last week, fox news and the conservative twitterverse ripped into ebony.com senior digital editor jamilah lemeiux after she had a heated exchange with republican national committee (rnc) deputy press secretary raffi williams (exchange can be found here). she mistook raffi for a white man, although raffi identifies as black, and the ordeal lead the rnc to call on ebony to issue a formal apology on jamilah’s behalf.
folding under pressure, ebony issued an apology on sunday. many rallied around jamilah, whose progressive and witty tweets are read by thousands of followers, using the hashtag #standwithjamilah. the writer has responded to the controversy, issuing a statement yesterday:
I love my work. I love having the opportunity to tell diverse Black stories—and stories that impact Black people. I also love the democracy of digital media, an ever-changing space that allows people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds to serve as storytellers, content creators and influencers. As an active Twitter user since 2008, I have been able to share stories with and from people all across the world. I have debated, I have ranted, I have listened—and I have learned. I have also not only developed a loyal and remarkably kind group of e-friends, readers and supporters, but I have connected with people with whom I might not typically befriend or engage, many of whom who have fiercely different perspectives than my own.
There have been nearly 20,000 tweets with the #StandwithJamilah hashtag following the events of last week. I do not have words to express the gratitude I have for the individuals who have raised their voices publicly and privately to ‘stand’ with me after I was attacked, or in Internet parlance, trolled following my exchange with RNC Deputy Press Secretary Raffi Williams—an exchange that was largely reported with gross factual inaccuracies by news outlets both large and small. After thousands of negative Tweets, emails and phone calls to and about both my employer and I—in which I was repeatedly called names ranging from the strange (“socialist,” “Marxist,” “plantation mistress,”) to the downright sexist and racist (“c-nt,” “b-tch,” “n-gger”) and even calls for me to be raped, robbed and beaten—I am sustained by the kind, supportive words I have received from so many people, women and men of all races.
I want to affirm, for any who may doubt, that I have very strong feelings about how my words were twisted to fit the agenda of others. (This is not new territory—ask Shirley Sherrod, Melissa Harris Perry,Anthea Butler…I suppose I should take some pride in now being counted among this principled group.) But, right now, this isn’t about my feelings. Even though so much of this seems like it is about me, Jamilah Lemieux, it most certainly isn’t. This debacle is largely a commentary on the evolving concept of being an employed individual on social media—and the ever-shifting line between public and private. It highlights the importance of employees being mindful of such at all times, whether that feels “fair” or not. This is not about the First Amendment, this is about corporate ethics and the challenges that face those of us who represent major media brands.
In theory, I should be able to say whatever I want on my personal social media accounts and everyone should understand and respect that my words are not the words of Johnson Publishing Company, nor EBONY. That is not the world we live in. That is not reality. And while a quip about a TV show or anecdote about a date may go by without much controversy, “snarking” those who don’t share my political views left me open to attack. And in an era during which there are people who live for nothing more than the opportunity to tear down a brand or an individual who is, perhaps, more confident or more accomplished than themselves, we all have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our careers from a useless war.
jamilah goes on to lament the difficulty of being both “public and private” and concluding “the ebony brand is much bigger than me.” read the rest of her statement on ebony’s website.
i’m sending positive vibes to jamilah and taking heed about building a social media presence in an era when being unfiltered can carry an enormous price.