Moya Bailey is a Black queer feminist scholar, writer, and activist. She is the co-author of #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice and has a new book, Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance, coming out May 2021. In this conversation, we talk about online communities of support and activism, racial inequalities in medicine, the healthcare system, artificial intelligence, and Moya’s term misogynoir, which describes a specific form of discrimination experienced by Black women.
Even though Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris was the clear winner of last week’s presidential debate (the fly on Pence’s head notwithstanding), she was disparaged in right-leaning media for her physical appearance and comportment rather than the content of her responses. GOP pollster Frank Luntz claimed that undecided voters “did not find her authentic.” Fellow right-wing politicos Ben Shapiro and David Dudenhoefer (Republican candidate hoping to unseat Rashida Tlaib), both took to Twitter to fire off tweets about Harris’ face rather than her comments during the debate. Shapiro tweeted that Harris looked “deeply uncomfortable” and Dufenhoefer said she was “unlikeable with her smug facial expressions.” While this commentary that ignores the substance of Harris’ talking points in favor of focusing on her appearance is recognizable as the general misogyny that women negotiate, Harris is also navigating the way this misogyny becomes entangled with anti-Black racism. Bill O’Reilly offered faint praise, tweeting that Harris “comes across as articulate though her facial expressions are hurting her.” The word “articulate” is a known dog whistle for anti-Black racism as it is deployed with an assumption of surprise that Black people can communicate clearly and effectively.
The negative ways that Harris and other Black women are discussed in the media are an example of the confluence of misogyny and anti-Black racism. This brand of vitriol is called misogynoir, a term I coined as a graduate student in 2008. Misogynoir is the anti-Black racist misogyny that Black women experience, particularly in US visual and digital culture. Misogynoir is not simply the racism that Black women encounter, nor is it the misogyny Black women negotiate; it is the uniquely synergistic force of these two oppressions amalgamating into something more harmful than its parts.
One way that misogynoir becomes legible in the media’s treatment of Harris is through the frames used to discuss her historic but unsuccessful run for president. Her own political ambitions were minimized in favor of a narrative that she rode to political success on the coattails of her mentor turned (albeit briefly) boyfriend former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. News sources insinuated that she’d slept her way to the top, a charge rebranded when she joined the Democratic party presidential ticket as the vice presidential candidate through the short-lived “Joe and the Hoe” merchandise available for purchase at Amazon.com. The sexual tenor of these attacks on Harris are beyond the pale when compared to how white women politicians are criticized via general misogyny, like Hillary Clinton being called a bitch. While legitimate critiques of Harris’ record and political positions are ignored, the Jezebel stereotype of Black women as hypersexual and the “Angry Black woman” myth of Black women as loud and irate, dominate the framing of Harris in the public square.
In a recent study by TIME’S UP Now, researchers found that one-quarter of all reporting on Harris was racist and sexist, with the “Angry Black woman” stereotype used the most. Her Indian heritage is rarely brought up in media and when it is, it is often in ways that affirm her lineage, despite there being legitimate questions about the way caste and colorism may inform her politics. Harris is disparaged because she is a Black woman, not because she is a woman of color.
In my forthcoming book, Misogynoir Transformed: Black women’s digital resistance (NYU Press), I discuss the ways that Black women are using digital spaces to challenge the way misogynoir informs their lives and health. While mainstream and digital media can focus on Harris’ heritage and gender, Black women and their allies are wielding this same digital media to have more nuanced conversations about Harris as a candidate.
I was so fortunate to have been invited to participate in Crip Camp by the late Stacey Park Milbern. It was really important to me that my contribution pushed a conversation about disability and Blackness and I think I achieved that. I also got to meet and fan-girl over Alice Wong and her incredible book and collection, Disability Visibility. Here’s the recording in case you missed it!
I had the pleasure of speaking with Monica A. Coleman and Tananarive Due on the 6th episode of their Octavia Tried To Tell Us podcast Saturday. I was a guest to the show alongside one of my favorite Black feminist thinkers, Dr. Farah Jasmine Griffin.
1. What are you looking forward to at MIT? I’m excited to be connected to feminists who are actively exploring the sciences. My course, “Black Feminist Health Science Studies,” [WGS.S10, offered Spring 2021] is really designed to make some critical connections between feminism, science, technology, and society. I really can’t think of a better group of students with which to explore these topics.
2. Your new book #HashtagActivism came out at a poignant time with Covid-19 keeping us home more. What are the crucial hashtags you are looking out for in the “new civil rights movement?” Unfortunately, I think we will continue to see hashtags that point to the public health crisis that is racism in the form of the names of extrajudicially killed Black people. I am excited about the hashtags that help expand our advocacy to behavior changes like #StayTheFuckHome and #MasksSaveLives.
3. Favorite song? If the class had a theme song it would be “Brujas” by Princess Nokia.
Join authors Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles to look at how marginalized groups use Twitter to advance counter-narratives, preempt political spin, and build diverse networks of dissent. Learn more about the book: https://bit.ly/35DTLt4
Queer and allied students of Spelman College at the March for Women’s Lives in 2004.
The “Notorious BGS” strikes again. While the rest of us were wringing our hands about the latest far right homophobic attack, Beverly Guy-Sheftall has been quietly working to build institutions that will support us beyond reaction. I pride myself on staying up to date on the happenings of my alma mater but when my Spelman sister Ruha Benjamin forwarded me THE announcement I was shocked! Not only was I shocked by the incredible news, I was shocked to find that I was sitting in the same room with two of the people who made it possible at the moment it was announced, Evelynn Hammonds and of course Beverly Guy-Sheftall.
The significance of this gift cannot be understated. By establishing an endowed chair, the person hired for this position is freed from the institutional bureaucracy that is often used to silence progressive and radical thought. The person in this position will be free to develop curriculum, programs, and events that support Spelman College and other HBCUs in the vitally important work of gender and sexuality justice.
HBCUs have long been leaders in fomenting racial justice minded graduates but this position has the ability to build on the incredible work that the Women’s Research and Resource Center (WRRC) is already doing to equip these same graduates with a liberatory framework around gender and sexuality. It was less than 15 years ago that the first queer theory course was taught at Spelman or at any HBCU, by alumna Layli Mapayan, and just last year that the WRRC announced the development of a Gender and Sexuality Institute. BGS has been busy.
When folks ask, what’s next after marriage equality, I hope they will look to Jon Stryker’s gift as a possibility model. This is what solidarity looks like and this is what it looks like to use your privilege in the service of others. It’s clear that ally is measured not in word but deed. I couldn’t be prouder of my Spelman sisters Beverly and Evelynn’s radical commitments to Spelman College.