Open Participation is Power

IMG_1728.JPGBy Jamia Wilson, Executive Director of Women, Action and the Media

Last week, during a conference on hate speech in Oslo, I heard a white Norwegian official say that only when Black women’s rights and voices are recognized, will she herself be free. While it was encouraging to hear this perspective in the context of a predominately white country about the size of New Mexico, I longed to see black women’s opinions and leadership more amplified and supported stateside. 

As she discussed the role of hate speech as a barrier to social, political, and cultural equality in Norway, I thought about University of California’s recent research that examines the impact of race, class, and gender on political representation in the United States. Their study showed that our political structure disregards African-American women’s perspectives on policy decisions more than other marginalized communities. 

Open participation is power. The researchers’ discovery that black women’s viewpoints are most “likely to be overlooked” in policymaking, coupled with WAM!’s recent data about online abuse, is deeply troubling.  With systemic barriers to political influence and access, and the collective silencing that results from insidious online abuse, black women’s voices and political leadership continues to be stifled.

A recent Pew research study found that fully 25 percent of young women online have been sexually harassed online and 26 percent have experienced stalking. Moreover, Pew found that women overall are disproportionately targeted by the most severe forms of online abuse including doxxing and violent threats. Targets of this kind of abuse include black women elected officials, their constituents, and their voters. 

While social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow for tens of millions of people to express themselves, the prevalence of harassment and abuse, especially targeting women of color, severely limits whose voices are elevated and heard in the public sphere. Examples of these attacks, and their impact on women’s lives, are everywhere.

That’s one of the many reasons why we released  Reporting, Reviewing, And Responding To Harassment on Twitter, ” a report that examines gendered harassment and abuse on the platform. Our goal in releasing this report and our recommendations was to inspire constructive discourse and structural changes including holding online abusers accountable for the gravity of their actions, new policy and design solutions, and promoting diversity in tech to expand internal perspectives around harassment since women, and especially women of color, are disturbingly absent, and disproportionately targeted online.

In a landscape where more racist and misogynist online abusers cloak themselves in masked IP addresses in lieu of white sheets, our vigilance remains important. In acknowledgement of this reality, it’s more important than ever for us to amplify and elevate black women’s voices and leadership as the election season heat’s up, and to support each other by reporting abuse and harassment when we see it.

Are you experiencing harassment and abuse on Twitter or other platforms? It’s never your fault. We’ve got your back! Here are some resources that support and encourage diverse voices.

Jamia Wilson is a writer and feminist activist based in New York. She is the executive director of Women, Action, and the Media, an organization aimed at promoting gender justice in media, and a writer at Rookie magazine.