The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
What would the internet and social media be without Black women? Without the labor, brilliance, and talent of Black women, the Twitters and Tik Toks of the world wouldn’t hold the same cultural weight. Despite our continuous contributions to these sites, these same platforms are often disproportionately more harmful for us. Joining me today to discuss the ways we can build spaces that center our humanity is Bridget Todd, digital activist and host/creator of the There Are No Girls On the Internet podcast.
Bridget and I chatted about what it looks like to create change online, the importance of Black women sharing their online experiences, how misinformation and conspiracy theories online negatively impact marginalized communities and creating a safer online ecosystem for everyone to participate in.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke
Session 259: Black Women & Digital Communities
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 259 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into the conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: What would the internet and social media be without black women? Without the labor, brilliance and talent of black women, the Twitters and TikToks of the world wouldn't hold the same cultural weight. Despite our continuous contributions to these sites, the same platforms are often disproportionately more harmful for us. Joining me today to discuss the ways we can build spaces that center our humanity is Bridget Todd, digital activist, and host & creator of iHeart podcast, There Are No Girls on the Internet.
During our conversation, Bridget and I chatted about what it looks like to create change online, the importance of black women sharing their online experiences, how misinformation and conspiracy theories online negatively impact marginalized communities, and creating a safer online ecosystem for everyone to participate in. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us in the digital safe space we've created for black women, the Sister Circle, to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us, Bridget.
Bridget: I'm so excited to be here. I'm such a big fan of your show and what you've built so this is a dream come true. Very excited!
Dr. Joy: Very excited to have you here. You're a podcaster, activist and digital strategist working to create change on the internet. Tell me a little bit about how you got started with that work.
Bridget: It really just came from being a lifelong lover of the internet. I grew up in a small town in Virginia, shout out to Midlothian, Virginia, I'm sure most folks... have you heard of it?
Dr. Joy: Yes, I worked in Richmond for a while so I've heard of Midlothian.
Bridget: Okay, so you know. It's a little different now, but when I was coming of age, it was a very sleepy small suburban town. I grew up feeling incredibly out of place in this very sleepy small suburban town. If not for the internet... I will never forget the day that my parents brought home this like clunky gray computer and they set it up in what would be known as the computer room in our house. Nobody was allowed to drink a soda in there, nobody was allowed to take food in there. It was like my parents had bought me a pair of wings, it was the first time that I was able to connect with people outside of my little small town, really discover who I was and do a lot of self-exploration that I would never have had the chance to do. I really saw the way that the internet opened up this huge world of possibilities for me. And as I got older, I saw the way that younger generations today, especially for marginalized peoples–black women, brown folks, queer folks, LGBTQ folks–I saw the ways that the internet... I'm sure is still this land of discovery and opportunity, but it also can be really tough out there. And so I wanted to make sure that we had healthy internet ecosystems and tell the story of all the different amazing black women who are contributing to making the internet a safer place, a more inclusive place. Because I know just how powerful the internet can be when it's a safe place to have those kinds of experiences.
Dr. Joy: Bridget, I would love for you to share some of your earliest online community experiences. Because when you said that, my brain immediately went to participating in like Yahoo chat rooms. I don't know your age but that I feel like was my earliest goal–talking to strangers on the internet. What was that for you? What was your earliest experience?
Bridget: Oh my god, I loved the Yahoo chat room, I loved America Online, like old school. I'm sure I was doing things that I shouldn't have been doing and like in pockets of the internet that I shouldn't have been. Probably the community that was the most foundational place for me online, I moved from DC to San Francisco, California where I knew no one. It was completely like a spur of the moment move and I decided that that will be the appropriate time to do the big chop, to cut off all my hair because I was away from my family. You know, new me, new time in my life.
San Francisco, there weren't a lot of like black salons and so if it was not for online message boards about how you maintain curly hair, how you have emotional resilience when you're going through the big chop, all of that, I don't know if I would have ever gotten through that time. That was probably the time when an online community that felt like a real community, like people that I had that could be in my corner and help me through this tough time in my life, that was probably the time that it was the most impactful for me. Even though these were people that I didn't know in real life, I came to really depend on them for the sense of community that I just didn't have IRL because I had just moved to this new city that I didn't know anybody in.
Dr. Joy: You know, Bridget, I know we're gonna get into this a little later, around like how important it is for black women to form community. But this natural hair movement, I feel like is a hallmark of black women's online community building. Because you're right, I think so many of us did the big chop and talked about products and all of this, and so much of that I think was happening online. Even though I was in bigger cities, I wasn't necessarily in like a Midlothian, but even in real life, I don't remember having as many of those conversations in person as I did on the message boards so that's a very important point. We're gonna get back to that later. But you also do some work as the comms director of UltraViolet. Talk to me about your role there and like how you approach making change through that organization.
Bridget: I'm so glad that you brought this up. UltraViolet is very near and dear to my heart. If you don't know what we are, we are a gender justice advocacy organization with over 1.2 million gender justice advocates nationwide. We really want to create a cost for things like sexism, misogyny against black women specifically. We're an intersectional feminist organization that is really lifting up some of the fights that we believe are sort of on the path to getting a feminist, anti-racist future that I know that we all want. A big part of that work at UltraViolet for me has looked like advocating for safer internet experiences and communities, particularly for people who are traditionally marginalized–black folks, brown folks, queer folks, LGBTQ folks. Making sure that we are able to show up online safely and make our voices heard because online experiences are so crucial to how we all show up in the world, especially these days.
Dr. Joy: I know a large part of your work has also been research, so can you talk a little bit about some of the research that you've done, but also what you found in terms of like how the internet impacts women and people of color?
Bridget: Working with UltraViolet, we really are so lucky to be working in deep collaboration and community with all sorts of different organizations who are all researching the internet and technology and the way it impacts people who are traditionally marginalized. A lot of the research that I do is just lifting up and amplifying and packaging and doing analysis around research of like other great researchers. We are in these different coalitions like the Women's Disinformation Defense Project which is an organization of multiple different gender justice organizations who are all talking about things like disinformation and online safety and online communities, from the perspective of rooting gender and feminism and an intersectional lens as how we approach it. I'm very lucky to have access to all this different research that I would never be able to get my hands on, just working alone. Definitely, it's been deep collaboration and partnership.
Dr. Joy: Can you share any of the findings of some of the research that has really jumped out to you as like most interesting or impactful?
Bridget: Yeah. Just recently, we put together a report card, grading all of the major social media platforms on how they fail women and people of color. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the platforms didn't do great on this report card. And I think that's sort of been the... I won't say most surprising, but definitely the most impactful thing I've seen from this research. Just how badly and how deeply a lot of social media platforms are failing traditionally marginalized people. And so that work was sort of like making sure that these platforms really understood what's at stake and the root of the problem, so we can really get to a place where we can figure out where we go from there and how we fix it.
Dr. Joy: I'm glad you brought that up, Bridget. Because as you've alluded to, even in your introduction, there's research I think even from the Pew Research that talks about how black people and other traditionally marginalized people are the main ones on a lot of these social media platforms. So it's really interesting to hear that even though we are sometimes the largest user base, we are not safe in these places. We are the ones who typically like make things pop on these platforms, all these viral moments are a lot of people from traditionally marginalized communities, yet these are not typically safe spaces for us.
Bridget: Absolutely, you just articulated it so well. That really, for me, was a big foundational shift in why and how I approach this work because the internet and social media would be nothing without black folks, particularly black women and black queer folks. What would Twitter be? Nothing. What would Instagram be? Nothing. What would TikTok be if it wasn't for our labor, our brilliance, our talent? Nothing. And so these platforms, they need us. We are the lifeblood of these platforms. I think that for a long time, people who run platforms didn't think that they had to be accountable to us, the people who are the lifeblood of why these things make them millions of dollars, like every month or so.
I really wanted to flip the script and say, no, platforms, they ought to be accountable to us. If we are the ones who are making your platform profitable, making your platform a good place to be, we ought to be able to expect that you're going to be accountable to us. To make sure that us being there feels good, that us being there feels safe. That if we're going to be on these platforms, we could actually get paid for our labor and our brilliance, not just exploited and have it be mined by others for them to get paid. I really wanted to start having some of those conversations that really center us and our power and reality of what we actually do provide these platforms, which is a lot.
Dr. Joy: What are some of the recommendations or things that these platforms might be able to put into place so that we can have safer and healthier experiences on the platforms?
Bridget: Such a great question. I would say first and foremost, really making sure that moderation decisions are being made by humans who know what they're doing. I think that we do a lot of relying on algorithmic models that we know are biased against us a lot of times. And so I would say getting away from algorithmic moderation policies and really center more human moderation policies. I can't tell you how many times I've seen (I'm thinking of TikTok in particular) where a black content creator will make a joke that is clearly an intracommunity black thing. An algorithmic based content moderation model won't understand that nuance and won't understand that, and so will penalize this black content creator for making completely appropriate content speaking to a black audience, because that moderation system doesn't understand it.
I would say making sure that we're not prioritizing moderation models that just continue to marginalize us and penalize us unfairly is one. Two, I would say really making sure that at these tech companies, the people who are making the decisions and holding the power look like the user base of those platforms. It's a huge problem, as I'm sure you know, that the people who are making decisions (not to mention the money at a lot of these major platforms) are white men. That's just the way it is. I think making a shift toward hiring to make sure that the people who are actually making these decisions look a little bit more like the communities they’re meant to be serving and protecting.
Dr. Joy: Such important work. I really appreciate you sharing that. You also have this very cool podcast called There Are No Girls on the Internet, which I think is like the coolest podcast name. First, I want to hear the story behind the naming. But also, why and how you chose podcasting as an additional avenue for you to be able to share some of these messages.
Bridget: Oh, my gosh, I love this question. The name of the podcast, There Are No Girls on the Internet, I love the name but it is a little bit of a mouthful. Every time I have to type it, I'm like, oh, why did I pick something that was so long? The idea of There Are No Girls on the Internet is sort of like an unstated rule of the internet and it kind of means two different things, both of which I think are not correct. One, that anybody on the internet that you meet who says they are a woman is not actually a woman. They're lying because there are no girls on the internet. Two, it's this idea that when we show up on the internet, when we show up online, our identities don't actually matter, and so if you are a black woman, you leave that identity at the door when you log on. Both of those things are not true.
First of all, there are so many interesting, dynamic women who aren't just showing up online, but actually changing what it means to be online, fighting and shaping the internet to make it more inclusive and safer. That's one. Two, this idea that our identities don't matter online just doesn't hold water for me. We know time and time again that the experiences that we have out in the real world–as traditionally marginalized people, as black women–they do show up online. And so I really wanted to create a platform that was centered in what I know to be the truth about our internet experiences. That one, it is black and brown folks, LGBTQ folks, who are really doing the work of making the internet safer, more inclusive, and just a more fun, dynamic place to spend time. And that our identities really do make a difference when it comes to the kinds of experiences we can expect online.
Dr. Joy: What made you think that podcasting was a great way to have those conversations?
Bridget: I have always been a podcast person, there's just something about it. I'm sure you feel the same way. I'll never forget when I was a kid... My family is from North Carolina, we have one of those big black Southern families, and my grandmother, she was this like beautiful matriarch figure of our family and I grew up at her knees hearing her stories about her life all the time. After she passed, I actually found that she had been part of a research project with University of North Carolina, and they had taken all this audio archival of my grandmother telling her stories. The first time that I heard her voice in my ear, telling the stories of her growing up in the South–through segregation, raising this family–it just hit me like something completely different. That was the first time that I really understood the power of audio, the power of hearing someone tell their own story in their own words.
I've always been an audio person. I've been involved in podcasts from the very, very beginning, back before shows like Serial when we didn't know what the heck we were doing. You know, we had no idea. I think that with podcasting, it's really a chance to hear people tell their own experience in their own words and their own voice, and it's just so intimate. There's something about the intimacy of someone's voice in your ears. And honestly, we deserve it. We deserve intimate, thoughtful, nuanced, beautiful stories about our experiences. We deserve that.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Bridget after the break.
Dr. Joy: To our earlier conversation about the natural hair community, it feels like it nicely dovetails with what you're sharing now. Even though it is like beautiful and really important, it is also difficult because it feels like there are so few safe spaces for black women to be able to commune online. So even if you share a tweet and say that you're only talking to other black women, undoubtedly, other people will like barge into that conversation. I wonder if you have any thoughts about how we can create spaces and safe spaces for black women online.
Bridget: What a great question. A tool or a platform that I've been really into lately has been Twitter Spaces. When you can say like I want to curate a conversation with a handful of people that I select, if other people come in, okay, that's fine but I have control over who I want to have the stage and whose voice I want to be spotlighting. I love that. I've seen some really interesting use cases of how people are really using Twitter spaces to curate the voices they want to be engaging with.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, I agree with that. It does feel like, in a lot of ways, Twitter Spaces feels like a Zoom but like a far lower lift. Because you don't have to like send out a password and all of that stuff, and you as the host do have control over those things, so I would agree with you there.
Bridget: Yeah, I love it. I've never hosted a space myself, but I am always popping in, like what's this? The Twitter Spaces, I think you might have been in it that night of the Oscars where it was like everybody was like, oh, we need a family debrief of what just happened.
Dr. Joy: Yes. So often, you hear that joke like, oh, at the next all black people meeting. And I often think, like the night of the Oscars, it would be really cool if we did have these actual all- hands-on-deck black people meeting. Like there's a family emergency, we’ve got to come together. It does feel like Twitter Spaces, in some ways, has kind of given us an opportunity to do some of that. I don't know, were you on Clubhouse, Bridget?
Bridget: I was on Clubhouse.
Dr. Joy: It does feel like there's a different feeling for Twitter versus Clubhouse, or do you feel that way also?
Bridget: I do feel that way. Part of the reason, I haven't really thought about this, so this is like not a fully fleshed out thought. But I do think it comes from the fact that when Clubhouse first started, it had this layer of exclusivity because you had to get an invite to go. Obviously, everybody likes feeling special, everybody likes to feel that they have a special invite to something. But I think the reason why, at least for me, Twitter Spaces hits a little bit different is because it's not about exclusivity. If you see it on the top of your page, you can go in and listen and you don't have to have any kind of a special invite. For me, I always like it when spaces are more accessible for everybody. I also think that Clubhouse in the beginning was only for iPhone and not for Android. And so I think there's a little bit of a different user experience sort of baked in to using the platform. Versus something like Twitter Spaces which I just feel like, from the ground up, didn't have those same kinds of barriers.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, agreed, that does make a lot of sense. In the past couple of years, especially kind of during the pandemic, I think the issue of online safety and online experiences has really been heightened. I’d love to hear you talk about how misinformation and conspiracy theories around like COVID and all of these other things have really hurt marginalized communities.
Bridget: I could talk all day! It's one of the reasons why I turned my focus, in terms of my work and my podcasts and my research, to mis- and disinformation because I was seeing it firsthand how it impacted my community. For a long time, I thought of all this internet safety work as my nine-to-five and that I would show up in my community with my family very differently. It was around COVID that I started seeing like wait a minute, what's happening in my own family group chat? What are the conversations that are popping off there? I really had to turn my lens back to my own people and my own community to say, “Wait! How are we being targeted and impacted by things like misinformation?”
Something that I really wish that people talked more about when they talk about disinformation and conspiracy theories and things like that, is the way that bad actors are so savvy at targeting our (I mean black folks), targeting our legitimate existing tensions, traumas and fears and using them against us. The thing about misinformation and conspiracy theories is that oftentimes it is rooted in a grain of truth. I guess I see the ways that bad actors really do exploit this harmful traumatic legacy that we as black folks do have in this country. Things like, yeah, it is absolutely reasonable for a black person in the United States to be a little bit skeptical of the medical industry, given our history. That's just a fact. That is just a reality about our experience as black folks in this country. And so the way that bad actors seize on that reality to inflame it, to exploit it, has been the most damaging thing, I think, to our communities. And it really lets institutions and people with power (who have let us down) off the hook. Because it makes it so much harder to talk about the reality of what our experiences and traumas have been like, when bad actors are exploiting those conversations for their own gain.
Dr. Joy: You actually had a mini-series on your podcast called Disinformed. Can you talk a little bit about how that came to be and some of the common misconceptions that you explored in that series?
Bridget: Yeah, that really came to be when I noticed the ways that black and brown folks are specifically targeted. You might not know this to look at the space, because so many times when we're talking about conspiracy theories, we're talking about white people. But black and brown communities are disproportionately targeted for things like disinformation and conspiracy theories, and disproportionately harmed. I really didn't see that reality being reflected in the space where we talk about conspiracy theories. I didn't see that reality reflected and so I really wanted to start a conversation about the harm that conspiracy theories and disinformation have had on our communities, and who is profiting off those things. Because if you're a social media platform, maybe you don't love the fact that there's conspiracy theories being spread on your platform, but that engagement is making you money. And so I really wanted to have that conversation about what do we do with the fact that platforms are benefiting materially from content that we know disproportionately harms our communities? That’s how that series came to be.
I would say the biggest misconception about disinformation and conspiracy theories is that people who fall for them are “stupid” or uneducated. I've been working in the disinformation space for a long time and I get fooled sometimes. That's because bad actors are very savvy and we really don't have a media landscape that lends itself to the kinds of authentic, helpful, honest content that we should all have easy access to. When you look at things like the ways that black and brown folks are underserved by traditional media, just writ large, it is not surprising why people would fall for conspiracy theories or bad actors or misinformation. I see a lot of people talk about people who fall for conspiracy theories as stupid or uneducated or ignorant, and nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that bad actors are very, very savvy and very, very good, and the best of us can fall for it.
Dr. Joy: Can you give us a definition of what you mean by bad actors, Bridget? That may not be a term a lot of people are familiar with.
Bridget: Absolutely, yeah. I use bad actors as a way to talk about people who spread disinformation. Disinformation is untrue content that is being purposely spread with the intent to spread confusion or chaos. Somebody who is spreading disinformation, they are a bad actor, they are doing this knowingly on purpose to confuse and scare people. As opposed to somebody who is spreading misinformation–that's just inaccurate content that you might not even know it's not true. Spreading misinformation isn't great, but people aren't always doing it with bad intentions. I use the phrase bad actors to specify somebody who is spreading lies with the intent to cause fear and chaos and distrust and confusion.
Dr. Joy: Got it, thank you for that. What are some of the ways? Like you just said, it's not always easy to know when you're getting misinformation or disinformation. What are some ways that we can identify like extremist or misinformation, especially online?
Bridget: What a good question. Honestly, I think of this as almost sort of like a mindfulness practice. You can’t see right now, but on my laptop, I have a little post-it that just says the word “slow down” because oftentimes I find that when I'm online, I'm just moving very quickly. I'm getting tweet after tweet after tweet after tweet. I see something that I like and I just smash share right away and so I always just try to ground myself in this idea of slow down a little bit. And notice when you're scrolling on your social media page, notice how the content is making you feel, really be a little bit mindful about it. You don't have to share everything right away, you don't have to respond to everything right away. It's completely okay to take a minute, take a beat, when you see something. If you see something that gets your heart racing or makes you feel a little bit twitchy (which I see all the time) I always have to stop myself and say, no, no, take a minute. This piece of content obviously triggered some feelings in you, take a minute to see why that might be.
I would say slowing down online is probably the biggest piece of feedback I have. Because when we're just moving really quickly, that's how we share things without reading the whole article, that's how we share things without looking at another source to see if it's true. That's how we share things that, if we took a minute and really thought about it, maybe it will be a little bit fishy to us. I would say the biggest thing I can tell people is to slow down before you share, and just be a little bit mindful when you're scrolling social media in general.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, I think that that's really important too, because I think the other thing that has happened online... and I think I see this most often on Twitter. But I also spend the most time on Twitter, so my ads are probably biased, my thoughts on this are probably biased. I think there's some legitimacy to this: organizations and people using like shock and racism as an engagement strategy. They know that if they say something like off the wall racist, we are all going to be talking about it, we're all going to be sharing about it. Again, the slowing down can help us to remember like, okay, yes, I am enraged about this, but me sharing this article also gives them clicks. Me sharing this also gives them the engagement that they're looking for. I think that that is really helpful in that way, too.
Bridget: Oh, my gosh, you said it. I think we all know. Like if you think about your Instagram feed, I see this on Instagram a lot, we all know those big social media accounts where they are using things that they know are inflammatory to get us riled up. When you use an algorithmic based social media platform like a Twitter or an Instagram, you are training that algorithm what you want to see. If somebody posts something that is intentionally extreme or inflammatory and you engage with it, that's going to make more people see that content, because that's how algorithms work. The algorithm is going to think, oh, you want to see this kind of intensely negative or outrageous content.
I actually had to unfollow a lot of Instagram accounts that would use especially black queer youth and black women. They would use content around them in this incredibly transparent way to clearly stoke outrage and I just had to stop giving them my outrage. It wasn't productive after a while to see the worst of the worst and see these comment sections where black women or black queer youth would be getting dragged. It just wasn't good for me. I would invite people to really think about curating the kind of social media experience they want to have that is actually going to be productive for how they want to show up online.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Bridget after the break.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, to your point, like that can become exhausting. There are enough actually bad things happening in the world, for us to be adding additional layers of stress and like, oh, look at this latest online outrage. Part of what is happening is that, in a lot of ways, we're becoming desensitized to a lot of this. When you are constantly looking at this latest hate crime or all of these things, at some point, your system can't process at all. I think that it is a good reminder, to just kind of make sure we're paying attention to how we're curating our feeds and our experiences. We both talked about kind of being very online–in what ways do you feel like the internet and online behavior has impacted black women specifically?
Bridget: I think it's been such a double-edged sword for us. On the one hand, the thing I love about the internet is the way that it democratized our voices. You didn't have to have a contact at a media company or a contact at a news company to get your voice out there. If you've got a Twitter account and a phone, great, you can make an entire movement. You can make a Black Lives Matter or a Me Too, or any number of movements that we saw that were created by black women, that would go on to change the world. And so on the one hand, I think it's been incredibly powerful for us to have this democratized voice where we could really change the conversation, start a movement, just by a tweet. That is what black women have always done. There is nothing more powerful in this world than a black woman with a cell phone and an internet connection. I firmly believe that.
Where we need to catch up is people with power, decision makers, really honoring how much we have brought to the internet, how much we have brought to technology, and really honoring us as the innovators that we are. When I say it's a double-edged sword, I want us to feel like it's our right to take up more space online. I don't want anyone to be like, oh, you're a black woman on the internet, like what an anomaly. No, I want us to see the internet and technology as our rightful domain, where we belong and where we have a right to take up a lot of space and have a big voice in the conversation.
Dr. Joy: You know, Bridget, I firmly agree with you. But I also feel like I have had enough conversations here on the podcast and just in other places, like so many sisters who are doing that kind of work eventually feel like they have to disconnect from social media. Whether it be the trolls or, you know. It's almost like they will maybe sometimes keep their channels active so they can just kind of share highlights, but they really aren't personally engaging. I think that that's the double-edged sword that you're referring to. That it is a powerful opportunity to kind of share your message, but we also know that the online experiences operate much like they do in real life, and we are often the target of people who want to be hateful.
Bridget: If you were to go to my Twitter right now, you would say I don't think this person really likes being online. Because I'm sort of using my Twitter as a highlight reel, like here's my latest podcast episode, here's my latest appearance, whatever, whatever. I'm not spending a lot of time there having conversations because of precisely what you just said. And I think that's part of the double-edged sword of showing up as a black woman online. Every single piece of research will make this point, that black women are disproportionately targeted for things like disinformation campaigns, misinformation, attacks and harassment rooted in attacks on our identity as black women. That's just what we have to deal with to show up online and so I can't blame anybody who is like, you know, I think I'm gonna check out of this for a little while or I think I'm gonna use this just to get my point across. I'm not gonna be here for extended conversations or back and forth with people. I completely get that and I think that's part of the double-edged sword of what it means to show up online as a black woman.
Dr. Joy: The other thing, and we've had a very, very public example of this around how comedians and jokes and even a lot of the “internet comedians,” I guess is the best descriptor... How they actually make their careers off of dressing up as older black women or there tends to be some black woman being the butt of the joke and that tends to be what we see going viral. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how that can impact us and our experiences online.
Bridget: You're absolutely right. Now that I do this work professionally and have a little bit of research behind it, I can say that's not just an anecdotal thing. We have a digital media ecosystem that will always be ready and willing to amplify attacks on black women. That is just the way that it is. Comedians and podcasters and all of that, they traffic in jokes about black women that make us the butt of the joke because it is effective. It is an effective strategy to build clout. We saw it over and over and over again with our former president who, when his back was against the wall, would often attack prominent black women in politics and journalism because that was always going to be a way to rile up the base and get them going. It's been so heartbreaking to see our own community do the same thing but, unfortunately, that is the reality.
I think when the way that you see yourself as black women is these hurtful, cruel depictions that are so dehumanizing, after a while, you can start to internalize it and believe it. The research is very clear that these kinds of attacks, particularly on prominent black women in politics, they have a real-world impact. They keep black women from being civically engaged, they keep us from doing things like running for office, they keep us from doing things like just putting our opinions out there and having a voice in our own discourse online. These are not just jokes; they translate to very clear real-world harm for black women. And for everybody, because we are all better served when we have a digital landscape where everybody can show up and everybody can see themselves thoughtfully depicted. If we don't have that, it's not just a threat to black women (which it is), it is a threat to all of us. To our democracy and to having a functioning digital media landscape.
Dr. Joy: Which is very important as we move forward with a more increasingly digital kind of reality. Like so many things are done online, so it is really important to focus on that.
Bridget: Absolutely, especially since COVID. We're all showing up online much more frequently and so if our online ecosystem is a dumpster fire where black women don't feel safe and can't speak up, what kind of online ecosystem is that?
Dr. Joy: You've already shared some of these things, Bridget, but I'd love to hear if there are other parts of this strategy that you’ve put together for yourself. Like how do you protect your mental health as someone who is very online?
Bridget: I love this question. One is that I'm offline quite a bit. I take long breaks from social media. I'm not somebody who is like, “hey y’all, taking a social media break,” but I do that quite a lot. Two, I spend a lot of time outdoors and that's how I reconnect and plug back in and recharge. Just like going for a walk in the park or going for a nice hike. I love to be outside, I love to be out in the water. And then I would say I also just really have that clear understanding of where I plug in in my offline world. I love showing up online, I love the internet, but I'm also really clear that my people are my community that I am able to dial in with offline. And so when things online start to feel not so good, it's always good for me to reconnect with my friends and family who I know have my back, got me, will always help me grounded when the online space just feels too much.
Dr. Joy: That is super important, thank you for sharing that. As someone who is very online, I’d love to hear some of your favorite podcasts, newsletters or digital communities that you feel like do a really good job of creating safe spaces for black women.
Bridget: One is your own. Shout out Therapy for Black Girls, which I'm sure all your listeners feel the same. But I gotta tell you, I have to say, what you're doing is so groundbreaking and it's something that I don't even think I realized was missing until I found your work. And so definitely the community that you've built around black women talking honestly about our mental health and how we show up. Another podcast that I really love, it's Still Processing, it is one of my favorite cultural podcasts and it's a podcast where I guess I feel like they just do a really good job of making sure that black women and black queer folks get lovingly depicted. Whenever I listen to that podcast, I always feel very loved and seen afterward. And then another I have to shout out, I think it's no longer active, but it's called Being Seen. It's about the experience of being black and queer. Again, for me, podcasts really allow me to feel lovingly depicted. I know when I'm listening to a podcast, afterward I feel kind of like more in love with myself, after I listen. Those are some of the ones that really make me do that.
Dr. Joy: I love that. Yeah, I just saw Still Processing is coming back for a new season soon, so I'm very excited because I've been missing them. It feels like when there are big cultural moments, I often think about, oh, what would Jenna and Wesley have to say about this? Jenna is gonna be on a break because I think she's still writing, but Wesley is gonna come back with some guest co-stars.
Bridget: Oh, my gosh, I’m really excited.
Dr. Joy: I know, I know. I'm very excited they're coming back. I appreciate that list. What advice would you have for other black women who are seeking to build and create community digitally?
Bridget: I would say we need more healthy communities where our experiences and our voices are meaningfully centered. If you're thinking about starting that podcast or starting that newsletter or starting that listserv, do it. We need you, we need your voice. Yeah, that's the first one I would say. Then I would also say like... I can't remember the writer, it might have been Toni Morrison who said that she wrote the books that she needed when she was younger, that she didn't see, and that advice has always been so useful for me. You know, figure out what that need is in yourself and I guarantee that somebody else out there has that same need. If you're like, if only there was an online community for us to talk about (blank) I guarantee that there's another black woman out there who is like I would join that community. Yeah, just really asking yourself what it is that you need and not being afraid to build the thing that you feel like you need in the world.
Dr. Joy: That is so important. Like you mentioned earlier, the democratizing of it. All you really need is a digital device and you can create a community. I do think that that is one of the things that black women and the other marginalized communities that you've talked about, do a particularly great job at. Like sharing our stories and making room for other people to know that they're not alone in their experiences. I think that that's one of the things that's really cool about online communities.
Bridget: Yeah, I love it too. I think sharing our experience, the entire trajectory of those experiences. Because the experience of being a black woman online is sometimes difficult, sometimes hard, sometimes full of pain, but it's also full of joy and love and laughter and magic and light and beauty and creativity. I really try to tell all sides of the story; not just rooted in the tough parts, but also buoyed by the happy parts as well. Leaning into the entire experience that we show up with, I think is really important.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, I agree. Where can we stay connected with you, Bridget? What is your website? Tell us more about where we can listen to the podcast as well as any social media handles you'd like to share.
Bridget: You can find my work with UltraViolet at WeAreUltraViolet.org. We would love to have you there to check out some of our cool campaigns, including our campaign, a feminist net, to make a feminist anti racist internet. Definitely check that out. You can find my podcast on iHeart Radio, you can find that on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, wherever you get your podcasts on. It's called There Are No Girls on the Internet. You can follow me on social media. I'm @BridgetMarie on Twitter and @BridgetMarieInDC on Instagram.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. We will be sure to include all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Bridget. I really appreciate it.
Bridget: Oh, my pleasure. This was super fun, dream come true.
Dr. Joy: Thank you. I'm so glad Bridget was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and to check out her podcast, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session259. And be sure to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet design just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.