Breaking The Silence on Digital Intimidation
How a Zoom Meeting Exposed America’s Much Deeper Wound.
Naked bodies, penetrating thrusts, and guttural moans startled us all. We went from talking about the bible to watching porn in seconds. We were blindsided and horrified.
Have you ever experienced a “ZOOM bomb”? If not, I pray you never will. Cyber thugs with intentions to cause chaos entered our online meeting. They forced pornographic videos, images, and profanity-laced music onto our 70-inch computer monitors.
The event host scrambled to stop the pirates. The shocking incident lasted mere seconds but felt like minutes.
After a reboot of the video feed, everything calmed down, and the quick response solved the problem. We refocused our attention on the speaker with renewed enthusiasm and with a readiness to learn.
The invisible enemy did not stop us.
That’s until ten minutes later, “AJ” turned on his webcam and started masturbating. And five minutes after that, a pop-up appeared “(“Nigga balls”) has entered the waiting room for this meeting.” During our meeting, the injustice of racist, violent sexual acts imposed upon us triggered and offended everyone.
This essay is not a commentary about pornography. Or about how to protect online meetings from infiltration. But, about how this incident mirrors the instability of black life — and how our speaker’s response is indicative of the black experience: traumatic and unexpected; yet still, we rise.
Our Fall Lecture Series, called “Through Eyes of Color,” took almost a year to plan. Rescheduled online to accommodate social distancing protocols; we were excited to host this event. Our speaker, Apologist Lisa Fields of the Jude 3 Project, was terrific. She shared a lecture called “Thinking through Slavery in the Bible.” Typical theologians are white, older, and men, but Lisa is none of these. She is black, young, respected, and her Courageous Conversation series is outstanding.
The disruption happened, but it was how the lecture attendees dealt with it that impressed me most. We experienced the same trauma, both black and white: male and female: Ph.D. theologians and layperson. And that experience gave the few white attendees a valuable glimpse into how black people face unexpected obstructions and still succeed.
Embodying strength, Lisa resumed teaching and kept her head up through the disruption. As my childhood pastor would say, “No devil in hell can stop you.” And that was her attitude. She chose brilliance over succumbing to the enemy, not knowing what the next moment held.
The event host offered this thoughtful sentiment, “I don’t feel blame, but I feel the weight of the responsibility.” Lisa did not blame the host, nor has she experience this type of hostility in a lecture before, and she did not let it stop her. She kept teaching like a woman on a mission to encourage the majority culture to listen.
The attendees shared a moment; we united and had the same understanding. That understanding included a mix of emotions: the rush of adrenaline, the magnetism of excitement, the hope against the odds, and an overcoming spirit.
Black people have faced instabilities in America from its beginning; from the moment African slaves landed on this continent; from the moment black families get sold like tulips and broken like horses; from the moment the inked dried on the Emancipation Proclamation and we were no longer slaves; from the moment the promise of 40 acres and a mule were reneged upon; from the moment the Freedman bank was looted by its white bankers; from the moment the Great Migration was necessary for our survival; from the moment 19 sticks of dynamite exploded in a Birmingham church, killing four innocent girls and injuring 14 others; from the moment the Civil Rights bill’s ratification moved us one step forward without discussing poverty’s role in our hellish condition; from the moment the dream of homeownership gets deferred by redlining, white flight, and recently, the mortgage crisis cementing black people into a caste system within a country we help build — and we struggle to keep our balance on the shaky grounds of this instability.
In Martin Luther King’s, Letter from Birmingham Jail, he said, “when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments.”
The uncertainty King is speaking of exists today. And judging by protest sweeping America, we may all feel the instability firsthand, white and black alike. The black experience, with all its unpredictable twists and turns, is unique to the American story.
A ZOOM Bombing may seem benign, but it feels like digital intimidation, a violent warning — contributing to “inner fears and outer resentments” penetrating deep within the black psyche throughout America’s history.