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.
I’m learning to deal with all this, apparently. (It used to alternately cause insomnia and nightmares.) I was completely desensitized to hearing my friend being called a coon, which, if it’s your first time, is incredibly upsetting. It wasn’t until my Facebook feed alerted me to follow-up responses that expressed anger and outrage over this insult that I realized how used to all of this I am.
But like most people who deal with Internet harassment, I rarely talk about it. I’m just supposed to be solely grateful that people know my name and bother to read my work, and that’s all that should matter. So I shut up and play the part. Occasionally I save the really good hate mail (NSFW) to whip out over cocktails and appetizers with friends, like, “OMG! You will never believe this one!”
I think of it as the equivalent of an emergency room doctor horrifying her friends with stories of the wild things that happened on the overnight shift. Everyone who’s listening—unless also in the media in some way—is shocked and weirdly intrigued at the depths and density of the unadulterated crazy in the world.
Maybe some unfortunate day you will experience this for yourself, since anyone on social media can be launched into a national conversation at any time. It happened to Karlesha Thurman, the young woman who dared to breast-feed her hungry baby at her college graduation and then post a picture that she in no way could have expected to go viral.
It happened to Alexis Carter, the teen who became the subject of Rihanna’s ire when she had the nerve to be inspired by the celeb’s red-carpet look and got clowned for her prom attire in a meme that went viral. It happened to Rachel Jeantel when she just so happened to be on the phone with Trayvon Martin when he was killed and she was later called to testify in a nationally televised trial.
Each of these young women was berated mercilessly across the Internet. Thankfully, all of them survived it (no easy feat)—unlike Scott. Hopefully you will, too.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.