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The Day I Met a Troll

Updated: Feb 23

I received my first troll. I was on my way to teach my class, I wasn't prepared. How can someone use the cloak of anonymity that the internet provides to tell lies about me? Doesn’t this person understand their lies could do irreparable harm? Black women are dying from being bullied. I had two conflicting voices in my head. One said, “let it go” the other said, “write.” I listened to the voice that said, write.

There are four central tropes that are used to define Black women, Black Girl Magic, Jezebel, Mammy, and Sapphire. I’ll start with the most celebrated, Black Girl Magic. Every Black woman embodies Black Girl Magic. She is the one who, when given lemons, will make a 7-course meal with a chocolate cake for dessert. Black Girl Magic is celebrated because she can do all things. However, it is a dangerous trope because it implies that as Black women we must constantly create something out of nothing. Black Girl Magic is all encompassing, we see her example all around. Black Girl Magic is uplifted until she admits to needing additional resources. Once she acknowledges she needs help she is shamed, scorned and accused of being unqualified and incompetent. Never mind the fact that for years she has used her magic in the service of others.

The next is Jezebel. She is one of the oldest of the tropes. Portrayed as oversexed and lusty, she is critiqued because she is not ashamed of her desires. Jezebel is chastised for any expression of her femininity or sexuality, she is seen as simply an object. There is an expectation that Jezebel’s body and sexuality are for the consumption of others. We see this historically in images of Sarah Baartman also known as Hottentot Venus whose body was put on display in carnivals. But, this fascination with Black women is not limited to history. We can see a subtle form of the Jezebel trope is the current treatment of DA Fani Willis, District Attorney of Fulton County, Georgia. Instead of finding fault with the case she presented to indict the individuals accused of trying to overturn the presidential election of 2020 in Georgia, her sexual relationship has come under scrutiny. Any real concerns about potential unethical behavior buried beneath the salaciousness of sex. 

Next there’s Mammy. Always loyal, always faithful, Mammy takes care of everyone. She understands the inner workings of all of the systems and does her best to serve. Unlike Jezebel, Mammy is desexualized. She is celebrated for her intellect and loyalty, until she expresses opinions that are seen as going “too far.” The most recent example of Mammy is Dr. Claudine Gay. Dr. Gay’s brilliance is without a doubt. When she publicly expressed opinions that were viewed as unpopular, Dr. Gay was attacked for being disloyal. How she led Harvard was not questioned, instead her intellect and scholarship were attacked.

The last of the tropes is Sapphire, also known as “The Angry Black Woman.” She is tone monitored and shamed when she expresses her righteous anger. Sapphire is told to “smile” by those who know nothing about her experiences or feelings. As I read and re-read the review my frustration grew. I was being labeled Sapphire by a reviewer who used the pseudonym Cordelia Lear. Cordelia is from Shakespeare’s play King Lear, she is the favorite daughter. Cordelia is characterized as being “devoted, kind, loyal, and truthful.” Cordelia contrasts herself to Sapphire, her goal is to distill Sapphire, me, to a single-story of angry because she must hold me "accountable." 

“When people attack Black women and femmes they come for our character, not our work.” Dr. Stacey Chimimba Ault, CEO of the Race and Gender Equity Project and founder of Restful Leadership
This concept is evidenced in Cordelia’s review, where she states, “the book is fine, the author is another story.” Cordelia had no desire to speak about my work, the desire was to do intentional harm. She placed the comment in an effort to harm me mentally, spiritually, and financially, key markers of abuse. Black women are tired. Black women in leadership are exhausted. Our mental health is under attack, we are dying from preventable illnesses, while being held to unrealistic standards that are rooted in the four tropes. 

I’ve never “belittled, dehumanized, or been fired” from any job, I have the letters of recommendation and evaluations to prove it. There is no truth to any of the anonymous accusations; however, harm is not dependent upon truth. One of the many challenges of trolls is that they work under the cover of darkness and anonymity with the knowledge that in most instances they will be ignored. 

When I read the attack that was cleverly disguised as a review, I texted one of my dear sister-friends to share what happened, she asked, “you okay?” My first response was, “I have to teach in 3 minutes, I do not have time to be anything but okay.” After a brief moment I wrote back, “Retraction. Let me take off my cape. I am triggered, fighting tears, AND I will teach my class.” This is the experience of Black women. We learn to stuff our emotions and perform. In many instances, the tropes are protective strategies that tell a distorted view about who we are as people. I am the Magic Mammy who can make something out of nothing in the service of others. I am Jezebel Sapphire, I own my sensuality and, when pushed, I will show rage.

The Cordelia who wrote this attack, is known by many names across the generations. She is Missy Anne, who found pleasure in torturing those who were forced to endure the brutality of enslavement. She is Carolyn who said, “he whistled at me” to incite the murder of Emmett Till. She is the Apologist who tone, dress, and behavior monitors others. And, she is Karen, an individual who spreads lies, defames, and racially profiles with the singular goal of controlling the lives of others to cause explicit harm. Cordelia tried to mute my voice; however, in this season, I will not be silenced.

I am Dr. Addie Ellis, speaker - facilitator - coach. Subscribe and follow on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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