The New Normal cannot be met with silence.

‘Your silence will not protect you.’ – Audre Lorde

Maybe it’s my incredibly long memory that is responsible for why I couldn’t immediately cosign the #twittersilence in solidarity with Caitlin Moran, cis white feminist writer, in the UK.

I’m remembering a tweet in criticism to the writer’s knee jerk (and thoughtless) defense of Lena Dunham regarding the lack of women of color in Girls. Moran said this:

@lizziecoan: what a surprise that @caitlinmoran loves lena dunham. white feminists who ignore the experiences of WOCs have got to stick together guys!!!


@lizziecoan: did you address the complete and utter lack of people of colour in girls in your interview? i sure hope so!

Caitlin Moran: Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit aboutit.

There’s something silencing about that. It was flip; I shouldn’t take her so literally, right? It doesn’t mean she’s racist, but there’s a willful obliviousness about it. She sort of apologized for that. Yet, it’s given me pause every time she’s elevated as spokeswoman and advocate for women. I have yet to see a gesture from Moran’s feminism that also acknowledges my experiences. Or at the very least, an interest in knowing my narrative, or the multitudes of narratives in the feminist movement. I’ll wait. She’s trying.

Silence isn’t something that has ever worked for people of color in mobilizing social and political action and change.

I’d like to believe that this protest hashtag #twittersilence would collate all of the trolls, racists, misogynists who slam people through a barrage of hateful speech and make things really simple for Twitter support to track, monitor and shut those accounts down. As if an algorithm was generated for that purpose, a stronger response to one click block option that all users of Twitter have when unwanted tweets are directed. An algorithm working in tandem with the hashtag would have really given teeth to this form of protest initiated by Moran.

But that’s not how the trolls work.

I’m also mystified that Moran just discovered this vile thing called internet bullying. Perhaps the Orcs had been invisible to her all this time. Caroline Criado-Perez’s successful campaign to get Jane Austen’s face printed on bank notes in the United Kingdom unleashed an impossible to contain vitriol of misogyny we haven’t seen since our own Zerlina Maxwell told conservative media to “teach men not to rape.” Why shouldn’t Jane Austen’s face been printed on bank notes? Why shouldn’t we teach men not to rape? Why should we be silent in the face of threats virtual or otherwise?

I don’t see how silence is a good thing. It seems to validate a bully’s twisted logic. As Policymic’s Liz Plank notes:

the troll disturbingly admits, the rape threat serves as a way to shut that women up and put her back in her place. It gives a no-name loser living in the crevices of his mom’s basement a sense of power over a prolific female writer because he can rape her, or at least scare her into believing he can. Why does he keep doing it?
Because he can. He keeps doing it because often he never faces the consequences. We tell women to “stop feeding the trolls” as if it was their responsibility to prevent the abuse in the first place.’

It is the epitome of victim blaming. Silence is what they want. Racists will shout every epithet in the book as a means to silence, as a means to dehumanize, as a means to deny me personhood and my very existence. Misogynists will threat violence and rape to silence me and any other woman who challenges their barbaric worldview. The credible danger is the misogynist who isn’t satisfied by virtual harassment alone, and is driven to act out his sociopathy in the real world.

Twitter activism we’ve witnessed recently has launched several campaigns with real consequences, Juror B37’s book deal gets cancelled, Paula Deen loses a TV show, endorsements, and the tireless work of another netroots set of activists to push to remove Rush Limbaugh’s hateful screed from radiowaves. In other parts of the interwebs, online activists have pressured Facebook to revisit its policies and to take down pro-rape pages.

For Moran’s support for activist Criado-Perez, it reads a little like a cause celeb. Twitter may have responded to Moran’s calls for greater oversight, modification of abuse, but the level of threat waged on feminists in UK at present is criminal. Here, cyber police units and Twitter have to work together to identify the assess and respond to these threats. Just a few hours ago, activist and writer @pennyred received a bomb threat.

She spoke up.

I take screenshots of abusive, racists tweets. If shit should escalate, I’ve got a record of the abuse and possibly with a few short google searches I might have enough to report who you really are to Twitter. I also have a record of your BS should we need to involve proper authorities. As far as other parts of the interwebs, really think long and hard about where you post your comments, because if this 8 year old knows that I can ask YouTube to find your IP address and report/block you, then you’re not as anonymous as you think you are. Remember, nothing really dies on the internets. Anonymity is a myth, and privacy has gone the way of the dodo, as evidenced by the growing authority of the NSA in American lives.

Ostensibly, the bully’s power is fed by your silence. If you don’t defend yourself, somehow it must mean that it’s ok to treat you this way. If you don’t resist you are complicit in someone else’s definition of your person and your movement in space. Virtual and real.

So it is better to speak up.

SYREETA MCFADDEN is a Brooklyn based writer, photographer and adjunct professor of English. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches and Storyscape Journal. She is the managing editor of the online literary magazine, Union Station, and a co-curator of Poets in Unexpected Places. You can follow her on Twitter @reetamac.

Syreeta McFadden is a contributing opinion writer for The Guardian US and an editor of Union Station Magazine.

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