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Digital Misogynoir and White Supremacy: What Black Feminist Theory Can Teach Us About Far Right Extremism

Digital Misogynoir and White Supremacy: What Black Feminist Theory Can Teach Us About Far Right Extremism
9th August 2021 Alexandria Onuoha
In Insights

What is Misogynoir?

Far-right studies has been historically overrepresented by white scholars and those who don’t acquaint themselves with Black feminist thought scholarship. The intellectual productivity of Black women scholars must be integrated when analysing the impact of right-wing misogyny and far-right ideologies on women of color, and specifically Black women. Misogynoir, a term created by Moya Bailey a Black feminist scholar and activist, explains the deep-rooted hate posed by sex and race that Black women experience. In her book, Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance, Bailey walks the reader through the creation of the term misogynoir. She asked herself “how do you describe the ways that Black women are uniquely denigrated because of their gender and race?” Misogynoir is paramount to the discussion of digital media and violent extremism because it describes anti-Black misogyny in visual culture that create ideas, caricatures, and stereotypes about Black women. Harmful ideas about Black women that circulate our technology are co-constructed by racism and sexism and have inimical consequences for Black women.

Misogynoir is a term that is relatively new to many. Bailey’s seminal work allows Black women to find ways to explicitly name the prejudice towards them that is permeated throughout United States visual culture. Misogynoir can be perpetuated by everyone because the framework centers Black women who are the receivers of this hate. It’s also vital to acknowledge that violent extremism is a Black women’s issue as well, and what I mean by this is that when we consider intersectionality and other frameworks cultivated by Black women scholars, Black women are sidelined in every issue, and it’s time for the field of far-right studies to make more space to discuss the role of misogynoir in digital media that influences violent extremism and the white consumption of misogynoir.

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was murdered in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky by white police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove is an example of the fatal effects of misogynoir. Her case is at a halt with no indication of progress, compared to the murder of George Floyd, whose murderer was sentenced to 22 years in prison. The erasure of Black women’s stories but the memefication of our pain and trauma falls under misogynoir. Digital media has served as a home for the public’s consumption of anti-Black misogyny as seen in memes, Twitter harassment, and YouTube videos from the Black manosphere; the Black manopshere is an online community that seeks to encourage Black men, but does so by disparaging Black women. To the Black manosphere and other groups, Breonna Taylor’s case wasn’t important, but using her face and names was profitable. An illustration of Taylor appeared on Vanity Fair, merchandise with “arrest the cops who murdered Breonna Taylor, ” and other statements concerning the case appear to be great in theory. Not only are these items not producing transformative change to a system that subordinates Black women, but they invite violence.

As I reflect on the harrowing story of Breonna Taylor, I also consider the abysmal attacks on her identity from far-right groups and how these attacks on social media are archived and made for others to join in. For example, far-right groups and individuals created a video spreading misinformation about Taylor and incited more right wing commentators to justify her murder. Far-right individuals fabricated that the police had a no-knock warrant to arrest Taylor. Breonna Taylor was not an agitator but a victim of police violence. Nevertheless, the far-right recirculated false claims about what transpired the night of 13 March 2020. Even when facts are presented and there are multiple sources that will confirm an event, far-right individuals and groups will intentionally ignore them in efforts to justify violence towards people of colour. Black women like Breonna Taylor have been used as a trend on social media and commodified. Her story and her case deserve to be highlighted but we cannot ignore the ways in which users on social media have used her death for their own gain, as well as how the far-right is enraged by large amounts of content being shared regarding her story. Black women are at crossroads; amplifying our stories through digital media being of importance and someone who believes in genocide behind a computer fabricating the violence that clearly has happened. Taylor’s treatment from far-right groups goes beyond hate speech. Law enforcement in the United States to many has served as a proxy to far-right groups. The wealth of support police officers received from the far-right after the killing of Breonna Taylor is what fuels violent extremism towards Black women as seen in her mural being vandalised. Misogynoir is again enriched in our society.

Misogynoir and its Connections to Far Right Violence

Misogynoir in digital media has life threatening repercussions for Black women and girls especially Black queer women and girls. One consequence is violent extremism. Black women are discredited, mocked, and disrespected on social media platforms and Black feminists have mentioned this several times before. Digital media is a means of educating audiences and misogynoir is prevalent in digital media. As a result, white people but specifically white youth are consuming misogynoir. Parents play an integral role in socialising their children and media literacy that incorporates the influence of social media algorithms for both parents and children is necessary (Burnham et al., in preparation; Bandura, 2001). Social media accounts that use memes to express their conservatives’ views and harmful ideologies are increasing (DeCook, 2018). Many of these memes perpetuate misogynoir. Misogynoir is deeply connected to violent extremism and the virulent development of violence towards Black women and girls, and the consumption of misogynoir has deleterious effects on the well-being of Black women and girls. Although details are still emerging, the field of far-right studies needs to begin to evaluate instances of violent attacks on Black women and girls and create the connection between misogynoir, technology, and violence.

To provide an example, on 18 April 2021, around 7:45 am, a jogger in Hopkinton, Massachusetts found 16-year-old resident Mikayla Miller hanging from a tree. This area was a predominately white suburb. Miller was a Black queer girl who had been assaulted by four white teens 24 hours before she was found dead the next day. Miller’s death garnered an outpouring of attention and sympathy from activists and organisers in Boston and cities adjacent. On 18 May, activists and members of Miller’s family were against the medical examiner report, that ruled Miller’s death a suicide. Many, including elected officials like Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, inquired about opening an independent investigation. Details on the case are still emerging as the investigation is underway. Black activists in Boston, believe that Miller’s death is not a suicide but a hate crime because of the events leading up to her death. I won’t make my assumptions about the cause of death of Mikayla Miller at this moment, although that is important. However, I do want to make space to explore the intersections of misogynoir, technology, and violent extremism.

There isn’t any information of the white youth who assaulted Miller, but media and a lack of media literacy for white youth can act as enablers of misogynoir that lead to violence and that is how we can make sense of events like these. Arbeit and colleagues (2020) capture a theoretical integration of research from various disciplines to create a framework for youth practitioners to counter fascist recruitment of white male youth. Far-right recruitment of White male youth can occur online with memes, conspiracy videos, and other digital forms. Recruitment pathways such as these can lead youth into endangering others. Far-right groups may distance themselves from physical violence but still place youth in positions to abide by their agenda and use violence to achieve their goals (Arbeit et al., 2020). The connection between white youth’s susceptibility, specifically white male youth for fascists organising and Mikayla Miller, isn’t a stretch. Just 24 hours before her death, she was assaulted by white teens. Although they may not have a formal association with an organisation, white youth are still susceptible to these messages, and when there is a potential threat, we must cease it before it gets lethal. However, misogynoir is so normalised and widely accepted that it may not even be seen as a threat by counter-terrorism experts who are unfamiliar with the term and all its social, political, and moral contours.

What Black Feminist Thought Can Teach Far Right Studies?

Black feminist frameworks such as intersectionality provide scholars with a rich understanding of interlocking systems of oppression based on one’s identity (Crenshaw, 1991). Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality emerged from legal studies but has now been used in many disciplines to consider the violence towards women of colour and our marginalisation. Violent extremism occurs because we have people who actively believe that they should be the default and everything else that is not of the default needs to be gone and will eradicate people through genocide and others forms of violence to obtain their vision of what society is. Understanding the construction of violent extremism and far-right ideologies, we must ask ourselves who is at the margins? The goal of Black feminist scholarship that was introduced by Patricia Collins, is to explore the experiences of Black women in multiple mediums in order to uplift and promote the intellectual efforts of Black women and generate spaces that feel safe for us. Black feminist thought encourages us to be advocates of social change. The goal is to dismantle white supremacy, white nationalism, and right-wing misogyny. The analytical framework of misogynoir builds on intersectionality theory, and it’s crucial to understanding the far-right because violence towards Black women has always been extreme since slavery from white supremacists. Furthermore, the traits that make up who Black women and other women of colour are, is what the far-right opposes. Simply put, anti-Blackness and male supremacy are descended from larger systems of oppression: white supremacy and misogyny, respectively.

As such, in many instances, far-right groups have attacked Black women online and more scholars in the field need to create space to discuss it and its implications. A popular example of this connection of far-right ideologies and misogynoir is right-wing commentators sharing their heinous views on Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s song WAP. Ben Shapiro, a popular far-right figure and a few Republican politicians tweeted their disdain for the song’s message and explained why the song goes against American values and is detrimental to young people. Taking a deep dive into their explanations, it is rooted in misogynoir. The thought of Black women talking freely about their sexual experiences considering decades of their subjugation, it bothers right-wing misogynists. Shapiro’s level of popularity invites other male supremacists to digitally attack Black women.

Far-right scholars can adopt these frameworks in their methodology and in their public writing. When talking about public terrorism and other forms of violence, challenging your research question to consider the impact of not only harmful ideas but the impact violence has on others allows for a more constructive conversation. With Black feminist frameworks and methods, we can illustrate the effect these forms of domination have on the safety of Black women and begin to make social change. Digital misogynoir has fueled violence and terrorism towards Black women and using scholars who have explored racism, sexism, classism not in isolation but in conjunction, allows us to break down the construction of the far-right that is built from the illogical premise that anything other than a white-ethno state is harming society.

Using Black feminist scholarship and far-right studies not only allows me to understand the connection between misogynoir and far-right ideologies but it offers me a chance to encourage fields to explicitly use this term and dismantle it. My previous work highlights transforming the lives of Black adolescents, and this goal of mine is inspired by a brief Twitter exchange between Dr. Crystal Fleming and I. She mentioned the need for right-wing studies to center the experiences of Black women and girls in her keynote at the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism in 2020, and I was curious to know more about her thoughts. Scholars in far-right studies must start asking questions about how to centre Black women and girls.

Alexandria C. Onuoha is a PhD student in Applied Developmental Psychology at Suffolk University in Boston She is a mentee at the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, and a community organiser. Her primary research focus investigates the effects of far-right ideologies online and in-person on the development of Black adolescents.