I remember seeing the clip of Ted Nugent on stage threatening the life of President Barack Obama and casually talking about assaulting Secretary Clinton, I would have liked to lash out but I had no means to do it. I wasn’t overly active on social media and other than writing a mean letter, no one really wanted to hear from me. But earlier this year, a friend reacting to Susan Sarandon’s efforts to discourage voting for Hillary Clinton and then blaming her for Donald Trump’s presidency reached a boiling point. Bianca (aka @bravenak) created a “fuck you meme” with the actress’ image. It was not an approach I would have chosen but Bianca is a firecracker. What she didn’t know was that the actress would take her meme to heart and share it. This lead to a crazy amount of attention and I reached out to Bianca by email to talk to her about the attacks and how she compared them to in-person bullying and the evolution of bullying in general. I think it may surprise you.
AJ: How early did you personally realize that little black children and little white children were treated differently, or did it become evident in young adulthood?
BD: My grandfather passed as white. Some of my relatives LOOK white but are not. One thing people don’t realize is how deeply ingrained colorism is, even within the black community. It wasn’t until I left my majority minority neighborhood that I realized how unfair being black was. Sure, I had a few teachers who would harshly discipline black or Mexican kids for things a white child would get away with, but there were so few white kids that it wasn’t so blatantly obvious.
I moved from LA County to Kern County when I was in 3rd grade. We had just completed the CTBS [standardized] test at my old school, but they were starting them at my new school, El Tejon. Well, I ended up scoring too high for my teacher, a white lady who was very standoffish to me, but nice to the other kids. I thought it was because I was new…
I learned to stop getting all of the answers right.
I scored in the 99th percentile (statewide slightly lower nationwide). I was pleased. It was just about a point or two higher than the weeks before. She was LIVID. Accused me of cheating. Told me there was no way a black child could outscore all the white kids at that school. She said quite a few other unmentionable things.
Now that town, Frazier Park, has changed. But I experienced a level of racism there that I use now as my archetype of racism. I was called these names; spook, shadow, nigger, cassie-girl (from Roll of Thunder; Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor), tar-baby, porch monkey, slave, jiggaboo, monkey, gorilla, chimp, animal, and more I have forgotten.
I did not tell on the teacher who accused me of cheating. I honestly could not process her behavior and I was very hurt. Interestingly enough she left class that day without finishing it out. We got a substitute who must have heard quite a bit of racist commentary, because she treated me like I was her own child from that day on.
AJ: Did the bullying ever turn physical?
BD: I was pushed in creeks, mock lynched, attacked by older boys, nearly drowned in the pool, was told not to use certain equipment, chased home, had rocks thrown at me, spit on, and threatened with a shot gun. All between ages 8-11.
AJ: Online, you can’t “hear” the name calling and the punches can’t land on flesh. How did your physical experience with bullies impact how you feel about online bullies?
BD: It helped me recognize the mass swarming for exactly what it was. The only difference was the language and the fact that they couldn’t get to me physically. I know racism when I experience it.
AJ: Was cyberbullying something you faced immediately upon joining social media or did it start when your followers reached certain levels?
BD: It started after I stopped supporting Bernie Sanders. I was not using my twitter until after my birthday this year after I finally got run off from Democratic Underground. My belief is that they expected me to be a vociferous supporter of Sanders since I was a KNOWN Hillary hater and far leftist. My ideology is not really categorized well in the charts. It is somewhere in the vicinity of a socio-anarchist or anarcho-communist. I initially supported Bernie.
Then he was interrupted by BLM. Well, his fans began attacking them in the most racist and sexist manner. I spoke up. Told them they would drive black voters to Hillary. I made lots of jokes to illustrate my point. I was attacked so viciously that I literally cried. I had no idea the far left was so racist.
Hillary supporters defended me. I still supported Bernie, but his fans alerted my every post. Searched internet archives looking for anything to use against me. They found one post that I had deleted. I immediately apologized and explained the context. I tried showing the evil I had angrily and sarcastically replied to. The pile on continued.
They used that one post, deleted and apologized for to tar my reputation, to say I had no right to defend myself, and to attack every black person on the site[AJ1] . Then they used it to get me suspended from DailyKos TWICE, then BANNED. Same post. Deleted and apologized for. (Yes, Marcos, this happened on your site. I said absolutely NOTHING WRONG on DKOS) They still use that same post to harass me and my followers on Twitter.
That experience made me realize exactly what had been done to Hillary, black women, activists, etc. I became a Hillary supporter. I had been doing to her what had been done to me. Taking her worst moments, a few out of context statements, false attacks, and running with them.
After all of this I moved to Twitter this year. I realized that it was because of my ability to reach and engage people, my empathy; that was the reason they needed to shut me up. Like Hillary, I was right.
AJ: Is there a line where victims of cyberbullying defending themselves become what they hate?
BD: I think if you start chasing folks around and become the aggressor you might. But Never exactly like them; they were the initiators.
AJ: What kind of cyberbullying have you faced?
BD: Forums, email, name calling, swarming, stalking, doxxing, threats, many many personal attacks, gaslighting, accused of harassing myself, accused of bullying the entire “revolution,” accusations of antisemitism, racism, sexism AND misandry[AJ2] , threats of sexual assault, attacks on my appearance, weight, nose, banned from forums for lies told about me.
I say this, the owners of the forums are and were complicit, DU [Democratic Underground] AND DailyKos allowed young white males to use their numbers against black women (and men) to bully them into submission/bannings. Both sites now have so FEW black people on them that they could be REPUBLICAN sites but for the topics. The toxicity of dkos made me not even ATTEMPT to appeal my banning, and I am currently residing in DU jail like most of the black members of that site because of alert stalking.
AJ: Do you feel like you’ve ever crossed a line into becoming the aggressor?
BD: I am usually defending myself. After so much bullshit and drama, I nip the attacks in the bud and fight back. I stay on my page and they ALWAYS come to me to attack. I can safely say that 90 percent of the time, I do not initiate conversation with my harassers. But, yes, I aggressively defend myself and others.
AJ: What is effective when defending one’s self from cyberbullying: to block or attack back?
BD: Both. If you block, they follow one of your followers so that they can trash you on your threads. Reporting racism is less effective than the actual bully reporting the VICTIM of their racism for getting upset. A measured defensive attack, shaming them, and having them block you is more effective. Bullies hate getting their own medicine.
AJ: How much of the attacks do you feel are based solely on the fact that you’re a black woman?
BD: Hmmm. Well, I’d say half are because I am black and a woman, the other half is because I refuse to let them shut me up. I have watched Gay white men experience similar bullying, but not a two year long affair over multiple sites like I have been. The internet is tricky because it is fertile ground for trolls.
AJ: I’d love to see an experiment where a white male profile tweeted the exact same as what’s in your feed.
BD: “He” would have twice as many followers as I do. And never go to twitter jail. I have repeated what folks said to me verbatim and have had websites in an uproar. It’s me, I think. I upset privileged jerks. I say things that are obvious to myself and most black women. But I am saying the things that many white people HOPE and PRAY that black people don’t even THINK. If a white man said what I say, many of the same white folks who stalk me for disliking Bernie would call him a prophet, the new MalcolmX, and start fundraising to send him to Congress.
AJ: How different would people respond (but I digress, that’s obviously something different than this).
BD: “He” would have already been contacted for a book deal or a job writing comedy. I am funny as hell. He would be admired, feted, and probably offered employment in helping train employees or companies on diversity and sexism. And a political future. (I am not interested, I am just saying.) “He” would have been listened to. And honestly, nobody would race around looking for dirt on him to damage his credibility.
AJ: How do you advise people in engaging? Any tips on identifying and defending against cyberbullying and how to compartmentalize if being in the political fight is where you want to be?
BD: Realize that internet activism is what you are engaging in. Watch what you say on forums and sites if you plan to be advocating for the long term. Pick your battles. Do not send angry DMs. Block quickly and often.
Another thing you should do is decide who you really are and be convicted in your positions. If you are an antiracist/sexist like myself, EDUCATE yourself about the lived experience of those you advocate for. Never speak for people, magnify their voices.
Know that people will attack your credibility and you personally. Accept that as part of the game. Know when to shut up and let people be stupid alone. I wish I knew five years ago what I know now. Even five MONTHS! Ok, weeks, even.
The Internet is the last frontier of activism. People come here to learn about politics, sports, news, culture, science, etc.. Times have changed, and now those with disabilities, lack of time, money, or access to protests can participate in activism. We help shape the narrative. Do not leave this space to the worst of the worst again. Watch for and report bots, make people aware of the tricks being pulled. We let the far right and the far left control social media and lost the election. Never again. There are more of us.
Bianca de la Rosa (Delarosa, DeLaRosa) was born in Los Angeles, California and currently residing in Anchorage, Alaska, Bianca has lived in many locations in Socal, including Bakersfield, Tustin, Long Beach, Hollywood, and the San Fernando Valley. After her experiences during the LA riots in 92, her family moved back and forth between Los Angeles and Anchorage. She has worked as a Dancer, a Market Researcher, and in DoD subcontracting, and is currently attending UAA where she studies History and Creative writing. She is a Twitter activist @bravenakblog