One of the striking and fantastic things about internet conversation is the relatively free association of people – physical space becomes irrelevant, and it is all of the sudden easy to engage people from throughout the world in conversation, to undertake debates with seemingly anyone and use anyone’s work as source material, with the potential for inspiring a response from anyone who stumbles upon your work. With such a huge variety of choices to be made, those choices take on additional significance. No longer limited to citing ones local newspaper or journals available at a public library, a person’s source of a citation becomes very telling. And with feedback so immediate, how a person interacts with the audience they cultivate and engage with becomes all the more significant.
This has had me thinking in the past weeks about the appropriate way to deal with source material or commentators who are undeniably racist. Two recent cases troubled me because they involved authors who are almost certainly free of racial bias, who nonetheless lent some measure of legitimacy to much uglier writers. The first was Mark Tokarski citing and endorsing the opinion of one Richard Spencer regarding Libya. The problem? Richard Spencer believes in ‘race realism’, whereby Africans are inherently less intelligent and more anti-social than other race (for evidence, follow the link and find the category ‘human biodiversity’.) He thus seems uniquely unqualified to write about the future of an African nation. Mark and my conversation meandered a bit, but at no point would he admit that his source was invalid or even problematic. – I obviously don’t think Mark entertains any racist thoughts, but to defend such a source on such a topic despite the overwhelming wealth of information on the internet does a disservice to the quality of discussion and gives unnecessary validity to those who advocate patently invalid ideas.
Far more troubling is inaction when one’s own words feed and stir the racist pot, as Dustin Hurst did in his false attack against Schweitzer, claiming the governor had accused Montanans of being generally racist. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the tide of racist appreciation he received for the article. But when people agreeing (and nearly every comment agreeing with the article exposed the racism of its writer) with you start throwing around terms like ‘Adam’s (white) dominion), For Whites by Whites, and race traitor, some kind of response is appropriate. I know Dustin thinks he is a journalist, and thus has no time for commenting on his own articles, but a real journalist also does a little fact checking. If you are going to write false statements that stir up a disgusting, racist response, you have a journalistic and moral responsibility to address them. Again, I don’t think Dustin is a racist, but he apparently does not share most people’s aversion to racism, and is functionally encouraging it by falling down on his responsibilities as a journalist.
Racism is an irrational and socially destructive ideology that has no place in modern discourse, save as a cautionary tale. Those who write on the internet, then, have a responsibility to avoid giving validity to racist thought processes, either by holding racist writers up as ‘experts’ or feeding into the racial illusions of their readers and commentators.