Image by Julia Kadel
In the beginning, Play Vicious was an experiment at trying my hand at running my social media platform. An attempt to set up it independent of everything except my own will and skills to keep it running. In this sense, PV was a resounding success.
Many will talk about my alleged influence on the fedi as one of the first (if not the first) prominent Black-led instances in that space, but for me, my main goal was to see if I could do it. It became something more, of course, but for me personally, just being up and having the ability to talk to people was a massive win.
But what came next was a series of events that left me stunned, wounded, and honestly considering leaving the fedi altogether. Content warning for the rest of the piece because you're going to see all kinds of racist and anti-Black language and behavior.
The constant of being Black and online is that we have to deal with hate constantly. It's just part of the reality of existing as a non-white person in spaces populated by white people. As such, I've seen my fair share of hate speech and harassment online and off. I expected to have that same experience as Play Vicious, and its staff became increasingly popular in this space.
One of the things that drew me to the fedi the most was its prominent queer culture. Personally, I lean more toward the non-binary side than not, so I felt PV would be a natural fit, especially considering the team was queer as well. My politics are also left-leaning, so I assumed I would find genuine connections in this space as many marginalized identities existed here.
Looking back now, my enthusiasm for connecting with different kinds of communities overshadowed my general caution when it came to anticipating the hateful and disgusting behavior that I experienced as an outspoken and highly visible Black administrator in a predominantly white space. I assumed that because many people on the fedi knew what it was to be excluded, ostracized, and ridiculed for our identities, there would be much more effort to find our commonalities and work to make our communities safer.
This assumption turned out to be one of the worst decisions I made as an administrator on the fedi because I underestimated how violent and unrepentant whiteness was and how hard it worked to keep the fedi as white as possible, no matter how one identified.
If I had to name one situation that reminded me in no uncertain terms that the fedi wanted to be a safe space for white people only, it was an interaction I had with Noelle, the then administrator of elekk.xyz.
For a time, I had a friendly relationship with that instance. That all changed when I had what I thought, at the time, was a minor disagreement with Noelle. I'm a sarcastic person with a very dry sense of humor, so I laughed it off and kept it moving, expecting apparent misalignment on a trivial matter to pass in time.
What I did not expect was a plethora of accusations and racist taunts from supporters of Noelle based on our disagreement and her conclusion that I was transphobic, and that's why I disagreed with her.
This accusation was one of the primary catalysts that led to a long stream of harassment against my instance and team that lasted for weeks, which resulted in my blocking all communication with that instance.
I was stunned at how quickly the situation escalated to harassment and abuse by the same people who had said that they wanted to create a safe space for Black and Brown people. I was stunned at how quickly a friendly relationship had turned into a toxic one based on such a minor incident. And what shocked me was how many people joined in to harass and abuse me and the team and PV based on the word of one white person who had instigated an anti-Black backlash so vile that many people decided to leave the fedi altogether.
It was a hard lesson, but it reminded me that whiteness would always assert itself when it felt it was threatened. White people on the fedi would weaponize anything to perpetuate harm against people where it was deemed appropriate.
It was here where I learned that all people who profess to want safe spaces for Black people on the fedi were not being honest and only engaged with this sentiment as a performance because they want to be viewed as left-leaning people and not bigots.
These accusations of transphobia followed PV around even though there was no evidence of them, and no attempt was made to engage me about the possibility of it happening. I have no problem with admitting I make mistakes because I'm a person just like everyone else. Still, I'm not going to interact with people that call me 'monkey,' 'nigger', or 'darkie' because they feel entitled to doing so based on an unsubstantiated rumor. This refusal to engage with people who felt like it was okay to engage me using slurs only encouraged people to abuse PV more.
Unfortunately, it did not stop with elekk. Instances such as witches.live run by Anna, a notorious bad actor, and mysasstodon.xyz would further instigate harm against PV by continuing unproven rhetoric that only enabled harassment to continue.
The most interesting part for me wasn't the accusations because they always happen. I don't mind accusations because misunderstandings happen. What got my attention was the glee and enthusiasm many people displayed when attacking us. I say attacking specifically because these places did not attempt to have a civil conversation about perceived slights and misunderstandings so that a safe space could be created amid conflict. There was no space to air our grievances so we could address them for community building. From my perspective, it seemed many just wanted the abuse to continue, which prompted our decision to eliminate communication with other popular instances.
I wish I could say the abuse subsided eventually, but that is not the case. As popular as PV was, there was a sizeable contingent of people who did not want us to exist in the fedi. It felt that there was more patience for outright white nationalist and Nazi-sympathizing instances in the fedi than there was for a place that centered on the needs of Black and Brown people and was unapologetic about creating a space for them.
This context of a lack of space given to us, an instance run by Black and Brown people, is an important one to remember because it's a critical element of the culture of white supremacy. The expectation that we have to be perfect in our responses to harassment or that we are unworthy of civility is a specific cultural marker. The idea that we have to center the sensibilities of white-identified people for us to have some measure of peace is a trait that was constantly forced upon us in an attempt to get us to conform to the predominant culture on the fedi.
This context of assimilating or else in the fedi was a constant pain point for Play Vicious. As spectacular as the experience was being such a unique place in the fedi and me being viewed as one of its architects, there was also a constant savage and vicious opposition to our existence that would never leave us alone. As great as it was to have the ability to build and run our space as we saw fit, there was a perpetual malicious effort to burn our work to the ground and erase the thought of us. And we are not the only people to notice this antagonism of Black and Brown bodies.
There will never be a moment when I will regret setting up Play Vicious and being an outspoken advocate for safe online spaces for Black and Brown folks. But the utter violence my team and I experienced while running PV will always make that history complicated. The way people hated us and wanted to harm us simply because we wanted to go our path stays with me to this day.
And as the lack of Black and Brown voices in the fediverse shows, this culture of torment and abuse is still very much alive.