Talib Kweli’s Twitter Fingers

As a child, most of the music I listened to was whatever my parents were listening to. I heard the pop and rap on the radio, but also older R&B and reggae. When I was thirteen, I started listening to music independently, getting into the alternative rock that was popular in England (my home at the time). As I grow older, I continuously seek out older music of many genres, wanting to diversify my tastes.

I first heard about Talib Kweli Greene (known professionally as Talib Kweli) when I was doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa. I forget the context for his name being brought up, but I believe he may have been doing a show somewhere in the city. Years later, when I joined Twitter, I was randomly motivated to find his account. To this day, I have not listened to his music. I will, but this post isn’t about his artistry. Anyone who follows Kweli knows he isn’t afraid to engage anyone who tweets to him or about him. Some of these tweets come from people criticizing his career or music for one reason or another, but a lot of the ones I’ve seen are people who accuse him of being racist.

As I’ve discussed before, “colour-blind racism” is the modern racism. It is a naive mindset that racism, both instutional and individual, is dead now except for those pesky people wearing white hoods. It treats any mention of race as being racist, while also defending comments, mindsets and behaviours that rely on racist assumptions. People will say they don’t see colour, and then argue that black people would get killed by cops less if they just obeyed the law. People will say they don’t see colour, but then refuse to date anyone whose skin doesn’t match their own. People will say they don’t see colour, but then assume a black person with a good job isn’t qualified for it.

Racists are drawn to Kweli like moths to the flame. There is a sort of vicious cycle at work, where someone attempts to call Talib out for perceived racism, e.g. Talib’s declarations of being proudly black or his previous responses to another racist. Then once Talib dismantles this racist’s arguments, another jumps in to attack him because he dared to discuss race. Such is the hypocrisy of the colour-blind racist. While they have their own racist assumptions and beliefs, they are quick to throw out the word racist for those who call them out on it. “I’m not racist, you politically correct social justice warriors, (other right wing buzzwords) race-baiters are the real racists. I just think I should be able to say I don’t want more black people in my neighborhood without libtards attacking me. Black people are violent after all! That’s not racist, I have black friends.”

I have sometimes wondered why Kweli bothers to respond to these people, and some tweets from fans have also expressed the same question. Some of the haters accused Kweli of doing nothing but tweeting all day, but a look at his touring and musical output shows he is a productive artist. He handles time well, but I guess I still wondered why he bothers. Then I read Kweli’s own answer to the question, and it all made sense.

People are always quick to label racist online comments as the work of “trolls”, people who write inflammatory comments and derive enjoyment from the uproar they produce. The word “troll” implies that the poster doesn’t actually believe what they wrote, they are just saying it to see how people react. This kind of mindset, where we just ignore online racists, is downright irresponsible in this day and age. As Kweli points out, the alt-right is an entity that was birthed online. Real people reside behind the alt-right sites and comments that have proliferated online. These people have jobs, families and the ability to vote. They got Trump elected, with their own votes and their ability to spread misinformation that reinvigorated the resentment of minorities that many people in America harbour. Kweli combats racism through campaigns and events and he knows “twitter fingers” may not be for everyone, but it is one of the tools he employs to combat the ignorance that is stoked by this new climate of right wing backlash.

The people who decide to accuse Kweli of racism demonstrate one racist assumption after another, and a straw-man understanding of concepts like white privilege. User @adamant919 had the audacity to use the term “black privilege” to describe black people’s supposed natural gifts and our “handouts” with programs like affirmative action, which actually benefit white women more and don’t lead to unqualified applicants getting selected for jobs. Funny enough, the user appears to have deleted his account since. This isn’t the first user that has deleted his account following an encounter with Kweli and it gives me some hope that some people might realize the error of their ways. However, someone can delete their account out of a sense of embarrassment, without actually reflecting on their views.

This Slate article offers an interesting case study of the infamous Hunger Games (2012) racist backlash, where supposed fans were upset that the character Rue was played by a black girl, even though Rue is described as having dark brown skin in the book. One fan began collecting these racist tweets, such as “Rue being black ruined the movie” and created a tumblr account to showcase them. This article follows up on this tumblr account, reaching out to some of the twitter users to get their thoughts.

The user who wrote this tweet argued that she didn’t mean to be racist. She was just surprised that Rue was black since Rue was supposed to remind Katniss (the white, main character) of her sister. Firstly, “remind her of” doesn’t always mean “look like”. If she was truly “colour-blind” then Rue’s skin colour shouldn’t have even registered with her. Aside from the terrible excuse offered by the twitter user, the author brings up a point that a lot of people like to use for defending racists online: “This kind of drive-by scapegoating does not seem conducive to genuine reflection (and it definitely doesn’t encourage reflection in the individuals it scapegoats).  It allows us to point the finger at other, younger, relatively powerless people, rather than consider the ways in which we’re implicated in a problem that is much, much larger than a few misguided teenagers on Twitter.”

I have heard people say the same thing to Kweli about his Twitter comments, and it usually comes across as very disengenious. Some of the users from the Hunger Games example may be teenagers, but some of them are grown men and women. The same goes for the alt-right. People who throw out the “don’t shame people” argument out act as if there are no attempts made to examine racism on a much larger scale. There is plenty of information online, in classes, on tv that sheds light on the much larger problem of institutional racism. People choose to ignore these sources. People choose ignorance. They reject enlightenment as left wing propaganda, the work of libtards or social justice warriors. People surround themselves with friends and sources who share the same views and refuse to challenge any of their assumptions about the world. How exactly should their racist comments be dealt with?  Conservatives love to throw out the argument of free speech to defend bigotry and no one is saying they don’t have the right to make such comments. My question is: If someone is willing to go online and criticize someone’s skin colour or attack a rapper for his liberal beliefs, why are we discouraged from exercising our free speech and shining the spotlight back on them?

As Kweli says, if someone is already racist “when I respond to them, it doesn’t matter what facts I give or how much sense I make. They’re going to be who they are.” Being kinder to the racists won’t make them more prone to ‘reflection.” The real purpose behind responding is to avoid having your message become silenced. There were probably millions of people, viewing one racist comment after another from the alt-right and thinking that all those comments wouldn’t have any impact on their lives. They stayed silent, and let misinformation and racist rhetoric fill the void. They may as well have packed Trump’s things and moved them into the White House for him.

Social Media and The “Lynch Mob”

I have always been interested in the debate concerning social media and its effects on people’s lives. There have been numerous cases of someone receiving offline harassment, threats, employment loss or even violence due to something that originated online. Since 2014 we have had movements like Gamergate come into the woodwork, attacking the supposed corrupting influence of feminism in video games and defending death threats as a manifestation of their free speech. This becomes the crux of the argument about social media and its real world effects. If we have freedom of speech, why should people care what we say about people online or in a video?

Earlier this week, comedian Patton Oswalt criticized Trump in one of his tweets. Real estate agent Tony Brust then responded, “”Oh (bleep), the little troll has an opinion again”. This first comment is insulting and unimaginative, but it is not the tweet that resulted in Brust losing his job. Instead of quitting while he was ahead, Brust decided to bring Oswalt’s deceased wife into the argument: “I’m a psychic and I am channeling his wife’s opinions.”

Once Oswalt’s twitter followers saw this tweet, they also noticed that Brust was using his professional social media to tweet. Users immediately found the link to Jim Maloof realtor’s and began calling the company and posting complaints about Brust’s behaviour. Brust is now out of a job.

People may disagree with me for this, but I see this as a form of poetic justice. Many will be quick to use the free speech excuse, but I find that many people misunderstand what free speech means. Brust did not go to jail for his tweet. That is the crux of freedom of speech, freedom to criticize the government and law enforcement without legal consequences. Freedom of speech does not mean that someone is immune to criticism and consequences from their peers. The government didn’t demand Brust’s resignation, Oswalt’s twitter followers did. Maloof Realty had to distance themselves from the bad press and did so in the most logical way. It is their freedom to choose to protect their reputation and their earnings by cutting off the cancerous tumour.

I also find that people often forget that freedom of speech is a double-edged sword. For example, President Trump said the Hamilton cast was out of line for criticizing Vice President Pence, but he also supported the unfounded allegations that Obama is a foreign-born Muslim. Trump had no problem using his freedom of speech to assert that a President’s birth certificate isn’t valid, but he was also insulted that the Hamilton cast would have go off-script to address his VP. People invoke freedom of speech as an excuse when people express views they do not agree with.

An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama‘s birth certificate is a fraud.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012

From http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/donald-trump-birther/

I make it clear that I don’t agree with bigoted comments, and I don’t criticize someone simply for having the audacity to say something bigoted. I pick apart their argument for inaccuracies and bias. I always thought this argument of freedom of speech vs social media was isolated to teenagers and young adults who were still mentally maturing. If my time as a teaching assistant served as any indication, the next generation has a long way to go. Anyways, debate about this online from the Chicago Tribune to Cracked demonstrates that people of all ages are divided about Brust’s fate. Aside from the freedom of speech argument, some argue that “lynch mobs” don’t help anyone. This complaint also comes across as hypocritical since lynch mobs like Gamer-gate are often supported or defended  (usually with the excuse of free speech as well). It is alright to send death threats to women for their involvement in video games, but it is not okay to get someone fired for cruel comments they publicly made to someone else. I honestly suspect that the people jumping to Brust’s defence either support what he said, or are sympathetic because they often make similar comments online.

Employment is partly based on skill, but should also factor in someone’s character. I wouldn’t want someone like Brust to sell me a house or an apartment. Some may think it is cruel that he lost his job over something so foolish, but that is his problem. Brust is the one who didn’t have enough restraint and foresight to see the consequences of his actions. As the Cracked article explains, studies have found that people with more empathy have a better understanding of actions and consequences. Brust clearly lacks the necessary empathy, and maturity, to realize that his short-sighted tweet took things too far. Why is he worthy of our empathy? Social media is not private. You can make some profile’s visible only to a limited circle of people, but once you engage in an argument or conversation with someone else, the conversation becomes public. If you can apply for a job online, don’t be surprised that you can also lose one online. Public actions, have consequences.

 

Updates

Hello everyone,

Likely won’t be posting again until Monday so I thought I would wrap up this week with some updates.

Firstly, analytics are now installed and they reveal that my instagram accounts and other social media have barely helped to increase readership. I got caught in the trap of assuming that vanity metrics (followers, retweets etc.) equaled engagement. If you are a reader or a user who has joined through social media, it is much appreciated.

There are times when I have tweeted a link to an article and assumed that everyone who liked the post must have read it. Checking the amount of “link clicks” then makes it clear that some people just liked the tweet and ignored the link. Maybe a certain word caught their attention. I had one post that criticized girls who “like hockey players“. It seems like a bunch of girls just saw the words “hockey players” and thought “I like hockey players!” before liking the tweet.

Although my dream is to make a living writing full-time my more practical career goal is to become involved in public relations. PR emphasizes the importance of social media for increasing visits to a website and increased engagement. Although there are many successful examples of this, it appears that I need to take my own website as an object lesson of a social media campaign that has yielded poor results. I’m going to have to look into the steps I need to take to convert more twitter followers and Instagram users into readers of the website. It is great to have an audience on other platforms, but my original goal was to create one large audience instead of multiple, splintered ones.

On to less depressing material… I finished reading 100 Bullets and will be writing a short review for comicommand over the weekend.  I am currently reading Preacher and the first five issues already have me hooked. I might check out the tv show afterwards.

For those reading this, have a great weekend.

The Doctor

The pain cut through my neck, travelling down my right shoulder before it mercifully ended at my elbow,

A single muscle was the cause of all my problems,

I could feel the corrupted strand snaking through my body, poisoning everything around it,

It was the reason I struggled to open a door, to lift a cup, to sleep on my right side,

 

I spent hours tossing and turning,

Finding a good position before pain would shoot through my arm and wake me again,

My eyes were open but I knew I was tired,

I knew I wasn’t alert and that my mind could play tricks on me,

That’s why I didn’t move when I saw a dull white light making its way towards me,

It wasn’t moonlight filtering in through the blinds,

It seemed to come out of nowhere, emerging from the wall and making its way towards my bed,

 

I knew my exhausted mind was being deceived,

Maybe moonlight was reflecting off another surface and creating the illusion,

It kept moving closer, and I kept watching,

Waiting for the light to go away,

As the light came within a few feet of my bed I realized it wasn’t light,

White pants, white shirt, white surgical mask,

 

I suddenly wasn’t groggy anymore,

I raised myself up on my left hand, and the illusion didn’t go away,

The figure was coming towards me, and there was a needle in its left hand,

My left hand went to its stomach, but only hit air,

The figure stopped and began walking back to the wall,

It still faced me,

It was too dark to make out its eyes, but I knew I was still under its gaze,

My heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest,

My mouth felt like sandpaper, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t yell,

The figure kept retreating, and as he kept backing up he vanished into the wall,

 

I nearly fell as I made my way for the light switch,

With the room bathed in light, there was no sign of anyone else,

I went to the wall, running my hand all over it,

I didn’t know what I was looking for,

An answer, but I had no idea what type of answer I wanted,

 

I sat on my bed, with the light on,

I don’t know when I fell asleep,

After staring at the wall, I awoke to my alarm,

 

I couldn’t focus on what happened last night,

There were more important things ahead of me,

As I reached for my bathroom door,

I realized I did so with my right hand,

My right hand was no longer hurting,

The Validation Machine

Our society is crumbling under a new epidemic,

This is not a sickness that comes and goes, like the flu,

Or one that will have its time in the spotlight before it’s overcome, like Ebola,

We are dealing with a disease that will mutate and become the black plague of this generation,

A renaissance will not follow the plague this time,

This disease will bring us out of our renaissance and into the dark ages,

The disease has many forms and is known by many names,

There are many ways for it to be transmitted, but there is one that I want to target,

The disease is narcissism and the instrument of transmission is social media,

 

Blaming social media is too simplistic though,

The disease starts before we are even old enough to use it,

We have parents who tell their kids that they are great at everything,

That every terrible piece of art they present is astounding,

That every participation ribbon they receive is the mark of a champion,

These children grow into teens, who aren’t ready for the real world,

The real world doesn’t coddle them the same way their parents did,

They face failure, rejection and disappointment,

With these experiences, the disgruntled teen faces two options

1) Embrace the challenges and become a better person for doing so, letting these experiences become lessons

2)   Or they can let these experiences crush their confidence, leading to a path of insecurity and overcompensation

 

Most people opt for the second option

All hail social media,

 

Likes, comments= validation,

The teen in still insecure,

They have not truly accomplished anything that gives them real confidence,

Titles like “model” are hollow,

They don’t work with an agency,

All their pictures and ‘profound’ thoughts aren’t part of a wider effort to promote work they have created or a brand they are developing,

Their bodies, their vapid minds are the totality of their brand,

I do not want to focus on women either,

Men are guilty of this attention seeking as well, either through posting pictures or pining for women in other pictures,

 

Men desperately seek their own validation: attention from the opposite sex, maybe even the same sex

Yet these same men will be taken aback when people they talk to are stuck up and rude,

Don’t spend your free time inflating someone’s ego with likes and comments, and then be surprised when they develop a superiority complex,

You may not talk to all the same people you follow and like on social media,

But you must realize that most people you speak to are on the quest for validation,

They will have their own horde of adoring men and women who make things worse for you,

This horde gives them the ego needed to disregard the people they speak to in real life,

We are all part of the cycle of insecurity, validation and narcissism,

When society crumbles this time,

It won’t be due to a great war,

It will be an insidious disease that slowly stripped away the foundations of hard work, civility and resilience,