While I am horrified, I am not surprised by what happened to Leslie Jones. By now most know that the actress of Saturday Night Live and “Ghostbusters” fame was doxxed — her personal files were maliciously sought out and intentionally made public. Information tied to her personal and financial life were exposed, as were nude photos.
I am not surprised for a number of reasons. The attack on Jones was just another wave in a summerlong series of racist and sexist outbursts against her. The initial wave, purportedly inspired by a leader of the so-called alt-right, who has since been banished from Twitter, resulted in a storm of hate speech directed toward the actress in the name of clarifying whether or not she is funny. Her crime, in their eyes, is that she is a woman — particularly a black woman — being lauded for being funny. The alt-right, by the way, is a mashup of conservatism and proud troll culture that shares overlap with white supremacism and misogynistic outlooks.
I say I am not surprised because people are sexist and racist and many have the tendency to pat themselves on the back for not burning crosses on a daily basis — or selling their sisters and daughters into sexual slavery — while not thinking twice about why, say, they’re focused on destroying the life of a successful black woman. And we know the internet is a place that provides many platforms and approaches on which these attitudes thrive.
And I say I am not surprised because I have friends who blog about their own lived experiences about gender, race and other touchy topics in between, and I regularly see them endure negative blowback — women more than men. I know bloggers in these arenas who have been confronted at their workplaces and at their homes — while with their families — by angry folks hell bent on sharing their misery.
When I was at my most active by way of blogging, I had people use my own admissions of struggling with alcohol against me as a personal and professional attack, writing me off as an unhinged alcoholic. I was on the receiving end of aggressive correspondence regularly, both publicly in comments and privately by way of email. On occasions when my work would get more attention, I would get notified that attempts to hack into my email were being made.
Having made a number of assumptions about my wealth and level of comfort, an old neighbor with whom I had no actual relationship suggested I move to Portland because I didn’t represent my town’s mindset. Just this morning, serendipitously timed as it was just as I was starting to write this, another neighbor — again, one with whom I don’t have a relationship — suggested I stop being lazy, get off my “blogging ass” and paint the rest of my house.
And this is nothing. I am a man, so I have never been even halfway seriously threatened with rape, and I am a very small impact Z-list opinion manufacturer.
While I like to believe I am strong and that my voice and I stand tall in the face of adversity and all that, it can be scary, especially when you have a family. I recently had to remove comments and block somebody on a Facebook post because someone took an incredibly unhinged stand regarding the perceived oppression of “nerds” by feminist culture, and a Google search revealed that this person had a criminal history of stalking. You speak for yourself, visible on your own behalf, of course, but also have to consider the safety of those around you. The great writer Jessica Valenti recently announced a break from social media after receiving rape threats against her 5-year-old daughter.
And it’s not just those in the opinion racket or funny and outspoken black women, and it’s not just the disgruntled and unhinged and racist making the threats. I have friends in journalism, past and present, who have been professionally threatened by “legitimate” political operatives. Some have been on the receiving end of thinly veiled threats of violence, while others have received more specific threats of blackmail.
Visibility of all degrees, A-list to Z-list, comes with a price. Being so vulnerable as to have an idea or opinion or the tenacity to expose a truth or a talent opens the door more than occasionally to terror. Women, particularly black women, undoubtedly pay a substantially higher share and there are issues at the core of that we have to continue to unpack and confront. But as our discourse intensifies, particularly as that on the national stage trickles down — Donald Trump’s campaign CEO Steve Bannon is celebrated by the alt-right, which his career has helped to embolden — we need to carefully consider the cost of this free-for-all. On its surface it can strike us as funny and absurd but at its core it is vile and dangerous. At what point do the brutes — a small, though viciously outspoken minority — detrimentally dent dialogue, investigation, journalism, the humanity of those sharing their experiences?
To the humanity of black women just trying to be funny?
All love and support to Leslie Jones.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Cornish.