By Raven Simone Maragh-Lloyd, author of Black Networked Resistance: Strategic Rearticulations in the Digital Age

For my sanity, I’ve mostly avoided politics this 2024 season. Yet somehow, I found myself glued to the television for the recent State of the Union address — the “superbowl” for political nerds, according to The New York Times. I’m not sure why I was watching, perhaps to see all the hype about Joe Biden’s age or maybe to see Republicans’ reactions to the speech. What I didn’t expect to see was Georgia state Representative Marjorie Taylor Green decked out in “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) garb donning the slogan, “Say Her Name” in reference to a nursing student in Georgia who was recently killed by an undocumented person.

That phrase struck me. It was a phrase created by Black women and popularized at the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement to call attention to the intersectional failures of social justice efforts, leaving Black girls and women invisible in the fight for equal justice.

I started thinking about the longer history of co-opted Black racial justice narratives, like “cancelling” dubbed as “cancel culture.” As Meredith Clark expertly describes, parts of online cancelling trace back to boycotting movements where economic divestment resulted in real change for Black Americans calling for equal rights. Yet, “cancel culture” and its subsidiary “the woke left” have been taken up by conservatives like Florida mayor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis campaigned for president largely on the platform of expelling these so-called people policing free speech.

So, I wasn’t quite surprised—but I was disappointed—to see “Say Her Name” as a slogan attached to MAGA. The erasure of Black women that informed the slogan was on full display (for those who knew its origins) in the co-option of its meaning.

It’s this history of resistance efforts that I trace in Black Networked Resistance. It’s a book about online resistance efforts and their historical trajectories. For me, contextualizing these online efforts, like hashtags, archiving and more, adds texture to contemporary conversations about racial justice online. Rather than being reactionary and short lived, historicized Black resistance becomes rooted, generational, and ‘de-platformed.’

That last bit is especially important when we look at Twitter (now X). After Elon Musk bought Twitter in 2023 for $44 billion, media pundits were in a frenzy: what would happen to online networks known for their connection to Twitter, like ‘Black Twitter’? Thinking through this question from the lens of Black publics who strategized humor, joy, and resistance across many media platforms and time periods makes something clear: Black Twitter was never beholden to Twitter. Our pains and humor fit the platform (e.g. call and response and the early character limit), but have also outlived it.

As one example, I write in the book about ‘Karens,’or Internet caricatures that poke fun at white ladies who attempt to police Black bodies in public spaces (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Example of Karen meme.

While the world seemed to suddenly become aware of ‘Karens’ in 2020 after the explosion of these memes during the height of racial justice protests, ‘Karen’ memes actually have a longer history online. Black users had already created the virtual archetype of white womanhood with the scowling face, the bob cut, and the text overlay asking for the manager. For decades, Black humor has responded to the vitriol of white supremacy, which protects white womanhood as the representation and indeed future of the nation. Given that challenging—or looking at—white women in public spaces has led to countless lynchings, city destruction, and more, Black folks have learned to carefully critique white womanhood through the precision of humor, using techniques from satire, storytelling, and inversion. This example pushes scholars, activists, and media dwellers to think about online resistance broadly and historically, centering Black agency as multi-generational, sharp, and strategic.

The “Say Her Name” slogan might have made its way into MAGA hands for now. But I’m heartened knowing that the historical knowledge we possess about online communities like Black Twitter will always root us beyond any one political moment.