Byte Me #16: Breonna Taylor, police surveillance, and virtuencers

Byte Me #16: Breonna Taylor, police surveillance, and virtuencers

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Welcome back to Byte Me, our feminist newsletter that makes everyone mad <3

We’re skipping our own personal updates this week, and are instead linking to some resources on learning about racism, systematic oppression, and allyship:

If you’re joining protests, we’ve made several guides on keeping your personal data safe while on the ground, how to quickly disable your iPhone’s metrics if you’re arrested, how to turn off your location services on iOS and Android, and how to blur faces and strip metadata from photos.

This list is not a complete one, but has resources we’ve personally found helpful. Please let us know if you have a resource you think we and others need to see!

[Also read our previous issue: Byte Me #15: Objectifying men, pandemic parenting, and mindful masturbation]

We’re also skipping the misogynistic tweets for now — here’s this month’s illustration from our gloriously gifted designer, Saïna:

the bloody news

  • Model and transgender activist Munroe Bergdorf is accusing L’Oréal of racial hypocrisy. They fired the model from a campaign in 2017 after she spoke out about the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville. Yet now L’Oréal is promoting “speaking out” on their Instagram. (The Guardian)

  • Resurfacing this essay from Pulitzer-winning journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The grief that white Americans can’t share.”
  • We really enjoyed this conversation between Janelle Monáe and Cheers‘ La’Darius Marshall on identity, mental health, and integrity. (The Cut)

  • Speaking of Janelle Monáe, here’s her cover story for last month’s Vanity Fair: “There can be a real uprising… The majority of us do not want to continue to see things be the way that they are.”

    Credit: Vanity Fair
    Credit: Vanity Fair

  • Black Lives Matter protesters aren’t being tracked with COVID-19 surveillance tech — yet. (The Correspondent)
  • Christabel Nsiah-Buadi for The Independent: “I was pregnant when Trayvon Martin was killed. This week, I had to watch my seven-year-old learn about George Floyd over Zoom.”
  • Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her home in March as part of an (illegal) drug raid. She’s not an anomaly: tens of thousands more innocent black and Latino people could be targeted in raids this year, Mother Jones reports.
  • Voter turnout to recent primaries has increased past 2016 levels, seeing historic wins for women of color. One of the women making history is Ella Jones, who has just been voted in as the first black mayor of Ferguson, Missouri. (The New York Times)

    Credit: Ferguson City Directory

  • Kemi Alemoru for gal-dem asks: “What should we do with videos of police brutality?” 
  • Keisha Lance Bottoms wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about how she can’t protect her son from police violence, even though she’s the mayor of Atlanta.
  • This month’s British Vogue will star 3 essential workers: Narguis Horsford, a train driver, Rachel Millar, a midwife, and Anisa Omar, a supermarket assistant.
    Credit: Vogue

    Read the cover story here, and watch the short video documenting a day in their lives here.

that’s what they said

Social media has undeniably been a crucial part of spreading the truth of George Floyd’s death, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement at large. But some social media practices hurt more than they help.

This month, we’re going to defer to four New York Times staffers — Jasmine Howard, Tariro Mzezewa, Lindsey Underwood, and Caity Weaver — who discussed Instagram’s #BlackoutTuesday.

We’ve included some quotes from their chat below, but would recommend you read the full thing on the NYT site.

Lindsey: I don’t post on Instagram often, but today I felt a pull to post. My feed was flooded with black squares, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I felt conflicted about seeing so many of my white friends — who may have great intentions — posting the blackout. I just imagine some level of satisfaction they may feel that they “spoke out,” but I’m not sure what it really accomplishes.

Tariro: We’ve all seen performative and insincere allyship in the days since George Floyd died in police custody, and some of us may come at something like this with some degree of skepticism.

Jasmine: I’ve seen a few posts where I’m like, “I would’ve rather you’d done nothing.”

Caity: My initial reaction was: This feels sort of empty. A couple of my black friends posted the squares, but the vast majority of people who did it on my feeds were white. Non-black people of color seemed to be split.

Tariro: Also, guys, BRANDS! Brands love the square!

Caity: I love holding brands accountable financially. I’m glad record companies are making donations today. But also: I don’t look to brands for inspiration, news, or guidance.

You can check out their full conversation here.

For more discussions you should listen to this week, here are some incredible podcasts:

  • 1619 — Created by Pulitzer-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, this podcast is part of a broader editorial project from The New York Times, which aims to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” The podcast is excellent.
  • The Read — Hosted by Kid Fury and Crissle, two black, queer media personalities that put out this hilarious, politically-charged, and articulate discussion of everything from police brutality to hip-hop culture and personal advice once a week. Started in 2013, this podcast is one of the original greats — and Gigi’s all time favorite. Check out the latest episode here.
  • Still Processing — Another NYT podcast! Still Processing is hosted by Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris, two NYT culture writers. Each week they pick apart a piece of culture in a highly intellectual way. We especially loved this episode where they compared Jordan Peele’s Us to Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
  • Bobo and Flex — This cross-continental podcast is hosted by two friends “on a quest to decolonize our minds, intersect our feminism, but most importantly, give us all the tools necessary to stay away problematic boys!” You can listen to their latest episode here.
  • Code Switch  This episode of NPR’s Code Switch podcast is a thought-provoking interview with Alex S. Vitale (who wrote the 2017 book The End of Policing) about why we don’t need law enforcement as much as we think.

the best advice

In this section, we ask women much smarter than us about the best piece of professional advice they’ve ever received.

This months’ advice comes from Dr. Jacqueline Copeland-Carson, the COO, and Brenda Darden Wilkerson, President and CEO of AnitaB.org, an organization that connects, inspires, and strives for greater equality for women technologists in business, academia, and government.

Brenda D Wilkerson — “The best advice was ‘Do you, Brenda.’ Especially as a Black female in tech, this is often hard when so many times the culture seeks to erase difference. The sad thing is the very thing that brings about innovation in so many instances is the empathy of each person’s experiences. So bringing authentically my perspective to the conversation, especially if it’s different, is the best thing I can do for the project or team I’m on to help us make sure all bases are covered.”

J. Copeland-Carson — “Best advice was to seek excellence but remember you can’t have it all at the same time; and ways to always keep career alive while caring for yourself and others. Also, building ladders of opportunity for others is the best way to propel opportunities for yourself.”

You can read the whole of Copeland-Carson and Wilkerson’s AMA here

tweets of the month

word of the month: virtuencer

Next up:

The world is burning. We’re seeing atrocities that would normally dominate news cycles for days, now follow each other within minutes. Centuries of pain and suffering have bubbled up to the surface and caused a tsunami of protest.

And what are white influencers doing? Posting pictures to Insta to boost their social klout. Virtue signaling while influencing. This month, we present to you: the Virtuencer.

The virtuencer is (most often) a white person, commonly female, who sees BLM as one big photo op. While others are worried about tear gas, she’s concerned with lighting. And while others are frantically blurring their faces from imagery to protect their identities from law enforcement, she’s inserting her contoured face into as many pictures as possible.

Let’s start with some case studies that recently popped up on Twitter. There were influencers pretending to be part of the action:

There were carefully selected protesting outfits:

Virtuencers on the other end of the spectrum focused on looted stores:

And in some cases even pretended to help rebuild them:

Writer and entrepreneur Otegha Uwagba responded to a this phenomenon in a tweet: 

“This is why black people are looking sideways at all of this performative social media BS. Imagine a white influencer uploaded this to her Instagram, but is studiously ignoring my question about her own past behaviour, whilst responding to other, less uncomfortable comments.”

How not to be a virtuencer?

It’s actually really easy. If you’re white, how about just not taking selfies while protesting, unless it’s to document proof of some kind of injury? Being anti-racist isn’t some kind of performance you congratulate yourself with. This isn’t about you. The revolution will be televised, but it doesn’t need a Valencia filter.

Here are some examples:

  • “All done!” Virtuencer Angela cheered after painting George Floyd’s face onto each of her acrylic nails, and snapping a photo for the ‘gram.
  • “Excuse me, can I borrow this?” Virtuencer Jane says, as she snatches a #BLM sign from a protestor and pouts for the camera.
  • “It’s, like, really bad down there,” Virtuencer Stephanie whines to her IG live followers from the balcony of her penthouse apartment.

What do you think of Byte Me? Love it? Tell us. Hate it? Tell us — as female journalists we love hate mail.

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Cara ([email protected])
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& Georgina ([email protected])

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