Monthly Archives: August 2014

The 10 Kinds of Trolls You Will Encounter When Talking About Mike Brown

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If you’re paying attention to the events unfolding in Ferguson—and by God, you better be—then you probably already know there is a group of people in this country of ours who are determined to change the focus of the conversation about the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent protests, attempting to shift the lens away from the Constitutional rights of US citizens and the murder of a black teenager. If you’re reading this, you probably already know the folks I’m talking about. But here they are. #Staywoke.

The Full-Blown Racist Troll (trigger warning)

Block on sight. Some of them are friends of your Facebook friends—block them. Some of them are your Facebook friends. Many of them are accounts like the one I have screenshotted below: anonymous and relying on blatantly racist language, such as blackface imagery, monkey references, use of the N-word, etc. These have exploded over the last week. We’re talking hundreds. I’ve been using Twitter avidly for years and I can’t recall ever seeing quite this much racist bile taking over an event-related hashtag (#Ferguson) as I have this week. Block them and report them for spam immediately.

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The “Wait for Evidence” Troll

This troll may or may not be anonymous and pretends to be focused on respecting and upholding the law. “We don’t know what happened yet,” they say, “wait for evidence before you lambast an officer of the law.” They pretend that things like racism, police brutality, police corruption, etc. don’t exist and insist that if concrete evidence is released, they will be swayed to feel “sympathy” for Mike Brown. But they won’t. When evidence arises, they find objection to its relevance or veracity. They then transform into The “Mike Brown Shouldn’t Have [insert human action here]” Troll, to follow.

The “Mike Brown Shouldn’t Have [insert human action here]” Troll

This troll (and the others as well) will go great lengths to justify the taking of black life. “He shouldn’t have run,” “he shouldn’t have been sagging,” “he shouldn’t have been walking down the middle of the street,” “he shouldn’t have stolen something.” These trolls come in all races and will insist that when a police officer (or a homeowner, or a security guard) assaults a person of color, that person must have done something to deserve it. The fact that Mike Brown was shot at least 6 times doesn’t register as overkill, even when two of those shots were in the head. They will also extend effort to paint Ferguson as a ghetto, where this kind of thing happens all the time. Nope. Ferguson, Missouri had zero murders until Officer Darren Wilson killed Mike Brown.

The “Police Are the Good Guys” Troll

These folks have a blissfully naïve version of police in their heads, the one fed to them since they were children that says police are the good guys and that no matter what they do, they must have had a reason. These people have no concept—or pretend to have no concept—of the depth of white supremacy and the way it is ingrained in every facet of our culture…even our police. Because they believe the police are always right—and usually because they also believe that groups of black people are inherently violent—they have no qualms about police dressed in military gear, sitting on tanks and tear-gassing American citizens. ‘Murica. You may also hear these trolls say, “What about due process?” Well…we would proceed with due process. If they would actually arrest Darren Wilson. Which they haven’t. So…

The “Violence Just Begets More Violence” Troll

These people are the riot-shamers. They roll out the word “looters!” at every chance and are not interested in the fact that only a small number of people at the protests have actively looted, or that Ferguson protestors actually locked arms to prevent said looting. These trolls hide behind anonymous accounts, they masquerade as sane coworkers, and they work for CNN and other major media outlets. They focus on the “unrest” in Ferguson and talk about it out of context in an attempt to 1) divert attention away from the killing of an unarmed black teenager and/or 2) disguise their lack of critical thought. As Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous said so well in this post:

“a community pushing back against a murderous police force that is terrorizing them is not a ‘riot’. It’s an uprising. It’s a rebellion. It’s a community saying We can’t take this anymore. We won’t take it. It’s people who have been dehumanized to the point of rightful rage. And it happens all over the world. Uprisings and rebellions are necessary and inevitable, locally and globally. This is not to say that actual riots don’t happen. White folks riot at sporting events, for example. Riots happen. But people rising up in righteous anger and rage in the face of oppression should not be dismissed as simply a ‘riot’.”

The Concern Troll

These are among the more passive aggressive trolls you will encounter. They not only target victims like Mike Brown with statements like “I wish he hadn’t stolen those cigars: he might be alive,” but target the community as well, saying things like “Should they really be out there protesting with little kids? I worry about that kind of parenting.”
Let me make one thing clear in case you weren’t sure: these people aren’t worried about the children of Ferguson. They’re not actually “concerned” at all,” despite their title. These people employ words like “worry” and “I wish” and “concern” to communicate their disapproval of black people doing anything besides playing the Martin Baker role. If they were actually concerned, they would see the images of police with hidden badge numbers, tear-gassing eight-year old girls, and be concerned about the escalation of violence police in Ferguson are responsible for.

The “But What About Black on Black Crime!” Troll

Yes, 85% of violent crime against black people is perpetuated by other black people. But guess what? The exact same is true for violent crime committed against white people: the vast majority of those crimes are committed by other white people. People who use the term “black on black crime” either 1) work for Fox News, 2) are seeking to portray black people as violent and out of control, and/or 3) seek to portray black people as only caring about black lives when there is a way to blame white people. Let’s run that back: 1) If they work for Fox News…you already know. 2) If we’re going to make sweeping statements about people being violent and out of control, perhaps we should focus on young white males. 3) Anyone who would fit with #3 is not interested in facts, otherwise they would be aware of the vast number of organizations and movements to end gun violence in black neighborhoods…spearheaded by black people. The real motivation behind this troll (and all of them really) is to distract from the matter at hand, and that’s that an unarmed black teen is dead.

The “Don’t Make This A Racial Issue!” Troll

These are the pearl-clutchers. “This could have happened to anyone! Let’s not make this a racial issue and instead focus on getting this cop off the street!” Yes, we should focus on getting this cop off the street, but we must also focus on the conditions that made this murder possible, and that is one of racism, white supremacy, and police violence that has been being built and rebuilt since the birth of this country. No, this wouldn’t have just happened to anyone. A black male is killed by police every 28 hours in America. This is a racial issue.
These trolls will also accuse you of being racist for talking about racism and start quoting to you all the times black people perpetuated “reverse racism” against white people. Suggested action? Block and keep it moving.

The Misinformation Bots

These are particularly dangerous and I have seen a lot of them in the past week. I won’t speculate on where they come from—although I have a fairly good idea—but their sole purpose is to spread misinformation about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson, targeting people tweeting under the #Ferguson and #MikeBrown hashtags and sending them to false articles on homemade websites about alternate eyewitnesses that saw Brown attack Wilson, etc. Don’t engage with these people: they likely get paid for it. Report them as spam and, you guessed it: keep it moving.

The “I Wish We Could All Just Get Along” Troll

These trolls might mean well. They might. But that doesn’t mean they’re not trolls. You post/tweet an article and they tweet back, “This is all really bad, but I wish this wasn’t happening. Can’t we all just get along?” They’re trolling you. We all wish we could get along. But right now a boy is dead and is receiving no justice by the system that supposedly exists to protect him. Injecting Pollyanna-isms aren’t helping anyone. If you really want to help and the frontlines aren’t for you, just donate to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund. And stay out of the way.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. When a black person is killed in America, trolls come out of the woodwork in an attempt to justify or distract from the taking of that life. After finishing this post, I’m not even sure “troll” is the right word, but I’m not sure if I have a better one either. Weights, perhaps. Cinder blocks shackled to the rising tide of Americans who want better, believe in better; who see the murder of another black kid in America and say “enough.” These people are not merely trolls. “Troll” implies something harmless, a faceless entity in the underbelly of the Internet. These people are not harmless. They are part of the problem. Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for the problem they pose: they are not interested in self-education. They are not interested in empathy. They are not interested in challenging the worldview that has tucked them in at night and told them the police are here for our protection and that black people deserve what they get. They are interested only in standing very still, while the rest of us move forward. All I can say is this: move on without them. Block, report, and move on without them. Even when they’re friends.

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10 Things White Privilege Has Done for Me in 10 Days

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Some of the things I write most about are racism, sexism, misogynoir, and inequality in American media and pop culture, specifically the underrepresentation of women of color in the aforementioned. The reasons why are many and complicated. Almost all of my closest friendships throughout my life have been and continue to be with black and brown women, and I have been a sounding board for their pain and disenfranchisement since I was very young. I went to Columbia College Chicago, my friends struggled to find art (literature and film) where they were not only represented, but represented in nuanced and thoughtful ways that went deeper than tokenism. As a white woman, I often stood by feeling helpless, attempting to educate white people (family, classmates, Facebook) about white privilege and the consequences of underrepresentation, both for the self-esteem of children of color and for the perpetuation of white supremacist ideologies. I’m a writer, so awhile back I took to blogging as a means of communicating some of these ideas, hoping to use my white privilege to reach people and change some minds.

But something has been bugging me lately, and I haven’t been quite sure what it is, until last week when a blog I wrote about the movie Lucy reached something like 230k people and the emails started pouring in. Not all of it was “hate mail” (although some of it certainly was): a lot of it was people of color writing to say, “Cool blog. I’ve been saying this for years and no one listens.”

That’s when it hit me, and it should have hit me a lot sooner, but this white privilege shit can really make you an idiot sometimes: by talking about these issues and finding an audience, I am exercising white privilege, and while I do believe that writing about the lack of representation of people of color in Hollywood and media can have a positive effect, it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time talking about the problems with the white supremacist system we live in, but not as much time talking about the ways in which I operate in that system. I try to keep my privilege in check—I’m not always successful—but since last week, I have been actively monitoring my daily life and watching the ways in which that privilege has benefited me when it comes to the blogging and writing that I do. So here it is, 10 ways in 10 days. (Note: There are definitely more than 10, and they obviously extend beyond my writing. See Peggy MctIntosh’s work for a better and more extensive list.)

1. People read my blog about Lucy.

Re-stating this one for all the folks who skipped the intro. I wrote a blog about being tired of seeing white faces on the big screen, dissecting the movie Lucy, and (white) people actually read it. I am not saying anything new in this blog that people of color haven’t already said a thousand times, since before I was born. And this is not to say that white people never read work by non-white people. But the emails I received from white folks saying “Wow, you really opened my eyes!” is telling.

2. Even though I take issue with the underrepresentation of people of color, representation of myself is not a problem.

Despite my anger about Hollywood, media, and popular fiction (including young adult fiction) erasing black and brown protagonists, it doesn’t mean that I am not still represented everywhere. This is one I have found I need to be really careful with, as being a guest in a community isn’t the same as being part of that community. The fact that I write about underrepresentation of people of color doesn’t mean that I am underrepresented: I turn on the TV and I see white women with skin and hair like mine. I go the movie theater and I am bombarded with men and women who look like me, not relegated to the role of servant, slave, or token. (I’m looking at you, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and well, pretty much every movie ever. See this great infographic by Lee and Low Publishers about the diversity gap in sci-fi and fantasy films.)

3. Some white people think I’m brave and cool.

I have gotten emails from white folks telling me that they admire me, etc. and that what I’m doing is important. Although I appreciate these emails, I can’t help but wonder if they are sending the same emails to women like @TheTrudz and @FeministaJones, black women who daily do far more important work than I and receive 100x as much hate mail. They are brave and brilliant. And so, so cool.

4. White people don’t see me as an outsider.

Granted, I’ve gotten quite a bit of nasty email and I have not even bothered to read the comments on the last several blogs I’ve written. (Sorry, folks: self-care.) But my criticism of Hollywood (and white people) does not hurt me on a grand scale, nor does anyone assume I speak for the entire white race. No one is reading my blogs and saying, “She’s just angry because she’s a [insert marginalized group here]. That’s how they all think.” I’m given the benefit of validity because I’m white.

5. No one thinks I’m selfish.

When people of color write about issues (in whatever arena or industry) that affect people of color, they are often labeled as self-seeking or only interested in causes that affect them, rather than being seen as valid providers of lived experience. So while people may read my blogs and say I’m a dick or that I’m missing major aspects of the way racism operates—both of which might be true—it generally doesn’t include the idea that I’m only in it for myself.

6. I can make punctuation and grammatical mistakes without people chalking it up to my race.

Hey, I make typos. We all do. But when people who are reading work by people of color and looking for a reason to discredit them, punctuation and grammar are often attacked as a way of undermining the argument. I can spell “platypus” like “plattapuss,” and people will say, “She can’t spell platypus. She’s dumb.” Not, “She can’t spell platypus. She’s dumb because she’s [insert marginalized group here].”

7. I can reply angrily to nasty comments without people chalking it up to my race.

This is an extension of #6 but it deserves its own, because it’s something that I see women of color struggle with a lot, both in life and online/in social media. A troll leaves a nasty comment or sends a viciously racist tweet, and the woman in question will respond with something snappy, and the troll will then go on to say, “See, angry black woman. What do you expect?” I, on the other hand, can reply with all the nastiness in the world, and while my womanhood will likely be attacked (“bitch,” “cunt,” etc.), my race will not.

8. People buy my book.

I wrote a sci-fi novel for my two best friends (Hi Hope! Hi Tasha!) and so the heroine is a woman of color kicking ass in the apocalypse. People are buying it, excited about the prospect of a non-white character in this scenario. But many of them have never heard of Octavia Butler. Many of them have never heard of Nnedi Okorafor. My white privilege has made me and my work visible, and some folks wrongly think I am the first to do what I’ve done. I am not. I am not. Don’t get me wrong, I want people to buy my book. But what I cannot let happen is the erasure of women of color who have done what I’m doing first. (Note: this is not to say that I have sold even close to as many books as Nnedi Okorafor, and especially not Octavia Butler. But when we’re talking about literary traditions, the fact that some of my white readers have read my book but not theirs is telling and problematic.)

9. My writing isn’t limited by the market to tales of slavery and servitude.

Although a lot of my subject matter confronts issues of race, my white privilege is a bubble around me when it comes to my future in writing and publishing. Too many of my author and poet friends have expressed frustration about approaching agents and publishers with their books, only to be told, “Well, maybe if you centered the story around slavery or racism.” My writing isn’t required to focus on aspects of my race and cultural experience, where people of color are often asked to act as a spokesperson or historian with their work. I pitched a young adult fantasy series, and all I was told is “Cool.”

10. I can stop writing/thinking about racism and my life will not change much.

One of the things about white privilege is that it’s like a steam bath. If you get tired of fighting or exhausted from battling against racist institutions, you can sink down into the bath, relax, and let the steam cloud your vision. I can sit down and watch a movie with a whitewashed cast, turn off my brain, and enjoy images of myself reflected back to me. If I stopped thinking and writing about racism, my life wouldn’t change, aside from a few less emails in my inbox calling me a “race traitor bitch,” my life would continue unaffected. Such is white privilege. The ability to not think, to not be constantly aware of your race, its presence and absence.

This article itself is a manifestation of white privilege. I will post it online and people will probably read it, and this list will start all over again. But I think I need to keep talking about this stuff, because writing a blog about whiteness in Hollywood is not enough. Writing 100 blogs about whiteness in Hollywood is not enough. I hope this time that the emails I get from white readers are more than “You’re right, there is an overrepresentation of white people in Hollywood!” and venture into “You’re right, our own whiteness is at work in intricate ways.” Change starts at home, and the real place I live is in my body.

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