RaceSex & Gender

white feminists managed to make nia wilson’s death about themselves, attacked black women who created safe spaces

July 30, 2018
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By Nikki Fowler*/ GlitterMagRocks.com, AFROPUNK Contributor

Nia Wilson was standing on a Bay Area Rapid Transit station platform in Oakland, California, Sunday night when she was stabbed to death in an apparently unprovoked attack. Wilson and her 26-year-old sister Lahtifa Wilson were transferring at the MacArthur BART station when John Cowell allegedly walked up and stabbed both of them, according to police. BART police arrested Cowell on Monday, July 23. He had a history of violence and a criminal track record.

It’s a shame that we have to still say this, but as shown by the lack of, or late public response to Nia Wilson on social media, black lives are still not spoken about enough in white feminist circles and social media platforms are policing and silencing black voices when they are having honest conversations about race and demanding that more people take action.

Nia’s murder was extremely hard for me to post about. Black women are so used to suppressing our pain, that we compartmentalize our emotions to emotionally survive. I watched the news feeds as the story played itself out. She was my daughter’s age. Nia’s story is why I worry every time she goes out the front door. The feeling of anguish ran through me as I learned more and more details about how a white supremacist attacked Nia and her sister. The details were like a sharp pill that I couldn’t swallow. I had to step back and ask myself, why haven’t I drafted my thoughts yet? Then the waves came crashing inside me and I was reminded of something that I had trapped away trying to forget. My niece was attacked in the very same way in New York last year. She had just graduated from Hofstra. Blue caps waved in the air as my niece was starting her life’s journey into womanhood. Three weeks after graduating, she was attacked at knife point out of nowhere, miles away from her school. We had just celebrated her big day and I left her to head back to California. I got the call a few weeks after, as she explained the details over the phone. It was another violent attack on women of color, this time my family. This made no sense to me. I had done everything I could do, to protect her since birth and the moment she is out of my sight, she is the victim of violence. Thankfully she survived, but Nia Wilson did not. After realizing the similarities to my niece’s story, my mind ran across all the times that my friends and family have been verbally or physically assaulted and touched in public by racists hurling insults.

It’s a full-time job protecting black bodies. We are cautious wherever we go. Always having to check our surroundings to make sure our space is a safe one. Black women continue to be devalued as we fight for our representation in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Feminist circles are being challenged to be more inclusive of black women’s issues.

After Nia’s death, many activists were calling on white feminists with large social media accounts to post about Nia. Rachel Cargle, a writer, and activist created a post asking people to tag their ‘fav’ white feminists who haven’t posted about Nia. One user commented and tagged a popular account 25Park (Alison Brettschneider).

Alison didn’t seem to take it too well and instead of simply posting about Nia’s death to her followers, she chose to lash out at the original account holder and her followers in defense that she shouldn’t be told how and when to post and to look at all that she does in activism. As a white woman, she went on the defense and began to throw out her laundry list of black activism achievements, such as sending black women to college, fostering black children and mentioning her other work.

She did all of this while having a visibly nasty attitude, using foul language, not listening to the white and black women who were trying to educate her on why Nia’s story is important for white feminists to acknowledge, attacking and threatening black women with being reported to Instagram and tagging their family and employers. She got so heated that she ended up calling one of the black commenters a “roach” and sarcastically signing off on her IG stories with “Love, the racist white supremacist.” She’s using sarcasm in the midst of other’s pain.

Read some of what transpired with visuals here.

Alison didn’t seem to understand that with all of her bragging rights, she isn’t an expert on black activism. Black activists have a right to have a conversation on social media about how black women are being left out of white feminist conversations. The history is there. You can’t tell black women that you know how to speak on their oppression better than they do. What happens many times is that white feminists feel they are the authority on everything including black pain. They find it hard to separate their privilege from their feminism. Sure, no one can tell you when and how to post, but they do have the freedom of speech to ask you to post. That shouldn’t be met with them being called clowns, roaches and with the threat of lawsuits and Instagram policing. Social media can be overwhelming with comments, but when you call people roaches what do you expect will happen.

25Park’s repost and response to Rachel’s call to action for white feminists.

25Park is asking why black women are not being called out for not posting on Nia Wilson. To answer her, black violence is triggering for black women. She’s asking people who are victims of white supremacist violence to be called out. Anne Hathaway said it best with her bold response to Nia’s murder. She called out white privilege and said white people must go beyond the hashtag and actually take action.

Many people wait for a hashtag to become a trend or post after someone calls out those who are silent. Some of the well-known women’s movements have not even posted about Nia Wilson up until a day ago, an entire week after Nia’s death, like Girl Boss.

They have the following and the capital to be a voice of change but were silent until others spoke up. We have yet to see them post on Twitter or their website. Black culture is great for marketing campaigns but we must ask ourselves, “How many of your fav’s really care about black lives.”

25Park, who has since made her account private, went on to attack Rachel Cargle as well as others, by threatening that she had friends at Instagram. In my opinion, she started to sound like Miss Millie from ‘The Color Purple’ when she felt she was being attacked.

You can read all the details and unpack the comments and posts on Rachel’s stories as well as here.

“These acts of silencing and policing the voices and experiences of black women is what we have been seeing highlighted recently with the “Oakland BBQ” and “Permit Patty” except it is entire systems saying “We prefer people of color exist how we the white community see fit, in a way that makes white people comfortable, in a way that keeps white supremacy upheld” — Rachel Cargle

Yes, 25Park is verified and yes she has access to silence and block her account but it also turns off her ability to learn from her peers and black women on what black pain is, in reaction to white violence. She lost an opportunity to listen and learn.

White Nonsense Roundup also chimed in on the interactions:

Rather than hide her profile, turn off comments and lash out, many question why she didn’t just post about Nia, apologize for calling a black woman a roach and a clown and overreacting to being tagged in the comment section of a post. If someone tags you in a post, is it the fault of the account holder? Should one lash out at the person who was bringing awareness to Nia’s life? Is 25Park’s ego more important than that of the murder of Nia?

Black people are so used to being policed that many were not even surprised. Instead of having a natural dialogue and saying, “I didn’t get to post about Nia as yet, but I absolutely will be doing so,” there was a lashing out and threat. Posting or explaining a viewpoint, would have been a better way to handle things. If you really are an activist and feminist that is unbiased, you should know that Nia’s death has black women grieving even though we didn’t know her. We saw our sisters, daughters, mothers, and aunts in Nia and her death showed us just like Sandra Bland’s, that it could have been any of us. White supremacy doesn’t care what car you drive, what school you attended, how you contribute to this country, or where you live.

Rachel also had one of her posts flagged, reported and removed from Instagram which was meant as a safe place for black women to talk about Nia’s death and share each other’s thoughts and pain. Instagram quickly reinstated the post after the public outcry of them unfairly policing Rachel’s post.

The space under the post (commented, replies) is exclusively for women of color. Exclusively. No white women, no men. • Hey sis, Are you okay? As we see another one of us being murdered to bleed out in the streets we can’t help by think: that could be me, that could be my daughter, at sister, my best friend. For me a heavy cloud gets heavier when my feed shows over and over again how unprotected, how uncared for we as black women are. As we do double the work for less than half of the benefit it can be a breathless existence of both trying to keep up as well as trying to survive. You okay sis? I get it if your not. At this moment I feel heavy and distant and numb. I feel angry and deflated and heartbroken. • I needed to give us this space to check in on each other. To allow the black women who are part of this community to be reminded that this work is for us, our selves, our babies, our legacies, our livelihoods. • So tell me in the comments how you’re feeling. Comment on each other’s post with love and affirmation. Please know you have a sister thinking of you, rooting for you, seeing your worth and fighting for it. • #youoksis?

A post shared by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (@rachel.cargle) on Jul 24, 2018 at 3:31pm PDT

She stated to Blavity, “It happens every day where black women use our voice to speak on injustice, to express our experiences, to voice our concerns, or even just to state how we feel,” she said in the email. “Time and time again, white women decide that they don’t like hear about or coming to terms with the ways they are harming black women and instead of step up on solidarity they silence us, resting in their supremacy.”

Social media has a history of silencing black voices (accusing them of attacking) while asking for change and protecting white voices (victims) at all costs.

“Instagram has a heavy track record of taking down posts by people of color in order to maintain the comfort and satisfaction of their white community,” Cargle told HuffPost via email.

An Instagram spokesperson told HuffPost the company had “mistakenly” removed the post and was “sorry.”

“We worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified and have taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future. Our Community Operations team reviews millions of reports a week and, occasionally, we make mistakes and remove content we shouldn’t have,” the spokesperson said.

“The context of content is not always apparent to reviewers, which was the case with the piece of content.”

This dialogue was not only heartbreaking and triggering but messy. It took away from the call to action for Nia’s murder. Black activists are doing the work to bring change and that includes changing the conversation in white feminist circles. Sometimes it’s best to listen to the black voices who are actually being affected by the white violence. Through chaos comes beauty and that is the lesson here. So many women came together to open the dialogue on Nia, black pain, white supremacist violence and why some feminist behavior is toxic. Women with privilege need to stand together with women who are putting in the work on a grassroots level and put their egos aside to bring awareness to a young girl whose life was taken too soon and to bring awareness to everyone, including white women, that we must learn from the past and each other and be a collective voice for change. There is no room for name calling when our lives and well being are on the line.

To donate to Nia’s GoFundMe click here.

This story was originally published at GlitterMagRocks.com

Nikki Fowler is the Publisher, Creative Director and Editor-In-Chief of Glitter Magazine. Her educational background is in technology, publishing, fashion, beauty and entertainment. She is a graduate of Rutgers College, Rutgers University, with a degree in English and has spent decades in the entertainment and publishing world, working for companies like Maybelline, Conde Nast, Rodale Press, MTV and Universal Records. Follow Nikki on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.