Judge me. Last night I watched VH1’s Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. When it comes to the image of black people on TV, it gets no worse than most—but not all—of the cast. (Exhibit A: This season’s leading storyline involves an allegedly homemade sex tape that really resembles a slickly produced porno.)
Let me plead my case, though: I was tricked. Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta isn’t really my thing anymore. Too ratchet and, more important, too scripted for my taste. I was actually watching VH1’s Hit the Floor, kept the TV on as background noise while I worked, and occasionally looked up when the storyline got intriguing.
The moment to which I paid attention was perhaps the one scene of the show that didn’t sound scripted. A woman, Debra Antney, was explaining that her youngest son, Coades “KayO Redd” Scott, had committed suicide days before, apparently because of what he read about his family on the Internet. His brother is Juaquin Malphurs, aka rapper Waka Flocka Flame. His mother manages Malphurs (and several other artists) and appeared in the last season of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.
Both are considered public figures, and because of that, they get the extreme end of the wrath of the Internet, which Antney labeled “the murder capital of the world.” If I’d had a tambourine to shake in her direction at that moment, I would have.
There’s this idea that by stepping into the spotlight, you sign up for e-beatings as part of the package. But that’s only said by people who don’t deal with it and don’t understand how bad the Internet can be. You sign up to do a job, not to be berated and harassed. And if you knew the back-end mind screw that comes with dealing with social media, only the insane would do it.
Let me get specific. My friend, a popular journalist and author, was called a coon on social media recently. It wasn’t the first name she’d been called and certainly won’t be the last. But it was her first “coon.” She wrote a Facebook status update about this experience and quipped that she’d made it big. I joked something like, “Wait till you get the C-B-C combo. You’re practically A-list.”
“C-B-C” equals “c–t, bitch, coon.” It is not normal to be called these names. Yet I couldn’t count a day after Jan. 5, when the TV show I appeared on debuted, that I was not called at least one of them (and a whole lot more) during the first season. Each Sunday to Tuesday—up to 72 hours after the show aired—I (along with my castmates) was bombarded with an endless tirade of all three throughout the day on Twitter, Instagram, my blog comments, email and occasionally Facebook mail. I still appear on TV regularly as a pop-culture expert, but these days I’m averaging one n-bomb, one “c–t” and one “bitch” per week. This is progress.
To be fair, it has nothing to do with being on TV. I’ve been called at least one of those weekly since about 2009, the year I began writing a dating-and-relationship column for Essence magazine. It got worse in 2010 when my site won an award for best personal blog. Being on TV just exposed me to a wider array of people and made it worse.
I was warned by other female reality-TV personalities and celebs—even by the so-called likable ones—that this would happen. Everyone made the same analogies: “They talked about Jesus,” they would say, or they would reminded me that Michelle Obama has an extremely high approval rating and she gets it, too. It’s part of what comes with being in the pubic eye, and especially being a woman.
But even the warnings don’t prepare you for the waves of hate. It’s like the sea rising up to wipe out New York City in one of those end-of-the-world movies, and you are the Statue of Liberty getting knocked down over and over and over … and over. It’s hands down the worst part of being noticed.