I leave Twitter tonight with tears and a very sad heart.All this cause I did a movie.You can hate the movie but the shit I got today…wrong
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
Comedian and star of the recent all-female cast Ghostbusters Movie, Leslie Jones, deleted her Twitter account after being the victim of racist harassment on the social the social network. However, before making her exit from the platform, Jones retweeted many of the harassing messages she received and they were absolutely, outrageously obscene, troubling and deeply hurtful. In an effort to draw support for Leslie, the hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ became popularized where many shared an outpouring of love for the actor.
In the light of these events, many criticized Twitter for their inaction and inability to promptly intervene on behalf of those who are abused on the website. The social media company responded with,
“We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us, but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse,” Twitter said in a statement. “We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”
Twitter also banned Milo Yiannopoulos, who the social network claims fanned the flames of the harassment of Jones. His account was suspended several times in the past for not adhering to Twitter’s terms and conditions and his verified status was also recently removed. Yiannopoulos told Breitbart:
“Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot……..This is the end for Twitter…….. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
His supporters started the trend #FreeMilo, that was trending for quite some time. For Yiannopoulos and those who share his political inclinations, racist speech is simply a matter of free speech. And to a large extent, at least in the context of America, they are absolutely right.
Racist hate speech is a part of the fabric of the United States of America, and though it has been branded unacceptable to publicly voice in recent decades, those sentiments are still expressed far and wide in private spaces, covertly. It should also be noted that the thinking that drives such speech still shapes this nation. It is far too convenient to place the onus of dealing with racism on online companies like Twitter as if they can somehow change centuries of policy, legislative action, social and psychological programming that has resulted in the ongoing race problem in America.
Not to mention, because overt hate speech was accepted in America for so long, it shaped the public’s understanding of what racism is, casting a shadow over more insidious forms of the practice. For many Whites, if there is no sign that reads “colored only” on bathrooms or “no niggers” at dinner countertops, there is no evidence of racism. By allowing an online space to thrive where racists can feel safe enough to expound the ideologies that still remain widespread in the country, yet have been shrouded by the cloak of political correctness, it forces Whites to reckon with the reality that racism persists. A truth many have and still continue to try to deny.
After all, many whites have stood up to denounce the actions of those Twitter users and also speak in support of Leslie. Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler posted this message to Instagram:
Hey everyone, I am absolutely disgusted and sad. What happened to Leslie Jones last night on twitter was horrible, racist, ugly, so hurtful and not acceptable. I can’t even put it to words. She is so amazing, talented and god damn beautiful! She worked so hard to get where she is now. She doesn’t deserve all the fucking racist comments and hate she received (No one fucking does). This is horrendous. Please show some love for @lesdogggg on here and on twitter!! Because that’s what she does deserve: love and support. Leslie, I admire your strength and talent as do many others! – – #LeslieJones #Loveforlesliej #ghostbusters #snl
Actor/Director Paul Feig tweeted in support: “Any personal attacks against us are attacks against us all.” With the help of Sony, Feig was able to get some of the Twitter users, with the most offensive posts, banned. And a whole host of other celebrities offered their support including: Brie Larson, Judd Apatow, Josh Gad, Olivia Munn, John Boyega, Damon Wayans, Jr., Anna Kendrick, Margaret Cho, Kristin Davis and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
— Paul Feig (@paulfeig) July 18, 2016
— Damon Wayans Yunior? (@wayansjr) July 19, 2016
— Jada Pinkett Smith (@jadapsmith) July 19, 2016
Americans just can’t stand to bare overt hate speech. The police murder of innocent black men, women and children — that we can let slide. The mass incarceration of people of color? Even that is excusable by claims of ignorance. The school-to-prison pipeline? Or any number of covert racist practices still plaguing this country? Those things are for more bearable. After all, it is doubtful that if Leslie Jones would’ve asked for this kind of support to combat any of the aforementioned race-related issues, it would’ve came so swiftly.
For this reason, we need the Whites who readily express racist sentiments to feel empowered to do so. Though sometimes that empowerment may feel as if it is coming at the cost of our own emotional or psychological well-being, it is actually their very own Achilles heel. Because liberal whites who understand racism to be a matter of overt racist sentiment (the many not the few), will be forced to stand against it. And in doing so, they will have to admit that race continues to plague this country and we must all do something about it.