Debate Me

I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and decided to check in on Talib Kweli’s feed. I have previously discussed the racists who continuously flock to his feed to accuse him of “race-baiting”. Although Kweli has a busy touring schedule he engages racists in debate, shutting down the incorrect assumptions, or straight out incorrect data that they use to justify their views. Seeing all of the foolish things they say, such as “racism isn’t racist” can be infuriating, but I believe it is also a window into the souls of the new breed of racists. People always love to call these people “trolls”, which implies they aren’t actually racist and are just saying racist things for attention. However, this mindset is downright dangerous in this day and age. Steve Bannon, former chairman of far-right site, Breitbart, has even said that online hate “is an army” that politicians can mobilize.

So, when I look at all the hate directed to Kweli’s profile, I don’t disregard it all as unimportant trolling. I can see the thought process of the people who cling to the idea that the straight, Christian, white man is now the real persecuted minority. One thing that pops up time after time, is the “debate me” gimmick. Racists flock to Kweli’s profile, asking him to debate them on their world view. He cuts their arguments apart, and when he shows them statistics or arguments that they disagree with, they focus on more trivial things to avoid admitting they were wrong e.g. “You called me racist, you’re just a name caller…freedom of speech.”

Kweli has said it better than me, but there seems to be a collective misunderstanding of what freedom of speech means. Freedom of speech does not mean everything you say is right, or that everyone myst agree with what you say. In the simplest terms, it means you can’t get arrested for speaking out. If you say something racist, it is legal to do so in America. If someone decides to ridicule you for what you said, that is their freedom of speech, and it is not violating yours. Freedom of speech does not only apply to what you want to say or hear, so don’t use it as a crutch when people disagree with what you say.

Aside from the misunderstanding of free speech, is the desire to be spoon fed information. I can’t count the amount of times some Trump supporter on Twitter says, “Show me one example of Trump being racist.” If these people really wanted to find this information, they could just Google it. The fact that they are on Twitter means they have internet access for some portion of their day. The information is there if they wanted to search for it. Instead, they will likely use Google to search “Reasons Trump is not racist” and ignore all of the information to the contrary. We are all guilty of this selective exposure to some extent. However, the information I seek out can often contradict the information someone from the alt-right will seek out. One source will likely be more reputable, not because of the name, but because of how they collect their info e.g. Ben Shapiro can give stats about police shootings, and information I find can demonstrate that the stats are skewed because they don’t factor in nearly half the police agencies in the US. This is how the internet works. You can use it to find info.

So instead of Googling “Trump racist”, some people will just post on Twitter and wait for someone else to drudge up all of the information they actively ignore everyday. When someone actually presents the info, the Trump supporter will derail the conversation with straw man arguments, ad hominem or statements that have absolutely nothing to do with the facts. Who knows, the Trump supporter might not even read the info before calling the presenter the real racist for caring so much. This isn’t just a hypothetical scenario, this is something that is played out again and again on Talib Kweli’s feed and many others.

Keaton Jones

I am sure we have all heard about this video by now. Here we see 11 year old Keaton Jones, a Tennessee native whose mother taped his heartfelt thoughts on bullying. As someone who was bullied or ostracized throughout most of elementary and high school, this video resonated with me and truly made me empathize with what appears to be a genuine victim.

The backlash this video has received over the past few days has generated numerous claims, some true and some false. This is why I waited for a few days, biding my time until fact was separated from fiction.

There were allegations that Keaton is racist, and that the bullying he received was a direct result of uttering racial slurs to some of his classmates. This fact is ubiquitous on Twitter but has yet to be verified. The principal of the school said the bullying issue has been dealt with and that no epithets were involved. You can argue the principal is trying to save face but the discrepancy still begs the question: Where is the proof that Keaton is a racist?

You may have heard Jones’s mother, Kimberly, is a racist. That is definitely possible. The picture of her posing with a Confederate flag is genuine, and she argues that she posed with it to be “ironic” or “funny” but that just seems like the desperate plea of someone who has been exposed. For those who need a history lesson, the Confederate flag is about state rights…to continue slavery. Kimberly has also criticized kneeling in the NFL, a practice which I have already discussed and defended.

Kimberly seems like another one of the people living in a post-racial utopia, brandishing a Confederate flag while complaining about the minorities who acknowledge racism and its damaging impact on their communities. Maybe she raised her son with the same naive mindset, instilling the belief that minorities could solve all this supposed racism if they just worked harder.

Who knows. Chris Evans already invited Keaton to the Avengers: Infinity War premiere and a host of other celebrities were quick to jump on the pro-Keaton bandwagon. I like to think Captain America would have hesitated to invite Keaton if he thought the boy’s mother might be a racist.

The internet has accelerated the pace that we produce and consume news but sometimes it appears there is still a delay in getting the fully story. Fake Instagram accounts spring up like weeds, showcasing a slew of racist comments supposedly uttered by Keaton or his mother.

I initially backed out of doing this article. Its direction seemed unclear to me. While I agreed that the rumours of Keaton’s use of slurs represented a lack of journalistic integrity and a mob mentality, I also disliked the mob mentality present in quickly rallying behind a bullied child whose mother started a GoFundMe for her son, as opposed to donating that money to anti-bullying organizations. One side tends to attack the other, thinking they are right. What Keaton Jones shows is that we both need to look at ourselves. The side rushing to defend and rushing to vilify both need to avoid emotional responses. They need to both examine facts, context, history in order to paint a complete picture on the internet’s canvas.