Why Are Prominent Black Women Facing a Wave of Harassment?

Black women in public life, including Kamala Harris and Fulton DA Fani Willis, face untold levels of harassment online and in person. Why won’t anyone stop it?

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This article is part of The Root Institute 2023 pre-event coverage.

Updated 08/14/2023 at 8:00 a.m. ET  

The hateful messages flowed in a seemingly endless stream into activist Valencia Gunder’s inbox. The Miami-based activist wasn’t new to movement work, but things seemed to shift in 2016.

On July 18, 2016, police shot unarmed caretaker Charles Kinsey, who was trying to assist his 27-year-old autistic patient. With his arms in the air, Kinsey repeatedly told police that the patient was holding a toy, not a gun. But officers shot Kinsey in the leg in an attempt to shot his patient.


Gunder took to the streets of North Miami along with other activists to demand justice for Kinsey. But as her public profile grew so did the hate directed her way. Around the same time her goddaughter, Jada Page, was shot and killed, a fact which Gunder says only animated the attacks against her. She recalls messages saying, “tell that fat bitch to find the killer herself,” referencing her search for Page’s killer.

“Even my address was leaked,” she says. “People would sit at my house.”

Despite the attacks, Gunder continued her work as an activist, fighting for issues like felony disenfranchisement. But the fear continued to eat away at her. “They know where I live,” she says, “They know my email address. I’m lucky I haven’t been physically harmed.”


Gunder’s experience as a Black woman with a public profile is unfortunately not unique. According to a 2018 Amnesty International Study, Black women are 84% more likely to be abused on social media than white women.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, has spoken publicly about the hate messages she’s received. Willis is expected to announce charges against former President Donald Trump for election fraud, which has fueled the racist and misogynistic attacks against her. Earlier this month, Willis, said she received a message calling her a “Jim Crow Democrat whore,” in addition to other hateful comments.


We All Deserve Safety and Peace, an anti-hate and safety platform, exclusively shared a report with The Root detailing the experiences of three Black women who were the victims of online and in-person harassment. The three storytellers dubbed, “Imani, Sankofa, and Nia,” remained anonymous in their report, to avoid further harassment, but their stories are still worth discussing.

In the report, Sankofa, an environmental justice advocate who provided testimony on Capitol Hill, says she began to experience online hate and threats after a series of contentious back and forth with several Congressman. Things escalated when she says someone parked outside of her home to watch her condo building. Weeks later, while giving a presentation, she says she was bombarded with images of child pornography and George Floyd’s murder, in an attack known as “Zoom bombing.” She she says she later moved out of her home to reclaim her feeling of safety.


Imani, a state school board member, said that the backlash to critical race theory upended her life. She began to receive messages telling her “go back to Harlem” and other racially-coded messages. She says she even had to hire security after being advised to by the organizers of a protest she spoke at advocating for masks for children during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nia, a Ph.D. student and racial justice activist, said that she experienced attacks that left her fearing for her and her family’s lives. After protesting a rally for Donald Trump in 2016, Nia became the victim of both online and in-person harassment. Nia says she was even doxxed by one page dedicated to “exposing Black women activists,” causing her to move.


“I wanted to write this report because I don’t think that people know the level of threat that people are facing and Black women in particular,” Sankofa told The Root. “And I felt there needed to be a very personal account of it, as opposed to people just hearing statistics.”

Solutions can be difficult with an issue as tricky as harassment. But Sankofa, says that this is an opportunity for philanthropic organizations to step-up and protect the Black women and non-binary folks on the ground working everyday. “I wanted to make sure that philanthropy, which is gaining from the risks that we take on a daily basis... that they actually hear and understand and begin to invest in our protection,” she says.


Community safety measures are another potential solution, says Gunder, adding, “I don’t look to politicians or the police to keep me safe.” Although that doesn’t leave politicians, who are supposed to being looking out for their constituents off the hook, she says.