Fear is the Mind Killer
A little over a week ago I published an essay on The Establishment about facing the racism in my marriage. I knew this essay had potential. I wrote it months ago and decided to shop around for places to publish it. I looked at various websites, but ultimately decided on The Establishment because they are intentionally intersectional and they do not have a comments section. Anyone who reads anything online knows to avoid the comments section unless you want to lose faith in humanity. I can only occasionally visit them, and usually only last about 15 comments before I’m too depressed and disheartened. In fact, in April this year the Guardian published a piece called “The dark side of Guardian comments” where they analyzed 70 million comments from 1996 until March 2016 to see what types of comments they received and whether they were worth the existence of the comments section.
What they found wasn’t surprising to me, but was surprising to them. They found that the ten most abused writers were either women (8 out of 10) or people of color (6 out of 10). The ten writers who got the least abuse were men.
I’ve seen the vitriol directed at women and Black women who aren’t silent. I am very aware of the target we place on ourselves when we step up and dare to be seen, heard, and respected. It’s so common that women are expected to figure out how to protect themselves from it before daring to say anything. It sounds a lot like how women are conditioned about rape, as if the problem isn’t that people decide to commit rape. I am supposed to keep myself as invisible as possible to prevent people from harassing me.
I am supposed to be silent to prevent abuse.
I am supposed to be invisible to prevent attacks.
I am supposed to hide so that I can be safe.
And if I don’t hide, if I step up and take my place beside every other visible person, I am inviting abuse.
We all know that shit’s wrong, don’t we? Like 100% wrong?
And even though it’s wrong, that’s the environment I have to navigate. I have to accept that mean and nasty things are going to come my way because I dared to write about and share my experience. I admit, I’m scared. I’ve seen what happens to people who stand up for their beliefs. We’ve seen it with people who stand up to their abusive partners, activists who fight for environment rights, and rape victims who seek justice against their attacker. Our society enjoys finding fault with the victim and then attacks them for being a victim instead of pursuing the attacker. It’s ugly. And it’s what I can look forward to if I pursue my online writing.
So I’m scared. I’m scared of being too visible because of what it may do to my life. I’m scared of painting a target on my back. I’m scared that I will say or do something that will result in a backlash so strong that I will be afraid to leave the house.
The question is whether I will let this silence me. The short answer is probably not, which isn’t really an answer. It’s indecision at its finest but it’s the best response I have at the moment.
It’s difficult making decision based on what could possibly happen. It’s hard to make decisions based on fear. I don’t want to be that person, although I do tend to assess “acceptable risk.” Is potentially exposing me and my family to the vitriol of the internet worth continuing to write? Is raising my voice worth my safety?
It's super fucked up that writing an essay about my life and my experiences is a scary thing…an emotionally risky and potentially physically dangerous choice. I can live with people disagreeing with me, but they won't leave it at that. It'll be personal attacks about my looks, my life, my family and my choices. I am opening the door for those attacks by daring to speak and be heard. Using my voice is an act of defiance and that is super fucked up.
I might feel differently if I didn’t see other Black women worried about increasing their visibility because of the harassment it invites. We see people attacked for doing nothing more than saying, “I love my Blackness,” as though loving yourself is some kind of hateful act. It’s fucking outrageous that being unapologetically myself is so damn problematic for some people that they feel compelled to try to abuse me for it.
I might feel differently if I felt I had some kind of recourse when it happens but social media platforms have shown time and time again the double standard that exists when it comes to reporting abuse. That double standard is that if a white guy says it, it’s fine but if a woman, namely a Black woman says it or even just repeats it, her account gets suspended. We’ve seen what happened to Azealia Banks on Twitter; it only highlights the double standard that exists.
And the thing that fucks me up the most about this is that this is exactly why people are harassed. It is to silence them. It is to scare them into hiding. It is to scare me into hiding. If people like me never speak up, never speak out, then we can continue with the lie that everything is great and nothing needs to change.
Well, a lot of things need to fucking change and fortunately there are many voices out there sharing that message.
On some level I’ve always known that speaking my truth was a kind of activism. It sucks that just being myself is an act of protest. But I’ve lived with that burden all of my life, before I ever understood what that meant.
I used to think I didn’t fit; now I know the world doesn’t want me to and that is super fucked up.
Oh, and just in case there was any confusion, this is all about oppression. This is how oppression works. This is how it’s worked for years. If you induce enough fear in people, some will stop openly fighting. This is sexism. This is racism. This is white people, white men putting on their anonymous white hoods and attacking Black women for not knowing their place – which is no place.
So the next time you dismiss some threat or ignore someone’s harassment, think about what you’re really protecting because one day it may be you who steps out of line and will need to be reined in.