A couple years ago my cousin told me she had started a blog. Despite my fear of technology I began reading it regularly. I soon learned that there was an entire community of “bloggers” on the interwebs, some of whom were women of color that were sharing brilliant opinions on a diverse range of interests. Then one fateful day I followed my cousin’s “blogroll” to the sparkliest and snarkiest of all ladyblogs: Jezebel.
This blog was different from any other, not only because it was geared primarily toward smart, funny women but because it was interactive. And I thought to myself, “I like this! I too will do the blogging!”
I chose a screenname that was an oblique reference to the furious cycle of flattery and flagellation I was sure would follow. I had no idea how right I would be. Having chosen a screenname derived from Black comedy I figured it was only fitting to choose an image of a Black woman to represent me. And after all, what that was unique and of value did I have to add to any conversation concerning issues of the day if not my perspective as a mixed-race woman who had spent a lifetime trying to understand what was real and admirable about her Black identity? And so MizJenkins was born.
After a few weeks I was excited and surprised to find that the ladyblog covered issues that were of specific interest to women of color like myself, such as the underrepresentation of Black people in the media and the uncomfortable social realities of interracial dating. I was far less excited (and less than surprised) to find that the level of discourse in the commentary was not as progressive and often about as uninformed as I tend to find elsewhere. So I took it upon myself —since the economy was down and I was bored at work— to attempt to educate and elevate the discussion by sharing what I had learned.
MizJenkins is a Star!
Suddenly – WOW!! I had all these “friends” and people “hearted” me! I even got a few shout-outs from the ladyblog editors and had won myself a shiny gold star of approval saying I was all right. Until the inevitable happened. I eventually found myself in a situation, much like “IRL”, where I felt compelled to say, “YIKES! You might want to reconsider that statement because it’s kind of racist.” And oh how the shit hit the fan! Because God as my witness, Hell truly hath no fury like White when it ain’t right.
I was branded as angry and “threatening”! I was denounced, banished from the clubhouse and summarily stripped of my badge of honor.
After letting wounded egos heal for several months and begging forgiveness MizJenkins was reinstated and I quickly regained my star status. But once it became clear that I was not going to sit idly by, that I was going to call out racism vociferously when I saw it, I was banned again. This time permanently.
The Rise of Miz X
Since first arriving in this country in chains, Black Americans have had to find creative ways to subvert and defy White authority, through slang, song, rhyme, code and creating whole new identities. Their success has been made possible in large part by the willingness of White people of strong moral integrity to poke holes in the mantle of White supremacy and allow their Black friends to sneak through (see, the Underground Railroad, Freedom Summer 1964 etc.).
After MizJenkins was banned, an internet friend who was appalled by the censorship she’d witnessed decided that MizJenkins should continue to speak out by any means necessary and generously offered to sacrifice her own distinguished status so that it could happen. And so MizX was born (surprise?!)
Originally I assumed that my secret identity would be pretty obvious to anyone who’d been paying attention to MizJenkins. After I realized that this was not necessarily the case, I decided to try a new strategy as something of a social experiment. I decided that MizX would be “more Black” in that she would adopt a vernacular and espouse concepts that are mainstream in Black America, instead of the kindergarten schoolteacher “voice” I sometimes used as MizJenkins and around my real life White friends who don’t really get it. But she would remain largely disengaged from any contentious discussions about race. Instead she would be far MORE strident on a number of other issues, espousing some of my more unpopular opinions (most of which it seems were excused or forgotten during the martyrdom of MizJenkins).
Many people railed against MizX’s comments on every topic from abortion to the color pink. She was told in no uncertain terms – even by some of MizJenkins’ nearest and dearest internet friends – to STFU (sometimes rightly so). But the only times she was officially silenced were when the topic of the offending comment had to do with race.
In all I have been banned from the ladyblog four times (that I can think of”¦):
Once for pointing out that the conceptual link between brown skin and fecal matter has a long history as a racial slur (see, above).
Once for expressing irritation at the tiresome tendency of White women to dramatically inject their own aggrieved commentary into discussions about a type of discrimination that doesn’t much affect them (see, my previous discussion about so-called White feminists who are incensed by the idea that a “protected class” might not include them).
And once I believe I was demoted for calling T.I.’s wife a “hoodrat,”, which might be the truest thing I’ve ever said.
In each case I reached out to representatives of the ladyblog and offered my strongest and sincerest arguments — with all that my natural rhetorical abilities, my Ivy league degree in political science and cultural relations, my doctorate in U.S. law and 31 years of being Black in America could muster — as to why I believed my comments to be not only appropriate but necessary and why it was important for a certain Black perspective on these matters to be heard.
The only counterargument or response I EVER received in return was: “I don’t like your tone.”
Becky, Becky, Becky
Around the same time I created MizX I created another ladyblog persona and I called her DarlingBecky (surprise?!!) I created her largely as a foil to serve at the convenience of various commenter friends of MizJenkins who were in on the joke. Rather than them endlessly debating wearisome real life racists on the ladyblog (which resulted in a LOT of real life heartbreak and frustration) and since I could no longer take up the cause on the side of Right, I chose to set up the most common and illogical racist arguments I was familiar with so that the folks with good sense could knock them down. After all, I’ve been trained to argue both sides.
The experiment didn’t last long”¦in part because I am apparently too blatant to pull off subtle satire and in part because I quickly grew bored of being so inane. But in the time DarlingBecky was on the ladyblog she made dozens of purposeful, flat-out ignorant and flagrantly racist comments in the smarmiest tone I could conjure. She offered absolutely nothing of substance. And she was never banned…even after several people pointed out that she was an obvious troll.
She was “warned”, scolded, given the side-eye and quietly ostracized by the bold and shiny in-crowd. But at no point did anyone say to DarlingBecky authoritatively, “NO. You may NOT speak. That perspective will NOT be permitted to exist here.” No one ever does.
What Have We Learned Today Chirruns?
Someone once asked me what the point of all this was, but I don’t think I knew exactly until it was all said and done. The point, quite profoundly, is this:
THERE IS ALMOST NO IDEA OR ACTIVITY IN AMERICAN SOCIETY THAT IS MORE SWIFTLY AND VEHEMENTLY OPPOSED THAN THE RIGHT OF BLACK PEOPLE TO DEMAND RESPECT AND RECOGNITION ON THEIR OWN TERMS.
It is the single most enduring and defining FACT of African-American history. It has been true since slavery, through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, through the murder of Fred Hampton and the condemnation of Pastor Jeremiah Wright that finally allowed a docile and notably (overly?) conciliatory Black man to be President. Sure White society will tolerate — and even celebrate! — Black people so long as they retain the ability to decide how/when/whether Black people’s needs are going to be met. So long as they have the power to systematically quash any Black expression that they find offensive or unsettling (these, it seems, are legion).
Notwithstanding all the virtual ink I’ve spilled here, I don’t flatter myself to think that my words or actions on a silly internet gossip blog are particularly meaningful in the grand scheme of things. Mostly I just find social justice issues a lot more interesting than the financial derivatives I’m tasked to examine all day by trade. I don’t mean to call out any specific individual and I apologize for any undue stress or frustration that I’ve caused my friends.
I just hope to illustrate why I believe this principle is worth fighting for and to suggest that there is still evidence of racial discrimination abound – accidental or intentional – even in the most casual and trivial of environments.
They say that well-behaved women seldom make history. I say, this is a history that damn well needs to be changed. So please excuse me if I refuse to behave.