Facebook’s Complicity in the Silencing of Black Women

Let me tell you a little story about something I like to call #crackerbarrelgate.

I’m on a road trip with my kids across the western half of this country. Travelling while black can be…..nervewracking. Not just the little micro-agressions, but the fears for safety. We still live in a country where black people are shot in the face for asking for help after car accidents. When I said I was going on this trip, a lot of people reached out to me concerned. Did I have an emergency plan? Did I know the places I was going was safe?

The truth is, there is no real “safe” place for black people in America. Cops in Seattle are just as likely to shoot me as cops in St. Louis. But I used to travel the West for work, and have long since did my “how racist is this town” google searches. I was cautious, but optimistic.

I decided to get a little daring on this trip and stop in a Cracker Barrel. I have never been in a Cracker Barrel. But stepping inside and glancing the overwhelming amount of Americana that appeared to romanticise a time when people like me were enslaved (btw, you can buy a wreath made of raw cotton blooms because…) — well, I was a little nervous. As I sat down, I made this little joke on Twitter:

The offending tweet

Now, regardless of what you think about my attempts to make light of my nervousness of being surrounded by white people in an establishment that not too long ago had to pay millions of dollars for racially discriminatory practices, in a small town in a red state, I think we can all agree that the response to my tweet was….a bit much.

First picked up on Twitter by notorious hatemonger @stillgray, and then sent to right-wing outrage machine Twitchy, this one tweet has become the focus of hundreds — literally hundreds of angry white people waiting for an excuse to tell a black woman that they hope she dies.

I have received death threats and rape threats. I’ve been called nigger, monkey, cunt. I’ve been told time and time again that my expression of nervousness around a large group of white people in an establishment known for it’s racism is the most racist thing they’ve ever seen (I’m not exaggerating).

People were leaving hateful comments on posts about my children, they were sending me emails and DMs. At first it was overwhelming and scary, then it became a bit comical.

Because I expressed nervousness about being surrounded by white people, I was given enough reasons to never, ever, ever want to be around white people ever again.

Now, perhaps it’s because Twitter has made a lot of headlines lately for failing to address abuse and harassment that I’m able to say that Twitter has actually done a pretty good job of handling this abuse. Just about everything that I reported for slurs and threats was removed and quite a few of the offending accounts were locked. With the addition of the quality filter that blocks out the majority of hate from reaching my updates — it’s almost as if I don’t have hundreds of angry white people calling me a fat gorilla on there.

But facebook has been another story.

Aside from not even giving me the option to report messages like this from my phone (I’m on a road trip, remember):

Or the ability to report comments like this from my phone:

When I am able to report threats and hate, they don’t do jack shit about it.

My facebook page is infested with racist hate and violent threats from people who are so angry that I would be nervous to be surrounded by them.

So after getting absolutely no help from facebook whatsoever, I started posting screenshots of the comments and messages I was getting. The ones you are seeing above, and more. If you send me a message saying that you hope I get hit by a bus, or pushed off the Grand Canyon, and facebook absolutely refuses to hold you accountable, the least you deserve is for people to see the hate you are spreading.

And finally, facebook decided to take action. What did they do? Did they suspend any of the people who threatened me? No. Did they take down Twitchy’s post that was sending hundreds of hate-filled commenters my way? No.

They suspended me for three days for posting screenshots of the abuse they have refused to do anything about.

This — this, after 3 days of nonstop hate and abuse — is when I finally broke down crying. See, it’s not just the hate. I write and speak about race in America because I already see this hate every day. It’s the complicity of one of the few platforms that people of color have to speak out about this hate that gets me.

People are mad because my tweet rang true. Plenty of people of color are nervous entering an entirely white room — and with good reason. Even this simple expression of discomfort was too much, and hundreds of angry white people flooded my twitter, facebook and email to try to silence me. Any time people of color, especially women of color, speak the truth — we are silenced.

And facebook is helping.

This isn’t okay. I shouldn’t have to leave facebook in order to escape racist hate. I shouldn’t have to be silent in the face of racist hate in order to be able to stay on the platform.

Facebook is failing people of color, just as they are failing many feminists and transgender people, in punishing them for speaking out about abuse. And they need to be held accountable.

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