INT. OLIVER'S APARTMENT -- NIGHT
Are you exhausted of talking about race in America? If you are, there's a good chance you're black. Yet, here I am to remind you that this discussion is far from over. To the allies out there fighting the good fight, bless you, we thank you. But unless you're black (or a person of color) in America, you have no idea what this truly feels like, so please, take a step back and listen. This is a collection of thoughts I wish to share, if you care to read them.
This afternoon, I saw Leslie Jones trending on Twitter. I can't explain how or why, but immediately, I sensed it wasn't good. One click later, I knew it. She was hacked and had her personal and private information leaked. As if that wasn't enough, the hackers took it a step further adding a picture of Harambe to her website for good measure. Why? It's the question I kept coming back to this afternoon. Then I considered the fact that Leslie Jones is guilty of being a successful black female comedian. That is her crime.
Now, I don't know Leslie Jones personally but through friends who do, and those who actually work with her, I hear she's a wonderful person. She's talented, funny and someone who's been hard at work in the comedy game for quite some time. Everything she is getting in terms of success, she has earned. This racist backlash? Not so much. Leslie's coverage of the Olympics hands down made the Olympics for me (and for many others). She loves her country. She loves those athletes. It was sheer joy to watch her watch them, to see her commentate and support them. I felt connected in a way I hadn't anticipated thanks to her involvement. Watching faceless people on the internet try to take that joy away from her in some way today was soul crushing. Why?
I'll say it again. Leslie Jones is guilty of being a successful black female comedian. She is all of those things and that is her crime. She made the mistake of accepting a role as a female Ghostbuster in Paul Feig's reboot this summer. Her bad, I guess. Did anyone watch the original? There was a black guy in that one as well. His name was Winston. I get it though, since the original didn't exist in the age of internet trolls or reddit, we maybe spared Ernie Hudson some hateful mentions? I don't know, maybe the mistake was remaking the movie to begin with. While there is certainly misogyny and sexism at play in the unique hatred and condemnation this move faced months before it even hit theaters, the fact that Leslie was singled out in the attacks is telling.
I can't speak to being a black celebrity or public figure but from those i'm connected to and those I follow on social media, this act of publicly attacking black people is certainly not an isolated incident. Hateful and hurtful slurs are hurled at folks like Franchesca Ramsey, Joy Reid and Roxane Gay on a daily basis. DAILY. I only know because I see the exchanges. During her Late Night with Seth Meyers appearance, Leslie said, "What's scary about the whole thing is that the insults didn't hurt me. Unfortunately I'm used to the insults. That's unfortunate." That is incredibly unfortunate. Can you imagine getting to a place where your mentions are just a steady stream of hate? So much so that you adapt to it?
How did we get here? Specific to Leslie, NY Mag did a solid job of charting out how this hatred for Leslie started and perhaps why it continues. It's worth a read but I'll just note that the hate only started pouring in, after an alt-right "journalist" negatively reviewed the Ghostbusters reboot:
"A number of his followers and other members of the alt-right community began to troll Jones with sexist and racist comments and hateful memes."
In the words of DJ Khaled, "THEY DON'T WANT YOU TO WIN!" And by they, I mean racists. You have a right to dislike a movie or even hate or dislike a person for all I care. But constantly attacking a person online is out of bounds. That's actually just harassment.
SMASH CUT TO: A DONALD TRUMP RALLY
We've all seen the New York Times video of Donald Trump supporters unfiltered. It's not just racist, it's unabashedly racist. It's like, racism on steroids. It's extreme racism. It's out. of. control.
Maybe I'm especially keyed into it this week because every time Trump opens his mouth in an attempt to woo black voters, it comes out wrong (or just right, depending on who's listening). To me -- an actual black person -- though, it sounds like all black people are broke (we're not), living with crime (massive overstatement), destitute and unemployed (we aren't). We're going to take back this country Trump often says (but from who?). The answer lies somewhere in between the lines.
There's this idea, that you're now seeing bubble up into the mainstream: Black people (like Leslie) are somehow infringing upon successful white people (they aren't because it's an illusion)! Sticking to show biz, diversity is a huge problem. Gender representation is also an issue. In front of the camera, behind the camera, on set, in writer's rooms. It's. a. whole. thing. So the list of top paid actresses in Hollywood was released this week. Guess how many black women were on it? None. The gender pay gap is real (women make 79 cents to every man's dollar) but the black pay gap is also real (black women make 63 cents to every man's dollar). These ideas are not in competition with one another, when framed in the context of who has the most to lose in America (read: white men), they actually complete the story.
I can't help but connect the through line of Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric -- taking things back -- to the idea that what his supporters hear and what racists in this country hear, which is that some of us have too much. Black people (and Latinos, and women, and LGBT people) have too much. We're getting too successful. Along the same lines...we're "too politically correct" and some women even have agency over their bodies so it's time to reassess.
At least, that's what I hear. I hear scared men (and women), shouting slurs, embracing hate groups, grasping at straws, looking at their new leader who has come to turn back time, the one who has come to take their things back. It's all connected. Donald Trump's slogan is "Make America Great Again." I don't know about all that but he's certainly making racism/hate/bigotry mainstream again.
We have a black president. I like to think a lot of people mistakenly thought this meant racism was finally coming to an end. That 143 years after slavery was abolished, to see a black man as leader of the free world, occupying the White House (which Michelle Obama rightly notes, was built by slaves) somehow meant we'd just about done it. And it does signify change, how can it not? It shows that we are making progress and moving in the right direction. But with change, there is always resistance. Blowback. We're seeing that now. The people who were Anti-Obama. The birthers. The ugly underbelly of America is showing itself and thanks to the GOP candidate's personal views and stances, the whole world is getting a front row seat.
Whether it's calling Obama the n-word or hacking Leslie Jones or screaming All Lives Matter when someone says Black lives do. You're seeing it. Let's keep talking.
Addendum -- Casual Racism
Being black in America isn't easy, at times it's downright exhaustive. We literally live in fear of falling victim to police brutality or becoming another hashtag, daily. While overt racism is easy to spot, some are averse to idea of casual racism, less inclined to see it for what it is: insidious and sprawling. Make no mistake though, it's just as bad.
Casual racism is telling me you can't be racist because you have black friends or voted for Obama.
Casual racism is a sea of microaggressions.
Casual racism is exclusion, dismissiveness and denial.
We can get better. It starts with acceptance and willingness. The ability to examine yourself, accept your racial blind spots and do better. The willingness to challenge those around you to do the same.