It all started with a tweet. Charleston, S.C. student, Ashley Patrick, was annoyed that a fellow student, Imani Herring, was speaking in their vocal class. Patrick took to Twitter to express her discontent. The high school senior tweeted: “If Imani Herring makes one more smart got damn remark in Roger’s class tomorrow, shit will drop.” The subsequent tweet was the link to a picture of a white girl looking as if she’s meditating. Underneath the photo were the words, “I wish a nigga would.”
Patrick is white. Herring is black. A racially-coded tweet designed to appease her followers cost Patrick her chance to walk during the Charleston School of the Arts commencement ceremony. She was also banned from prom and placed on strict probation. Immediately, media outlets sided with Patrick after she claimed she didn’t consider how her tweet would impact her target.
The Post and Courier questioned whether the punishment was too harsh, claiming “I wish a nigga would” is an “expression used in urban and hip-hop culture. The phrase can be found in rap songs, comedy sketches and as a Twitter hashtag.” Others followed suit, leaving Herring on the receiving end of unwarranted commentary and hurtful backlash.
Herring alleges the media portrayed her inaccurately, claiming Patrick was the victim instead of her. She writes:
Since the release of the article, my life has been horrible. People have made me feel as though I did something wrong. During this week, as I walked the halls at school, very few adults spoke to me. They stared at me and I felt their eyes on me. Students either came up to me all day to ask me one of three things:
1. Why did you do this to Ashley?
2. Are you Imani Herring?
3. What was that article about you in the paper?
Since this entire event, maybe two teachers have asked me if I am okay. I feel alone. I feel angry. Believe it or not, I feel bad for Ashley. No one in the school brought us together to talk or to do mediation.
Herring claims she’s hurting and now understands the pain other victims of cyberbullying experience. She has three lessons she hopes to share:
1. The victims of cyberbullying deserve support, not isolation. All people deserve Dignity and Respect.
2. The media should always try to consider multiple sides to a story.
3. Use your voice. Technology has its place but the most painful part of this experience has been the hurt of people not knowing how to communicate or have Courageous Conversations.
Herring’s experiences with race and racism prompted her to launch “It Is Not Okay,” a social movement designed to eradicate cyberbullying using social media. Her mission is to simply “help others understand that it is not okay to avoid proactive, inclusive, socially responsible activities for all students, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.”
She has developed five objectives for the program, encouraging advocates, victims and bullies to stop this cycle of behavior.
1. It is not okay to attack others through technology.
2. It is not okay to ignore, target and avoid communication with victims of Cyberbullying.
3. It is not okay to report one side of the story with cyberbullying. The real truth is that everyone becomes a victim. Media…this means you!
4. It is not okay to avoid mediation and face to face conversation when working through issues. Talking still works.
5. It is not okay to be silent. Silence is permission.
Herring hopes to make a difference with the campaign by empowering fellow victims of cyberbullying to use their voices.