guest blog: hypervisible black women and twitter / danielle dash
“A Black woman in Britain rains her fingers down across the keyboard of her device, sending a signal to all women – it’s our time. With six characters and an ellipsis, Oloni determines the course for all on the timeline on any night of her choice, singlehandedly creating an inclusive safe space where women can share stories of their escapades, both entertaining and educating the congregants assembled. With over fifty-thousand followers, the past decade has seen Dami Olonisakin, mostly known as Oloni, craft herself a brand dedicated to women’s sexual liberation or, as her website boasts, ‘an online platform for sex and relationships.’ Oloni is just one example of Black British women who have used Twitter to galvanise their ambitions and cultivate their voices, thus bypassing the gatekeepers of culture, arts, publishing, music and fashion to become the influencers and decision makers.
The pervasive and insidious nature of racism in Britain long kept Black women outside the room and away from the table. Moya Bailey coined the term misogynoir to describe the intersection of being both Black and woman that encourages gender and race-based discrimination not even Prince Harry’s bride-to-be Meghan Markle is safe from. However, the added identity of Britishness creates a specific environment for Black women in this country; one that is not always pleasant or safe. Black British women can be seen as ‘exotic’ and ‘appealing’ abroad but in Britain, Black women were hardly seen at all. The haemorrhaging of Black British actresses to Hollywood is an example of the ways Black British women have had to compensate for entrenched societal inequality. The ability to relocate to greener pastures is a privilege not all have access to, so when online platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram offered anyone the ability to curate galleries of their work, Black British women positioned themselves at the forefront of this movement of self-publishing. This move online was an act of self-preservation, digitally replicating the exodus of Black British actresses abroad. Frustrated with rejection, their success now proves, was based on their dual status as both Black and woman.
Journalist and Black feminist Tobi Oredein co-founded Black Ballad, Britain’s leading content and lifestyle space powered and created for Black women in response to the white exclusivity of journalism and media. Using Twitter and other online platforms, Oredein promotes the website as a tool to uplift Black British women’s narratives at a time when the stories are often dwarfed by those of Black American stories. The name Sandra Bland is synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement but the name Sarah Reed, a Black British woman found dead in police custody, is not as well known – highlighting the supremacy of American culture, regardless of race. This supremacy allows many to attempt to ignore Black British women, but the online power wielded by them make these attempts futile.
Bim Adewunmi, Senior Culture Writer for Buzzfeed News and Columnist at Guardian weekend, masterfully brandishes the intersections of Black, British and woman on her Twitter account, a space that works both as a news source and a sanctuary for purveyors of pop culture looking for gentle relief from the horrors of the world. Adewunmi’s sharp, succinct wit works perfectly with the microblogging site’s format. Combining popular memes with her endless culture knowledge, her page reads like all the things many would wish they’d imagined but few are equipped to articulate.
The ability to narrate culture’s ever-changing landscape is a skill Black British women on Twitter have honed to a knife edge, and now the world has no choice but to watch as seats at the table – that were reserved exclusively for white men, white women, Black men and non-Black women of colour – are swept from beneath the table and occupied by Black women across the globe. Tweets infused with comedy are one way Black British women assert their presence before they unveil their main focus. Stephanie Yeboah’s now viral tweet about men’s hypocrisy and body preferences works as a prelude to her work as a Plus Size Fashion Blogger writing for GQ, Elle, The Pool and The Stylist. Kelechi Okafor, the multi-hyphenate, regularly aims the barrel of her aptly named twitter profile Kelechnekoff at the topic of the day with results that are highly entertaining, sobering and educational.
The skill to be funny at the drop of a hat is a by-product of the existence on any social media platform while being Black and woman. The misogynoir faced by outspoken Black, British women online reverberates back through time to the early days of the thought-sharing platform and up through the echelons of society all the way to the Houses of Parliament. The trend of uncovering old tweets has seen many a prolific Twitter user fall on their own sword. Seyi Akiwowo, Forest Gate North Councillor, received what Amnesty International described as a “wave of online abuse after a video of her speaking at the European Parliament went viral”, but it was only when her case became mainstream news that any action was taken by those in control at Twitter to curb the abuse. Akiwowo’s case mirrors the high-profile narrative of the Labour Party’s Diane Abbott. Abbott, the Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, endured a virulent, targeted campaign of hatred both online and in person during Britain’s recent General Election. The Guardian reported Diane Abbott was “more abused than any other Member of Parliament during the election”, highlighting the lived experience of Black British women online, while rewarding and fun, as dangerous. All women are targets for trolls and abuse online in Britain, but the inescapable, indisputable fact is Black British hyper visible women are more likely to fall victim to trolls because of society’s rampant misogynoir. This is made evident by The New Statesman report “we tracked twenty-five thousand, six hundred and eighty-eight abusive tweets sent to women MPs – half were directed at Diane Abbott.”
Despite the dangers of simply existing online as a Black British woman, the leaders of the pack continue their work in the face of those who wish them ill. Some like Yomi Adegoke do so skipping the laughs and getting straight to the business of upending the status quo with her forthcoming ‘Black Girl Bible, Slay In Your Lane’. Other powerhouses like Bolu Babalola choose to consistently meld the absurdity of life with her special brand of humour to hilariously unpick the day’s news or ongoing threads in culture. Public Relations aficionado Ronke Lawal makes an art of combining unrivalled professionalism with lively cultural commentary. Behemoths like Chidera Eggerue, or The Slum Flower as she’s known online, extend their influence outside Twitter, hosting radio segments and making appearances on mainstream talk shows. Duos like Nicole Crentsil and Paula Akpan co-founded Britain’s first Black Girl Festival. The list of Black British women taking charge of their representation on Twitter is inexhaustible. Their voices uplift little known artists and topple brands. May the new year bring forth more open doors and financial rewards for those whose gender and race once denied them access, but now have turned that rejection into durable fruit that will carry them to the highest heights.”
danielle dash lives in London and writes about race, gender and popular culture.