In an ideal world, we would spend the next few hundred words articulating the significance of a Black woman achieving rapid career acceleration in the entertainment industry after decades of hard work. Leslie Jones's addition to SNL, an institution Whiter than tampon commercial underwear, is a major accomplishment. As is her being cast in the Ghostbusters reboot.
Instead, we are forced to lament what continues to be the striking reality for Black women in the age of social media. That with increased visibility comes increased vitriol. And that we exist in a society that feels entitled to dictate the narrow confines of where Black women are allowed to flourish versus the spaces that we should not encroach.
This isn’t a tale limited to Leslie; the Rio Olympics had us revisiting the targeted insults lobbied at Gabby Douglas, a young woman who has also been open about how the ill-spirited commentary affected her. Talk to any Black woman of any level of notoriety or platform in social media and you’ll be regaled with tale after tale of unprompted gender-based and race-based (and sometimes both at the same time) hate speech from keyboard trolls the world over. Ultimately, the plight of online harassment, on Twitter especially, has been an oft-discussed problem that seems to have received minimal traction from the company on a grand scale.
One could argue that yes, this happens to many women regardless of race. But the layering of race is too critical to ignore here as just a minor component. Jones’s costars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon certainly haven’t been compared to a deceased silverback gorilla. Or referred to as “big-lipped coons.” Or been the target or a publicly coordinated attack by a Breitbart writer. Or any of the other vitriolic slurs that targeted not just Leslie’s gender, but her race, as well as her aesthetic existing on the outliers of what is viewed as traditionally beautiful for Hollywood elite. Jones has been forced to bear the brunt of the attacks herself, with limited public support (if any) from her costars, a circumstance, which, by her own admission, she is used to. An unfortunate reality for a Black woman with a certain level of exposure.
This all came to a head, when hackers infiltrated Leslie’s personal website with her sensitive personal information, not only doxing her, but leaking nude photos from her iCloud and uploading a video of the deceased gorilla Harambe.
The last time this happened on a major scale — with the victims being Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, amongst others — the public outcry was so deafening that the FBI got involved. I’m still awaiting for any of these two conditions to arise in the light of these circumstances. At the time of writing, her costars have yet to comment publicly in support of Leslie’s continuously unwarranted plight. (Editor's note: The FBI is involved now.)
Instead, what I have witnessed is a plethora of jokes at Leslie’s expense with regards to leaking her nudes; as if a woman who doesn't fit the perceived mainstream standards of desirability should be less entitled to outrage at her violation of privacy than the Jennifer Lawrences and Scarlett Johannsons of the world. The impetus behind leaking, after all, isn’t just to share the bits and kibbles of America’s most beautiful; its to inflict shame and embarrassment upon women for exercising the right to celebrate their body at their discretion. And the additional layer of comparing Leslie’s physical aesthetic to that of an animal — a comparison with historically racist implications — is intended to add further insult to her public exposure, inviting criticisms to the concept of her or anyone else celebrating her form as an exercise in mockery and humiliation.
It shouldn’t be expected of Leslie to just persevere and rise above this. While it is admirable that she has so far transformed the spurts of written violence into moments of awareness and advocacy, that isn’t a weight that she should have to carry alone, and the absence of certain voices to uplift her in these trials and tribulations is also deafening. We shouldn’t be expecting Leslie to push through this adversity, we should be demanding civility and gatekeeping from the arbiters of the ecosystem that was intended to be built for healthy public engagement and not hate speech. Cyberbullying against Black Women shouldn’t be our expected burden to bear; we are people, not battering rams, entitled to justice, civility and a base-level respect that should be afforded to any human at all levels of celebrity. As social media continues to expand and transform, it is paramount that we collectively hold accountable the gatekeepers of the applications we keep viable via our engagement, and demand that the protection of Black women from targeted attacks be prioritized in the ongoing battles of cyberbullying and internet harassment.