Violence pervades online writing spaces

2014-05-22 12:14

For a while now I have been struggling to come to terms with the violence, both intellectually and psychologically, inflicted on black writers on online platforms.

I want to preface this piece with the realisation and acknowledgment that by writing this piece, I may be opening myself up to be the subject of this very violence I will come to refer to later. Or be labeled, a racist, ANC supporter or an angry black consciousness writer who’s bitter about this or that. I’m none of the above.

If we move beyond the underrepresentation of black writers on the many online platforms and skip the part where editorial teams only select articles and authors based on shared views, referrals from pals who share the same views and or look for authors who assimilate into the modus operandi of the team and or publication and really start to interrogate the end reader behavior and contribution to this thing we have come to know as freedom of expression as enshrined in our Constitution.

As both a reader and contributor to a few online publications, I have become increasingly concerned with the level of violence inflicted on many black writers who dare to write about uncomfortable truths of everyday racism, sexism and real lived experiences that don’t affirm whiteness nor maintain the status quo.

The first and most common act of violence being what we have come to call ‘trolling’ via the comments section of articles, blog posts, Facebook pages, Twitter and various other social media platforms. People actually take the time to articulate their views, which in itself is an admirable act. However, when a viewpoint is merely inserted to erase and silence someone’s truth it becomes violence. Opposing views are most welcome, but be sure to first check them against whitewashing, silencing, the context and history from which the original idea stems.

We write about what we know, see and experience. Racism is one of those things, so get over it. If it makes you uncomfortable, too bad.

Secondly, intellectual violence occurs when someone, black writers includes, plagiarize writing, misappropriate ideas and annihilate the history and very unique vantage points of the original writer to serve their purpose. Is it that hard to pay due where it’s owed?

Thirdly, when black writers share their views about everyday racism, they are not asking for affirmation nor are they seeking counter opinions that only serve to reinforce the notion of systemic racism. We get it, not all white people are racists or inheritors of trust funds, but please acknowledge that you are living in a country where your skin colour determines access and provides unfair advantages for you in many arenas of life.

Fourthly, the other form of violence is censorship. Many black writers I have spoken to share similar tales where editors of online publications have gone to change words that have meaning to the writer, whole paragraphs or whole articles without consent from the author. This is the worst kind of intellectual violence and often results in authors self-censoring and withdrawing from contributing to those pages.

Lastly, the all time rebuttal: “go write where you are welcome” is not a consideration for many writers who just want to share their views. If all lived that sentiment, we would continue to entrench the very racism we write about. How then are we addressing the real issue and divides we experience? Many of us, me included, want to write for the joy of writing without experiencing the form of ongoing violence that pervades these spaces.

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