A couple of Mondays ago, actress and comedienne Leslie Jones spent most of the day calling out people who felt it was necessary to degrade and humiliate her on Twitter.
Jones, who’s one of the stars of the divisive, all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot, was receiving a lot of harassment from trolls, many of them fans of the original “Ghostbusters” who can’t get over the fact that a remake was made featuring women as the heroic protagonists. Those who went through Jones’s timeline that day saw all the disgusting, racist, misogynist invective that was hurled at her. Most trolls even compared her to Harambe, the recently slain gorilla from the Cincinnati Zoo who was taken out for grabbing and dragging a 3-year-old boy who fell into its enclosure.
While Jones may be an acquired taste for some (as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” her loud, boisterous, unpredictable antics has also made her a much-debated figure on the Twittersphere), the gorilla remarks were reprehensible. Apart from the fact that it’s a horrible thing to say about a woman, it’s a downright racist thing to say about an African-American woman. As long as black people have existed, people have used apes, gorillas, monkeys and other members of the primate community as racial slurs.
Of course, this was all on Twitter, where people can say horrible things like that and not worry about getting the taste slapped out their mouths. Since Jones couldn’t do that, she did the next best thing and exposed them. Twitter then announced it had taken “enforcement actions” against a number of these trolls. One of them, gay, conservative Breitbart.com tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, was permanently banned from Twitter.
While a “#LoveforLeslieJ” hashtag surfaced during that day, with many people giving their support to Jones for dealing with such awful behavior, the whole thing reminded me how awful African-American women can be treated. As much hate the new “Ghostbusters” has received online from sad, sad men pathetically clinging on to their childhoods (before the film was even released, its IMDb page was bombarded with negative comments from people who obviously hadn’t see it yet), the other white, female stars didn’t get as much abuse for it as Jones did.
Is it because Jones doesn’t fit the typical, regular beauty standards? Ebony.com writer LaSha certainly thinks so. In a recent piece, she wrote how even though she’s not a fan of Jones, Twitter trolls went gunning for her because of her looks. “While black women of all shades can attest to the ruthless harassment that the anonymity of the Internet invites from racists,” she wrote, “we have to be honest enough to admit that the brand of harassment Jones received is reserved for black women who look like her. At 6-feet tall with dark skin, a wide nose, and full lips, Jones wasn’t just targeted because she is a black woman. She was targeted because she’s fits a particular black phenotype.” LaSha insists that the African-American community is just as much to blame for the abuse Jones received as the abusers. “We left her unprotected because dark-skinned women like her are as expendable to us as they are to white America.”
It’s sad when a dark-skinned sista like Jones has to swat away all these haters on her own before people start taking notice. And yet, when a more fair-skinned, more attractive woman is up against the ropes, people jump to their defense. Earlier this month, Vanity Fair printed a cover story on Australian actress Margot Robbie that people online considered sexist. But even though Robbie herself didn’t seem all that fazed by it (she said in a TV interview that she’s read “far more sexist, insulting, derogatory, disgusting things”), a lot of social-media folk still were not having it.
Whether it’s “Ghostbusters” or Gamergate, hate speech against women online is nothing new. If there is anything the Leslie Jones drama has shown us, it’s that not only Twitter needs to implement some changes and monitor those trolls who make life hell for women on their platform, but that women of color deserve just as much support when they get harassed online as white women do.
Contact Craig Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org