It's hard to believe it's been nearly four months since the last time I composed a blog entry. In my last post I gave some unasked for advice to my brother in law, Alex before the birth of his first child. In the months since, much has changed. Baby Betz was born, healthy, hungry and hollering. While the birth of new life can only ever be described as wonderful, many other newsworthy items have happened, some good, some bad, some neither. The USA Womens soccer team won the world cup. Liverpool football club has continued to flounder and flop in the transfer market after a truly miserable finish to the season. There have been more shootings between police and civilians, civilians and police. The supreme court ruled on same-sex marriage dividing the country even more on a hot-button topic. And sadly, the Charleston shooting of ten innocent African-American people (nine of whom tragically died), by alleged suspect Dylann Roof.
I am not going to talk about the incident, don't worry. I will not get into whether or not it was racially motivated, if it was domestic terrorism, or if we need further gun control mandates. For what it's worth, I believe if what has come forth thus far is true, I do believe it was racially motivated, and I do believe it can be considered domestic terrorism and no, I don't think gun control laws would have prevented it. But arguing over the semantics of the shooting seems pointless to me. It was terrible, and if Roof is found guilty after Due Process has run it's course, then he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
What struck me the most about this incident (after the initial horror of it) was how people responded to it on Social Media. Much like the shootings in Missouri and around the country between police and African-Americans, Social Media was bombarded by self proclaimed experts spewing hate speech and vitriol across the internet without any regard for what they were saying. As reports surfaced (reports that had not yet, at that time been validated I should add) immediately after the shooting regarding Roof's motives, suddenly Social Media was aflame with people pointing the finger at various racial groups, governors and society at large.
I try to be Facebook friends and follow people on Twitter of a diverse nature, including those whose political views do not match my own. I believe it's a bad idea to surround yourself only with those who think like you do. Doing that, makes it too easy to become insular, myopic and close minded.
But I was appalled when an author I have met and respect, Mary Robinette Kowal, retweeted the following hate speech from one @Rosefox.
I have listened to the Writing Excuses podcast for many years, since before Mary joined the group. I met Mary last summer while at the Writing Excuses writing retreat and conference at her parent's house in Tennessee. I couldn't believe she would retweet such a thing on behalf of anyone.
So who is @Rosefox?
@Rosefox is the twitter handle for an editor for Publishers Weekly magazine based in New York City. She has over 5000 followers. That's right, +5000. For the record I have 57. Most of whom are bots.
Many of the aspiring authors I follow on Twitter follow Mrs. Fox as well and retweet much of her commentary on how sexist, misogynist and racist white male American culture is. It makes sense though. Many of those aspiring writers are trying to make a name for themselves, and they seek to gain popularity by parroting what someone fairly popular in the publishing world has to say.
Mary, however, surprised and disappointed me.
But let's face it, I am a nobody. Who really cares what I think? But I couldn't help it. As a result of this, I broke my rule of engaging with people like this on Social Media, and I responded:
The great thing about Social Media, is that now everyone has a voice.
The bad thing about Social Media is that now everyone has a voice.
At no other time in history has information been more readily accessible. And yet, conversely at no other time in history has it been more difficult to find TRUTH. Sadly Social Media has become filled with hate-mongers who are free to spew whatever they want without taking any responsibility for what they say. If they think it, it must be true, and they post it as though it is.
This creates a snowball effect of sorts where people of middling popularity and up, are able to say whatever they want, even if it's wrong, baseless and untrue. Cops are murderers? Sure they are, all of them. Because that's what some celebrity said. Joss Wheadon is a sexist because of how he wrote the Black Widow character in the latest Avengers movie? Sure he is, because some popular feminists said so. White Male American culture is sexist, racist, misogynist, and white male default behavior is hate and violence? Sure it is, because someone in the publishing community says so. Someone who rates and reviews books and promotes authors who meet her political standards.
Perhaps you are beginning to see some of the issue with this system?
Naturally my misguided attempt to defend white American male culture fell on deaf ears and I was castigated.
That's okay. Rest assured I did not cry myself to sleep that night.
But consider the things @Rosefox and her followers said in the original tweet and her reply to me.
"American White male culture is racist and sexist..."
"...it is for many, many males, and you not recognizing that is part of the problem..."
"Why do you take comments about culture as comments about you?"
I love the firm assurance of Mrs. Fox's reply to me. In less than 128 characters she paints all of American White male culture as both racists and sexist (which ironically nothing has even been said in the media that Roof's actions had anything to do with a hatred of women - but why let that stop you when you have an ax to grind?). At the same time, it is somehow within my domain to change all of American White male culture.
Who knew I had so much power?
The comment I love the most is the last one by @Pecunium. Am I the only one who finds his/her comment more than a little peculiar? Let's turn the tables for just a moment.
Let's say I tweeted something like this: "Black American male culture produces men whose default behavior is [fill in your own biased actions here]."
I am not even going to finish that statement above because it could be perceived that I believe whatever I write there. The point I am trying to make is, no matter how I would fictionally finish that sentence, it would be racist and any Black American Male could be offended by it. If I were a media personality or celebrity even writing a defensive comment like that would likely result in calls for me to be arrested, and drawn and quartered on live TV.
Today there is nothing more vogue and popular than insulting and ridiculing the White American male.
The problem is that behavior continues to produce more people like Dylann Roof. That's right. I said it. This behavior does not fix the problem it only propagates and perpetuates it more and more.
To prove my point, consider the conflict in the middle east between Israel and just about everyone else near them. Someone bombs Israel, they strike back. A few innocents are killed, imprisoned whatever. Now those who fired the first shots have willing recruits to continue the fight against Israel. It's a perpetuating cycle.
Rather than taking a racially motivated incident and then throwing more coals on the fire, perhaps it would be better to deal with the fact that ONE racist did something terrible, instead of basically calling all White American Males racist (and sexist for added punch).
We are all responsible for what we say, regardless of the medium.
I think everyone can agree the internet has become an increasingly unpleasant and mean spirited place. Sadly everyone seems to think the problem is with everyone else. Everyone else should watch what they say, but not me. These same people would likely never think to go into a movie theater and scream: "FIRE!!!" and create a panic. But if they paint 30% of the US population as racist, sexist pigs, that's alright.
It's time we all went back to the rules of conversation we held to in the times before Social Media. Back to a time when people took responsibility for what they said. Only by each of us behaving ourselves on Social Media, no matter how others treat us, or what they say and do, will it become a better place.
I fear though our culture has become too reactionary and divisive to ever come back from this ledge. If we do not find a means to disagree without attacking one another, we may find ourselves falling much farther than we ever imagined.