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#WeKnowWhatYouDid

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Written by Da’Shaun Harrison

 

I woke up on Wednesday morning, November 8th. It was around 8:30 am. Expecting it to be just another Wednesday, I checked my emails, then my texts, and then social media.

What I found when I scrolled through Twitter, however, was that this was not just another Wednesday. This was the day that someone, or several people, decided to do what most survivors often want to but opt-out of due to fear, lack of protection, antagonism from apologists, and a host of other reasons.

Student survivors from the Atlanta University Center (AUC)—which consists of Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University—plastered Morehouse and Spelman’s campuses with sheets of paper. On these sheets were the names of various assailants throughout the AUC and organizations they were affiliated with.

When I saw the first tweet, my heart sank. I was excited about the labor that survivors were putting in; labor that both institutions have proven they were unwilling to, and maybe even incapable of, committing to. However, though the action was both humbling and refreshing for me as a survivor, I also knew that Twitter would soon be set ablaze by the many assailants and their apologists who have also proved that they are unwilling to put in the labor to combat rape culture. I took several deep breaths, sent out various texts, and then I waited.

 

 

At 8:30, there were a few folks talking about the incident, but there was not yet too large of a conversation. 9:00 came and chatter had increased, but still nothing tremendously outrageous. By this time, I was reading tweets stating that Morehouse’s campus police had already begun to remove the sheets of paper. I thought, for a moment, that this protest would prove to be unsuccessful. And as an organizer, that reality was disappointing. I am always in full support of organizers who take such radical, bold, and strategic steps toward justice. However, as a survivor, I could not help but to feel a little excited. Thankful that I would not have to bear witness to the inundating ignorance of people who refuse to hold sexual abusers accountable for their actions.

 

Then 10:00 came.

 

Suddenly, a rush of tweets began to flood my Twitter timeline with more pictures of the white sheets of paper and the names of assailants typed onto them. Some names I knew and expected, others coming as a total surprise. And with these pictures came the commentary I originally expected. “How do we know these people are actually rapists?” some asked. “Are we sure we know what they did?” others asked. It was as if rape apologists rushed to Twitter in droves to make unapologetic claims about the survivors’ actions while not daring to condemn the men and women who were accused. Many of them even dressed their bigotry in the guise of solidarity with survivors.

 

#WeKnowWhatYouDid quickly became more than a hashtag, much like the origin of #BlackLivesMatter. This became a national campaign in a matter of hours. Tons of survivors took to Twitter to share their stories with names of their assailants, and Twitter pages, designed with the purpose of naming perpetrators, were created.

 

That day was spent having long, tough and painful discussions about rape culture and sexual assault. Survivors forced to argue the indispensability of our humanity. For hours, I was stuck deciding when choosing to be quiet to protect my sanity made me complicit in the silencing of my voice and when not being vocal aided in the erasure of my narrative.

 

I was finally able to laugh again at the end of the day. Barely, but I did. After hours of fighting through triggering responses to combat harmful beliefs about survivors, I was able to smile again.

 

Then Thursday came.

 

And with this new day came a second action. This time, a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, which stands at the front of Morehouse’s campus, had been spray painted with the message: “Practice what you preach Morehouse. End rape culture.” In yet another frenzy, Twitter users quickly tweeted out their thoughts on the action. Just as the majority focused on condemning the survivors and not the assailants the day before, many people focused on the vandalism of the chapel and not the reasoning behind it.

 

 

Almost as quickly as the vandalism was discovered, Morehouse’s campus police covered the work with a tarp. As many folks pointed out on Twitter, this was an emblematic gesture—be it intentional or otherwise—of how Morehouse, and HBCUs in general, respond to sexual violence. It depicts, almost comically, how swiftly those with the power and privilege to make real, structural change are committed to silencing survivors and covering up our stories. Fixated on damning those who have experienced trauma for the ways in which they choose to seek justice over condemning those who caused the trauma.

 

That very same Thursday morning at Crown Forum, which is a college-wide student assembly, the interim president of the college, Harold Martin Jr., addressed the students and the recent actions. Within this statement, he says: “This will be the last time anyone ever defaces the chapel on this campus.” A moment that could have been used to have a raw discussion about sexual violence with a room filled mostly by men was, instead, used as a moment to, yet again, focus on the property that had been painted over.

 

He used the word “deface,” which can translate to “damage” or “ruin,” to describe the spray painting of the chapel. And while it is true that students defaced property, it is also true that the Church has attempted to deface many survivors as it has been a place of deep-rooted violence towards queer folk and women. In a piece I recently wrote, I discussed my own experiences with sexual violence and the Church’s role. The Church—specifically, the Black Church—has long aided in the silencing of survivors and has been committed to molding and shaping assailants. Morehouse is an institution built on old baptist morals and ethics and has been a product of two institutions, Christianity, and the cisheteropatriarchy, with a dedication to protecting perpetrators. And what better place to attack that than the one place that represents both institutions on campus?

 

This forced me, and a lot of other survivors and advocates, to revisit and reintroduce the fact that though rape culture is prevalent throughout the rest of America—as patriarchy is not confined to Morehouse and Spelman’s campuses—HBCUs have a deeply painful history with and connection to sexual violence that cannot be ignored. A violence that is often silenced and, thus, exacerbated, by a belief that Black people must handle our intracommunal issues “in-house.” That, as a community, healing must come on the terms of the abuser(s) and at the expense of the survivor(s).

 

#WeKnowWhatYouDid acts as a catalyst to a much larger moment, not conversation, that requires us to daringly hold responsible the various men, women, and people who have violated others in unimaginable ways. The hashtag, the movement must push us to not be fixated on the tactics of survivors looking for justice, but on how we work to hold the perpetrators accountable while prioritizing the healing of the survivors.

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“Instagram Impostors: Twitter Exposes White Womens’ “N*ggerfishing’ Tactics”

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On election night, while the nation waited with bated breath over poll results, Twitter user, Dee (@yeahboutella) shared a series of Instagram screenshots on Twitter regarding their dismay and shock over a white woman outed for being white. Now you may be asking yourself how is someone is outed regarding race in 2018 and especially as white? Evidently, a Swedish white woman Emma Hallberg, who goes by the username @eemmahallberg on Instagram, was accused of sleeping with braids to give her hair a fuller and more textured look, spray tanning her skin until it was five or six shades darker, and using foundation to deepen the appearance of her skin.

These white women are physically altering themselves to look like mixed-raced women of African descent for social and monetary capital. Click To Tweet

Replies to Dee’s thread consisted of equally shocked Twitter users, and one tweet even featured a stark contrast between @eemmahallberg’s appearance in 2016 and 2018. Another tweet revealed a shot of her Youtube video showing the disparity between her darker foundation and her naturally fairer skin. Writer Wanna (@WannasWorld) who has masterfully framed Black women in the hood and their direct influence on fashion, asked her followers to add more women like Hallberg, who essentially cosplay racially ambiguous mixed-race women of African descent to showcase the Instagram phenomenon. Moreover, she brilliantly highlighted it as a “ni**erfishing epidemic.” Replies flooded Wanna’s tweet and even prompted accounts dedicated to exhibiting what can only be described as something along the lines of racist body dysmorphia.


So what is the issue here besides the complete absurdity of it all? Well, for one, there are multiple issues with this. Let’s look at the most obvious: these white women are physically altering themselves to look like mixed-raced women of African descent for social and monetary capital.

Due to the vigorous erasure of unambiguous Black women in mass media, the market for mixed-raced and racially ambiguous women has skyrocketed. To illustrate this point Black women’s representation drastically shifted from the Afrocentric look in the 1990s to what we have seen and continue to see in contemporary eras of the 2000s and 2010s, which is a more “universally appealing” look generally found in women who are not monoracially Black. The abundance of Black women who cannot be cosplayed by white women such: members of En Vogue, Blaque, Brownstone, SWV; Brandy, Lauryn Hill, Tatyana Ali, and Nia Long dwindled in preference to: Zendaya, Kehlani, Alexandra Shipp, Amandla Stenberg, Jhene Aiko, Cassie, Yara Shahidi, and Cardi B.

The high demand for women with features that are Black enough to provide the exoticism and white enough to appeal and provide accessibility to white women created the space for literal imposters — or ni**afishes. ‘The look,’ popularly known as ‘Instagram Baddie,’ relies on Black women as its foundation, but because Blackness fails white beauty standards it has to be adequately removed from Blackness to appeal to white women. The Instagram Baddie aesthetic for non-Black women results in more likes on social media which operates as social currency thus inadvertently; however, more times than not, intentionally garners recognition from beauty corporations invested in exploiting the insecurities of women for profit.

The high demand for women with features that are Black enough to provide the exoticism and white enough to appeal and provide accessibility to white women created the space for literal imposters — or ni**afishes. Click To Tweet

 

Brands reach out to non-Black Instagram baddies, at remarkably higher rates than the Black women whose looks create the foundation for the aesthetic. These corporations provide the “universally appealing” women with lucrative opportunities such as brand ambassadorships; all expense paid trips, advertising deals, and free products. The business becomes cyclical: white and non-Black women alter their appearance to become ‘Instagram Baddies,’ they gain social validation through likes which subsequently increases financial profits on both the woman and brands side, and it reinforces a beauty standard at the ironic exclusion of Black women.

Disappointingly, because the Black folks — en mass — continue to uphold and adhere to the racist one-drop rule, racially ambiguous mixed-race women are seen as Black although their sociopolitical and economic experiences are measurably different in comparison to Black women. The differences between the two groups of women is an iteration of the colonial three caste system in Southern Louisiana, a part of U.S. history that isn’t as widely interrogated as it should be although it set a precedent for colorism the United States.

Now, in the modern-age, racial ambiguity has afforded mixed-raced, and consequently white women, the privilege of trapezing a broader demographic. For whites and non-Black people of color Instagram baddies are ‘exotic,’ and to Blacks, these women are still seen as Black because there may be a little bit of Black in them, even when it turns out there isn’t any at all. This more expansive demographic translates to higher opportunities for marketability and monetary profit because diverse groups of people will consume the image of these women more favorably.

The preeminent non-Black women to ni**erfish in the contemporary era are the Kardashian-Jenners. They may not have been duped the public into believing that they are Black; however, they tap into Black women’s aesthetic for their marketability as well as steady proximity to Blackness by way of their male partners and high-profile Black women friends. It is not by chance that Kim and her family have dominated ‘urban’ blogs like Bossip and The Shade Room and have become household names among Black America in comparison to other non-Black and white celebrities like a Sofía Vergara or Jennifer Lawrence who are also positioned as standards of beauty.

Rapper and ex-boyfriend of the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner klan, Kylie, recently spoke about the deliberate efforts the Kardashians make in co-opting Blackness. Regarding Kylie’s drastic shift from ordinary white girl to an Instagram baddie, he said, “you gotta look at the before and after. She always had a platform, and she was always destined to be what she was going to be regardless, but, when I stepped in, there was a lot of codes being taught.” By codes it can be inferred he means Black codes, presumably the way Black women pose in pictures, dress, and wear their hair and makeup. He followed up by saying “…it was like, you could do this, you should start this, you should start doing your hair like this, you should add that because you need black people to f— with you…” “…if you ain’t got Black people behind you, you ain’t got nothing.”

It was one thing for the Kardashian-Jenner family to satisfy the Black Male Gaze but by donning the entire custom of racial ambiguity and signaling cues of Blackness is how they fascinated the community as a whole. Their shape-shifting allowed them to not only sell their products to white women desperate to look more interesting, seen in the timing of Kylie’s lip kits and her lip filler debacle but also to Black women who also aspire to attain a look that receives widespread approval, particularly from Black men.

A hard truth in this trend is the complicity of Black people. As Tyga truthfully articulated, “…if you ain’t got Black people behind you, you ain’t got nothing.” There has to be a substantial investment in racially ambiguous mixed-race women and an affirmation of their Blackness even when it is not being asked for by them in order for them to pull the con off.

For Black men, their internalize anti-Black racism is projected through implicit and explicit violence against Black women. They shame and vilify Black features and characteristics on Black women with colorism and featurism yet praise and seek out white and non-Black women who have transformed themselves into caricatures of Black women. Moreover, because they are still men, the act of women contorting themselves to appease them is an added ego-boost. Partnering and creating progeny with these women ultimately fulfill their white male penis envy and erases the parts (or entirety) of Blackness they wish did not exist in themselves.  

For Black women, their participation in the elevation of these women is a more woeful tale. Because they desire to be desired by Black men they follow whom they see appealing to Black men. Because patriarchal domination transcends sexual orientation, the desire is not solely based in cisheteronormativity but rather the general oppression of women. Their added media erasure — which has not yet happened to Black men — creates a void in healthy self-esteem building. Thus, allowing for any representation no matter how fictitious to serve their need to be seen and affirmed. Capitalism, racism, and patriarchy become the driving forces that create the environment for Black women become reliable and loyal consumers for racially ambiguous mixed-raced women and now white women who advance their erasure and sell their image back to them.

So, yes the ni**erfishing trend is ridiculous, and the name — coming from a Black woman — may make you let out a hearty chuckle, but the implications are dire. Not only have mixed-race women replaced Black women in spaces designated for them thanks to the one-drop rule but because of their easily mimicable features, white women and non-Black can now take up space and opportunities that were already hard for Black women to access and now make it all but impossible for Black women to do so. More importantly, outside of the monetary and social capital, the diet blackface only further complicates an already complex sense of self among Black women. Unlike women like Hallberg, Black women’s race-based body dysmorphia has not and is not met with light-hearted Twitter jokes or compassion but instead vitriolic shaming and silencing. Since social capital, in this case, is controlled by users of social media platforms, shifting your following and likes to unambiguous Black women is an excellent starting point to remedy the damage caused by ‘ni**afishes.’

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What’s Beef: Rap vs. Feminism

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There is a serious lack of solidarity in rap/hip-hop despite the third wave of feminism that’s swept mainstream culture. Why do you think that is?

 

Rap/Hip-Hop has been a mainstay within Black culture since its arrival in the mid-70s. The colorful art of spoken word over beats was no different than 50s beat poetry and to many, it provided a positive means of expression. As a genre, rap/hip-hop gave many the voice to speak truth to power while inspiring and encouraging the community it was birthed from. But as time went on, the genre changed, adopting many of the societal tropes that saw women as objects, victims, and targets to exploit. This misogyny, while easily recognizable when coming from male aggressors, is incredibly nuanced, particularly when its perpetrators are female.

“The misogynist lyrics of gangsta rap are hateful indeed, but they do not represent a new trend in Black popular culture, nor do they differ fundamentally from woman hating discourses that are common among White men. The danger of this insight is that it might be read as an apology for Black misogyny.” – Leola Johnson, Academic

Genesis

At the dawn of a rap era with hits like “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre, Queen Latifah’s anthemic “U.N.I.T.Y” was a breath of fresh air. Directly attacking the unconscionable language and endorsed behavior directed at the sole demographic that has always been the pillar of support for men of color, Latifah proudly questioned a growing trend of oppressive black male patriarchy. Standing strong at a small but mighty crew of female emcees, “U.N.I.T.Y.” was a call to action in a genre that did not respect women, let alone provide them with opportunities to shine. From the inception of gangsta rap, female rap artists have spent their careers fighting for their place in a genre where their success is contingent upon subordination. But the addition of in-fighting as a means to assert dominance leaves many disappointed in the wake of the most female empowered era of the game.

Internalized Misogyny

Aside from the lack of solidarity among female artists, more troubling is the complicity of rapstresses who stand by men who maintain misogynist ideals. Remy Ma really sat on a panel in silence with Joe Budden as he was gaslighting Scottie Beam and claimed, unintelligently, that the false female empowerment movement was devoted to picking [women] up when they are wrong. Her ability to sit idly by as Scottie provided opposition and depth on the topic is exactly the type of cosign that enables men to continue that negative behavior. Never mind the fact that she would later defend R.Kelly, who faces decades of accusations of assault exclusively against Black women.

We live in a time where people argue that silence is acceptance and that we should separate the art from the artist. But we are asked to do the latter when the targets of violence are almost exclusively female. Imagine being asked to give your assailant a pass because they write good music. When we examine why there is a lack of solidarity in the Hip-Hop community, we must consider that it’s due to the long-term effects of misogyny/misogynoir.

Learn From This

Seeing popular female artists pitted against one another in a genre where 22 to 37% of the lyrics contain misogyny is painful. Hip hop’s authenticity is traditionally graded on a scale of masculinity, where even the ownership of one’s own objectification works against the artist and leads to further marginalization. Female rap artists are victims of an industry that forces them to take the side of their oppressors and attack artists who fit their style as a means to find success. This most recent blow-up between Nicki and Cardi is proof of that, but this problem dates back to the origins of female rap.

Emcees like Mc Lyte, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Trina have all contributed to the complex legacies of rap artists with music that detracts and affirms the worth of Black women. How is it possible that in a time where we sing “Formation” and “God is a woman” we are unable to find positive female relationships among rap artists? Name one mainstream female only rap collaboration from this year. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

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French Montana Creates Preschool Classrooms in Morocco

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The Moroccan born rapper, French Montana, is following in his boss Diddy’s footsteps. The “Pop That” musician is working with the Sabae School of Fida-Mers Sultan district to fund two preschool classrooms. His contribution to the classrooms will do wonders for the school by making sure they have all of the supplies they need and that it can stay open for years to come.

This is not Montana’s first humanitarian act for Africa. According to TMZ, he raised $500K to build a hospital in Uganda that is now helping serve around 300,000 women in about 40 villages.

Let us hope this trend of building schools and other resources continue in our communities.

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