“Di man who shit ina bush na remember, but di man who step ina it will.” quipped my mum when I called to tell her about the bombs Michaela Coel dropped today in these Twitter streets. See, my mum and I often call each other to share encouraging stories of black womanhood. And this right here? This is a story black women will be sharing amongst each other for years to come.
Years before her BAFTA Award winning turn as both writer and lead actress of E4’s hit comedy series Chewing Gum, Michaela Coel starred in Top Boy, Channel 4’s gangland series. The year was 2013, everyone was reckless in their tweets and popular comedian Don’t Jealous Me, real name Tolu Ogunmefun, took it upon himself to write the following about Coel’s appearance in a thread of tweets:
Nobody can say my lips are big anymore. I have met my match
She is probably hiding drugs under her lips
Those HD lips wanted to enter my screen
-Tolu Ogunmefun, 2013
Tolu Ogunmefun, is the man from my mum’s Jamaican proverb who shat in the bush only to forget about it. He tweeted these disparaging remarks in jest years ago, so casually without a thought in the world for who was reading them and who would remember the shit they stepped in.
Twitter was alight with admiration for Coel after her momentous BAFTA win for Breakthrough Talent at the British Academy Television Craft Awards and T-Boy hopped online to congratulate the creator of Chewing Gum for her achievements.
-Tolu Ogunmefun, 2016
Other than Coel herself, no one was prepared for her response.
Ahh sweet, even w/ my fat lips? First social media abuse I ever receieved was from you.
-Michaela Coel, 2016
Coel proceeded to show him the receipts *Whitney Houston voice*. And Twitter fell out! Coel gracefully offered him forgiveness which Ogunmefun swiftly accepted while offering up a shaky, misspelled apology and explanation.
What stood out for me was that he didn’t even remember tweeting the abhorrent litany. As a comedian, he wanted to make people laugh and was comfortable doing it at the expense of a black woman. So at ease was he with using her African features as a punchline in a joke that was then, and remains repugnant to this day that he simply forgot about it. He attributed his lapse in judgement, common sense and dignity to his age at the time and immaturity. Michaela Coel in her infinite grace accepted his apology, her parting words on the subject urging him behave more like Christ he serves. It was the sweetest vindication I have ever tasted and it wasn’t even mine. I cried tears of joy on her behalf because I could only wish to serve that kind of public comeuppance in my lifetime.
If Michaela Coel wasn’t the BAFTA award winning creator of Chewing Gum, if she was just one of the other thousands of black actresses in Britain, this exchange wouldn’t have happened. It is because of her power, status, visibility and representation on TV and in media that brought his long forgotten comments to the foreground. It is as if Michaela Coel winning the awards has made her more palatable to him, as if her BAFTA now validates her full lips and unapologetic blackness.
People were asking why she waited 3 years to remind him of what he said and the answer, in my eyes, is opportunity and power. Malcolm X, in his 1962 speech “Who Taught You To Hate Yourself” let it be known that “the most disrespected person is the black woman, the most unprotected person is the black woman, the most neglected person is the black woman” and without the brand recognition that Michaela Coel wields now she might have very well been laughed off twitter by a comedian like Tolu Ogunmefun who commands a following that out numbers her own three to one. Who are these people to dictate when and how the abused seek recompense from their abusers?
I doubt Ogunmefun’s intentions were to incite the clapback heard around the twittersphere but the road to shitting in a bush is paved in good intentions. Today he and many others learned that no longer are black women with big noses and full lips easy targets for black men’s misogynoir, we are decision makers, pioneers and your potential future employers. Michaela Coel’s joyous vindication was a well-timed reminder that black women deserve respect regardless of their position; if it is not given to us freely, we will take it and have no qualms about dragging you in the process.
Click the heart below so I know you care.
What do you think? Jump in the comments below.
Follow me on Twitter @DanielleDash