Online writing can be a scary place, especially for women. But there is a benefit to all the nasty comments. Emily Heist Moss explains.
Dear Role/Reboot Commenting Community,
This is a long, convoluted, overdue thank you note.
Writing personal essays on the Internet is a funny business. I’m not a journalist; I don’t call sources, track down quotes, or dig into municipal records. I don’t use words like “allegedly” or phrases like “so and so could not be reached for a comment.” I don’t do research, except for the occasional trip down the IMDB rabbit hole or into archives of the pop culture writerly elite. I’m not a spokesperson with a required point of view, or an activist with a legislative agenda, or an author who depends on online engagement to drive offline book sales.
So why do I keep coming back week after week? I like to write, yes, but I could do that in a diary and still get the thrill of putting words to a page. I enjoy the Facebook likes too, just like 62% of the population that reports a self-esteem boost with every one. But the truth is, I’m in it for the comments. Not the rah rah comments, the “you go girl!” comments, but the meaty, juicy, push-me-until-I-don’t-know-what-I-think ones.
I’m not in it so you can tell me I’m right, I’m in it you can tell me I’m wrong.
Last October I posted to Facebook a question about blackface and Halloween, hoping a knowledgeable friend or friend of a friend would respond with some reading material outside the scope of my usual sources.
I got some great articles, but I also got a multi-page Facebook message from an old acquaintance, a woman of color, who wanted to let me know how she had perceived my original question.
Short answer: not well.
Long answer: appropriating, offensive, clueless, racist. She shared an email thread between her and a few friends in which they picked apart my post, which “smacked of academia, smacked of coming from a place of asking people of color to explain racism.”
“She needs to google that shit. Don’t put it on facebook so that you can draw attention to the fact that you think blackface is bad. It’s 2013, put your ‘I’m not a racist!’ flag away and just don’t be racist.”
That was just the beginning. They tore my shit apart, from tone to content, word choice to “good intention.” I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting. They don’t even know me, I privately ranted. That’s not what I meant! Cut me some slack! Give me the benefit of the doubt! I’m on your side.
My God, how easy it is to fall back on one’s good intentions instead of confronting the impact of one’s words.
On the blog post in which I recapped my experience with the blackface comment and tried to articulate what I’d learned, I also got this comment:
You’re a miserable, stupid white wh@re….you need back up for a position that is wildly incorrect and pathetic….go eat a black dick you pathetic white skank.Your brains are scrambled from all the women’s studies and race brainwash you received from your reprobate college professors…..no doubt you voted for the nghr currently in office so he would pay for your bc pills and your contraceptives huh? Yep.
There are many levels of racism, as Jay Smooth recently explained, and this idiot was going for straight up interpersonal explicit garbage racism.
But me and my Facebook question about blackface? That’s a different brand entirely. That’s you’re-so-privileged-you-didn’t-even-realize-that-the-asking-of-your-question-is-racist racism. That’s because-you’re-white-you-assume-you’ll-always-be-interpreted-however-you-meant-it racism. That’s this-shit-is-subtle-and-you-need-friends-to-call-you-on-it racism.
I said it then and I’ll say it now; I’m grateful for her Facebook message. Who is going to call me on my well-meaning but poorly executed social media moments if not my friends, “friends,” and friends of friends? You people are my network, my community. It’s for you I write, not because I think I have so much wisdom to share but because by writing I can invite your perspectives back into my brain space. And trust me, my brain space needs your perspectives.
The circle of friends who tell me face to face what they think about issues of gender and race and privilege and sex is small. I love them fiercely, but we talk to each other all day long. On the Internet, the community of people I can converse with, ask questions of, get scolded by, is so much bigger and more diverse in every demographic cut imaginable. And that, more than any number of likes or retweets, is why I put my shit out there for all of y’all to partake in.
Please, rip it apart and tell me why I’m wrong.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.