TW: Homophobia, racism, rape, hate speech, violence
Last week saw thousands of bored UK students click ‘attending’ on the Facebook page of Azeems’s Senior Recital in an effort to procrastinate from exam revision.
I was one of these students. I delighted in the idea that a young man in Santa Barbara would wake up to see that eighty-eight thousand people from across the globe were attending his event. I felt proud when our efforts made it onto Jimmy Kimmel and gave Azeem a huge boost in publicity. I was left once again amazed at the power of the Internet and what our collective involvement could make happen (which left me wondering about what the fuck happened on election day, but that’s a completely different article…). A quick glance at the event page saw nothing but positive vibes, jokes about ‘Cheeky Nandos’ and general encouragement and support. Thousands joined Azeem via the live stream and he even set up a fundraising page for Nepal.
Unfortunately, UK students decided to continue this trend of hijacking public event pages, with very different, much more sinister results. Yesterday, on the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, thousands of students clicked “attending” on the 7th Annual Black Lesbians United Retreat. Not only did they commandeer the guestlist, but they actually flooded the page with vile, racist and misogynistic comments, and graphic fetishising images. The (majority) cis white male infiltrators took it upon themselves to post pornography, proclaim themselves to be “black lesbians on the inside” and make lewd jokes, one poster enquiring whether “dildos would be included in the ticket price”. An event designed specifically to be a positive, safe space against the daily aggressions that come with being a member of a marginalised group, was turned into a free for all attack against the triad of being black, female and queer. The very idea of their existence was met with derision and taunting.
Of course, when called out on their behaviour, those involved asserted their right to “free speech”, decreed their venomous insults to be “just banter” and complained about “the PC brigade”, telling critics to “go back to tumblr”. Some even went so far as to say that the event itself was the only racist or sexist issue and that “it didn’t help anything to segregate yourselves” (Just in case anyone wasn’t clear on this, reverse racism/sexism/any oppression does not exist). The very idea that people of the dominant group can decide for themselves what constitutes oppression is an act of violence. The entire page was a model of privilege, be it white, male, cis or straight; just by ignorantly invading the space proved the contempt and lack of respect dominant groups have for the marginalised.
Even scarier than any ‘banter’ posted on the page were the very real threats and racial slurs used. My comment expressing my disgust at the situation garnered the response “we need to shoot all lesbians”. A friend who commented her support of my statement was threatened with violence and misogyny. Comments suggesting that white cis males could ‘turn’ lesbians through the use of rape or sexual violence were rampant. The slur n**n** was used alongside several links to ‘ebony’ fetish sites. The comments were disgusting and unrestrained.
Needless to say I began a Facebook cull. Thankfully, I have very few friends with humour issues (or, ya know, friends who don’t believe that all human beings deserve respect…). The Bantersaurus Rex became extinct on my page many years ago. However, the faces I did see interacting with the page were shocking. This whole debacle has made the need for better education surrounding race, gender and sexuality even more necessary. Most universities (and Facebook itself) adopt a zero tolerance policy to racism or homophobia, but this is always reactionary and not preventative. This attitude needs to be fixed. It is lazy and it is ineffectual. Without such education, UK students and their universities are being represented at a global level by the actions of students like these.
Yesterday’s events are particularly poignant after seeing the backlash faced by Goldsmiths University’s Welfare and Diversity Officer Bahar Mustafa, who attempted to create a safe space for ethnic minority women and non binaries. The vitriol that flooded the event page makes it very clear that these safe spaces are extremely necessary and vital to the survival of marginalised people.
I’d like to end on a positive note. My comment expressing my disgust at the situation received over two thousand likes, and a petition was created to ensure that those involved were dealt with justly. It is clear that there are people who do not think that the lives of marginalised people should be trivialised. To the good side of the Internet, I say thank you.
Keep calling people out, keep standing against acts of oppression, and keep ensuring that oppressed people have a platform for their voices.