Skip to content

Bigotry and disregard for the truth

April 20, 2013

Today, I think I’ll have to bounce off something I just reblogged with commentary a little while ago on Tumblr.

Stereotyping and accusing people in public is dangerous and not okay


Ever since people started doing this whole “internet vigilante” thing earlier in the week I’ve been really nervous and really horrified. Because while I know the people on reddit and 4chan and wherever else are not actually, like, the FBI or anything…stuff that is said in public, and propagated widely, can end up taking on a kind of “folkloric truthiness”.

It scared me a ton, for instance, when people were saying things like “this guy is not paying attention to the race, he’s looking in a different direction”. And “this guy is standing by himself”. And so on. There are just…a whole heck-ton of reasons why, in a given moment, someone might be looking away from something other people are looking at. They might be about to sneeze. They might have just gotten a text message. They might be looking at a bug on the ground. Etc.

And to publicly suggest that a person, because of what amounts to a combination of stereotyping and circumstantial “evidence”, is probably a terrorist? Is pretty horrible. It’s like…don’t people understand the gravity of doing that sort of thing? Don’t they know that they can’t take it back, once they’ve put a person’s photo and name up and once that photo and name have been passed around everywhere? Don’t they care?

As disturbing as it is, I don’t think a lot of these people even cared about truth or the possible consequences of publicly accusing others of horrible crimes based on, as you say, basically nothing besides their own imaginations. I just haven’t had the spoons and time available simultaneously yet, but I’ve been wanting to write some about (totally appalling) different degrees of similar dynamics in other situations. Unfortunately, I think Fred Clark nailed it here: False Witnesses 2 (He’s written a lot more about that, but that post is a pretty good nutshell.)

Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you’re mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won’t be able to forget that you’re just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it’s true for you if you will pretend it’s true for us. We need each other.

You can’t be doing well if it seems like an improvement to base your life and your sense of self on a demonizing slander that you know is only a fantasy. To challenge that fantasy, to identify it as nothing more than that, is to threaten to send them back to whatever their lives were like before they latched onto this desperate alternative.

That seems to apply to so much dangerous xenophobic bullshit. And too nicely explains why it often doesn’t seem to matter how many facts get thrown in front of them, or how many real people get hurt. How pathetic have you got to be, as a person, to have this need to show off how much better you are, compared to racialized Others setting off bombs that kill people? 😦 Or any of the examples he uses. ETA: Or the dedicated antivaxxers, or any other gang of haters putting on this weird dangerous performance art. :/


The OP was, of course, referring to the awful behavior around the Boston Marathon bombings. A bit more on that:

WHITE OUT: Media Heap Suspicion On Brown People In Boston Marathon Bombing »

Hours after the Boston Marathon bombing, there was alreadyInternet chatter that a “Saudi national” was the suspect. Police raided the apartment of Abdulrahman Ali Alharbi, a 22-year-old student from Saudi Arabia, as he was recovering from the blasts in a Boston hospital.

Next, CNN’s John King raised the alarm about a more elusive “dark-skinned male” who the TV reporter said was in custody on Wednesday.

The following day, the New York Post got more specific. It slapped pictures of two young men on its front page, calling them “Bag Men” and identifying them as persons of interest to federal authorities. One was Salah Barhoum, 17, a Moroccan American middle-distance runner.

And then there was news that a man in Bronx, N.Y., who was born in Bangladesh was beaten up for supposedly being “a f*cking Arab” by a group of men who wanted retribution for the marathon bombing.

A Palestinian woman near Boston also reported being the victim of a hateful assault on Wednesday, when a man hit her and yelled, “F*ck you Muslims! You are terrorists! I hate you! You are involved in the Boston explosions.”

What all of these people have in common is that they’re innocent of the bombing. They also happen not to be white.

And, on the “online vigilante” with real consequences side of things, a post from empressfab:

I just want to take a moment to be really fucking angry about people being really fucking irresponsible and insensitive and awful on the internet.


This is Sunil Tripathi. He is a) a student at Brown University, b) a person of South Asian descent (his name is Hindu), and c) missing. Here is the deleted but cached page his family made to try to find him.

That page has been taken down because the fucking Sherlock Holmeses over at Reddit and on Twitter chose him as their suspect for the Boston Marathon bombings and then circulated it to the entire world as fact…

So now Hindu guys who are actually a good bit lighter than my mother are “suspicious”. I couldn’t help but be impressed again. 😐

And, as things developed:

Question – The News media for days talked about dark-skinned or brown skinned people for the Boston Bombing suspect(s). Now, that the suspects are White-Skinned people, the media is Leaving Out Color in the description. Chechens are a mixture of Russian and Arab blood, basically they look Caucasian by their physical appearance with dark hair.Why is the media not saying white-skinned suspect??

And on a not really lighter note (no pun intended, gah!), from the Onion:  Study: Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens »
“Clinical trials show that most individuals will make brief, fumbling attempts to stereotype Chechens based on what little they know about Russians, but eventually drop the subject entirely after running out of anything to say within seconds.” Kinane’s team was able to confirm, however, that once research subjects were told Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim region, they were “usually pretty good to go from there.”
And the Onion doesn’t go as far OTT as one would hope. :/

This obviously isn’t just about online lynch mobs, though that was a particularly disgusting display. (I saw someone in my G+ circles apologizing for taking part earlier, but that really does not make it any better.) This has been another distressing example of just how acceptable this kind of reckless xenophobic performance art really is. Purposeful mass delusion with reckless disregard for facts too often gets the ratings, in so many contexts. And that should be alarming.

As I mentioned, this doesn’t just apply to brown “terrorists” and the ever-popular “Baby-killing Satanists”. The same kind of pattern seems to apply to most xenophobic bullshit performances. And I think it’s important to recognize that you can throw all the facts out in front of people who willingly get caught up in this crap, and it will only distract you from doing something constructive, while sucking the energy you need to do that.

No More Hoops

However, I think we need to stop and reassess what we are doing here.  Yes, conflating weight with health has been a very pervasive myth that many people have used to justify fat hatred and addressing that is important.  But I don’t think that it is going to help fat people in the long run as much as we need it to.  Because no matter how many myths and stereotypes you bust, those who hate fat people are ALWAYS going to find a way to justify their disgusting attitudes.  Be it health, fitness, appearance, the cost of mittens in America… there will always be something used to justify fat hatred.

We need to let go of constantly trying to meet the bar set by fat haters.  If they say it’s because poor health, we spend our time proving that fat does not equal poor health.  If they say it is because we’re lazy, we spend all our time proving that we are not.  If they say it is because we are gluttonous, we spend our time policing and justifying our own choices for eating.  The list goes on and on.  No matter what myth or stereotype we respond to, there will always be another.

It is time we stopped looking to ourselves to be the ones to change to fight fat hatred.  It is time we started demanding that those who hate fat people are named and shamed for what they are – ignorant bigots who sincerely believe that some people are sub-human and do not deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity.  We, as fat people who are the victims of fat hatred have absolutely no obligation at all to modify our lives or our behaviours to suit those who hate us and to justify our existence.

The difference is that I’m not sure a lot of them even really believe it. They need an outlet for hatefulness, and are looking for some kind of malicious performance art project to feed some of that into, but yeah. See also: If I Admit That ‘Hating Men’ Is a Thing, Will You Stop Turning It Into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

An aside: Even if you do dislike men as a group, that’s your right as long as you’re not treating anybody like shit because of it. (Or White people, or “Christians”, or “autism parents”, or…) You are not obliged to like anyone, much less keep reassuring trolls that you’re not as goddamned hateful and bigoted as they are. I just refuse to engage anymore, because these people are not acting in good faith, but they sure do try to control what kinds of rhetoric get used. (See also: any amount of  “conservative” political hijacking of terms, and arguments as soldiers.) I’m just not playing that game.

There are an awful lot of Bad Jackies out there. And there is also a natural tendency to want to defend yourself against hateful, ignorant-sounding bullshit, under the assumption that most people care about facts and, you know, observable reality. It’s a losing proposition.

Bad Jackie cannot tolerate embarrassment, which means it is very important to her that she is never wrong — almost as important to her as pointing out when others are. Bad Jackie has got it in her head that this is where her value comes from. If she is right and others are wrong, then they are bad and she is good. So if she were to accept being wrong — even due to having been innocently deceived — then she would be bad. And she knows that deep down she has a good heart and so that can’t be true and she must be right after all. She must be.

Her identity is at stake, you see. Her self-concept and with it her self-worth. This doesn’t excuse what she does next, but it can help to understand, and to understand is always a step closer toward forgiving.

“It happened!” she insists, swatting away Dan’s phone and suggesting he’s gullible to take “some blog’s word” over her own.

There’s a moment of tension as the rest of you exchange the nervous glances you share whenever Jackie gets like this, telepathically communicating “Just drop it — you know how she is.” You can see the fight-or-flight instinct taking over in Jackie and Big Drama seems imminent.

Bad Jackie also has an unfortunate tendency to gang up with other Bad Jackies, and put on the kind of performance art discussed here in order to keep that non-embarrassed feeling going. When you have to set up somebody else as horrible in order to feel decent about yourself, there’s a bad problem. I don’t want to sound insulting or like some kind of concern troll myself, but someone made a little too good a point in comments there:

s9 • 3 years ago
The difference between Good Jackie and Bad Jackie is pretty easy to quantify: the Bad variant is exhibiting a mild, but telltale borderline personality trait, and the Good variant is not.

Now, as I mentioned in that go-to explanatory post about the way I’m using xenophobia, I did grow up with some people who showed signs of personality disorders. My grandmother was actually diagnosed with one, and my mom should have been. In both cases, it did seem to be in response to trauma, and I was actually pretty lucky not to have developed in a similar way. I’ve still had to learn better ways of approaching some things, and to feel decent about myself. I don’t like the way these things usually get framed–and further used to look down on people–but, that is the best way I know to describe certain patterns of behavior. Both of the people close to me who showed these patterns also applied/apply the scapegoating and threatened rages beyond the personal level. (Also, I may get frustrated at my uncle for starting going on about “illegal immigrants” and the like, but he learned to scapegoat at home, from a master, and seems to have trouble not doing that. Because that’s just what you do.)

What concerns me here is that so many people seem to be learning that this kind of  “Bad Jackie” pattern of behavior is both OK and expected. When it really is, on the sharper end, more usually associated with personality disorders. And, at least in some cases, I can’t help but think of some of Alice Miller’s work. Not only are these patterns of behavior a really bad example to learn from–witness my uncle–but I am afraid it may indicate some more widespread, self-perpetuating problems with our abuse/bullying culture. (Wétiko, yeah.) Widgetry gets substituted for reality, as a matter of course.  And all of this makes me less optimistic about managing real change anytime soon, because this crap does seem to be so firmly self-perpetuating, and resistant to other perspective or even facts. This last bit has been another aside, but I do find it worrying. Ugly xenophobic mob behavior keeps getting presented as “human nature” or “God’s plan”, and how are you supposed to argue with that, dealing with people who want to believe that kind of self-justifying rubbish framed in those (all too similar) terms?

Rate this:

from → Uncategorized
One Comment leave one →
  1. August 23, 2013 3:40 pm

    You spoke rightly of the key issue – they *want* to believe such rubbish. One wonders why? I have something of an idea; the nature of instinct in ‘Normals’ has a sizable quotient of ‘magic’. (Frazer, Golden Bough, first volume)
    This results in tendencies toward ‘magical thinking’, with one major idea being that ALL of the problems will ‘go away’ if a suitable scapegoat is found and then destroyed. That’s not true – it’s evidential, if one bothers to look at the available information with the goal of understanding the situation so it can actually be DEALT WITH – but most Normals are not interested in dealing with anything beyond self-enhancement. The reason for that is simple: when one is’The God’, everything one might wish for happens when one wishes for it, and that simply because one wishes it to be so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: