Facebook’s Complicity in the Silencing of Black Women
Ijeoma Oluo

Hi! I’ve never read anything you’ve written before, so all I know of you is in this article. Forgive me if I write something you’ve written about elsewhere, especially if you’ve already made or refuted my point.

First, I think that traveling the country would be an amazing experience, but definitely more difficult for a person of color. Anyone who says differently is in serious denial. Another challenge is that you are female. I can’t imagine trying to determine if someone was treating you poorly because of your skin color, or because you are female. The next issue is apparently weight. I have only seen your headshots so far, and I have no idea how much you might weigh, but people in this country are also flat-out rude about fat and other aspects of appearance. If you have all of these things going on, and you enter a strange situation while traveling the country, anxiety would not be an abnormal response. Online, oh my hells, those features are easy targets for trolls, and you don’t deserve any of that abuse for expressing your anxiety.

As a white woman, I will never experience the same kind of vitriol you have for your skin color or your name, which is obviously not derived from a European culture. However, I get a good taste of the misogyny and fat-shaming in life and online. These behaviors are especially dominant online, and I don’t think FB has gotten very good at intervening. The FB rules and reporting systems are often clumsy and inexpertly applied. I have to wonder if they are depending too much on binary code and not enough on human beings, or if it has more trouble because it lacks a strategy, and has such a complicated system that adding any feature properly requires genius and creativity instead of intelligence and process.

Twitter has experienced so many controversies involving bullying and harassment that it may actually have a coherent strategy now. Additionally, I don’t think I am wrong when I say that FB has a far more complicated platform. The code behind it must be frightening. As I recall, both companies have had difficulties developing policies to fight harassment. Honestly, I don’t know if that makes you feel any better, but I find attributing failures like this to incompetence much easier too live with than failures attributed to maliciousness. My hope is that FB can fix that, and also allow me to permanently change my news feed to “most recent.” (This “Top Stories” nonsense is self-defeating and makes a news feed churn the same stories all day, which makes me think that none of my friends are posting at all, and also means those friends aren’t seeing my posts, so unless we all change the setting and also hunt down status pages individually, we miss a lot!)

The least of the issues with which you’ve dealt is Cracker Barrel itself. For myself, a liberal, fat white woman, my biggest objection is probably the food. I call it “beige food.” Ordering colorful food at CB is almost impossible. And no, an iceberg-lettuce salad is insufficient to add color to a meal. So boring! The name is silly, and the glorification of Americana is excessive, but if the food were better, the rest would be less obnoxious. I’ve seen some very pretty and fun things in the gift shop, too.

I’m not sure how to handle any products that indirectly or directly reference slavery. My instinct is that we collectively a acknowledge the connections, and that we face the contradictions of being proud of our origins, and embarrassed by some of our methods. We also need to stop the slavery that continues to this day. Most Americans know that some of the methods this country used to gain wealth and status were repugnant, but still so much ignorance remains about the actual practice of slavery as it affects individuals, society, and the economy. We are afraid to talk about race and other deeply emotional issues, and those fears impede our ability to move forward as better people.

I’m from Idaho, where the population is mostly white, Republican, and Mormon. I can only tick one of those boxes. I don’t have much experience with other cultures, either, but I have more than many people in this state. That’s one reason I admire your decision to travel the country. I am also glad you wrote about how you felt at Cracker Barrel. Whether you should have felt that way is not up to anyone to judge. You were a human being in a strange situation that connected in negative ways to your experiences as an American. (Or not, I actually didn’t check to see if you are American, a tourist, or a temporary resident — the opinions you form would be affected by your citizenship. As a citizen, though, you have the right to feel your membership in society should be respected and valued. Anyway…) Maybe no one at that Cracker Barrell even looked at you twice or thought about anything other than buttering their beige food, but you have some preconceived ideas, and you were brave enough to experience the reality. Of course the comment was racist, but not Racist. Your tweet wasn’t a reflection on the patrons of the restaurant; it was about you and your discomfort based on actual experience.

Frankly, too many people have been raised to believe that their experience is the true experience, and that everything is one way or another, with no in between, no shading, no other ways to see. The people bullying you can’t wrap their minds around the idea that giving you and your experiences respect does not take anything from them. We humans need to evolve enough to hold two conflicting concepts in our brains simultaneously, and make decisions and judgments based on subtleties. For example, the cotton-boll wreath you mentioned can be seen as both a symbol of slavery, and something pretty to hang on your door at the same time. We take medicine that was tested on animals, and use knowledge gained from Nazi scientists who tortured Jewish, homosexual, black, Romani, and other people they felt were less than human. Many people, myself included, long for a support staff — someone to take care of the many chores that arise every single day. We don’t always consider that the girl doing the dishes in “the old days” might actually have been ourselves, and that we might be sleeping on a pallet of rough burlap on stone in front of the fire each night, keeping warm, yes, but also making sure that the fire didn’t die, and that we might be on constant danger of being raped by the master, or even a villager, and being thrown out to starve because obtaining a job without a recommendation was impossible.

We admire pyramids, castles, beautiful gardens, and plantations. We know that workers died while building dams and bridges. We Americans need to figure out how to deal with our issues without becoming issues ourselves. Tweets and articles like yours are important so we can see through your eyes, and think about how you feel. The tools we use to do so need to catch up, but they are often very slow and constrained by limitations about which we aren’t aware. Those unknown limitations shouldn’t stop anyone from asking for improvement, though, of businesses or of ourselves.