Note: I’ve been busy with preparing for the new semester; trying to get my lesson plans in order has been wonderful but stressful.
Over the years, there have been several articles and TV segments on how there are consequences for free speech and that (majority white) people need to stop acting as if they’re entitled to consequence-free speech. This idea is consistently addressed every time there is a major upset regarding someone, usually after a high-profile person of some sort, who has engaged in harassment and hate speech toward specific individuals or groups of people. In the case of this segment, when Twitter banned Milo Yiannopoulous for harassing Leslie Jones and Disney completely decided to drop PewDiePie.
I feel like this concept is summed up in a scientific theory that most people first learn in physical science, which can also be applied to social situations. If you’ve forgotten Newton’s Third Law of Motion, it’s the following.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Just as this law is true in physics, it can also be seen in pretty much every social situation. This is largely why people have to take a lot of things into consideration such as social cues, context, location and environment, and the other people who are involved or could be impacted by their actions or speech.
It’s not uncommon for people who scream about the consequences that someone has “suffered” to also respond with “it’s the death of free speech,” as if they’re completely incapable of saying the derogatory slurs and are being forced to self-censor just because one company removed a platform. They get upset, feeling as if those social media companies should be providing space for people to say whatever they want even if it contradicts the policies and rules that a user agrees to obey upon signing up for an account. This completely neglects one glaring fact: they’re not bound by the First Amendment. These users continue to get angry at companies for distancing themselves from certain high-profile people, as if they’re not allowed to protect their brand from someone who is clearly incapable of creating content that coincides with their current interests. So let’s look at how different social media companies have “censored” their users:
Reddit, after Ellen Pao resigned (following a slew of racialised misogyny in the form of complaints after it had been announced that they’d ban harassing subreddits) and was replaced with Steve Huffamn, decided that they wanted to appeal to both potential advertisers and their users by hiding racist subreddits. They wanted to encourage a ‘free marketplace of ideas’, keeping free speech open by ‘quarantining’ the more questionable subreddits. Clearly, that option was wildly successful because advertisers mostly just stayed away (and the users’ behaviours and responses toward advertising didn’t help). Then again, the fact that they can’t seem to get organised probably hasn’t be very beneficial for them, either. Recently, however, they banned a few prominent subreddits dedicated to the alt-right for doxing people and excessive harassment. All of these go against Reddit’s (loosely and sparingly utilised) content policy:
Reddit is quite open and pro-free speech, but it is not okay to post someone’s personal information, or post links to personal information.
We do not tolerate the harassment of people on our site, nor do we tolerate communities dedicated to fostering harassing behavior.
Do not post content that incites harm against people or groups of people.
Facebook has a policy that has been contested over time for some egregious errors in how the platform functions. Focusing on censorship alone, Facebook has had issues in the past of banning or deactivating accounts of women posting pictures of breastfeeding (a perfectly normal human function); on Instagram’s platform, they deleted photos Rupi Kaur posted that showed how periods affect those with uteruses (later apologising to her). It wasn’t until mid-2015 that both Facebook and Instagram, challenged by these and other similar instances, decided to change their definitions about cdxwhat constituted ‘nudity’ (but you still can’t show nipples on a woman).
However, they have had issues about how banning people works. Because users are capable of flagging comments as abusive, Facebook ends up banning people who have been swarmed because of groups who disagree with them. Meanwhile, there are actually awful groups that never get removed and are allowed to perpetuate hate speech. This goes directly against their own views about controversial, harmful and hate speech on their platform, while stating that they don’t tolerate bullying and harassment in their terms:
You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.
This is despite a history where people, such as Angela Merkel, have challenged Facebook to ban neo-Nazi groups, having to pull pages of Italian neo-Nazis after people lodged complaints, and watching the US government get sued by grandstanding anti-Muslim groups for Facebook “censoring” them. And then it’s been found that the secret groups on Facebook can actually be harmful and act as echo chambers.
I don’t feel the need to quote more than two social media companies since their rules are essentially the same, and it is largely dependent upon them to enforce them. The point is this: When you sign up for their service, you agree to obey the rules they set. If you don’t, you risk having your account deactivated or deleted, and you might even be banned; it’s entirely up to them. It’s their service that you’re using (usually for free), which means that crying about ‘free speech’ is absurd. So if you decide to post a picture of your Nazi salute on Twitter, be prepared to get banned. Posting alt-right propaganda and hate speech? Possible ban (and then people who were rightfully banned will go and claim it’s because of PC culture instead of them harassing people and then go create fake black accounts). At no point in the process is your ‘right to free speech’ being impeded.
Take all this information and now apply it to contracts with other companies. Milo clearly doesn’t have the right to publish a book through a specific publisher; they get to have the final say. CPAC doesn’t have to allow Milo or Richard into their space if they disagree with them on anything (but still allow known white nationalist, Steve Bannon); it’s not a requirement that they give them a platform should they say something that is found disagreeable. Breitbart can fire Milo, should they decide to, in response to the fact that their staff will leave if they don’t; it’s their choice. PewDiePie doesn’t get to make the decisions for Disney’s Maker Studios because it’s their contract, even though he was given “editorial freedom” (and may have ruined it for everyone after him).
Here’s a personal anecdote. My last few contracts for work, and this is not uncommon where I currently live, have stated that I am not allowed to do anything that “harms the reputation of the institution.” This even applied to people who made a complaint on a private Facebook account that only your friends could see, as I have worked with numerous individuals who’ve had their co-workers friended and had screenshots reported to their bosses and superintendents even though the account was not public and couldn’t possibly hurt the institution in question.
All contracts have variations on this concept, regardless of whether or not it directly references ‘bringing harm to their reputation’. This is part of at-will work, in most cases; there are numbers of employees who have been fired for their comments, regardless of if they are benign or legitimate complaints about where you work on social media or if you’ve said something harmful that later leads to you being fired because they don’t want you to represent them as an employee. This is because there is no Constitutional free speech at work.
And, for people like these men, social media is their workplace; they don’t have a right to be there.
Next: The social responsibility of businesses and how responding to controversial issues usually helps them, especially today.
So one of the arguments that people keep making in regards to racist language – whether it be the “thoughtless prankster” PewDiePie, the blatantly neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, or the clearly white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos – is that everyone should have access to the Freedom of Speech. This divorces a lot of what’s happening in these events and the context surrounding them with what Freedom of Speech actually is and how it functions.
Note: I said I was making a multi-part post, and this is the first of the set. I may make reference to the consequences of free speech, but I’m not discussing it here directly. Yet. Also, I’m not a lawyer, but I have at least some understanding of the difference between governments and corporations.
In all three cases I’ve mentioned, we’re dealing either with people who live in or work with companies in the United States. As such, that’s the perspective I’m going to take. This right has been written into the First Amendment of our Constitution and adopted in 1791:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The key word here is Congress, which implies that iall public spaces shall allow for freedom of speech. For reference, ‘public’ in this instance is referring to something that relates to government; it’s referring to spaces that are maintained (usually) by the government and relate to or affect people of the nation.
Meanwhile, if you search for “pewdiepie freedom of speech” on Twitter, you get a whole slew of people who fail to understand this basic concept:
The point in highlighting this is that businesses are not the government. This means that any time someone is crying about Milo losing his freedom of speech because Twitter banned him, they’re wrong. If people are mourning PewDiePie’s loss of a platform because Disney’s Maker Studios cut ties with him, it makes no sense. Their right to freedom of speech is not guaranteed in these instances. Disney can silence and remove people from their platform just as easily as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and any other company can.
Disney – unless there’s been a significant change in the way that the United States’ government works, which is probably not beyond the realm of possibility considering what’s been happening in the past 24 hours with Michael Flynn – is not the government. They are a private business; the same applies to Google, who owns YouTube. The right that we’re guaranteed in the First Amendment was meant to keep citizens safe from the government; it wasn’t written to tell businesses that they were obligated to host people on their platform so that they could make offensive “ironic” jokes or actually spew hatred.
While we’re at it, let’s look at a brief history of American censorship by the government, since we’re probably moments away from the Sedition Act of 2017. (I honestly wouldn’t put it past President Agent Orange, his administration and cabinet, and the Republicans to make it happen.)
In the early stages of the United States but after President Washington left office, the Federalist Party pushed three harmful acts that were collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. This consisted of the Alien Friendlies Act of 1798, the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, and the Sedition Act of 1798.
In effect, what the Sedition Act did was make it a crime to publish anything against the US government and Congress that was considered to be “false, scandalous, or malicious” and had the “intent to defame” them or “bring them into contempt or disrepute.” The original goal, or so John Adams claimed, was that they were enacted to decrease the amount of libel in the press; during this time, more and more partisan papers were coming into existence, which meant that there was a lot more of the partisan fighting taking place than had previously existed. Or, at least, more fighting that had existed in print than previously seen. (Adams was also well-known for having an ego but also being incredibly fragile to any criticism or slight. I know, it’s really difficult to imagine that as a combination of personality traits.)
Fast forward to 1918 and we find that Wilson’s administration decided to create and enact yet another Sedition Act, which was developed as an extension to the Espionage Act of 1917. Again, it makes it illegal for people to say anything that could be perceived as showing disloyalty or negativity towards the government; it was meant to get rid of the dissent that was voiced by groups like the socialists, anti-war activists, and pacifists. In notable examples, it silenced (or, at least, attempted to silence) people like Eugene V. Debs (socialist party member and union leader), Mollie Steimer (a Russian immigrant, anti-war activist, and anarchist), Marie Equi (a lesbian who aligned herself with both the anarchists and the radical labour movement), and William Edenborn (a German businessman who was a naturalised citizen who was also 70-years old at the time of his arrest).
Obviously, both of these Sedition Acts either were allowed to expire or were repealed. Thomas Jefferson ran on a platform in the election of 1800 that denounced the Alien and Sedition Acts and allowed both the Sedition Act and the Alien Friendlies Act to expire (the Alien Enemy Act still remains today but has been recodified), and many historians credit theses events with providing a helping hand in the rise of the Democratic-Republican Party and the fall of the Federalist Party. Wilson’s Sedition Act was repealed in 1920. which happened some time after Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a dissenting opinion in Abrams v United States (1919) that expressed his views on the “marketplace of ideas.”
But then in 1940, the United States Congress enacted the Alien Registration Act, which is also known as the Smith Act. This law targeted non-citizen adults who were alleged to be communists, fascists, and anarchists. Because of a fear of the fifth columns that might betray the United States’ government from within, they decided to create this law to “protect” themselves from unknown radical elements that may have immigrated to the US. However, it included the following:
… with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or … organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.
Effectively, this entire law enabled the US to target the speech of non-citizens and determine whether or not it “advocated the overthrow or destruction of the US government.” Interestingly, despite its name, American citizens were tried under this law. Many of the people who were targeted by this were Communist leaders who were largely pro-union and workers’ rights – including Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a founding member of the ACLU who was expelled from the organisation because she was a Communist, and Claudia Jones, who was a Black activist and journalist that immigrated to the US from Trinidad as a child – and some (not nearly as many) were militant racists and actual fascists.
So clearly, the United States a bastion of free speech and the ability to say whatever we want and whenever we want, right?
Well, not quite. There are far more events in history that I haven’t even remotely had a chance to look at. Here are more examples:
- Prior to and during the American Civil War, the US Postmaster General openly refused to allow any mail that carried pamphlets about abolition.
- The First Amendment didn’t apply to states and municipalities until the beginning of the 20th century (1900s), allowing many places and institutions to go ahead and censor things they didn’t want.
- Prior restraint wasn’t even considered unconstitutional until the 1930s.
- Let’s not forget the Office of Censorship was an actual thing during WWII.
- Remember the Pentagon Papers that a lot of people like to cite for helping to end the US involvement in the Vietnam War (1955-1975)? Do you remember what happened to Daniel Ellsberg? He was charged with conspiracy and espionage, among other things before the charges were dropped (because Nixon’s White House were performing unlawful actions to attempt to discredit him). They weren’t declassified until 2011, either.
- The entire premise of McCarthyism. Have fun with that. You could literally take an entire university course on the subject and not finish.
- How about that good ol’ Protect America Act (2007), which actually amended FISA (Nixon-era legislation)? Despite my distaste with some of their other actions (shown elsewhere in this post), the ACLU provides a pretty good analysis of it.
And those are all the times that Congress has enacted laws that directly went against the First Amendment or where our state and local governments didn’t have to guarantee those rights to us and it only completely applied at the federal level. We’re still living with many of those and others that I haven’t even listed.
But honestly, we have a whole list of restrictions and exceptions on our ‘free speech’ because the judiciary has tried cases where it found that things like hate speech are not protected, especially when it urges people to act out. I mean, if we pick out some of the people discussed, much of what Dick and Milo say falls under both incitement and ‘fighting words and offensive speech’. Even if Twitter were a public (read: government) institution, they would still have every right to ban them because what they’re saying is meant to cause harm and incite some form of violence. It’s impossible to support them (and I’m still massively disappointed in the ACLU supporting Lee Rowland as she continues to add to their awful history of supporting hate speech and imagery as she supports Milo in their name).
Using Milo as an example, he outed a trans student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His “free speech” was not impugned, but he decided to cross over into harassment. This led to the student, Adelaide Kramer, receiving a deluge of hateful messages, which wouldn’t have happened had Milo said nothing. And the administrators, who were in the audience, are just as guilty of allowing it to continue; they could have stopped it the moment he singled her out but chose not to. The protests at UCB erupted only because the university refused to acknowledge that Milo wanted to out undocumented students. In both cases, the ‘talk’ is inciting violence; these people are left feeling unsafe, especially in a world that is already dangerous for them.
We recently watched a very high profile example of someone losing her right to free speech take place on the Senate floor, especially as she was reading the letter of a Black woman. Elizabeth Warren was silenced as she read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter addressing the judicial nomination of Jeff Sessions at the time. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the few women in the Senate took it upon herself to give a voice to a Black civil rights activist (leader) during Black History Month about a person who we know has a negative record with Civil Rights because it is so incredibly well-documented. I saw so few of the same people decrying this event in the way that I see them supporting people like Milo. And when they did talk about this, they focused entirely on Warren being silenced; they neglect the fact that she’d entered other evidence against Sessions from the same time and was allowed to keep talking. It was only once she started reading King’s letter and describing his history of racist actions that she was silenced for “impugning a Senate member.”
But instead of actually acknowledging the harm that these men and others like them are doing, we’d rather clutch pearls about their “loss” of free speech on platforms that don’t legally have to allow it (and, in many cases, could legally disallow it on the basis of safety for others). Yet, I don’t see the same support for people in Black Lives Matter; I don’t see the same support for people protesting police brutality and violence. I don’t see the same support for Muslim people of all backgrounds.
We, and I’m looking directly at white liberals and progressives, are too quick to support the Freedom of Speech when people who’ve abused that right don’t deserve it. Simultaneously, we don’t support the people who need it, and we’re ridiculously silent when it comes to amplifying their voices. It’s absolutely infuriating.
Warning: There is some of discussion of anti-Semitism. Some links and images may include racial slurs, Nazis, anti-Semitism, and racism.
Something’s happened recently that’s massively interesting: Disney decided cut ties to PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) after he posted videos with anti-Semitic imagery and statements (or “jokes”) this past month. It’s partly interesting to me because he’s made headline news for this, which is probably because he has the most subscribers on YouTube’s platform. It’s also interesting to me because he finally was shown that even jokes that utilise “ironic bigotry” have consequences.
You know, that peksy responsibility that everyone seems to conveniently overlook or outright ignore that comes with their favourite right: freedom of speech? Yeah, that one.
Now, I don’t want to focus specifically on PewDiePie because I’m more interested in the overall conversation, especially as his supporters scream about how it was “just a joke” and we’re “too sensitive” and that “none of his supporters support anti-Semitic views because they know it’s just a joke.” He’s another in a long line of people who we keep defending when they make offensive statements without even considering that there are consequences for doing so.
I’m also not interested in debating the “is he or isn’t he” question in regards to his racism; I just know that he did things that were racist. First, he intentionally selected two Indian men to do something that ended up getting them banned from Fiverr. Why? What was his logic in asking them to do this? I’m sure there were people on Fiverr who would’ve openly denied his request, as he seemingly “wanted,” because they were far more familiar with the language, the context, and the cultural issues of what he was requesting. Why didn’t he bother to ask them to do it? Was it because, as he states, he thought these guys would refuse his request? Even if it wasn’t an event intended to be racist (and that’s being polite, since it also reeks of remnants of European colonialism), we have to argue that his subconscious still overlooked the issues that these two men might have after doing what they were hired to do and selected them over anyone else; he may not have been intentionally racist, but he certainly engaged in actions that were.
As a result of his actions, these two men from a less privileged background than his own lost access to an important source of income because of a “thoughtless prank,” which also was anti-Semitic (even if meant as “ironic bigotry” or “just a joke”). People keep claiming that it was a “thoughtless prank.” The only part of the phrase that’s even remotely correct is thoughtless; he didn’t think, and that’s more than obvious. And while, yes, I know he ‘apologised’ and requested Fiverr to unban them, the fact remains that he did something he clearly knew was wrong and got two men of colour in trouble for it without first thinking of the potential consequences. He didn’t even consider the possibility that these men would do what he requested because it was”too absurd,” and he never thought that they’d get in trouble for it should they have done it at all; he’s said that he thought they wouldn’t do it. This implies that he understood it was wrong and also expected others from a different linguistic and cultural background (who state that they “did not know what ‘the Jews’ meant,” which I would believe) to have the same knowledge.
Then there’s the problem of his anti-Semitic “joke.” Since he openly acknowledges that what he did was wrong and still did it anyway, we should be able to recognise the problem. Clearly, we need to have the discussion again about how jokes shouldn’t punch down because that does nothing but support the status quo; it also does nothing except validate the people who do believe in such things (as seen above) and prompts them to act out more because they believe that others around them agree with those ideas.
In much of the discussion I see, I keep running into a few themes that I feel need to be addressed:
- What is ‘Freedom of Speech’ and how does it apply in these situations. Maybe a discussion about censorship.
- Dealing with the consequences of your ‘Freedom of Speech.’
- Impact vs. Intent and Ironic Bigotry still being bigotry.
- The rights that Disney and other companies have to sever ties with people (History, Modern Context, CSR)
There clearly are a lot more to address, but these are the ones that I feel more comfortable tackling because I’m not going to start speaking over Jewish people who have had to live with instances of anti-Semitism and have been watching its overt resurgence the entire election cycle and well into the first month of the presidency. And I don’t want to talk over people who had to watch a White House completely ignore Jewish people on Holocaust Remembrance Day, even when this is a very significant cultural event for them.
If our president is being supported by the KKK, is reported as removing them from the list of hate groups, and being linked to an increase in hate crimes, we need to be talking out and protecting people who will be harmed by such groups and individuals. We don’t need to be defending people who abuse their rights and use them to harm others; we need to be giving our support to people who are trying to speak out about actual injustices that are taking place (and ‘coming out as conservative’ and ‘having everyone ignore you’ doesn’t exactly count as an injustice, since you’re also ignoring the context of the entire situation by equating your changeable political stance to a person’s unchangeable identity).
We need to do and be better than this.
Next: I’m addressing those points in order, so I’m going to be discussing the Freedom of Speech and America’s history of ‘upholding’ it.
I feel like I’m having a weird relationship with the way that news media is being handled. As an observer, since I don’t work as a journalist, I feel like I’m more capable of watching the impacts of what is being done than the people producing it; I also feel like my conflict of interest is decreased, as many of them are pursuing clicks and views. This sounds like an insult, but I don’t mean it to be one.
This click-and-view culture is a bit problematic; for many journalists and creators, this is how they survive within their career. Getting these enables them to have more opportunities to cover other stories or participate in coverage that they might not be able to work with otherwise. This is the environment that has been created for – not by – them to have their work presented. If it doesn’t gain enough clicks or views, they don’t get paid and may lose access to the platform they’ve been given. I don’t fault them for this because it has become a major part of their job, but it does take away time from seeing how their work is impacting their audience.
And I feel like this should be a major consideration of the work that is created by anyone in media, regardless of the form (video games, movies, television, books, and so on). They should have to focus on the impacts of what they’re doing or whether or not the intentions they have are being met rather than accidentally creating a platform for people who don’t need one. But I am aware that there are people who do this and are very good about doing it; Sarah Kendzior is probably one of my top journalists, and she is incredibly cautious about how and what she reports. I would argue, however, that the industry itself has been lacking in caution while specific and individual journalists have been taking on this duty of care that the system has forgotten it needs to do.
What I’m talking about, in particular, is allowing people like Tomi Lahren, Kellyanne Conway, Milo Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, and so on to access platforms that enable them reach more people. We’ve seen articles written about interviews with these “dapper and polite” neo-nazis, we’ve had people mourning Milo’s “right to free speech” (while being incredibly silent as one of his supporters shot a protester in the stomach), we’ve had “liberal” satirical comedy shows asking for Tomi to come on so they can “roast” her (but providing her more time to speak and gain a following because she’s “so likeable”), and traditional news networks allowing Kellyanne to lie (then lie about her previous lies in the form of so-called apologies) and go completely unchecked (or trying to call her out but giving her three-quarters of the segment to lie about everything rather than just cutting her mic like they do to women of colour that they disagree with).
For years, we’ve had people talking about “journalistic integrity.” The unfortunate thing is that the people discussing this were focusing on stories that defamed people from marginalised communities; we saw that GamerGate pretended to make an attempt to talk about “journalistic integrity,” but they actually focused on abusing Zoe Quinn because of nonsense her ex released. As the “movement” went on, they focused on many other prominent women (and any of their supporters, regardless of following, were harassed along the way – I should know, as I managed with my small following to have a ridiculous number of pro-GamerGaters in my mentions and inboxes). Statistically, GamerGate’s goals were nothing more than testing the water for fascism and white nationalism. How far could you push before someone did something?
They merged with or created various MRA and PUA groups, which continued this project. The same sorts of men who are on forums like Roosh V’s are the same people who persist in harassing women. That literally is his stated goal. (And every time the media covers people like Roosh, Milo, and Richard? The media loves using pictures that show men who could be kind, polite, and attractive! They receive humanising imagery despite the fact they seek to systematically remove the humanity of groups they don’t like and are utlising oppressive language to incite violence.)
People who didn’t need a voice – both because they were misusing it to spew oppressive language and because it they were talking over people who were genuinely affected by the issues being discussed – were given space to harass people in the name of “journalistic integrity.” Having met and discussed GamerGate with academics who were attempting to archive video games and lost support as a result of the misogynist movement, I can safely say that their desires were anything but journalistic integrity or an improvement in ethics; their goal was to silence the people they disagreed with for “infiltrating” their hobby (while neglecting to realise that we were always there, and they were the ones who infiltrated our communities to harass us). Instead, they decided to divert traffic and essentially steal content, hurting people they disagreed with.
A lot of what happened in GamerGate happened again, except this time it mobilised a population of people outside of nerd culture (which has always had its own problems with neo-nazis and fascists, despite the recurring theme of Nazis Are Bad that they keep ignoring in their favourite media). They were clearly the antecedent to the election of POTUS 45 and his white supremacist administration; they insisted that we allow Milo Yiannoupolis his “right to free speech” (and freedom from the consequences), despite the fact that they were quick to silence groups like Black Lives Matter or scream over women talking about sexism. In fact, they love to do this while being simultaneously sexist, racist, and Islamophobic in their comparisons of women in the West who are “whiny” and “over-sensitive” while there’s “real suffering in Islamic countries” that they’ve vaguely heard about on the news. They use male abuse victims to gaslight women who are talking about issues while doing absolutely nothing to help them, and they ignore very real and very scary statistics about how many women (and people) are hurt or killed through domestic violence. They also really love using male abuse victims to gaslight women while doing absolutely nothing to help the victims their using.
And because of all of this, I’m confused about how media is going to continue covering these actions that show clear fascism without accidentally supporting it. In 1988, Oprah Winfrey had skinheads/neo-nazis on her show in an effort to show her viewers how tragically ignorant, hateful, and grotesque they are. The problem? She accidentally gave them a platform that helped them build their following, which she has since admitted in an explanation for why she never did it again. She realised that, by letting them speak for even a moment, she was giving them more power to reach an audience; you’d think that it would be the other way around, but it’s not. It’s a form of validation for people who already have tendencies leaning toward similar views (the same was seen with sitcoms like All in the Family and satirical comedy like the Colbert Report).
This is due to our natural inclination to engage in “selective perception.” We perceive or “see” things – in this case, the media we consume – in ways that are more in line with our frame of reference and experiences. While left-leaning people are more inclined to see the absurdity in the characters of Stephen Colbert and Archie Bunker and understand the intent of the jokes, people who are more ideologically similar are going to feel validated by their existence. This is also why many people have spoken out against rape jokes when they use the victims as the punchline; rapists/PUAs are more inclined to feel validated when they see people laugh at them. (They are, however, funny when the right target it is in the punchline: rapists, enablers, and rape culture.)
It’s also because oppressive language is inherently violent. You may not be directly harming people, but you’re still inciting the violence that takes place. We’ve seen this throughout history; we’ve watched this happen a number of times. The most egregious example of this is Pizzagate, where a shooter was so influenced by fake news about Hillary Clinton that he went to a pizzeria “to rescue children” and shot off an assault rifle (thankfully hurting no one).
And because oppressive language is violence and language can be weaponised to hurt, that’s why I feel that the media needs to start denying access to their platforms for people who are willing to do that. We shouldn’t be allowing Kellyanne Conway with the ability to try to talk her way out of the Bowling Green Massacre (which did happen, just in the 1600s to Native Americans – she wouldn’t ever want to talk about that, even in a history class) and call it a “mistake.” We shouldn’t be providing Richard Spencer with the opportunity to happily talk about himself and his goals for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” (an oxymoron, as ethnic cleansing is never peaceful), nor should we allow him or anyone else to even ask if human society “needs the Black race.” This is also particularly true because we’ve seen that 45’s favourite news network is already doing the same, as they rid themselves of George Will who was definitely not known for his support of the Trump administration (while making a questionable decision in deciding to sign pro-Trump, Brexit-liar Nigel Farage). [Update: We also recently learned about family ties to the Murdochs, as Ivanka recently stepped down as from her position of trustee for one of his daughters.]
We’ve had so many people explaining these concepts, and many of them have been women of colour (particularly black women). So to end this, here’s a quote from Toni Morrison during her Nobel Lecture:
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
*Bolding is mine.
NPR recently published an article titled: “Is It OK To Vote For Hillary Because She’s a Woman?” This line of questioning frustrates me because I, like the 8-year old girl, do believe that it’s okay to vote for Hillary because she’s a woman; I believed it was okay to vote for Obama because he was black. I don’t care if that’s how some people are voting because that is their choice, and people have been guilty of it for decades, if not centuries.
How many women are in politics today? There was a great photoset done by Elle UK that showed what rooms in some of our governmental spaces would look like should we remove men from them, and the results were strikingly empty rooms (they also showed that some University Challenge teams ceased to exist). We have had centuries where women have been represented only by men, and we’re even finding out that many of these men know literally nothing about the people they’re legislating for (with Vito Barbieri going as far as to think people with uteruses could swallow cameras to get ‘pregnancy pictures’). If people want to vote for someone because she’s a woman, I have no problem with them doing it.
But let’s push this farther. How many people of colour are there in varying levels of the US government? When you look at the 114th Congress, which is the “most diverse ever” according to the Pew Research Center, you still have white people representing 83% of the Congressional population despite the fact that white people make up 62% of the overall US population. If there are people who want to vote for their Congressional representatives based only on their race, I see no problem with it because that is the decision they have made. For some people, that representation really matters and opens up doors that weren’t previously open to people like them. And why should it matter to me if people are voting based on race alone when, previously, non-white people weren’t allowed to participate in government?
It’s not even a coincidence that this same argument cropped up when, as a junior senator, Barack Obama ran for president. And it wasn’t just the first time he was elected that it happened, we literally saw it happen in both 2008 and 2012. In fact, we still see that racist logic – that all black people only voted for him because he was black – in varying ways today, including a reference to something Romney said during his 2012 congratulations to President Obama that popped up in David Axelrod’s memoir.
Now let’s keep going: How about the number of LGBTQ+ people represented in government? If you can name people beyond Barney Frank and Mark Takano, that’s fantastic; I’m literally struggling to think of many other LGBTQ+ individuals in the US government because there are so few of them (and this list proves it). Honestly, the only other person I can think of is Penny Wong, and she’s over in Australia. It’s fantastic that many of these people exist, but we’re missing huge chunks of our society; there are significant portions of the queer community missing, and that representation is necessary. How many transgender people are visible? And how much influence are they having in creating these awful pieces of transgender legislation?
And let’s add a couple other aspects to this list of identities. How many individuals in government have a disability (physical or emotional/mental)? We continually make laws and legislation for disabled people, but we seem to forget that they should be included in creating it. How many people in the US government are non-Christian? We’re supposed to be non-secular, yet the justification for so many of our laws about reproductive health include the Christian God. How many of these people are from poor backgrounds? We’re creating legislation and massacring social safety nets, but we’re not even talking to the people who are genuinely affected. And we can even sub-divide many of these identities further and continue asking these questions over and over, but the answer would still be the same: There aren’t enough people in our government who genuinely represent the diversity of people in our nation.
Regardless of whether or not we agree with these individuals on their positions – and I am the first to stand in line explaining why I don’t believe in Hillary, while there are numerous think-pieces being published telling me that we “shouldn’t hold her to higher standards of feminism because she, too, has faced sexism” – the simple fact is that these people are there and, usually, are going to support further representation of people like them; it may create an environment where marginalised communities are capable of participating in the government that, at the moment, pretends to represent everyone equally.
We have seen Obama be an inspiration to many people, and there are children who are growing up today who have never known anything other than a Black president. It’s hard to deny the impact he has made on these children, especially when you see how much he meant to Kameria Chayten, a first grade girl who cried because she wasn’t ready for his final term to be over. How many people who share at least one of her identities has she seen in positions of power? Him being president now shows that it’s more possible for black people to participate in all forms of government, including the highest positions. (It’s still bloody difficult, though, because of how systemic racism is. It just means that it’s finally not impossible.)
People are allowed to use their vote how they see fit, and that is the very purpose of giving it to them; we don’t have the right to deny them that, no matter how many times politicians seem to think so (by gutting the Voting Rights Act, forever increasing ID laws, the constant gerrymandering, decreasing the number of polling stations, and so on). Some people are going to use a much more simplistic set of standards than others, and that’s okay; it’s based on what they believe is important, and it’s not my place to tell them otherwise. (Similarly, how about we point out that many of the Republican candidates seem to be doing just fine with going in on single-issue platforms – we hate everyone who isn’t like us – with no one really crying about that?)
If identity is your most important criteria for voting for someone, that’s fine. I may disagree with you (and that’s okay), but I want you to make your own decisions; it’s not my place, or anyone else’s, to tell you how and who to vote for.
But it is interesting to consider: Why is it that identity is only a factor when it’s a person who isn’t white, isn’t straight, and isn’t a cissexual man? And how many times are we going to hear “Women only voted for Hillary because she’s a woman?” should she win the nomination? And if Bernie’s to win, how frequently will we hear “Jewish people only voted for him because he’s Jewish?”
Because I’m betting it’ll be quite a lot, and it will most certainly ignore the numbers or logic as to why they won, especially over any of the possible Republican nominations. I mean, it’ll be obviously difficult to figure out why we would vote for either of them when we’ve got some amazing xenophobic contestants on the other side. (And we’re kind of stuck with two options because of ballot access laws, but that’s a topic for another day.)