A BLOG BY SHANNON FISHER
An edited version of this article is published in the Huffington Post’s Entertainment Section.
Between the election of the nation’s first African American president, the increasing social and economic independence of women, and the increase in incidents of radical Islamic terrorism on American soil, the status quo of predictable societal roles and comfortable coexisting has begun to crumble. Prejudice and the rising desire to put people of another demographic “in their place” has become so insidious in recent years that it is almost in vogue in some circles to openly express one’s disdain for others in a gratuitously offensive manner.
Until recently, there was a near-universal baseline of courtesy that could be expected among most Americans. Much of the disdain for “other” had been obscured by self-regulated walls throughout this decades-long era of political correctness. A single sledgehammer crashing into the collective wall could not on its own unleash an onslaught of bigotry. Had there been no hate pushing against the wall, there would be nothing bursting from behind when it crumbled. Suppressed anger has been percolating for decades, but the normalization of it by internet trolls and political figures could have been the breaking point.
I also had a breaking point: when Leslie Jones’ website was hacked, with her personal information, private photos, and racist vandalism posted by the hackers for anyone to see. Several of my friends and colleagues have experienced cyberbullying to the point that they have left social media, so this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve heard about (or experienced) vile behavior by internet trolls, but this was my tipping point.
Public figures will always have “haters” and a certain level of online harassment; it unfortunately comes with the territory – but what has been happening to Leslie Jones lately is different. She was targeted with emotional weapons I will never be able to fully understand: overt racism…on top of overt misogyny. The final dregs of what burst from behind that wall of courtesy have now emerged, and their behavior is beyond reprehensible.
Jones was bombarded with racist tweets, but she stood up to the bullies, called them out and returned with her head held high. Then, when her popularity on the very medium on which she had been attacked earned her a trip to the Olympics, those trolls made it their mission to humiliate and violate her in a manner that that would hopefully affect her so deeply they would attain “victory.” Their method was hacking her website. No one wins.
It shouldn’t be remarkable that Leslie Jones is black and female. It would be wonderful if her successful career had the same trajectory as any other sketch, stand-up comic or comedic actor. But it is an incredible anomaly that Leslie Jones has had such a rapid, meteoric rise to blockbuster-movie-starring, Saturday-Night-Live-featured, flown-to-the-Olympics-because-people-love-your-tweets kind of success as a black female comedian.
The irony is that Jones is much more interested in making jokes than making any kind of social statement. She is a comedian who, like many of the greats, pushes the limits of what is deemed appropriate for the sake of entertainment – not for the sake of social satire. An activist she is not. But her success, with no agenda other than to induce laughter, made her a target of those wanting to “put her in her place.” And the better she does, the harder they try to tear her down.
“Free speech!” the trolls say, often using anonymous online accounts as a veil to separate themselves from having to own or admit their bigotry. It is true that we all have the right to say whatever we want in this country, but just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Fast food is legal. Cigarettes are legal. Listening to songs like Rebecca Black’s Friday…is legal!
I think the wall of human decency is broken for good, or at least for the foreseeable future. The Gremlins have eaten after minight and gotten wet. While this flood of hate seeping into every corner of society could potentially drown us all, we have the choice to refuse to contribute to this culture of hating the “other.” Personally, I’d rather listen to Leslie Jones telling jokes. Wouldn’t you?
by Shannon Fisher