Apparently, Anthony Cumia, the shock jock better known as half of the duo “Opie and Anthony,” had a bad Tuesday night in New York. He claims that he was taking pictures when a woman just happened to wander into the frame and then assaulted him. If his account is true, it is highly unfortunate.
But whether or not Cumia was assaulted is not actually the point. Cumia himself made sure of that when he took to Twitter in the small hours on Wednesday morning to pontificate on the state of New York and African Americans in a rant amply documented by Gawker. (Both the Gawker post and links to Cumia’s tweets that appear later in this piece contain wildly obscene and offensive language.)
I first caught wind of Anthony Cumia’s tweets when one of my favourite rappers started retweeting them. At first I thought it was parody – some sort of tasteless piece of performance art that would be explained away as “satire”. My next reaction was to remember that the internet is full of people with opinions, and if you want to find hateful stuff out there, you can. But this wasn’t some anonymous nobody tweeting from some basement den for lulz, this was the host of a fairly popular radio show.
Unfortunately, the rest of this piece won’t make much sense if you don’t read the tweets, but for those of you who (wisely, I assure you) avoided clicking on the Gawker link in the pull-quote, I will attempt to summarize. Mr. Cumia claimed to have been taking photos when a black woman happened to enter the frame. She confronted Cumia angrily (allegedly physically assaulting him), and he responded by calling her a name*. A number of black men came to the aid of the young woman, who (again allegedly**) struck him repeatedly. In response to the confrontation, the assault, and the men taking the side of the assaulter rather than the assaultee, Cumia wrote a long and sweeping condemnation of the woman specifically, black people more generally, and (for some reason that eludes ready explanation) “illegals”. … Continue Reading
These days you can’t see who’s in cahoots, ’cause now the KKK wears 3-piece suits.
– Chuck D, “Rebirth”
In early August, 1969, members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. Police would find the words “Helter Skelter” written on the walls in the blood of one of the victims – a reference to Manson’s belief that a population of angry and disaffected black people would rise and violently confront their white oppressors. Manson’s intention was to use the murder of the LaBiancas and others to trigger the beginning of the “race war” that he knew was coming. It never materialized.
To this day, despite the track record of who the aggressors are in “race wars” (hint: it’s pretty much never black people), fears abound of an angry mob of savage blacks rising up and waging war on a beleaguered and long-suffering white population. In fact, in preparing to write this piece, I took a little trip through the Google looking glass and found repeated references to “the coming race war”, on pretty much exactly the kinds of sites you’d expect. Many of them made reference to the current “hidden” race war that only the likes of Glenn Beck seem to possess the wisdom to see. Remember the knockout game? Well these guys sure do, judging by the comment threads.
Whether it’s in Detroit or Black Wall Street or at Charles Manson’s house, white America has been in the thrall of its fear of “Helter Skelter” for pretty much forever. The myth, created and nurtured by white supremacy, of the savagery and inherent criminality of black people has resulted in repeated violent backlash against black communities. Backlash, incidentally, not against actual harms or danger, but against the fear of harm and danger that never seem to actually bear fruit. White America segregates itself from its black population, drinks deeply of its own racist stereotyping, becomes drunk on its own panic, and then arms itself to “defend” itself from the Negro bogeymen of its own imagination. With predictably tragic results.
Mohamed Salim is a number of things. He’s a man, he’s an American, he’s a war veteran, he’s a cab driver, he’s a son, possibly a brother or a father or a husband. Presumably he has other identities that are grounded in his personal interests: maybe gamer or Trekkie or brony or lacrosse team captain or whatever.
I went to a high school with an incredibly diverse student body. While I didn’t really recognize it at the time, I was incredibly lucky: I was surrounded at all times by people from all over the world with a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. It didn’t “force me” to be tolerant or anything like that – like all things that happen during youth I just took it in stride. It wasn’t really until I got to the largely monochromatic environs of my undergraduate program* that I realized what it was like for major parts of the rest of the country – surrounded by people who look like you, and taking it in the same stride that I took my variety of classmate.
The idea that someone would want to segregate schools is, thus, very foreign to me. My education benefitted immensely from being cheek-by-jowl with people whose backgrounds were dissimilar to my own. It broadened my world view and allowed me to reflexively challenge a lot of racist and xenophobic assumptions about people who weren’t born in Canada in a way that the classes I took couldn’t hope to approach. The idea of someone choosing to rob someone of that kind of opportunity is baffling.
There is a long predigree in liberal public discourse about the dangers of punishing hate speech. The oft-quoted aphorism goes something like “the antidote to hate speech is more speech”*. The basic idea is that in a marketplace of ideas, bad ideas will be forced out by good ones, and thus the solution to hate speech is to marginalize hateful voices by speaking up vigorously in the defense of those who need it. This has been, proponents of this view claim, the way our society has moved overt and hateful racism from the mainstream to the margins: good people decided it was time to push racist voices out of the mainstream, and nobody had to pass a law making it a crime to be racist.
The truth, of course, is far more complicated than that. This account moves the agency of black people to the back of the bus (yeah, I went there) and makes the provisional successes of civil rights groups in eradicating racism the work of the goodwill of the majority rather than the work of organized people who fought against the system. It also ignores the fact that, even to this day, racist language might be gone, but the racism it described has just found more palatable words to convey the same message it always has. Finally, it ignores the role that craven politics and opportunism played in whatever cultural shift has genuinely happened.
That being said, the point remains: it is not necessary to criminalize hate speech to reduce it. The argument then (often) follows that we should therefore not criminalize it, because of some non-specific harm that may come to some white person down the road who will be mistakenly blamed for saying something that hurts a brown person’s feelings. Or something. I have, in recent years, moved away from the “absolute free speech” position I held for many years, and it’s partially because of stories like this: … Continue Reading
Last week, I wrote about an annoyingly pervasive blight of unchecked male privilege at grassroots protests, which is actually angry-making when the protest concerns an attack against women’s rights. But when that attack against women’s rights involves multiple layers of outright racism on top of that (racialized women’s rights being particularly vulnerable already, due to the effects of systemic racism on the upholding/deprivation of justice for women of colour), it’s enough to make me utterly livid. I am referring to men walking up to either a pro-life demonstration being attended by a grassroots pro-choice counter-protest, or to an isolated pro-choice demonstration, and playing the Devil’s advocate on one or both sides (but usually just the pro-life side) for hours and hours of mental masturbation. I call them Philosophy Dudebros and for several reasons, they just don’t mix with grassroots. This post is about (some of) what the grassroots are doing for pro-choice demonstrations and counter-protests, and exactly why they are doing it. Understanding effective pro-choice tactics and the reasons why they work, in addition to an understanding of intersectional influences (such as the effects of racism or colonialism in the dialogue on both sides of the issue), one can easily apply that knowledge to their activism on other social justice issues.
Keyboard Warrior Warning: Cut the shit, Sonny. I don’t have time for another three days of your dudebro-ing. This post is about actual activism. In fact, I don’t think anyone does, and that rather generously includes you too.
Tone Police Warning: I’m not apologizing for profanity, for the manner in which I’ve characterized different groups of people with egregiously harmful political leanings, or how aggressive my tactics are as an activist. Get used to it. Maybe grow a backbone in the interim.
Hi-dee-ho, there, FreeThoughtBorg. I know a lot of you are eager to-be activists and even more of you have a lot of philosophy under your belt buckles. But you may not know yet that being Philosophy Dudebro in a grassroots action is terribad form. And if you don’t yet know this, you need to know this. Thus, I am writing to address you today with why that is, using my experiences over the past year in pro-choice activism to provide a context. For anyone who can’t guess from the choice in terminology alone, a Philosophy Dudebro is any guy who walks up to either a demonstration being attended by a grassroots counter-protest (think pro-life and pro-choice in the same space) or a grassroots demonstration on its own (think isolated pro-choice demo) with the expectation of unlimited time, energy, and attention for playing around with thought experiments and endless debate (see also: not protesting; pointless exercise; mental masturbation). Both pro-lifers and men who consider themselves pro-choice (but who haven’t checked their male privilege at any time in the past decade) do the Philosophy Dudebro thing, and it’s equally antagonizing no matter where on the issue your politics align. Some so-called “pro-choice” Philosophy Dudebros can’t even stop themselves from their pointless exercise when they finally stop engaging the pro-lifers.
Trigger warning: This post makes brief mention of graphic depictions of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, and abortion—one of these things is not like the others—in the context of these histories being blatantly misappropriated by “pro-life” campaigns to “unmask the genocide” and “end the killing”. It’s disgusting. It’s beyond words. In fact, it’s just plain obscene. This is why I treat the entire pro-life movement as a hate movement of Westboro Baptist Church calibre.
Tone Police warning: I’m using a fair amount of profanity in this post because I am aggressively challenging the blood-boiling sexism embedded in this issue. This choice is deliberate but well-controlled and not at all impulsive. I am not going to play nice with people who critique the tone of my delivery, so just don’t bother.
Did you watch the Oscars? I didn’t. I don’t have cable, and to be honest even when I did the Oscars seemed like a complete waste of time. Other people like them though, so my Twitter feed was absolutely SLAMMED with #Oscars tweets, which is how I learned that satirical news-site The Onion decided it would be hilarious to call 9 year-old actor Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt”. Yeah. Funny, right?
Now, The Onion executive went on to apologize for the tweet (to the collective outrage of a chorus of dudebros who think that publicly and misogynistically dehumanizing a 9 year-old is a ‘zero bad’ kind of situation), but the damage was done. The attempt, as far as I can tell, was to satirize the flood of people whose only joy in life seems to be publicly hating on Hollywood actresses, no matter how innocent of any wrongdoing they may be. The problem is that… well, it’s not really my place to explain it. Here’s the absolute best discussion that I’ve seen anywhere: … Continue Reading
One of the chief arguments pressed into service in defence of so-called “casual” racism – that is, racism that occurs as part of popular culture without any awareness of racist content on the part of the majority – is that in the absence of intent, acts are not racist. While we here know this to be largely a fiction born of self-flattery, it is surprisingly persuasive and popular. It’s not exactly a difficult puzzle to solve – if you have not had to deal with the consequences of racism in your own life, you’re unlikely to have much appreciation for the myriad ways in which it manifests itself and exerts its influence.
The close cousin of the intent argument is the “well that’s not what it means to me” argument. When someone uses racist imagery in this same “casual” way, either out of apathy or ignorance, the typical response is for the person to say that ze simply doesn’t see it as being racist. This is often the case for things like blackface or cultural appropriation from First Nations – it’s not racist, it’s like, totally meant as a compliment! Or it’s completely blind to the culture from which it’s taken. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.
I want to follow up this morning’s post with a couple of things that were sitting in the back of my mind as I was reading.
Canada’s polite racism, and the ‘tone’ crowd
One of the defining features of racism in Canada is that it usually comes disguised in very neutral, inoffensive language. Canada’s myth of its own “non-racist” status owes dearly to the fact that for the most part, outright racial hostility was much less common here than in the United States. This is not in any way to say that racism didn’t exist (as this book more or less conclusively proves), but rather that we found euphemistic ways to express violent thoughts without having to use the appropriately violent words, for fear of shocking our delicate consciousnesses.
While it’s not a perfect analogy, I couldn’t help but think of the endless admonishments that people press into service about the importance of “tone” in social justice movements. While tone has a role to play in persuasiveness, the argument about tone often manifests itself as a proxy for righteousness. In the nagging tones of faux-concern, people often chastise participants in social justice conversations for “demonizing” or otherwise offending members of the majority group. “Tone” is used as a way of dismissing the disempowered as being “too angry” or “divisive”, rather than recognizing that whatever anger there is is entirely justified, and the divisions pre-extant. … Continue Reading