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.

More Right-Wing Straw Mans

For those of you who do not know, a straw man argument is an argument that does not address the argument an opponent made. Typically, the straw man is created by either exaggerating or simplifying an opponent’s argument

For example

Person 1: Racism still impacts minorities

Person 2 (Straw Man): You’re saying minorities shouldn’t work hard since racism holds them back anyway!

This may seem like an exaggeration on my part but the online realm is rife with straw man arguments. This post is actually motivated by an argument some racist (sorry, alt-righter) presented on twitter. According to them, acknowledging that racism still impacts minorities just gives minorities a license to become lazy. Sadly, this thread was met with a wave of support and criticism of liberals who would try to create a utopia where no one has to work hard.

This particular straw man argument is a very popular one and shows the strength of denial and straw man arguments. A lot of people on the right wing, and those sympathetic to them, love to complain about liberals being the ones that never listen to the other side or heed facts that contradict their world view. This straw man argument is one example of an argument that is borne out of willful ignorance.

No reputable figure who studies racism or even acknowledges its impact tries to argue that minorities shouldn’t bother to work hard or improve themselves, since racism will stop their progress anyway. This is not an argument that liberals make. There is plenty of evidence to show that racism still impacts minorities, such as the study that people with racially ambiguous names get more responses to their resumes, even though the resumes are identical. So people who don’t want to face the facts can simply ignore the actual details of the study, see the headline that says “racism” and jump to a stupid argument.

My mother never told me I shouldn’t bother to work hard because of racism. I was taught that I would have to work twice as hard to get the same respect. She was right. If I fail, it’s because I’m a lazy black guy. If I succeed, people assume I am unqualified because they don’t understand how affirmative action works.

We are stuck in a cycle where people say we can work hard and succeed, and are then treated with suspicion if we do succeed. Racist assumptions abound as people wonder if we AA’d our way in or if we are selling drugs to support our lifestyle. This is the beautiful colour-blind world we live in.

Jason Isaacs and Free Speech

I have previously discussed the phenomenon of people who don’t believe that celebrities are allowed to have opinions. Any political comment, whether it is in an interview or on social media, is derided as inappropriate and a breach of some supposed social contract.

I don’t despite this mindset simply because it has resulted in some actors I like being vehemently criticized. I despise this mindset because of the inherent hypocrisy in it.

The most recent example I will use is a tweet I came across from Jason Isaacs, who expertly called out a Star Trek fan who said his political views are alienating the Star Trek Fan base.

 

So here we see a fan who feels like Jason Isaac’s political views are affecting “the fan base”, which we can translate to “me”. This fan is not speaking out on behalf of others, he is speaking out on behalf of himself. Isaacs previously criticized Trump via tweets and retweets of anti-Trump videos, so this *whitegenocide believer felt the need to call Isaacs out. It is obvious that someone who repeatedly uses the hashtag #whitegenocide doesn’t believe in the value of diversity and is likely to support the President who said Mexico “doesn’t send its best” to America and who also wants to keep Muslims out. So, instead of saying that he disagrees with Isaac’s political views, this twitter user simply tries to say that entertainers as a whole are not allowed to express political opinions.

It looks like @Eye_of_Empire has deleted some of the tweets in the thread since, but his original response to Isaacs appealed to the principle of free speech. So after criticizing someone for exercising their free speech, this user says his comment is appropriate because it was his legal right. Isaacs has that legal right too. Fine, maybe you want to argue that Isaacs is an actor so it is different. It shouldn’t be. Actors are real people too, with their own fears, values and political beliefs.

The real question here is if @Eye_of_Empire would be as upset with Jason Isaacs if Isaacs repeatedly proclaimed his love for Trump and his belief in White Genocide. I doubt that would bother @Eye_of_Empire as much. The idea that actors shouldn’t have opinions is a smokescreen for “actors shouldn’t express views different from mine”. If I disagree with an actor’s political views I say that I disagree, I don’t pretend like my anger is about the principle of actors discussing politics.

I was tempted to pursue another topic for this post but I decided to continue with this one because the irony is a godsend. Diversity and acceptance have always been themes of Star Trek, where people of different races (human and alien) look past their differences and work together. Star Trek even has the distinction of having tv’s first interracial kiss between Uhura and Captain Kirk in 1968. So we have this apparent longtime fan of the show who is disgusted by an actor who speaks out against the bigot in Chief. Welcome to America.

Imperium’s Portrayal of White Supremacists

Imperium (2016) follows Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) as he infiltrates a white supremacist group in order to prevent an act of domestic terrorism. I was originally intending to do a review of the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Radcliffe is amazing as Foster, and Toni Collette is masterful as his supervising officer, Angela Zamparo.

I decided to forgo a review and focus on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. I tried to go to IMDB to discuss the film itself, its acting, its ending etc. However, most posters are still hung up on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. In many ways, they come across as people offended or amused by how white supremacists are represented. Or they are simply annoyed that a film on white supremacy was made.

Imperium interested me when I first heard about the film, due to its exploration of white supremacy through the eyes of an undercover agent. I have previously discussed Imperium on this blog, since the backlash the film received was highly indicative of racism. IMDB was filled with one thread after another criticizing Hollywood for creating more “left wing propaganda” that was attacking white men and making them “feel guilty”.

White supremacists exist, and we shouldn’t be banned from showing them on screen because some insecure people might see it as a personal attack. Of course, these same people will argue that anyone who complains about negative portrayals of minorities in films are “politically correct” or “social justice warriors”. To them, it only matters if American society’s dominant group, straight white men, are depicted negatively. Imperium does not depict all white men in the film as bad guys. After all, Radcliffe’s character and his supervising officer are both white people, but the alt-right doesn’t want to see any white people portrayed negatively. Meanwhile, minorities must simply disregard every single negative portrayal of themselves since it is “just a movie”. These negative portrayals don’t make us “feel guilty” but they do bother us since we see them so often.

One of the alt-right’s most popular arguments is that Imperium should focus on more pressing issues, like Islamic extremism. Firstly, most terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslim Americans. Even if Muslims were the most deadly terrorists in the US, is a film only allowed to show a fictionalized version of society’s most pressing issues? Would these same people criticize films about serial killers because most murders aren’t caused by serial killers?

Of course, there were also IMDB users who openly defend groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation since there is nothing wrong with having white pride. Even groups that are openly racist reject the label of “racist”, which is why phrases like “I’m not racist but…” are so popular nowadays. I won’t spend anytime trying to enlighten such people.

I read American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate for a university assignment and was interested to see if this film would reflect any of the case studies explored in the book.

One key theme of the book is that white supremacists are no longer just uneducated rednecks. It is comforting to think that white supremacists all live in the back woods, but that is not fact. American Swastika explored white supremacists of varying education levels, classes and careers. Off the top of my head, one of them was a manager at a technical support company. Many of the ones studied were middle-class or upper-middle class, just like the white supremacists we see in the film. Many of the white supremacists in American Swastika were typical suburban families in many ways, which only makes them more unsettling. The whole point of the book is that someone in your neighbourhood, or maybe even your neighbour, could be a white supremacist.

There was one post on IMDB where a user criticized the film for showing a white supremacist barbecue where one of the wives was serving cupcakes decorated with swastikas.

The cupcakes might seem over the top but American Swastika describes birthday parties where parents would decorate their children’s cakes with white supremacist symbols. Homes are a “safe space” where people can invite other like-minded individuals and unabashedly embrace their views. However, it is easier to see the cupcakes and dismiss it as the work of liberals instead of realizing that such gatherings happen every year in the US. This poster obviously didn’t do his own research either. He saw the cupcakes, and assumed that they were a ridiculous Hollywood creation. Since he calls out “liberals” for their supposed mistake, we can assume he is a conservative and probably someone who was watching the movie feeling like he was personally being attacked. Therefore, he was eager to pick apart the film’s premise and portrayal of white supremacists.

White supremacists aren’t such a fanatical “lunatic fringe” any longer. They realize the importance of blending in from day to day, whether it is in the suburbs, or in a diverse urban environment. Imperium portrays them accurately and if this accurate portrayal scares you, good. It’s supposed to.