For Alexandria Onuoha, the killing of Breonna Taylor in 2020 served not only as a tragic referendum on policing, but a reminder of how Black women attract hatred from a spectrum of right-wing voices, ranging from mainstream figures like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson to violent extremists sharing slurs and racist fantasies on Telegram.
Onuoha observed as Taylor’s life and character were torn apart by these voices, rising together in a tidal wave of hateful stereotypes, assumptions and victim-blaming. She was disturbed to sense that even law enforcement was willing to bend the truth in order to affirm a narrative that Taylor had it coming. And it made her think about misogynoir — a term coined by Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey that describes the unique intersection of misogyny and anti-Blackness.
“In terms of the way the far-right treats Black women, there’s a cultural stereotype that we don’t deserve protection. That we’re rowdy, that we’re promiscuous, that we’re violent. And this goes back to Dr. Bailey’s understanding of misogynoir, which is a concept that stems from digital media,” Onuoha, a PhD student and director of political advocacy at the racial justice organization Black Boston, tells me. “This is a result of social media, where we have portrayals of Black women that have severe consequences on our safety and our lives.”
Onuoha notes how it’s not surprising that far-right men would choose to pile on Taylor’s death as a way to spread misinformation. But misogynoir is a complex issue with many points of origin, and she observes that it’s largely under-studied within the framework of right-wing violence, in part because the world of extremism research is dominated by white scholars.
Onuoha is now studying what misogynoir can tell us about far-right threats and identity, especially when male supremacist thinking continues to color the discourse. Her goal is to create safer spaces for Black girls and women to advocate for one another and drive activism. I recently spoke to her about why Black feminist theory helps us better understand violent men, how threats from such men have escalated in the last decade and the role of Black men in all of this.
How did you first engage with the idea of misogynoir? Why did it resonate with you?
Misogynoir was something that I realized I’ve experienced since middle school. Misogynoir, simply put, is a specific prejudice toward Black women and girls. But I didn’t have the terminology until I went to graduate school to talk about this as a concept.
Now I’m a mentee and board member with the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, and I’ve been able to reflect on my lived experiences. But I still wasn’t seeing misogynoir being discussed in critical far-right studies. As a researcher, I’m not studying hate as an intellectual exercise, or just to document it. I actually want to prevent it, intervene and create safe spaces from it. And because white scholars are overrepresented in critical far-right studies, I think the field has one dominant perspective. This isn’t to discredit the work they’ve done, but considering [misogynoir] helps us expand our theoretical understanding of far-right thinking.
Are there examples of this kind of violence, especially in the political sphere, that helps illustrate misogynoir?
I don’t 100 percent agree with the Obama administration, but Michelle Obama and the hate that she got was textbook misogynoir, especially in the [systemic] way an organized mass of far-right voices went after her. This is someone who is representing a multiracial democracy, and they hated it. More recently, it’s Ayanna Pressley, AOC, Ilhan Omar, all of these women of color who represent the fact that there needs to not just be change, but women of color in positions of power. Their legislative efforts reflect their identities and their lived experiences.
And we see that instead of acknowledging that, white people will put on this victimization ideology and say, “Oh, now they’re taking something away from us.” It’s a territorial feeling over something that isn’t theirs. It’s one thing to not like Black women, but it’s another to influence the masses and create a pack that isolates and intimidates Black women.
Obviously, Black men see a lot of abuse from the far-right manosphere, too. How does misogynoir help us understand the different experiences that Black women face?
The experiences of Black women and Black men are very similar, but as I argue in a recent GNET piece, Black men are also a part of the “manosphere” as well. Black women are at a crossroads because of our race and gender. And when it comes to the far-right, we know that the devaluation of women is a key feature of their ideologies. We see it again and again, including in mainstream groups like the Proud Boys.
Unfortunately, Black men who participate in manosphere rhetoric can also have some of these ideologies. It’s part of how men fit into broader society more easily, because society is patriarchal.
I always go back to the [Black feminist group] Combahee River Collective and what they always talked about: If we can liberate Black women, it [will mean] we finally have an expansive mindset and can liberate everyone. Studying misogynoir means really looking at how digital culture manifests hate in real life. And I want to bridge critical far-right studies with Black feminist thought in order to create interventions and help Black women thrive, despite this far-right threat targeting them online and on campus and beyond.
What do you want to see on the horizon, given how misogynoir will continue to grow and warp under the pressures of right-wing violence in America?
I want educators to understand the severity of far-right ideologies and groups, and why they often seek Black women as an easy target. We also need community organizers to push elected officials so we have urgency to put out fierce legislation that protects people.
When I think of Ayanna Pressley: I think she’s done a really great job, including advocating to prohibit discrimination on natural hairstyles for girls of color, particularly Black girls. That’s a perfect example of misogynoir, and something concrete that can be done to give Black girls legal protection to be themselves.
I’m inspired by the women who created Black Lives Matter — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Ayo Tometi. They put themselves in a situation where they’d be targeted with misogynoir all the time. The movements have been disrespected and tarnished through this kind of hate. But Black women, for a very long time, we’ve always resisted fascism. Think of Angela Davis, the Combahee River Collective, so many thinkers.
No matter what, we’re going to keep organizing because… well, I don’t think Black women would get into this world and deal with [misogynoir] if we didn’t think we could enact change.