The spectre of the incel has come to dominate current discussions of hypermisogyny. Stereotypically, the image we have of the incel is a white, teenage, Reddit-reading, gamer type. But the rise of the incel is just one symptom of a wider, worrying trend of hypermisogyny, fuelled by digital platforms. In the Black British spaces I inhabit online, hypermisogyny masquerades as male solidarity and self-improvement.
In recent weeks, examples have come thick and fast. In late April, it emerged that a group of Black men, with large online platforms, had created a new Twitter ‘community’ with the sole purpose of disparaging people – mostly Black women. Targets included actor and podcaster Kelechi Okafor, sex and relationships advisor Dami “Oloni” Olonisakin and Zaya Wade, the 14-year-old daughter of Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union, who is transgender. The men joked about “exterminating” women like Okafor (an outspoken dark-skinned Black woman), suggested Olonisakin’s career was the result of “blackmail”, and said that they would kill their children if they were to come out as trans. The space’s creator, who posted under the (now deleted) handle ‘@3SixMANIC’, slammed Okafor for having a white partner, while another user shared an explicit image of a Black woman scrolling on her phone whilst being sodomised by a white man.
On their own, such statements should be condemned in the harshest terms. But they also need to be situated within a wider context of the violently misogynistic rhetoric that has become normalised in some Black internet spaces in recent years.
Hypermisogyny as entertainment.
In 2016, snippets from YouTube show BKChat LDN – an online talk show predominantly featuring young Black Londoners discussing topics like sex, dating, relationships and finance – hit the timeline, spurring frenzied commentary. The web-series was founded by Andy Amadi, who pointed to a lack of representation for Black British people in television. Whilst Amadi correctly identified a cultural void that needed to be filled, BKChat itself gained notoriety for sensationalised discourse and controversial talking points, often with misogynistic themes. Episode 3, titled ‘If I Pay On The First Date, We’re Having Sex’, saw a cast member confidently assert that if he paid for a first date with a woman, they would be having sex “whether they [the woman] like it or not”.
Indeed, the relationship between capital and hypermisogyny is noticeable within internet content aimed at Black men. The hugely successful Fresh&Fit podcast, hosted by Americans Walter Weekes and Myron Gaines, claims to help men navigate the current dating world by giving them financial, fitness and romantic advice. Topics include debates over whether a woman’s body count (number of sexual partners) matters. Another episode sees Myron arguing that monogamy doesn’t make sense for a man once he’s reached a certain level of financial success. A clear pattern is emerging of visibly successful men (at least in terms of social media currency) creating links between fitness, wealth, success and the objectification of women.
Both Weekes and Gaines have also made overtly disparaging comments about Black women, alongside another notorious Black dating ‘guru’ Kevin Samuels. Samuels – who died suddenly last week – achieved fame via misogynoir, say critics. His recent videos feature provocative titles like ‘Modern Women Are A Party of 1’ and ‘Narcissistic Modern Women Are Driving Men Insane?’, the latter accompanied by a picture of Jada Pinkett-Smith. His most popular video, with 2.8m views, is of him upbraiding a dark-skinned Black woman for her expectations in a potential partner, titled ‘You’re Average At Best’. One top-rated comment beneath the clip reads: “This is the broadcast that opened the door for [Black men] to finally begin to be honestly open with [Black women] after over 50 years of [Black men] being disrespected by [Black women]. RIP [Kevin Samuels]! Your tough love is sorely needed for our Black communities that are in a death spiral”.
This sort of internet content is part of a wider problem of “popular misogyny” – a phrase coined by Dr Sarah Banet-Weiser. “Each time I began to investigate a popular feminist practice or expression, there was always an accompanying hostile or rejoinder or challenge, regardless of the mediated space in which it occurred,” explains Banet-Weiser. Black internet spaces are no exception. Writing about Samuels, BBC broadcaster Richie Brave observed recently: “The man was a grifter and figured out the degradation of Black women made him money at a time where feminism was becoming a conversation outside of academic spaces”.
Alphas, not incels.
There are clear differences between ‘incel’ culture and the type of hypermisogyny making itself known in these spaces. The perpetrators are not “involuntarily celibate”, nerdy, predominantly white, self-described social rejects, but instead observably successful, confident, appearance-obsessed and status-driven. Their goal is to be alphas; the ‘best’ version of themselves possible: wealthy, physically fit and sexually desirable. But with this has emerged a warped view of women, and how men relate to them. In this success-driven framework, the ‘right’ sort of woman is a conquest, to be attained in the same way that a promotion or flashy watch is. Typically this woman is conventionally beautiful, submissive, sexually selfless and willing to accommodate their male partner’s promiscuity whilst maintaining total monogamy themselves.
The reason this sort of internet content is popular amongst Black men far predates the internet. Western conceptions of manhood rely on resources that Black men have routinely been excluded from accessing. Where men are meant to lead and provide, Britain disproportionately excludes young Black boys from schools and underpays Black men. Mykki Kendall’s ‘Hood Feminism’ talks about the way that the disrespect Black men face in the world is problematically consolidated by a family set up where they reign supreme, noting that: “Because of a lack of respect elsewhere, the men in these scenarios value a measure of subservience and submission that is intended to make up for what they can’t receive in the wider world”. In the UK, structural racism shows few signs of subsiding. The police, crime, sentencing and courts bill will give an institutionally racist police force more powers to continue to harass and brutalise Black men, as well as those who protest against them. Self-actualisation, the control of one’s own destiny, is a key pillar to how we understand what it means to be a man. It’s also significantly less viable for Black men in the current sociopolitical climate.
The individualistic hustle ideology these men have aligned with relies on capitalism’s central falsehood: that personal autonomy can overcome the effects of structural inequality. It’s obvious that this notion would be attractive to Black men, who are so visibly victimised by this inequality. The frames of reference for success in the public sphere are often figures who espouse individualistic ideals, like billionaire Jay-Z, whose politics of luxury is often conflated with Black liberation. This myopic idea of success is reliant on heteronormativity and patriarchal values (like attaining wealth, children and a ‘dream girl wife’), which posits alternative lifestyles as a barrier to Black progression. This perceived (and imaginary) threat is why we see such rampant homophobia and transphobia in Black internet spaces. The wake of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis have engineered increased economic scarcity. When conservative ideals are posited as the means of prosperity, it’s no surprise that people would double down on these ideals in times of hardship.
The normalisation of these ideas must be critiqued. There are brilliant Black, male creators in digital spaces, like Chuckie Online, who handle these discussions with nuance and respect. Social media is a sphere where marginalised voices can be heard, but it’s also one where hatred can fester, unchecked, among any group. Issues like misogynoir that are seemingly specific to the Black community can be difficult to discuss due to a fear that such discourse might be weaponised to further critique Black culture. But the reality is that misogynoir exists within a wider structure of misogyny that transcends racial demographics. At the same time, if we continue holding up the ‘incel’ as the only example of hypermisogyny, we will look past it taking root elsewhere.