First Person

I Feel You, Leslie Jones


Every abusive tweet hurled at the 'Ghostbusters' star has reminded the author of the pain she experienced growing up as a dark-skinned Black girl in a very white world.



This week should have been nothing but celebratory for SNL star Leslie Jones, one of four female leads in the Ghostbusters reboot, a triumphant box-office hit—made all the more triumphant by proving wrong all the haters, who’d anticipated a flop.

But Jones was feeling anything but, thanks to a legion of internet trolls, led by Milo Yiannopoulos, who had unleashed their most vicious racist, misogynist wrath on the comic. By Monday night, Jones tweeted that it was “with a very sad heart” that she was leaving Twitter due to the avalanche of dehumanizing statements from hordes of online bullies. (Last night, however, she said she was returning to Twitter because she can’t resist live-tweeting Game of Thrones.)

According to reports, Yiannopoulous, a controversial journalist who works for the conservative news website Breibart, had summoned his acolytes to harass Leslie Jones on the heels of her movie debut. Die-hard fans of the original Ghostbusters did not mask their rage over director Paul Feig’s decision to cast the new version with four female leads, and for some, that rage extended to his casting a black leading lady. (Though there is plenty of misogyny, racism, and misogynoir on Twitter on any given day.) Yiannopoulous, who is no stranger to degrading women online, was subsequently banned from Twitter permanently. The more Jones attempted to defend her blockbuster film, telling Twitter users it was racist and sexist to hate on the remake, the more aggressively Yiannopolous and his followers spewed ever more venomous insults toward her. According to Jones Twitter account, insults ranged from using the N-word to posting pictures of apes.

Jones was caught online in what she even referred to as her own “personal hell” when the steady flood of hate-filled tweets relentlessly continued. In a moment of desperation she tweeted to Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, to ask him to intervene. It took him an hour and a half to respond. By the time he did, Jones vowed to “leave” the platform for good.

Reading through Jones’s tweets I felt the pain that every little dark-skinned Black girl has felt at one time or another. You could glean from her tweets that the color of her skin was the source of trauma in a situation she had no control over. All she had done was “make a movie,” she tweeted. As Leslie made public pleas to Twitter and retweeted the words of her abusers she was crying out for help against basement-dwelling degenerates who had descended on her page to attack and harass her using racism and hatred as their weapons. Leslie Jones’s comedy and her race have always had a complicated relationship. The first time I saw her sketch comedy I was horrified and confused—and furious. Here was Jones, a statuesque Black woman with a smooth complexion using Lupita Nyongo’s People‘s Most Beautiful cover as a vehicle to ridicule the evolving standards of how Black beauty is perceived. It bothered me because Lupita’s win represented so much at the time and the world was finally recognizing this dark brown girl, who was the same shade as me, as “beautiful.” On the other hand, Jones saw this winning moment as the perfect opportunity to highlight her own insecurities about appearance while simultaneously suggesting her dating life would’ve been a lot better during slavery going as far as saying her slave master would have made her the most desirable bachelorette on the field.

 

I wasn’t the only person to have a strong reaction to this. Jamilah Lamiuex, editor of Ebony was extremely vocal about what it meant for Jones to be so cavalier about slavery and rape. There were even some rumors going around that because of Jones’s jokes, some tweeters on “Black Twitter” had been reluctant to defend her. This was just the first of many of Jones’s sketches that featured her using her six-foot-tall stature as a punch line. I was mad at myself for laughing then I was even madder because the persona she was portraying was not unlike a few jokes I’d made privately in the past. Because I’d grown up exclusively surrounded by white people, and I was a big, buxom Black girl living among waiflike figures, which made me feel undesirable by comparison.

And so I became the funny black friend. At some point you learn to laugh to keep you from crying. It hurts a lot less when you make yourself the butt of the jokes that you know your peers may inevitably tell about you anyway—but you get in front of it, you own it first before they get hold of it. So I recognize a lot of myself in Leslie Jones. Like Jones, I am unconventionally attractive with a blatant disregard for respectability politics and in identical fashion I am the quintessential #LoudBlackGirl. And this was where the root of a lot of my anger once lied. She was unapologetic in her comedy and her personality but there are only so many times you can be the punch line without starting to feel not a little degraded. Every single bit of what happened to Leslie Jones was a direct consequence of her simply existing exactly as she is. Her beautifully muscular attributes were targeted in the identically negative fashion as we had seen done time and time again to successful darker skinned woman in the spotlight.

Recall that Michelle Obama and Serena Williams have been compared to primates and men for the past decade. Although I have never been attacked personally online, I have watched so many Black women that I’ve look up to be bullied and harassed on a daily basis with very little consequence to their abusers. And though I have a multitude of conflicting feelings about Jones’s self-derogatory brand of comedy, there is a very special pain that is associated with being a Black woman that will always allow me to support and stand by her. And I am far from alone. Twitter user @MarissaRei1, a Black woman, created #LoveForLeslieJ. The hashtag, wrongly attributed by the Hollywood Reporter as being started by Paul Feig, took on a life of its own as celebrities and regular folks rushed to tweet support the comedian, who three days after her announcement that she was quitting Twitter, announced on Thursday afternoon that she could not resist tweeting, trolls be damned.

And while the world watches as she exorcises fictional poltergeists on the big screen, we must all continue to take action that will permanently exterminate the toxic demons.

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