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Inside Talib Kweli's Suspension From Twitter Over a 'Colorism' Debate

Talib Kweli
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for UNDP

Talib Kweli is seen backstage during Pathway To Paris Concert For Climate Action at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 5, 2017 in New York City.

Rapper Talib Kweli was permanently suspended from Twitter last week after what the service has described as "repeated violations" of its rules of conduct. Kweli announced on July 23 that he would be leaving the often quarrelsome social media platform for "greener pastures" and moving to the membership-based platform Patreon. "Now most of my exchanges will always be with real fans who invest in me," he wrote. "I spent 11 years there, all great times.. I exposed a lot of bigots and trolls and made a lot of wonderful friends."

According to Jezebel, Kweli abandoned Twitter after being suspended on July 23 following unspecified violations of the platform's rules after he reportedly spent "two weeks in mentions of Black women who characterized his behavior as harassment." The primary target of his tweets, the site reported, was a 24-year-old student activist named Maya Moody, "who became Kweli's obsession after a discussion about colorism in hip-hop went left."

Billboard spoke with both Kweli and Moody about their heated exchange -- and the fallout.

"I am grateful that Twitter took action against this abuse, however I am disheartened and disappointed with how long it took," Moody wrote Billboard in an email. "I understand that Kweli has a large platform, but I have seen Twitter accounts with smaller followings suspended for far less than targeting and harassing someone for three weeks straight." Moody said that the "delayed" response from Twitter to Kweli's many posts about her "enabled his over four million followers to harm me," noting that the rapper has continued to post what she called "defamatory things" about her on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.

Though Twitter would not detail what led to the suspension, Jezebel reported that it came after Kweli began "incessantly" tweeting at Moody, for 12 hours in one day she reported, chronicling "over 200 tweets directed at me. Even after being blocked SEVERAL hours ago"; Moody provided Billboard with dozens of screenshots of tweets from the rapper, as well as a video in which he discusses their disagreement.

In a statement to Billboard, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed, "The 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."

After de-activating it twice before himself, Kweli tells Billboard that Twitter suspended his account after he posted screenshots of what he said were threatening comments against himself, his mother, children and family allegedly from Moody's supporters, which included phone numbers from what he suspected were "burner" phones. "Twitter was like, because I posted a phone number they have to suspend my account," he said.

Twitter said the permanent suspension was due to multiple violations of the service's abusive behavior rule, which makes it clear that users cannot "engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so." Kweli's posting of the phone numbers also appeared to violate Twitter's rules against sharing private information.

HOW IT STARTED

The original blow-up centered on a video from early July in which rappers, including 50 Cent and Lil Wayne, talked about dating "exotic" women, which resulted in a Twitter user asking which rappers, besides Snoop Dogg, are married to Black women. When a user listed Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, Chance the Rapper and Talib as among the men on that list, Moody weighed in on July 9, saying, "literally almost all of them are married to lightskinned women but that's a conversation for another day."

Kweli said Moody was someone who'd followed him since 2016 and he followed her back before stopping sometime in 2017 or 2018 for reasons he couldn't recall. "If someone says something I don't like and I see I'm following them, I just unfollow and that's what I did," he said, noting that he doesn't recall hearing from Moody again until the comment about rappers married to Black women, which he summed up as a "straight-up lie."

He disagreed with her suggestion that the conversation be put off until another day, feeling that the tweet suggested that the Blackness of the women in question was "not as valuable." Angered that someone was seemingly passing judgement on his romantic relationship, Kweli said he responded because he felt Moody was making assumptions about his (now ex-) wife and his children's mother, responding that he wanted to have the conversation today.

"She don't know who I'm involved with," he said, taking exception at someone making assumptions about his private love life. So, what began as a back-and-forth about colorism, quickly grew into a heated exchange in which both Moody and Kweli -- who has a well-established reputation for his vigorous, sharp-tongued online presence -- each claim that they were harassed, threatened and doxxed. "Everything she says I've done she had done to me," Kweli said, confirming that he tweeted at Moody "hundreds of times" for several days straight, adding that Moody responded in kind attacking him in tagged tweets for several days; Kweli also provided a number of screenshots of tweets directed at him with threatening and taunting language.

"I didn't tweet at Maya Moody any more or less than I tweeted at anyone who comes at me the same way," he said. "The idea that somehow I behaved differently in my interaction with Maya Moody than how I behaved on Twitter for the last 10 years is so f---ing ridiculous it's insane."

For her part, Moody tells Billboard she never expected Kweli to respond to her original "lightskinned women" tweet -- adding that she didn't mention him by name. "This tweet was created to address colorism and desirability politics within the Black community: specifically, amongst Black entertainers," she said.

"This was not an attempt to invalidate the Blackness of light skinned people, but to bring awareness to the well-known fact: that many Black rappers, athletes and entertainers prefer to date and marry light skinned and non-Black women. Talking about colorism is not divisive, it is constructive criticism," she said. "Instead of acknowledging colorism, Kweli used this tweet as an opportunity to fight for relevance, gaslight me and attempt to invalidate my statement. It is time we have uncomfortable conversations about issues within our community, so we can learn and heal from our mistakes to avoid passing them on to future generations."

ESCALATION

Moody tells Billboard she complained to Twitter and reported Kweli's posts after he continued to tweet about her "hundreds of times over the course of three weeks, despite him being blocked on the first day," including what she said were more than 200 tweets in which the rapper tagged her, a number of which she said had nothing to do with her.

When asked to stop by herself and other users, Moody said Kweli "vowed to continue harassing me for the next 13 years," listing several different types of alleged harassment she suffered as a result, which she said included his followers making "accounts impersonating my parents and posting pictures of my family members, along with their full names and salaries to continue abusing me online. They also continue to threaten us with abuse, murder, rape and human trafficking, and have posted my address on Instagram dozens of times."

Both Kweli and Moody chronicled what they said were escalating attacks by their respective supporters on one another, with the rapper ultimately saying that "human beings will lack nuance and will lack context," and that he felt that the way Twitter treated him was unfair, but that he "fully respects" their decision to suspend his account. For her part, Moody said Kweli's claims that he was harassed in return are "not an accurate portrayal of what happened."

For her, his attempt to "shift the blame of the abuse" she's received "so that he can appear to be the victim" is a form of gaslighting and victim-blaming that she said has resulted in her fearing for the safety of herself and her family. "This is a clear example of a man in a position of power abusing his authority and influence to control the public perception to favor him," she said, adding that she had no idea anyone was allegedly threatening Kweli in return until he posted screenshots of texts he'd received and did not ask anyone to do so or communicate with anyone who did.

"This is a man who is twice my age that has a much larger platform and influence than I do," she continued, noting that she used to be a fan of Kweli's 2004 song "Black Girl Pain" as an eight-year-old, which inspired her to follow him believing that he "treated Black women with the utmost respect." She continued, "Kweli is well aware that he has more easily accessible resources within his reach, including the favor of well-known celebrities. The power dynamic at play is very evident, and I refuse to coddle Kweli’s self-victimization when he has cruelly targeted and harassed me although I never attacked him to begin with."

THE SUSPENSION

As the situation escalated, Moody said she contacted a number of people at Twitter and was informed that they had been keeping an eye on and investigating the situation; she said she blocked the rapper "approximately" one hour after he began "tweeting me nonstop" on July 9 after she said he "weaponized" the power of his four million followers to send hateful messages to her. She said Kweli's statement that his account was removed over a phone number he'd reposted was the first she'd heard of the reported reasoning behind the suspension of his account.

She also denied tweeting back at Kweli hundreds of times, as he said she'd done, saying she "occasionally" responded to an "outrageous" comment he'd made about her. In the end, Kweli said, "My issue with Maya is not that she called me a colorist, I know I'm not a colorist... When you see all these articles, none of which interviewed me, saying I attacked and harassed this poor, innocent Black woman who didn't do anything wrong all because I'm a colorist, that's a complete f---ing lie."

Moody called the entire experience "extremely triggering and traumatic, draining, depressing and terrifying." She said her intent was never to harm or offend anyone, but to start "an open dialogue that could possibly lead to change. Now, my family and I are being forced to endure a celebrity completely violating our privacy and jeopardizing our safety, in the middle of a global health pandemic. I guess you could call that Black Girl Pain."