Talib Kweli's Harassment Campaign Shows How Unprotected Black Women Are Online and Off

Talib Kweli's Harassment Campaign Shows How Unprotected Black Women Are Online and Off

In late July, rapper Talib Kweli posted a lengthy message to his Instagram account, announcing that after 11 years, he was finally leaving Twitter. “I have officially left @twitter for the greener pastures of @patreon which is membership fee based,” Kweli wrote. “Now most of my exchanges will always be with real fans who invest in me.”

But Kweli didn’t leave Twitter voluntarily. On July 23, Kweli was suspended for “repeated violations of Twitter rules,” according to a spokesperson for the app, after he spent over two weeks in the mentions of black women who characterized his behavior as harassment. His primary target: A 24-year-old student and activist named Maya Moody, who became Kweli’s obsession after a discussion about colorism in hip-hop went left.

The suspension came nearly two weeks after Kweli began incessantly tweeting at Moody, sometimes for more than 12 hours straight in a single day. During that time, several Black women participated in a campaign to report Kweli for targeted harassment and get him suspended, to no avail.

It’s unclear what, precisely, changed Twitter Support’s mind after weeks of inaction. In a statement to Jezebel, a Twitter spokesperson claimed his account was suspended for violating its rules around harassment, among other things:

“[Talib Kweli’s] account has been permanently suspended after repeated violations of the Twitter rules. Twitter’s purpose is to serve the public conversation. Violence, harassment and other similar types of behavior discourage people from expressing themselves, and ultimately diminish the value of global public conversation. Our rules are to ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely.”

Moody is unsurprised by Twitter’s initial inaction, which fits into a pattern of the company ignoring rampant abuse against Black women on the platform. “Twitter has a history of defending those who speak out against oppression—specifically Black people—but staying silent when white supremacists and alt-right people are saying unbelievable things online and still allowing them to have platforms, still allowing them to post crazy things,” Moody explained. “But those that have spoken against [bigots] have been suspended for way less than targeting someone and harassing them constantly for over two weeks straight.”

Twitter is familiar with this critique from Black women. In 2019, Rachelle Hampton wrote a piece for Slate about Black feminists who encountered far-right trolls on Twitter in the early and mid-2010s; this was before Gamergate and before the calamity of the 2016 presidential election. Whether it was white men masquerading as Black people or other racist and sexist harassment campaigns, Black women have often been the early targets of coordinated harassment and doxxing before it spreads to other people of color and white people. Yet they’ve been largely ignored. As Hampton wrote in Slate, “some media outlets diminished the danger of ‘trolls’ by characterizing their flirtation with white nationalism as tongue-in-cheek—until those trolls took their rhetoric offline and onto the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.”

While the Kweli debacle isn’t a matter of racist right-wingers versus Black women, the harassment campaign Moody has endured illuminates a larger concern Black women have long held about normalized harassment on Twitter. Whether from miscellaneous trolls or verified Twitter users like Kweli, Moody’s experience is not just an isolated incident, but rather a microcosm of the harm Black women experience online daily—whether or not anyone listens.

It started in early July, when a video of rappers 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne talking about dating “exotic”—i.e. non-Black—women made the rounds, prompting a Twitter user to ask which rappers, aside from Snoop Dogg, are married to Black women. Another user replied with a list of names: Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Chance the Rapper, Ludacris, Kendrick Lamar, Big Boi, Killer Mike, and more. Talib Kweli was also included in the list.

On July 9, Moody responded, writing, “Literally almost all of them are married to lightskinned women but that’s a conversation for another day.”

Moody’s offhand comment hinting at colorism in the Black community soon spiraled.

Kweli replied the next day, tweeting the following: “Nah let’s have this convo today. Are we talking all of my relationships? My children’s mother as well? Or are you only talking about who you think I’m currently in a relationship right now? I mean, is any of this really any of your business?”

Screenshot:Twitter/@TalibKweli (Courtesy Talib Kweli

Kweli dug up and publicized Moody’s old tweets in an attempt to discredit her, including one in which Moody swooned over white actor Alan Ritchson and quoted a popular meme of Tamera Mowry (whose husband is white) lamenting that people have called her “white man’s whore.” (Black women and other women of color have reappropriated Mowry’s quote in a humorous light over the years, reframing it as a joke for when they find a white man attractive, perhaps beyond their best judgment.) Kweli framed Moody’s tweet—calling herself “a white man’s whore”—as proof of her hypocrisy, failing to understand the facetiousness.

But Kweli didn’t stop at this contextless attempt to smear Moody. For weeks, Moody has been subjected to Kweli’s incessant attacks on social media, during which Kweli accused Moody of aligning with white supremacists and Nazis. During this very public spat, photos of Moody’s parents and identifying information was leaked by trolls, various Twitter accounts publicized her stepmother’s salary, and she received death threats and threats of sexual abuse from defenders of Kweli’s.

It’s definitely been draining and overwhelming,” Moody told me in a phone interview last week. “Yesterday alone, I had to get 12 different accounts suspended for trying to make new profiles doxing my family and me using my stepmom’s name and pictures and where we live… basically pretending to be my stepmom on Twitter.”

Kweli, meanwhile, vowed on the app that he wouldn’t let up unless Moody deleted her Twitter account or apologized. When a Twitter user pointed out at the time that his tweets for the past 13 hours had been nothing but harassment, Kweli replied, “I can go for 13 years if you come for my family. I’m just getting started.”

In an email to Jezebel, Kweli denied that he was harassing Moody. “Maya Moody is a liar,” he wrote. “I’ve never cyber harassed anyone in my life. I responded, on Twitter, to the lies that Maya posted about me. When you respond to someone who posts lies about you, that is not harassment.”

Responding for hours on end for over two weeks on various social media platforms may, in fact, qualify as cyber harassment, which the National Conference of State Legislatures defines as an act that “usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or Web sites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual.” It was—eventually—considered harassment by Twitter’s standards as well.

But he was, indeed, just getting started. For weeks, it was impossible to scroll through Kweli’s Twitter account without seeing him interacting with Moody’s Twitter handle. The Root covered Kweli’s Twitter behavior in late July with a post full of screenshots.

Moody is not the only woman who has been on the opposite end of Kweli’s fixation. A two-hour-long YouTube video from 2019 details seven months of targeted harassment against Yvette Carnell, YouTuber and ADOS (African Descendents of Slaves) co-founder.

Kweli’s harassment of Moody didn’t remain on Twitter. He dragged the fiasco to Instagram for his 918,000 followers to enjoy, posting screenshots of her tweets, accusing Moody of harassing him, and dedicating an hour-long Instagram Live session to the kerfuffle (ironically titled “Addressing The Lies That I Harass Black Women”).

In his Instagram Live video, Kweli accuses Moody of denying the blackness of light-skinned Black women. “She’s saying that these women—who are Black women—are not Black enough because they’re light-skinned. And she’s also implying that these rappers only marry these women for the color of their skin.”

Moody didn’t say that, nor did she imply it. Acknowledging a Black person’s light complexion doesn’t inherently negate their blackness, and for Kweli to act as if the desirability of light-skinned and non-Black women isn’t pervasive—regardless of one’s intentions—is absurd.

“So many people pretend that they don’t know that [colorism] is a real thing, especially in the Black community,” Moody said. “This is something that impacts every aspect of our lives, from our education system to our prison system to [who gets] harsher punishment. It’s a part of us. And if we can’t acknowledge that and talk about that without getting defensive and gaslighting each other and saying, you know, ‘You just hate Black men, just hate Black people…’ No, that’s not the case. I love us. And because I love us, I want us to be able to have the conversation and talk about it.”

In Kweli’s Instagram Live video, he acknowledged that colorism is a problem. Despite this, he has maintained his obtuse approach toward Moody’s initial tweet, and continued to talk about her on his Instagram. “This has always been about a bunch of groupies doing celebrity cockwatch,” Kweli wrote in a recent Instagram post. He tagged Moody.

When Jezebel contacted Kweli, his response via email was long and thorough, but terse in tone. Kweli accused Moody of calling him a child rapist; tweeting white supremacist diss tracks about him; harassing and encouraging others to harass his wife, DJ Eque; contacting all of his business partners in an attempt to stop him from getting work; posting his phone number; and using a photo of him and the mother of one of children as her Twitter header.

Kweli sent me an iCloud folder full of screenshots he says prove his point. But for the most part, the photos demonstrate just how much Kweli has lost the plot. The diss track Moody tweeted was by a white rapper named Diabolic, whose insipid comments downplaying the threats that the Trump administration posed appeared to anger Kweli years ago. This was enough for Kweli to infer that Moody is a Nazi sympathizer. (A perusal of Diabolic’s social media concludes that while prone to conspiracy and disdainful toward what he considers communism, Diabolic is likely not a Nazi, just ignorant).

The insinuation that Moody instrumented a harassment campaign against DJ Eque also falls flat. Many Black women on Twitter began to reach out to DJ Eque in earnest, days into Kweli’s neverending tweetstorm against Moody, asking Eque why she hasn’t tried to intervene. In since-deleted tweets, Eque wrote, “Hey he makes his own damn choices for his life” and that he’s a “debater” who has a way with words. “I’m sorry but I rather he do it online than to me,” she wrote. She later tweeted that she tried to ask Kweli to stop, but said she felt less inclined to do so after Moody started calling Kweli a rapist.

Moody did accuse Kweli of being a child rapist, citing an article about Kweli suing a blog for defamation after it claimed, without evidence, that Kweli raped a teenage girl. Moody also called Kweli a predator, based on sexual harassment allegations against Kweli made by Res, a Philadelphia artist with whom Kweli once collaborated. In 2018, Res publicly accused Kweli of bullying her and holding her career hostage after she rejected his sexual advances.

Kweli uploaded an Instagram photo of a court document in response, showing that Res’s sexual harassment claim was dismissed by a judge. Kweli wrote, “Res is a liar… I find her claim to be dubious in nature. Bogus.” Kweli also accused Res of taking advantage of the MeToo movement for personal gain.

That same day, Res tweeted a screenshot of a 2014 e-mail from Kweli, in which he admits attempting to kiss her in a pool.

Moody denies contacting Kweli’s business partners. She also denies publicizing his phone number, and none of the screenshots Kweli sent to me support this claim either (someone else did, however, and Kweli did receive a few threatening text messages).

But Moody did not hesitate to own up to temporarily changing her Twitter header. It was a petty move, but during a phone call with Jezebel, she explained why she wasn’t above it. “After three days of consistent, non-stop harassment, I sure did,” Moody said, laughing. “After I already blocked [him] and told [him] to stop and leave me alone and [he] did not… yes, I did. I sure did. And I am not sorry.”

It’s worth noting that virtually no other hip-hop artists pushed back on Kweli’s behavior. His tweets were on full display for all to see, and few condemned him. Activist and rapper Noname was one of the few public figures who bothered to speak out against Kweli’s two-week harassment spree, invoking the mockery and abuse that hip-hop artist Megan Thee Stallion received after she was reportedly shot.

“Watching black men joke about [Meg’s] shooting as a call to action to harm more black women hurts in a way I’m not smart enough to articulate,” Noname tweeted. “And the silence from male rappers while Talib Kweli harassed black women for weeks, disgusting.”

The presumption is that Black women are fair game, easy targets, for racists and Black men alike. Misogynoir is for everyone.

“[Meg’s] life could have easily been taken from her,” Moody said. “And it just goes to show how Black women are not taken seriously. They make a mockery of our pain.”

Both Moody and Kweli experienced nastiness throughout this ordeal. Both of their personal lives were made public for drama-thirsty spectators, and both received threatening messages. Trolls and bored opportunists with an ax to grind got into the mix to hassle and terrorize both parties. But there is an obvious power imbalance at play here that, judging by Kweli’s email to me, he is reluctant to acknowledge. He writes (emphasis ours):

I challenge Jezebel and Maya to
1. present these death threats
2. prove she was doxxed or sexually harassed
3. prove that somehow any of these claims are connected to me. I have screenshots of everything I say happened.

While Kweli’s relevance has waned since the height of his popularity in the ’90s and early 2000s, Kweli still maintained over one million Twitter followers and was featured in an interview with Common just last week. He’s not an obscure artist, and he’s not a random guy on social media. He’s a 44-year-old who has collaborated with Pharrell and Kanye West and enjoys a devoted following. Moody’s audience is nothing to sniff at, with just under 30,000 Twitter followers, but she’s still a student who largely tweets about pop culture and men she finds attractive. Yes, Moody spoke disparagingly of Kweli, but only after he turned her tweet into an indictment against him and spammed her.

But just as perplexing was Kweli’s attempt to deny that he harassed Moody while justifying his harassment of another Black woman. When I asked Kweli about his alleged harassment campaign against Yvette Carnell, he didn’t deny it, but rather justified it.

“Yvette Carnell AKA @breakingbrown is the founder and patent owner of #ADOS which is an anti-immigrant hate cult,” Kweli wrote. “Carnell is a board member of PFIR [Progressives for Immigration Reform] which is a white nationalist organization. The job of ADOS is to target progressive black folks.”

He added, “Why would Jezebel, a known feminist site, not know what ADOS is? ADOS is anti-feminist. The fact that ‘Maya Moody’ would align herself with an anti-immigrant, pro right-wing, anti-feminist, hate cult like ADOS proves that everything I’ve said about her intentions is correct.”

The condescension was glaring, and the assumption that I am uninformed about ADOS is strange. For the record, I’m well aware of the ADOS movement. I agree with its support of reparations to descendants of enslaved people (I am one), and I see no harm in emphasizing the unique history of Black Americans with slave ancestry. I do not, however, agree with its pseudo-nationalist leanings, its approach toward immigrants, its race essentialism, nor its tendency to platform right-wing talking points.

I am skeptical of the ADOS movement for several reasons. That does not mean I think it is appropriate for Kweli to spend seven months harassing a member of that movement. It is obsessive behavior that Carnell did not deserve. Kweli’s failure to understand this is alarming, but it also makes sense: Kweli doesn’t believe his behavior is harassment as long as he sees his actions as righteous.

(Moody confirmed to Jezebel that she is not involved or associated with ADOS).

Kweli’s tendency to jump to conclusions is how this entire mess started in the first place, and it’s a mess he seemed unwilling to let go weeks after it all began. Last Tuesday, he made an Instagram post about Moody that he crossposted to Facebook. On Wednesday, he talked about her in an Instagram Live stream from his moving car. “Grown ass man bullying a woman smh the insecurities are really jumping out,” one woman commented on Kweli’s Instagram Live. Yet Talib Kweli and Maya Moody are just part of a larger narrative about how Black women are treated on social media, a pattern that continues without intervention—a story that never seems to end.

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