Why are we so quick to silence women of colour?

Image credits: Eva Rinaldi

This week, the Twitter-sphere graced itself for yet another victim of cancel culture. Stephanie Yeboah, former contributing editor of Grazia magazine has been dismissed following a series of historic tweets which were of antisemitic nature. 

The 31-year-old activist, author and body positivity blogger has apologised profusely since the tweets have resurfaced, worked with institutions to educate herself and has long been a campaigner for diversity. 

In an apology posted on Wednesday, Yeboah said: “I made very ignorant and antisemitic comments about the Jewish community, as well as quoting lines from a variety of TV shows, including quotes that upon reflection, were extremely offensive and hurtful.”

Whilst I do not condone those tweets in any way and believe they should be addressed, if Stephanie has acted upon it and educated herself in many ways on the subject, why can’t she be given a second chance? 

For the purpose of this article, I use the term ‘victim’ because I believe there is a difference in the way people of colour, especially women are treated by this compared to their white counterparts.

Cancel culture has been around for longer than we think. In 2004, Janet Jackson performed at the Super Bowl halftime show, accompanied by Justin Timberlake when a dance move went wrong. Timberlake was meant to pull off part of Jackson’s costume, revealing her bra underneath. However, the garment had collapsed revealing her breast for approximately half a second on national television.

Everyone was quick to cancel her for a wardrobe malfunction even though Timberlake was equally as involved in the incident. Feminists didn’t show up to rescue and protect her from the trauma she endured for something that wasn’t even her fault. 

In 2007, 18-year-old Vanessa Hudgens’ privacy was compromised after a nude photo of her surfaced online about a year after “High School Musical” was released. At the time, the Disney actress issued a statement apologising to fans and expressing regret over taking the photos, although she was the one who was the victim in this situation.

On the contrary, JK Rowling, who still has tens of millions of followers on Twitter, has been rarely impacted or held accountable for her transphobic tweets. In fact, celebrities such as Eddie Redmayne have supported her, saying he is alarmed by the “vitriol” aimed at the Harry Potter author after her comments on trans rights, adding that the reaction on social media was “absolutely disgusting”. 

Comedian, Louis CK admitted to masturbating in front of female comedians, and although he was released from his agency and contracts with both HBO and Netflix, he still sells out of tours regularly. In comparison, Kevin Hart withdrew from hosting the Oscars after it emerged that he had posted a series of homophobic tweets dating back to 2009.

There seems to be a noticeable pattern here, where the consequences for people of colour are higher than of those for their white counterparts. 

Evidence would suggest we are dismissed from the start, so maybe cancelling us is a lot easier? Let’s start by examining how people of colour are treated within their fields to begin with. The Guardian reported that “A study by experts based at the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, found applicants from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin.”

Dr Valentina Di Stasio, co-author and an assistant professor at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, said: “The persistent gaps in callbacks found for more visible and culturally distant minorities, regardless of the occupation considered or the information included in the application, suggest that employers may simply read no further as soon as they see a Middle East-sounding or African-sounding name.”

While these are just statistics within the UK, they are enough to paint a picture of a dangerous pattern our society has headed towards. Even at the start of our careers, we’re given very little opportunity to flourish and when we finally do, it’s taken away from us without a second thought.

We’re not afforded the “listening and learning <3” mantra which some of our white acquaintences have used to decorate their Instagram feeds with over the summer. In a split second, we’re silenced and stripped off all our hard work. It’s almost as though society is waiting for us to slip up at any moment, and lunge at us. 

There is a dislike towards women of colour before they’ve even made their mistakes, in both their personal and professional lives. It seems that society sits in wait for us to make them so that they can justify the negative views they already hold about us.

Take Meghan Markle, who was unapologetically scrutinised by the British media and public for simply existing. I even witnessed comments of “I just don’t like her, can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t” or “actress! She’s an actress! She’s ruining the royal family! Poor Harry <3”.

We’re also attacked when we speak up towards injustice. In 2018, Salma Hayek said that Harvey Weinstein publicly responded to her and Lupita Nyong’o’s sexual harassment claims, and not the others, because women of colour were easier to discredit.

In politics, people also try to silence our voices and cancel us, even when we present valid arguments backed by facts. One of the most notable examples is when the woman below tried to undermine Dawn Butler and dismiss her pronto.

We’re not afforded a space where our voices can be heard and valued. At every opportunity, it feels as though someone will try to find a fault in what we do, say or even in how we look. 

And when it comes to cancel culture, the point is, everyone makes mistakes, however, these mistakes seem to be somewhat unforgivable when a person of colour is involved. What we really need to value is how we learn from past mistakes and educate ourselves and people around us on how to do better. We need to work towards a future where the next generation is exempt from prejudiced and bigoted mindsets, regardless of ethnicity and race.

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