There is Nothing You Can Do
Content Note: This blog post contains mentions of topics such as rape and extreme violence.
Yesterday, in a bout of quarantine boredom, my roommate and close friend started looking through my google search results (as in, the results that come up when you google my name). Of course, since a certain incident a while back, these results had gotten increasingly populated with relevant news and articles, and some sporadic insertions of high school awards and competitions, my professional profile, social media.
On something like the sixth page of google results, we came across a result about “genital herpes”. Curious, we clicked the link. It was a weird, outdated-looking website for “STD Prevention” where people could self-report carriers of STDs. Someone, probably from that time that I angered a lot of internet nerdbros, had reported me as a carrier of genital herpes, in one of many attempts to intimidate me.
They posted a picture of me that was on my professional website, and listed information such as my height (way too short) my weight (50+ lbs too light!) and a brief description about how the report was written by “a medical student who was able to diagnose it immediately” and claimed I didn’t inform them before “we” were allegedly about to have intercourse.
My immediate response was to laugh.
This was funny to me for a variety of reasons. First, I laughed at this person’s attempt to shame me with a common STD. That shame is predicated on the idea that people who carry STDs deserve shame, an idea I vehemently oppose. Let me take this moment to go down a brief, but important, tangent:
There is nothing wrong with having an STD. It does not mean you are ‘dirty’ or ‘shameful’. Of course, it is important that everyone is careful and honest when sexually active. But sexually transmitted diseases are like any other disease — bronchitis, the flu — there is no shame in simply having an STD the same way that there is no shame in having the flu. This culture of shame is exactly what perpetuates unsafe sexual habits — shame leads to secrecy and poor communication. If we assume a person with an STD contracted it from intercourse with a consenting adult, they did not do anything wrong. Sometimes it just happens. In some cases, they did not even necessarily have particularly unsafe or unhygienic habits. That person is not a sex offender, is not a rapist, did not commit any acts of violence. That person did not commit any crimes — maybe they don’t even have speeding tickets! Which I do! (Just one, ok. The Vermont police were waiting at the bottom of a hill for me.)
I laughed that this person would think that I would be shamed or intimidated by an attack from that angle, when I am probably one of the last people who would feel shamed by such an attack.
I laughed also because, what could they possibly do to me that has not already been done?
By that I don’t mean events which have already happened to me. I mean that, I have seen what happens to people in my community, and through that I have already processed what could happen. I have already imagined the worst case scenario of many possible futures; I have already seen death around extremely mundane corners — such as the speeding ticket I received.
The same time that we were laughing at internet search results, a campaign was (and is) being waged for justice for Ahmaud Arbery, a 25 year old black man shot while jogging in a nearby neighborhood in Georgia.
Jogging. A mundane activity that no one imagines will end in death.
I thought about how I was feeling during that difficult time, receiving so much internet vitriol. Sometimes I laughed the same way I laughed yesterday.
Before I attracted hatred and attention, murder, rape, and violence were possible.
After the “viral moment” passed, murder, rape, and violence were possible.
These had nothing to do with some words I wrote about prominent, respected, and sexist men. These are simply all possible all the time, and my identity means I am at a higher risk.
While I felt well positioned to handle that vitriol, I also wrote something to get myself through it. I thought about posting it on this blog, but at that time I decided to avoid such content — I didn’t want to provoke people or “feed the trolls”; after I wrote “Appendix A” I went back to blog posts about my daily life and African music. I just kept that note as a reminder to myself. I referred to it often.
Here is an excerpt:
I wrote that part of the reason I was able to speak out was that I am a mixed black woman, and I still believe that is true. I have been prepared for insults early in life, have practiced voiding negative comments since the age of 10.
I remember thinking one particularly exhausting day that I draw on the collective memory of my people.
We have been enslaved, murdered, and tortured. We have been victims of domestic abuse, rape, femicide, and gender discrimination. Even if we, individuals, have not experienced each of these things, we, collectively, live in this reality every day.
What more can anyone do to us that has not already been done?
What can you do to me that has not already been done?
What is left to scare me in this world?
I don’t mean to romanticize these tragedies.
I simply mean that, when the time comes to cope with reminders of my place in the world, reminders like what happened to Ahmaud, or reminders like Asian people being beaten on the street in response to coronavirus, this is how I respond.
Some people need to mourn — I used to do that.
Now I only have anger.