Hashtag Activism, Silencing, and Sacrificial Lambs of the New Media Movement

Suey_Par_Facebook_ScreencapOne of the most dangerous byproducts of this age of new media is apathy. In this era, far too many people underestimate the power of social media. Conversely, far too many others abuse it. There just isn’t enough people floating in between. And, when it comes to what many call “hashtag activism” – better known as just plain old activism – social media has been the weapon of choice for many heteropatriarchal anti-acitivists seeking to stifle the grassroots work mainly led by women of color.

We have seen several attacks on women of color this year at the hands of virtual bullies and anti-activists. Namely, Suey Park – best known for creating and amplifying the hashtag #CancelColbert – and Jamilah Lemiuex – Senior Editor of EBONY Magazine.

Suey Park, Gendered Hatred, and “Twitter Activism”

I first came into contact with Suey Park via her “hashtag activism.” Seeing her work on Twitter drawing attention to the sociopolitical inequities for Asian Americans and Indigenous Americans immediately broadened my personal understanding of the complexities of anti-blackness and interracial animus. I wanted to interview her specifically about her opinions on Asian and African American coalition building. That interview fell through but ended up happening just a few days after her #CancelColbert hashtag went hyper-viral. In those few days, I watched be Park threatened with rape, murder, and other physical violence. I saw some of the most vile Orientalism epithets in her mentions. And, I watched as Park fended off psychopaths whose commitment to white male satire outweighed their humanity.

She handled it impeccably well. She changed her avatar to a white male which actually lessened some of the genderized hatred she was receiving. This, underscoring precisely the senselessness of the criticisms she was receiving and further spotlighting the fact that it wasn’t just her efforts to hold Stephen Colbert accountable to correcting his production and media staff when their “jokes” create collateral damage, it was the intersection of her race and gender which emboldened social media loving anti-activists in the worst of ways.

One the prime critiques of Park from writers around the Web was that she was nothing more than a “Twitter activist.” This term was coined simply to demean and undermine the work that happens when people get together where they are and start a movement. I got the chance to talk to Park about another one of her hashtags  – #DecolonizeSAAM – shortly after the Colbert dust-up.

According to Park,

“The ‘Decolonizing Sexual Awareness Month Movement’ is really all about understanding how the state has actually created gender violence…it’s going to be led by people who are not these so-called ‘Twitter activists.’ They are community organizers. They’re academics. They are people who have actually learned what’s productive, have found these resistant tools for organizing and now we’re using social media to kind of have these larger conversations hoping that people don’t keep those conversations just online but implement them into their own communities. “

In other words, while some of Park’s work reaches the masses via social media, it is never intended to stay there. So, being a Twitter activist isn’t really a bad thing. And, given the fact that pretty much every online news outlet has taken notice of the hashtag trend, it must be working, right?

Jamilah Lemieux and the Tweet Heard ‘Round the World

Now, Jamilah’s trolling happened (and happens) for a completely different reason. I have no desire to rehash the ordeal, but in summary, a mixed race conservative fellow turned up in her mentions demanding that she alter her worldview on black race issues specifically for him. When Lemieux mistook him for a while male – then immediately apologized – all of the Republican hellfire was released upon her. Hell, even Reince Preibus, head of the RNC, himself penned an open letter to EBONY. Frankly, she definitely pissed them off.

What was most disheartening about the ordeal was the way in which many white males attempted to skewer Lemieux. They began demanding that she be fired from her job and even questioned whether or not EBONY should exist as a print magazine anymore. It prompted an apology from them almost immediately. Lemieux, in her letter to her #StandWithJamilah fans, addressed the gravity of her exchange and the double standard with which she was becoming an unfortunate victim.

I want to affirm, for any who may doubt, that I have very strong feelings about how my words were twisted to fit the agenda of others. (This is not new territory—ask Shirley Sherrod, Melissa Harris Perry, Anthea Butler…I suppose I should take some pride in now being counted among this principled group.) But, right now, this isn’t about my feelings. Even though so much of this seems like it is about me, Jamilah Lemieux, it most certainly isn’t. This debacle is largely a commentary on the evolving concept of being an employed individual on social media—and the ever-shifting line between public and private. It highlights the importance of employees being mindful of such at all times, whether that feels “fair” or not. This is not about the First Amendment, this is about corporate ethics and the challenges that face those of us who represent major media brands.”

All it took was a single Twitter exchange and a racial mix-up. Her offenses were almost unnoticeable except for the pile of white men jumping on them. She quickly became yet another sacrificial lamb in the social media movement.

But, is it Really Sacrifice?

Part of me just thinks this new double consciousness is simply unfair. Having to always censor, tip-toe, pussyfoot, and second guess one’s public persona just because it might piss off white people is certainly no way to live. Actually, it sounds more like a way to slowly kill yourself and others in America. But, it has become a new reality. It doesn’t feel great and it leads to using the “block and report” function far too frequently on Twitter. But, I am starting to see a silver lining here.

It was Socrates who deemed himself a gadfly to Athenian elites. His inability to conform and accept the status quo, believe in the bull shit art of sophistry, and swallow the homogeneity of thought in Athens ended with him becoming a martyr. While this is true, Plato’s accounts of him have become the bedrock of political thought for democratic nations and philosophers ever since. He may not have been appreciated much then but his sacrifice eventually paid off.

I posit that Park and Lemieux are in the same vein. When the elite white heteropatriarchal monolith deems you an enemy of the state, it means that they are taking note of your work and influence. Efforts to minimize said presence are just employed to keep blinders on those who have the potential to be swayed by enlightenment.

Women of color have always been primed for this opposition. Being systematically objectified and perpetually marginalized has trained this social group that living on the periphery is the status quo not the anomaly. And, where isolation worked quite well in days past, social media mechanisms like hashtags have now paved routes for kinship that are virtually inaccessible forwould-be detractors. In essence, new media has become the large cathedral standing prostrate next door to the white heteropatriarchal Ivory Tower.

I can’t help but see that as a good thing. While it is painful – both as a supporter of these women and an activist woman of color myself – I almost feel it is a necessary evil, perhaps the prologue to a really beautiful story.  Happy endings may be uncertain for now, but these women are writing their narratives every single day. Personally, I’m here for that.

 


 

You can watch my full interview with Suey Park below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZzF0cqA5io

 

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Jenn M. Jackson

Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief
Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

3 Responses

  1. Derek Snow says:

    There have been many points SP has made that I agree with. There are many that I do not. I believe there is still much need for social equality and reform. I started following Park shortly after #cancelcolbert. My initial reaction for her and what I’ve read about her and videos I’ve seen about her make her out to be a bit of a joke as a human being. I do agree with many points she makes, but in following her I’ve found more and more tweets that make her seem to be the spoiled child every calls her out to be.

    I was about to give up on her and then she read an article from what I believe was the New York Times. Less then an hour later she was starting #NetNonNuetral. I’ve been working in the IT field for the past 20 or so years, and to think that Suey Park could be the poster child to support of net neutrality horrified me. Thinking of her getting on Huff Post again CNN and any media and making herself look like a immature spoiled that doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on infuriated me. There was already the #netnuetrality that had existed for some time and there hare a few organizations out there that have been advocating to net neutrality for since Suey Park was in diapers. Within a few hours a friend of hers Dr Adrienne Koh had posted a blog net neutrality and it was clear from reading it that she had done no research on the subject other then what was in the NYT article. It soon became clear to me why she wasn’t pointed people to other organizations, she didn’t start them and there was no publicity change in it for her. I commented more then a few times wondering why she wasn’t pointing people in a direction that could do the most help. For that I was blocked by SP and AK for disagreeing with them. I never made an insult, I never made any kind of threat what so ever but because I raised my voice in disagreement I was silenced by one who champions “I will not be silenced”. This truly showed me the quality of character of SP and her cohorts. The hypocrisy she demonstrates is laughable.

    I’ve read articles from more then one person about how SP bullied them out of the social justice movement because they disagreed with her. Over all Park’s attitude is if you don’t agree with me you are out. And I will admit that I’ve learned a lot more about RacismSexism from taking an interest in SP it hasn’t come from her.

    Lets take a look at one of her most famous tweets. “Dumb Question Racism and Whiteness go together, only white people can be racist” SP has since deleted that tweet as she will often do but there are many people out there who screen grabbed it search on google you’ll find it. I’m not sure what the question was, but I’ve always believed the only dumb question is one that is not asked. She is also offending whomever who is trying to engage her for better or worse the person is at least making an attempt to understand her. However if you say anything she says is dumb you will be called out as an abelist. It honestly took me a while and effort to understand the idea of how only a white person could be racist. I get the concept I do no agree with it but I get it. Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power, if you don’t have power you can’t enforce racism on a systematic scale. That being said individual racism still goes both ways, and you can’t use that as a shield and think it’s ok to make racially offensive statements to white people. Apparently SP think you can. And she goes on time and time again attacking people for their privileged. Well coming from a Social Justice Warrior who thinks she should not be judged by her race, it’s extremely hypocritical. I had many conversations about with sometimes with complete stranger of all color over the next few days. In that time I’ve found 2 people who have heard of the idea and it was only from academia. If the vast majority of the people don’t understand a word in the way you use it, and no dictionary I could find supports racism is prejudice + power definition you make yourself look like a racist and you offend the majority of the country.

    I started thinking what give SP power and the answer became clear a few days ago. Just after I started following SP she had a breakup with someone and publicly tweeted about it. It seemed the person she was dating at the time did not defend something she said in public and that was a grace offense. To whomever it was I do not denounce you in the slightest SP forced you to take a side and that’s not cool. But less then a month later I see more tweets coming form her about yet another lover who had gravely wrong her. Two days after she was treating she found the best guy in the entire world. What had it done to wrong her so badly? He opted out of the relationship. That’s it he didn’t cheat on her he didn’t do anything wrong to her at all. But her in mind breaking up with her shattered her self confidence, and made doubt herself and her body. And Bam huge support for SP about how she had been so grievously hurt. Then I realized where SP gets her power from. She plays the victim. Let me quote Ofer Zur, Ph.D. “The victim stance is a powerful one. The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy.” She plays the victim and that allows her to exchange ideas and comments she would be outraged if someone were making towards her. Just the other day she claimed the White people have no right to have an opinion on what is the best Korean food in town. She has taken such an offensive stance to white people and general. She places blame on people with comments for things there ancestors did over a hundred years ago. Lets follow the logic Prejudice + Power (she gets from playing the victim) = Racism

    I’ve babled long enough. She Park may have good intentions for People of Color. BTW I’ve noticed if she a issue about Asians she is an Asian, if it’s a issue about black she’s a Woman of Color, she wants to be included with the black populace so she can attack white people without shouldering the burden of racism that black people do face. If I was Black I would be offended to think she speaks for me. I will never know truly what it’s like to be a black person in this country and neither will she.

    Ok lets try this again. She Park may have good intentions for People of Color, but she’s a hypocrite, a bully, she’s not in control of her own emotions and her logic makes no sense. She makes racial comments regularly. She may start Hashtags and discussions, but she hardly ever contributes to them. She comes across and stupid and easily distracted as we saw in her solon interview. She was just regurgitating jargon she heard from another source and got distracted by a bird and lost her train of though. She seriously lacks credibility and continuously makes an ass out of herself and when she does she discredits the what she claims to support. SP is an embarrassment to the social justice movement and she needs to go. She’s doing far more harm then good.

  2. So, this piece isn’t about Suey Park. It’s about women of color. You can critique Suey elsewhere.

  3. cstack says:

    the article was long and cumbersome but I’ll support anyone , everyone else hates just for speaking their mind . not meaning disrespect but you seem to support all women but do all women support you ? even if you say something rude I’ll still read your stuff …lol great job btw

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