by Daniella Gibbs Leger
If you weren’t paying attention last week, you missed quite the show on Black Twitter. Oh, in case you didn’t know, Black Twitter is a real thing. It is often hilarious (as with the Paula Deen recipes hashtag); sometimes that humor comes with a bit of a sting (see any hashtag related to Don Lemon). Last week it was all of that and the stories that inspired the outpouring could not have been any different.
Last week self-proclaimed male feminist Hugo Schwyzer told a story apologizing for previous bad behavior, and in doing so set of a firestorm that I’m sure he wasn’t expecting. You can read the entire backstory here, but the short version is: He apologized for being especially awful to women of color, and a white female twitterer basically said, “Why do you need to apologize for that/to them?” And that, ladies and gents, is when the firestorm began. There has long been some suspicion between women of color and the “feminist” movement. Many black women did not feel that they had a real place among feminists, and while that is slowly changing and more women are charting a path forward, every now and then something comes up to remind us of why some folks were getting the side-eye in the first place.
What came after that was a funny, sometimes heartbreaking conversation on the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag. I was seeing stories from people that touched a deep nerve with many, some tweets that I could have written, and some that just made me laugh out loud. A few people tried to interject and say that women shouldn’t be fighting like that “in public.” My response to that is, whatever. Easy for you to say when the offense isn’t lobbed in your direction. Change within movements doesn’t happen when parties just sit quietly on the sidelines and take it. People aren’t going to change their behavior or at least be more aware of it unless they are called on it. At the end of the day, some people may have gotten their feelings hurt by that hashtag, but I’m guessing that more people walked away learning something.The end of last week saw a different issue blow-up on Black Twitter — the Harriet Tubman sex parody. Sounds hilarious, right? (sarcasm, fyi). I’m not going to link to that mess and give it anymore eyeballs. You can Google it if you want. Suffice to say, Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam website posted what he initially thought was a very funny video depicting Harriet Tubman having sex with her master to curry favor so she could run the underground railroad. I don’t have to go into the history here, and how most of those relationships were not consensual — you all get that. I really would like to know what they were thinking with this? They are not Dave Chappelle — if you are going to push the line of comedy that hard, you had better be surgical with your precision. And, I would argue, rarely, if ever, would most find that type of thing funny. But clearly, humor is in the eye of the beholder.
Well, you can guess who didn’t find it funny. Black Twitter once again blew up with outrage about the video. Especially coming from someone like Russell Simmons, who preaches peace and yoga and all that stuff. People were unloading on him, a lot of which I can’t reprint here but you can easily find it. The reaction was so strong and so quick, that he apologized (well, I don’t know how real of an apology it really was — the whole “I’m sorry if you were offended” thing doesn’t work for me). But there was a small silver lining in this tale: People started tweeting facts about Harriet Tubman. They started talking about what a badass she was, and people unearthed less-known facts about her life.
So what is the moral of my story? 1. Don’t mess with Black Twitter because it will come for you. 2. If you’re about to post a really offensive joke, take 10 minutes and really think about it. 3. There are some really funny and clever people out there on Twitter. And 4. See number 1.