Last weekend, Ebony editor Jamilah Lemieux, a Black woman, was severely attacked by (mostly) U.S. republicans after she mistakenly identified a right-wing critic of color as white. (She quickly apologized after realizing her mistake.) Racism ensued. I didn’t follow the mess in close detail, here is a good way to get a sense of it.
These harsh attacks on social media are common, unfortunately. As, Imani Gandy pointed out on TWIB on Thursday, it seems that the attacks and insults hurled at Black women/women of color are especially vile, and public support is rare, even from people who should be close allies to these women (white feminists, black men, the left.) That must be incredibly frustrating and tiring
I wanted to briefly comment on one aspect of the debate: The sense of entitlement by (white) guys to jump into discussions they are not part of, and/or the complaint of women of color (and other subordinate groups) about outsiders intruding into discussions they have among themselves. It is next to impossible to keep unwanted outsiders out of social media discussions due to what danah boyd calls the “affordances of networked publics” (persistence, visibility, spreadability, searchability.) However, I think it is perfectly reasonable for women (etc) to express the desire to have certain discussions with each other, without outsiders crashing in with their unsolicited opinions, comments, or hate. We (™) really have enough attention for our opinions, by default.
In addition, I think that people inserting themselves into discussions they haven’t been invited to violate another unwritten rule of civil society: Civil inattention. The concept, defined by sociologist Ervin Goffman, describes the necessity for people within close public proximity to respectfully ignore each other in order to make public order possible and respect personal boundaries.
Social media platforms (Twitter, tumblr, blogs, facebook pages, ..) are a public forum, websites that can technically accessed by all, which is what makes it so amazing. More often than not, publicly voiced discussions are open to the public, or at least open to followers. In order for the platforms to remain functional, democratic, and amazing, we need to respect other people’s wishes and boundaries.