most of the people who leave comments like that on my page is that Kenneth never stopped. Hell, he still hasn’t stopped. Kenneth provided me with an endless amount of material for my article and seeing him do it all so comfortably and so boldly really said a lot. What I wanted to highlight is that we live in a society that has created an environment where people like Kenneth can actually sit in front of their computers, with their real name, their real work information and real pictures and say what are objectively some really disgusting things. And even further than that, after they’re punished for saying said things, still feel like they did nothing wrong.
Kenneth fascinated me because, to me, he was a great example of how society, in many ways babies men, especially when said men are white. Women have always been the backbones of society. While we have have been subjugated to our homes while they bravely put themselves in danger for God and country, we have always been expected to sit silently and stomach abuse and the many ways in which society attacks us. Social media has provided women the power to be their own voices and to speak out about the things they experience without having to rely on media outlets picking the story up and putting it in front of News cameras. There is a degree of autonomy that we now have in this age of the internet that we haven’t had for many years and this is threatening to men. Being a woman with a platform, I have come to understand this. After my article was published, Kenneth went on a tired on his new facebook page (he’s a blogger now!) about how women need to stop crying rape because it trivializes “actual” rape “victims”. He then went on to tell me that I was never raped and that I must have mistaken some aggressive sexual action from a romantic partner as rape. Stranger rape is very uncommon, but I was indeed raped by a stranger. It happened to me, it was real and nothing will ever be done about it. I’ve made my peace with that. I haven’t made my peace with what happened to me and the reality is that 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence in their life times and most of those women never report their rapes. Black women, after Indigenous women account for the highest rates of sexual assault and if one black woman comes forward and reports her rape, 15 do not. About 70% of trans women experience sexual violence of some kind and often when they report it, the assumption is that they must have been attacked while doing sex work- and sex workers don’t often report their sexual assaults because of a legal system that wants to lock them up rather than addressing the environment that makes many trans women feel like they don’t have any other choice. Of all of the demographics that I’ve just mentioned, I embody the vast majority of them. I have experienced sexual assault on multiple occasions and rape once (if we’re not counting statutory rape). I don’t write about these things because I want attention or celebration. I write about these things because they are a part of my life that I haven’t allowed myself to address that I now feel I can. And honestly, I’m glad that I have discussed these things and that I have allowed so many people of multiple genders to feel that they are not alone. Sexual violence almost always occurs at the hands of men and we live in a society that understands that it’s wrong, but still doesn’t want to do anything about it. So many survivors or rape and sexual assault suffer in silence. Through social media, we have created a space where these things can be discussed without being edited or curated for male-centric media. We do not care how you feel about us discussing our personal trauma. Though I have experienced sexual violence at the hands of men for the past 11 years of my life, I still do not view men as a monolith. I believe that men can do and be better. I believe men like Kenneth can do and be better and I’m tried of living in a society that even in the face of black and white wrong doing, we still formulate a reason to feel sympathy for men who do these things and go unpunished.
Kenneth applied for a job at New York Life Insurance, he signed a social media contract, he made a business page listing his phone number and address, he made a facebook page, he made it public, he listed his work place, and then he posted a public comment on my page that was racist, sexist and much later, transphobic. We can debate about this all day long, but the fact will still remain that he violated his work contract and ultimately that’s what got him fired. I didn’t get him fired. I didn’t even WANT him to get fired. I personally really don’t believe in messing with someone’s money. He attacked me, a popular blogger with a lot of very dedicated fans who feared for my safety after his comments were posted and by the time I went to sleep and woke up in the morning, he was out of a job. Some media outlets are reporting that this happened over the course of a week, it happened in the space of an evening. He didn’t stop coming back, but ultimately, most of what’s been screen shotted happened within a day.
People need to stop acting like the Internet and our offline lives are separate existences, they aren’t. I can’t say much about this right now, but next year, I’ll be speaking to High School aged kids about social media usage and protecting yourself online. It’s going to be a very interesting and slightly ironic talk, but I’m so glad I’m going to be able to have it with kids that were around my age when i really started diving into blogging. We genuinely need to understand that our real lives are slowly but surely starting to be cataloged online and that what we do online can be easily traced back to us and we can see real world repercussions for it. These repercussions can be both positive and negative, but either way it’s always important to be weary of what you post online. For me, I’ve had a very open and raw online presence and for years I tried to separate my real life from my virtual life. Over the past year I accepted that wasn’t really possible and by trying to do so I was actually sabotaging my career. After letting go of that, my career has only gotten better and there are so many opportunities coming to me now that would have never come to me otherwise. The internet can be an amazing place, but it can also be a scary place. So just always be careful what you put online. No one “tracked” down Kenneth’s information. His information was accessible, quite easily because he published it himself. He got himself fired, I only provided the space for him to do what he needed to do in order to lose his job.