Like many people, I’ve been very upset by the events in Charlottesville over the last weekend. Like many people, I feel like a should do something, but I also feel impotent. And, like many people, I’ve seen lots of think-pieces and articles about how we should respond to these events by speaking up online. However, with a full understanding of the irony of writing a blog post about this, I don’t plan on retweeting, sharing or liking every pro-BLM and antiracist comment or article I come across. While I don’t think that neo-Nazis and counterprotestors are equally responsible for Charlottesville, and I don’t believe that white supremacist, fascist assholes deserve a voice in the political debate in the US (I firmly believe the so-called alt-right needs to be shut down and silenced in all its manifestations through social pressure and activism), I also don’t believe that the internet and social media can be effective tools for solving the ever present problem of white-supremacy in the US.
During my dissertation research in 2014, I spent a lot of time wading through a mountain of bullshit found in proto-alt-right forums on Reddit like r/KotakuInAction, r/TheRedPill, and r/TheDarkEnlightenment. Even after my dissertation was complete, I continued digging through this cesspool because I thought maybe, just maybe, I would see change within the communities. And to be fair, I did occasionally see someone actually change one of their ignorant, misinformed opinions. They posted outside of their troll-holes, claiming to be a changed person who has seen the error of their ways. But I also saw the subreddits grow in size and people become entrenched in their positions; the systemic, institutionalized nature of white supremacy, anti-antisemitism and misogyny was apparent, and groing … quickly.
Not only did I see the voices of the alt-right find a megaphone through social media, I also watched as they successfully secured their place in the national conversation by electing a narcissistic dullard as president who encourages their anti-intellectualism and hatred. No matter how many people pushed back against the growth of these communities, their voices inevitably gained more traction, not only on Reddit, but also on Twitter and Facebook; no matter how many times somebody retweeted a New York Times article about the dangers of fascism or how many comments condemned the troll in the comments section, their groups swelled in size. The mythology of the free marketplace of ideas gave way to the domination of the conversation by outspoken Trumpists who recruited through internet memes and folksy common sense.
Now, some people might argue: “Noah, just look at all grassroots organizing for progressive causes social media has enabled. What about Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring? What about the democratization of marginalized voices? What about the public sphere?”
My response? What about Nazis and white supremacists marching like its the 1960s; what about the orange dildo who sits in the White House and a GOP that runs both houses of Congress; what about the dominance of the same backwards party in local and statewide races across the nation where they hold 36 out of 50 governorships. Sharing and retweeting might be a good way to make your voice heard, but institutionally, politically and sociologically, the left is facing a shut out.
So, what are we supposed to do?
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know and I’m probably not the right person to ask. Protesting in the streets seems like it can be effective and I think it’s important to show the global public that these fascists are facing pushback, but I’m not certain it can overcome the partisan media bias institutionalized by Fox News and Breitbart. We saw that the left can bring together millions of people all over the country in solidarity during the women’s march in January, but the problems of white supremacy persist. Writing think-pieces on my blog makes me feel a little better, but frankly, the changes required to effectively silence the voice of bigots and racists are beyond an individual, or even a group of protestors.
Fundamentally, I feel that if we are going to break the white supremacy that dominates the US, it won’t be in the streets or on the internet. We need to break the institutions that support it. We need to educate ourselves and our coworkers about the institutional nature of white supremacy and how it is implicated in nearly every sector of American politics, economy and culture.
We need diversity initiatives at businesses that spread awareness of how white supremacy is implicated in everyday, socially acceptable statements and how diverse workplaces benefit productivity, innovation and competition. We need to unpack our own, and our organizations’ invisible knapsacks. We should help locate where our companies are situated within this continuum for becoming an anti-racist, multicultural organization, and explore how to help them move forward into a multicultural, antiracist organization. Help yourself and your colleagues understand how white-supremacy ideologies are implicated in the everyday workplace practices of the institutions that you all operate within, and then take steps to try and address those problems directly.
These changes need to be implemented across the board; from non-profit food pantries to high-end multinational corporations, from Wall Street brokerage firms to tech start ups in Silicon Valley, individuals need to see how the organizations in which they participate further expand the inequalities that are now a constant part of US society. Until these cultural, political, educational and economic institutions have addressed how white-supremacy is implicated in their policies and everyday practices, no amount of sharing, retweeting or blogging will be able to silence the fascists in the streets.