The Internet can be a very scary place for a woman who dares to have a voice. As a feminist YouTube blogger, I deal with a fair amount of harassment for speaking up for the numerous marginalized communities that I embody as a black woman of trans experience. I'm passionate about so many things, but I find myself discussing racism quite often, as my blackness is often the first thing people see and therefore, the first thing used against me. I spend a lot of time on my Facebook page deconstructing the white supremacy laced in the comments that are often posted to my page. One of the most effective ways I've done that is through screen shots.
I take screen shots for many reasons. First and foremost because people have convinced themselves that often I engage in these conversations because of my supposed obsession with being a victim who loves to blow things out of proportion. My arguments are often dismissed as childish and people say that I'm complaining about non-issues. I feel like it's important to demonstrate that while racism may not be as loud as it used to be, it's still echoing in our culture and often in how the lives of people of color are devalued. Putting a face to these comments is very important to me so I almost never blur out their names. I want to bring home that these are real people who really feel this way and are proud enough and content enough in their positions that they're willing to do so publicly. Some people have considered this a violation of "Freedom of Speech."
Free Speech is succinctly defined, as "the right to communicate one's opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship." A lot of people, especially on the Internet, feel like Freedom of Speech means that they can essentially say what ever they want and no one can say anything against it. Freedom of Speech is a two-way street. You can say something and I can say something in response. Even if I decided to ban you from my Facebook page, I am still not violating your legal right to free speech. I try not to do that and I let even the most hateful people post on my page. Sometimes, however, the boldness of these posters leaves me in absolute awe.
"Political correctness" is a term that often comes up whenever I'm speaking out against something that hurts a minority. When you have these conversations so often, you become used to the typical part of a conversation where a majority group whines on and on about the dreaded "PC Police" and how little respect they can muster for other people. At a certain point it becomes comical that these people enter into conversations about genocide, forced sterilization, enslavement, murder and rape to complain that they were being pressured not to make light of those things. Because, clearly, asking someone to not be a jerk is on the same level as all the above. I made this status poking fun at this concept.
I speak a lot about white men on my page and that tends to get me into a lot of heat. I want to say first and foremost that while it's easy to read my posts as generalizations of all white men, I don't generalize all white men. I'm not someone who believes that all white men are intrinsically racist; I wouldn't be dating one if I did. I do, however, notice that being white and being male in the U.S. comes with its benefits and often those benefits come with a sense of entitlement that I've never felt as a black woman. The way white men often exert themselves in conversations about lived experiences they will never have always fascinates me so it's definitely a conversation I tend to have quite a bit that happens to get under a lot of people's skin. Especially white men like Kenneth who always somehow end up proving my point.
Kenneth is a perfect example of the average way in which a person who disagrees with me expresses as much on my page. It usually starts with slurs and is accented with blatant racism towards the end. Frankly, I've become so accustomed to this that I don't really react to it outside of laughter. I went to screen shot him when I hovered over his name and discovered that he was an insurance agent. This was ironic since how insurance agencies have handled people of color is just one of the many ways that systemic racism is maintained. While I wasn't offended, I couldn't help but think about his clients who are almost always in vulnerable situations when interacting with him. I was also shocked that he would make a statement like this so publicly while connected to his place of employment. Kenneth might deny it, but to me it just seemed like a very privileged thing to do. To exert yourself so boldly and align yourself with such vitriol in public and genuinely feel confident enough in it to believe that there would be no consequences because of it. That seemed bold to me, but I would never have guessed quite how bold he would get. I posted the screen shot and this is how he responded.
And you know what? Maybe it was. Maybe it was messed up for me to post a screen shot of the words he publicly stated on my page with public information about the place in which he was employed. Maybe it was. At this point, I guess I had a moment of guilt. For a few weeks, I had about 3,000 followers and now I sit at almost 30,000 on my page. My Facebook Page is expanding quickly and I honestly haven't quite learned how to manage the responsibility that comes with that. My followers started pulling up his information. He was an Insurance Agent for New York Life Insurance and all of his information was public. I hadn't looked that closely to his page so it didn't really register with me that he worked for a very large insurance company that does actually have a code of ethics that is pretty inclusive.
So, again, it was ghastly for me to see someone in his position interact with me that way in public, but little did I know, it would only get so much worse.
Kenneth never backed down and our conversations became splintered. At this point, my followers had found his page and the most they were doing was making snide comments about his appearance. Totally uncool, but not nearly as bad as coming for his actual job. Kenneth felt very attacked. Objectively, I understood that and, as I always do, I still tried to maintain a cordial conversation with him about racism while he continued to call me a cunt. One of my followers recognized that he was an amateur MMA fighter. Being a vocal feminist who is regularly trolled by bodybuilding and MMA forums, I made a comment about the trend of misogyny in online MMA communities. This was his response:
The common issue that I found Kenneth discussing was masculinity. He was very invested in asserting that he was masculine and defining for me what masculinity was. This always came off as the total opposite of masculine. I'm a woman that certainly loves masculinity, but not the type of masculinity that Kenneth subscribes to. The pressure for men to be masculine often pressures them to be violent. Violence is a tool of masculinity and that often leads men to becoming targets of physical violence, more so than women. This has always been an anti-feminist talking point that I've always been fascinated with because it ends up being somewhat of a cyclical conversation. Sure, men are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, but they're also more likely to commit them as a way of exerting their masculinity. In a similar way, while men can also be survivors of rape, they are usually raped by other men. When women are the survivors of rape, they are also usually targeted by men. I don't discuss this much, but I am a rape survivor. How I dealt with my rape and reacted to my rape was probably not what you'd expect. Ultimately, comments like this don't bother me or trigger any type of "PTSD" as he alluded to earlier. However, objectively I knew this comment was messed up and so I told him as much while my followers were telling him that he essentially just made a rape threat. How did he respond?
There were so many things that disturbed me about Kenneth, but the thing that genuinely disturbed me was the fact that he seemed to not know the difference between aggressive sex and rape. The comment he made was a rape threat because it essentially came without my consent; in fact, it was in the middle of a relatively calm conversation as a response to my assertion that online MMA communities contain a lot of misogyny. He conflated misogyny with a comment against masculinity. Somehow, he thought this comment was relevant to that conversation and after you look up Kenneth's Google Plus history, you realize this is a thought process Kenneth repeats over and over again.
Kenneth participates in a particularly troublesome anti-feminist community that often communicates false ideas about masculinity to other men. Kenneth is someone who has been spoon fed this idea that what women really want is an "alpha male" who has "forceful" sex with women. He often says things like "Women say they like nice guys, but that's not really what they want" and goes on to describe how sensitive guys, like his high school self, were often overlooked for the brutish jock types. interestingly, I don't know many women who prefer those types. I know I certainly don't. Kenneth is one of these "nice guys" who truly believes that women don't like him because he's too nice and too good. When in reality, he's the sort of man that calls women who he's never met before cunts and clearly has a very low view of women and their ability to choose a mate. Women pick up on that and Kenneth is clearly one of these guys that just can't get over high school. He looks down on women because they've rejected him and almost all of his comments had the undertone of dismissing me because I was a woman and more importantly, a feminist. He fancies himself an alpha male, but in truth, I don't think I've spoken to a man that embodied the antitheses of masculinity so acutely more than him. While the concept of an "Alpha Male" is flawed, I found it quite ironic that Kenneth saw himself in such a light. "Alpha Males" are leaders and part of leadership is decision-making. It's knowing when to pounce and when to sit in the darkness and simply observe. Not even halfway through, Kenneth demonstrated that he lacks decision-making skills. This was apparent in publicly broadcasting his place of employment, but it would only trend downward from there.
After defending himself against the accusation that he left a rape threat, he eventually became frustrated with me and left this comment:
At this point he has threatened to rape me and now he's threatened to shoot me. Looking at his page, he is quite the gun enthusiast and the fact that he would even vaguely joke about shooting me is a great example of why there may need to be more in-depth background checks when it comes to being able to own a gun. I've dealt with a lot of jerks on my page, but Kenneth was in a league of his own. Keep in mind, he very publicly has it written that we works for New York Life Insurance on his Facebook page and he very publicly leaves comments like this, which are, if you couldn't already tell, death threats. He also left this classy little comment:
This comment was almost the straw that broke the camels back for my fan base. The rape threat already had people talking about how he should lose his job, but it was just talk. Now he had threatened to rape me, shoot me and lynch me all because he disagreed with a status I made about political correctness. I have a fan base that really loves me. Loves me enough to call me out when I'm wrong and loves me enough to defend me when I'm being wronged. It became clear that people were starting to collect screen shots of their own and they had started to forward them to New York Life Insurance. On top of that, a bunch of them tracked down his business page (which of course had the same name) and were starting to give him one star ratings accompanied with screen shots of his numerous inflammatory comments on my page. I didn't ask for this. I never encouraged anyone to track him down or post on his page. My fan base felt defensive of me and decided to do so on their own. At one point the New York Life Insurance page was almost entirely littered with Kenneth's screen shots. You couldn't read a post on there without seeing his screen shot and his name. I was stunned. Like I said, I didn't ask for it, but it felt good that there were so many people who cared enough about me to defend me. I feel like it's important to say that Kenneth's information was not private. He was an Insurance Agent. His information was readily available and easy to find and his Facebook work information listing the exact company he worked for made it all that easier to find.
At this point, Kenneth started to shake in his boots. You could tell the confidence he had in his job position was slowly but surely starting to dwindle. So he got desperate. Like most people who happen upon my page, he didn't know that I was transgender. When he found this out, he felt like he had new ammo. As someone who's been harassed since a teenager, none of this really got to me, but it was clear that it was getting to him.
What I found fascinating about this was that it is such a perfect representation of how trans misogyny materializes in society. Trans women are often stripped of their humanity in its entirety. Let's pretend, for a moment, that what Kenneth said wasn't a rape threat. This is a man who described how he would have forceful sex with me and how I'd enjoy it so much more than sex with a "white knight." This is someone who already made insinuations about him having sex with me. Now that he knew that I was transgender, he wouldn't even "consider" raping me and even in the midst of attempting to strip me of my gender, he still refers to me as a "cum dumpster." He kept defending his rape threat as some factual statement about what women wanted and suddenly, because he now knows I'm transgender, I couldn't possibly speak to that. This is how he responded to accusations of transphobia.
Now, I'm far beyond the point of debating or defending my gender at this phase in my life. I'll just say this: I transitioned very young. I have never been seen as a man in this society, I have never worked as a man in this society and I have never dated as a man in this society. I am perceived and handled as a woman and assumed to be cisgender and have been for my entire adult life. Transphobia and trans misogyny was quickly added onto the list of hateful things Kenneth had said that people were forwarding to New York Life. At this point, he started to back-peddle. Suddenly, his job was looking more and more like it might slip away from him. So to cover his back, he made this post.
What I really enjoyed about Kenneth is that he was such an amazing catalyst to so many conversations I've wanted to have. Kenneth has demonstrated, very clearly that he is transphobic, but he somehow wanted to make up for that by posting a picture of two, presumably cis gay white men. Mainstream support of the LGBT community usually looks like supporting people who are cis, white and heteronormative. He attacked me, a black trans woman, and somehow thought that making this post after deleting all the evidence of transphobia and misogyny on his page would somehow absolve him. To me this was almost a perfect example of how just because companies claim to support the LGBT community, doesn't mean that their employees do. Furthermore, just because a company changes their logo into a rainbow doesn't mean that they support you; sometimes it means they support your money. I think it's always important to look into a company's policies and see their history with empowering people within the LGBT community before giving them the stamp of approval. At the end of the day, these are businesses and pink money is still money.
As strange as this is to say out loud, I began to feel a bit sorry for Kenneth. Like a lot of the men I interact with on social media in these conversations, dealing with him feels like dealing with a reckless child. A reckless child who has never been told no, and has never been held accountable for his actions. At some point his sister came through to tell me that I should have taken his rape threat as a joke and be nicer to Kenneth because he's apparently been through so much. I had a hard time understanding how another woman could see what he said to me and not feel some degree of concern for the women he personally counsels, but maybe their relationship made it hard to see his flaws. Kenneth reached out to his family and friends for help defending him and she was the only one who came. He asked his friends and family to come and support him in the fight against, as he put it, "SJWs," but most of them were disappointed in him. One of his family members even said that he was ashamed to be associated with him. I felt bad for him, but I guess not that bad. At one point he tried to apologize to me, and you'll see that didn't go well.
Kenneth was still so fixated on his point about forcible sex with women. It made me think about the women in his life that were probably hurt because of this. If you and your partner consent to having sex that way, that's great, but how does the notion that all women want forcible sex not reinforce the culture of aggressive sexual advances that often times end up being rape? Forcible sex should be something that is ethical, discussed and consented to; not something you assume of a total stranger. I couldn't accept his apology.
There was nothing about it that seemed genuine. He was trying to cover his butt, but it wasn't working. I had over 40,000 people watching this as it all unfolded. I kept telling him that he should stop, but he never did. He did this all feeling pretty confident about his job. I went to bed at a certain point and when I woke up, I was greeted by many of my followers posting this image:
New York Life Insurance did an internal investigation on Kenneth after receiving hundreds of reports about what was happening on my page. He was fired within a day of this happening. I didn't want this. I never wanted him to get fired. Maybe laugh at him, but I didn't want him to get fired. I can't say that I felt bad about him being fired though. He's someone who works for the public who in his spare time sends death and rape threats to women. My followers were overjoyed at the news of him being relieved of his job because all too often men like Kenneth are never held responsible for their words. That's why they feel like they can say them in the first place. I, of course, recognize that New York Life Insurance is trying to protect themselves from a PR nightmare, but I felt like getting some New York Life Insurance by the end of this. All too often men like Kenneth continue to thrive in their jobs and I have a very hard time believing that what he says online doesn't impact how he provides financial assistance to people of various walks of life.
Like a perfectly written story, Kenneth alludes to the thing that started this entire debacle: my post about the fear of political correctness. Political Correctness is viewed as such a terrible thing by people who miss the days where you could say heinously offensive things and never see consequences for it. Kenneth blamed me and my "ravaging" fans for what happened to him. In reality, he got himself fired. Most insurance agents sign contracts where they cannot publicly affiliate themselves with their company and post certain types of things on social media. That is, again, not a limitation to his legal right to free speech. It's a contract that he signed and agreed to that he violated that ultimately got him fired.
At no point does Kenneth own up to his actions or the things that he's said. I think, like I felt at a certain point in my life, Kenneth feels like what is done online and what is done offline has no repercussions. We tend to use the Internet and view it as a sort of alternative reality where there are no repercussions for our words. After all, it's "just the Internet." As my platform gets larger and larger, I realize more and more that what we do on the Internet does, indeed, have an impact on our offline lives -- sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. The Internet has changed my life and opened up so many job opportunities for me. I make all of my income online and I'm fortunate enough to have worked diligently since I was a teenager to cultivate a platform that allows me to do so. The companies I work for know where I stand politically and, in fact, support me. I have made a promise to myself that I will never succumb to being in a situation where I'm working for a company that didn't want me to stand up for myself or other marginalized minorities. I don't want to work for a company that would fire me over something I said online and I'm fortunate that I don't. Kenneth isn't so lucky.
Kenneth is someone who has attached his legal name to his social media use and that's something that I feel most people understand not to do, but Kenneth is proud. He has a YouTube channel where he discusses his positions, including a video about feminism detailing how you can't teach men how not to rape, but you can teach women self defense. His Google Plus activity is atrocious and, again, it's connected to his legal name that is connected to his place of work.
What startles me about Kenneth is how bold he is and how unashamed he is to say these things. This tells me that something about his life and probably his upbringing has allowed him to feel a sense of pride and a sense of indifference in his words even when he's wrong. He is so convicted in his wrongness and he never stops, he's still not stopping. He continues to blame me for what happened and is clearly feeling pretty volatile after the fact. He has, at this point, threatened to dox and attack my family and a large part of why I'm making this post is because of that.
My disabled mother doesn't deserve to be attacked because Kenneth posted things publicly with his name and company attached to them and got himself fired. While this article is titled "I got him fired," I didn't get him fired. He did. This is someone who on LinkedIn claims to support Civil Rights, Social Action, Economic Empowerment, Education and Human Rights but is racist and in his spare time talks about running over "niggers." I would not want to welcome this man into my home. He thinks that I've defamed his character when all I've done is screen shot his actual words. The last post I've seen from him on my page was this:
Kenneth gave me his blessing to write this article and, for that, I am very thankful. I never wanted him to be out of a job for an online disagreement, but this is the day and age that we are in. I wanted to make this post as a warning to so many that the things you say online can impact you offline. As a child of the Internet age, what I heard over and over again growing up is that everything I post online lasts forever. I used to chuckle and laugh that off, but I realize as an adult just how true that is. People who troll like to believe that these things happen in a vacuum and that trolling isn't serious. There are real people behind these social media accounts and as we shift into a culture that is more and more connected, the repercussions for the things you say and do will become greater and greater.
Freedom of Speech does not protect all speech. I can, in fact, have Kenneth arrested for these things, but I don't want that. With the help of some tech savvy friends, I have discovered that Kenneth is behind a massive harassment campaign that has been targeting my email address for the past few weeks. He has used my email address to send me white supremacist literature and several abusive emails disguised as business emails. What bothers me the most about all of this is that there are people who will, and have defended him. As a woman, I should never have to tolerate and swallow threats of sexual violence. I've become indifferent to these emails for the most part, but objectively, I understand that they are abusive. Kenneth still truly believes that he was unjustly relieved of his job and still doesn't see how what he did was wrong. That's scary. It's unsettling to me that someone could do all of that and still not see it, but people like him are never that self-aware and will probably never see it.