By Paul Adler
I’ve been fighting a lot, lately—getting into heated altercations with people whose worldviews seem fundamentally different from my own, hammering home my points with calm, cogent, reasoned logic until the offending party relents or some sort of impasse is reached. And I’ve been doing this on social media—mostly Twitter and Facebook, really.
See, these people with whom I’ve been arguing—these kids around my age who are white, privileged, and middle class—they’ve been propagating a lot of what I deem to be complete and total bullshit: defending a government official who would use her office to inflict her homophobia on gay couples who are legally allowed to marry; criticizing trans kids like Lila Perry for having the gall to use a restroom corresponding to the gender she identifies as, while supporting the ignorant classmates who staged walkouts in protest; spewing hate speech about the refugees fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa, calling them “illegal aliens” and intimating ties to terrorism; characterizing their continued support of the Confederate battle flag as a matter of “heritage, not hate;” railing against gun control and touting the Second Amendment like it bestows the right to buy and carry around an assault rifle that belongs on a battlefield, not on a suburban street; offering racist defenses of violent cops in cases like that of Freddie Gray and Samuel DuBose, and more recently, renowned tennis star James Blake; talking about “reverse racism” and the “dangers” of feminism, while hawking tired platitudes—#alllivesmatter, #notallmen.
Now, I suspect you might have your fair share of friends on social media who do the same thing, who bloviate and rant and do what they can to spread a plague of ignorance. Maybe you’ve seen these statements and let them pass, thinking it’s not your place to criticize someone who would, if given their way, transform their obtuse rhetoric into harsh realities for people like you and me.
Maybe you don’t want to be “that person” who pops in and corrects these instances of bullshit, setting the record straight. Maybe you’re embarrassed of being a so-called “Social Justice Warrior.”
For a long time, I felt that way, too. I felt guilty chiming in on, say, the Facebook status of a kid I haven’t spoken to since high school, even though his post would likely be some “Thanks, Obama”-esque indictment of “fucking liberals” and the media and the government and every country with a predominantly dark-skinned population. The idea of responding to such oblivious, tactless blather made me feel like an uncalled-for and stereotypical keyboard crusader, swooping down on any hapless rube foolhardy enough to make public their nescience, and “tearing them a new one,” so to speak.
I’ve since stopped feeling guilty. And I’ve started fighting.
That this country is rife with anti-intellectualism isn’t exactly breaking news; many of us who consider ourselves somewhat informed on sociopolitical topics have experienced the dismay of watching stupidity and ignorance ripple through our social circles with every newsworthy event. Many of us have let these instances go, citing a lack of energy to deal with the idiots who’d publicize their outdated, wrongheaded views. Many of us believe these people are entitled to their opinions, that they wouldn’t want to hear from us anyway, that they’re fixed in their worldviews and fundamentally opposed to any differing perspectives.
Well, I’ve got news for you: We can’t afford to let this shit go anymore.
History tells us what the spread of hateful rhetoric can lead to, and with the instantaneous, ubiquitous transmission of information via social media and the internet at large, history is beginning to repeat itself. (Think of the incident in August where two Massachusetts brothers beat and urinated on a homeless man, claiming they were inspired to do so by Donald Trump’s hate speech against Latinos.) And the more this hateful misinformation is allowed to spread, the bigger the danger it poses to all of us.
We can’t afford to let homophobic “Christians” create martyr after martyr in the style of Kim Davis. We can’t afford to let Planned Parenthood be defunded because of a literally incredible campaign of outrageous fabrications. We can’t afford to let teachers’ unions be the punching bags of the entire GOP ticket. We can’t afford the stifling of the American fast food worker, whose wage hike will immeasurably benefit all members of the working class. We can’t afford climate change deniers. We can’t afford gun nuts. We can’t afford more racism, more homophobia, more misogyny—more lies, more hate.
No, we need to stand up; we need to make our voices heard and stem tight the flow of hate speech with a tourniquet of reasoned, logical argument. And the argument has to be reasoned, it has to be calmly logical, because not only should we refrain from sinking to the name-calling, overly emotional level of those who would purvey ignorance, we should be able to articulate our positions dispassionately by virtue of our advocacy of these stances as unequivocal and right.
It’s worth saying, however, that shutting down hate online is not and will never be a substitute for good, old-fashioned physical grassroots action. While you’re waging war on social media, don’t hesitate to attend protests; your physical presence is just as valuable as your online one.
I’ve said it before, but I am going to say it again and again until I’m no longer afraid—till I’m no longer afraid of being profiled for having dark skin, afraid of the reasons my girlfriend has to clutch a can of mace when she walks home alone at night, afraid of my gay and lesbian friends being verbally or physically assaulted, afraid of my friends of color being gunned down by the cops, afraid of my livelihood being jeopardized by people too stupid to know a living minimum wage would benefit us all, afraid of jingoism and xenophobia in a country built on immigration, afraid of what the prevalence of hatred in America might lead to.
If you are a person who cares about what's going on in the world and in our country—someone who's hurt by the abundance of anti-intellectualism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and hatred in their myriad forms—please assume the responsibility of shutting these things down wherever you see them crop up. It doesn't matter what theater these things occur in, whether it's on social media or right in front of you on the street. Silence hate speech. Pick apart ignorant rhetoric. Do what you can to stifle bigotry. Put yourself on the frontline and do what you feel, what you know, to be right.
We have to put a stop to hate wherever we find it because if we don’t, history will repeat itself; we will fall backward into the culture of fear, hate, and intimidation that has bedeviled our country since its inception—the culture we’ve come so close to defeating, the culture threatening with gusto to come roaring back into our lives.
Don’t be afraid to make yourself heard, to tell someone "No, you're wrong, and this is why, and you need to stop.” There’s an oft-quoted sentiment that applies here about being the change you want to see in the world, but what I’m asking of you is more than that. Be proactive. Be brave. Do your part to be a “keyboard warrior”—and fight the battles that need to be fought for all our sakes.
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