After a crazy month of traveling (more on that here) I’m back in Kansas City — at least for the next week or so.
Most recently, I’m back from the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Philadelphia, which was amazing. I could probably spend 2,000 words parsing out all the ways in which it was awesome, but to spare you from that, the tl;dr is that I met lots of cool people who also love what I love, and I learned a lot from some very smart people. I also may have had the best name badge in conference history.
I mention all of this to say that I came back to work feeling pumped up about journalism and the world. Then the Internet happened. Specifically, on Monday morning the culture website Salon sent this offensive tweet about rapper Nicki Minaj’s acceptance speech for best hip-hop video at the MTV Video Music Awards the night before.
For those that missed it, at the end of her speech, Minaj addressed fellow pop star Miley Cyrus who, in a recent interview with the New York Times, called Minaj mean for the way in which she had called out the Video Music Awards for being dismissive of black female artists. On Sunday night, Minaj’s 10-second, 23-word statement included one obscenity, but Salon called it a “savage, expletive-laden rant.”
The pushback on social media was swift. Almost immediately, people decried Salon’s use of the angry, black woman stereotype — especially the use of the word “savage” and especially given the context. The tweet was deleted and Salon replaced it with another linking to the same story but this time calling Minaj’s speech a “raw, righteous rebuke.” Salon later apologized for the original tweet.
To be clear, Salon did the right thing by apologizing. I am not faulting them for their response. However, it completely blows my mind that a professional news organization could send such a tweet in the first place, that they could not see the inherent racism in calling a black woman “savage” for speaking her mind. I mean, this very same publication was also tweeting about #BlackLivesMatter on Monday morning, so it’s not as if race isn’t on their radar. And they’re professional journalists. The whole thing brought me out of my journalism euphoria pretty quickly.
No one’s perfect, but Salon’s misstep was bad. Really bad.
It’s crazy to me that even today — even among people who should know better — misogyny-tinged racism can be so easy. I’ve actually been thinking about the intersection of racism and sexism a lot in the last few weeks, likely because I just finished a story for Global Sisters Report about racism and the effect it’s had on four congregations of women religious (I hope you will love it) over 160 years, and I also just finished reading a phenomenal biography of Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Thea Bowman, who tackled these issues in the ’60, ‘70s and ‘80s.
What’s changed since then? I mean, what’s really changed? Today we celebrate black female entertainers and athletes, but we also subject them to a certain type of criticism that neither white women nor black men in their fields face. The racially based comments about tennis pro Serena Williams’ body are a perfect example.
This is usually the part of my blog post where I offer some kind of solution or, if I don’t have one (which often the case) I make an exhortation for us all to better. But I have nothing this week. What do you say about subconscious racism that hasn’t been said before? That I haven’t said before on this very blog? So I’ll end with this tweeted message from BuzzFeed writer Tracy Clayton that pretty much sums everything up: “i think miley criticizing nicki for calling out racism was much more savage than nicki standing up for herself @salon.”
[Dawn Cherie Araujo is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]