Racial Justice Teamwork Makes the Racial Justice Dream Work

It’s been called a racial reckoning, a social justice movement, and maybe even a rennaissance. In the nearly two years of upheaval since the murder of George Floyd, there has been an effort for change that shows lots of promise.

From my view, however, this movement won’t move without more awareness, and better coordination. Central to this is people giving up their fractured ways of living and getting on the same path.

In my view, the catalyst for all of this uncoordination is social media. Contrary to the conventional wisdome that social media is empowering, what I see is that it is actually the means by which people stay disconnected and efforts for change remain underwhelming. I may sound like an old fogey by saying that, but hear me out

Case in point: this year in Virginia, Republicans won the governorship in large part due to the candidate constantly talking about the imaginary bogey man of “critical race theory” being taught in primary and secondary public schools.

This claim is absurdly false for many reasons, but that didn’t stop Republican voters from falling for it and electing Glenn Youngkin.

Perhaps people fell for the falsehood because of the volume of unsubstantiated accounts they were hearing/reading in their social media feeds. And here’s the thing: there wasn’t nearly enough pushback from others who knew the facts of the matter. Thus, lies spread unimpeded, like a virus. And Youngkin gets elected.

I think one obvious problem is that people advocating for social change are spending time in a social media sphere that does not at all intersect with the bubble of people opposed to social change (let’s call those people “conservatives”).

Recently, I had an experience that left me wondering about this problem. The college I graduated from put a post on LinkedIn that contained reference to “Latina educator” and a fellow alumni commented with the standard conservative bullshit about identity politics and how those who advocate for change in America are “destroying” this country (his word).

I pushed back by pointing out the flaws in his opinion. Unfortunately, I got little support from either my fellow alumni or the college. In fact, the conservative alumni’s rant got more “likes” than my pushback did. He claimed that he “won” the arguement, and perhaps that is the case (I did not intend for it to be a competition).

So I’m left wondering, where were the social justice warriors? Who had my back in this exchange? Maybe they’re off doing whatever on Twitter or Instagram, planning the next phase of the movement with like-minded people. But that doesn’t help this particular situation.

And the situation is this: given that the goal of social justice work is to call out and challenge the misconceptions and misinformation that support the status quo, perspectives such as those shared by this conservative alumni need to be revealed as what they are and challenged at every opportunity. If this doesn’t happen, then change won’t happen.

I’m not saying that people need to join social media such as Parler where people with regressive opinions take comfort in each other’s company.** That would be like joining the Army to try to change it into a pacifist organization. What I am saying is that when regressive conservative opinion appears on mainstream comment forums, it should not be given a pass.

So next time you see someone going to bat for the social justice team, give them support. Because we are all in this together.


**Parler views those who challenge regressive opinions as censoring free speech. I saw this point of view expressed in the conservative alumni’s emotional rant, that being challenged amounted to “defelection” from the “truth”. I have seen this warped view of freedom, social manners, and consitutionality in other places as well, often accompanied by a tactic where it seems they feel they will “win” the argument if they bluff and bluster long enough and loud enough, and with the right smattering of jargon and insults. But when one tries to probe for nuance, they can’t come up with a logical or coherent arguement.

Don’t Like the News? Kill the Messenger

I’m not a journalist but I have worked with and around journalists for over two decades, something I have talked about before here and here.

Which is why I found it disheartening to read the story of the demise of LAWeekly as I knew it. While it is true that newspapers and other journalism outlets have struggled over the past decade or so in the face of economic hardship brought on by the internet (and to some extent, themselves), to learn that an established news outlet has been deliberately targeted for destruction is chilling.

Years ago, I read the LAWeekly and its sister publication the East Bay Express rather frequently when I was a college student in California. These “alternative” weeklies could always be relied on to provide thoughtful stories about local issues not covered in much depth by the bigger news organizations. (Washington, D.C.’s alternative weekly, the Washington City Paper, is still chugging away, but it’s sister paper, the Baltimore City Paper, folded in 2017.)

The story I read about how the LAWeekly has been gutted may contain some hyperbole–journalists are not perfect, and often they have an overblown sense of self and of the importance of their work, in my view.

But I have no doubt that the institution of journalism with its modern emphasis on fairness and accuracy is essential to the effectiveness of democracy and the protection of civil rights. To disparage legitimate journalism as so-called fake news–as President Trump does almost daily–creates a situation where fewer and fewer people trust facts, such as they are.

(It’s important to remember that the freedom of the press was important enough to the Founding Fathers that it is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution–alongside the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice and ahead of the right to bear arms.)

According to this version of events from the editorial staff at The LAnd Magazine, the LAWeekly was bought by a “cabal of Republican donors and Trump supporters from Orange County” who are “devoted to defeating progressive ideas by indoctrinating young conservatives and infiltrating what they considered to be liberal institutions.” If true, this is another example of the hypocrisy of conservatives these days.

Conservatives themselves claim with alarming frequency that liberals are somehow “indoctrinating” or “brainwashing” people (if you want examples, leave a comment–I don’t want to unnecessarily drive traffic to people promoting falsehoods). The argument is illogical, however.

The conventional concept of brainwashing requires that someone is led by the intentional actions of others to believe something they would not have and could not have believed if left to their own thought processes. If a journalistic organization publishes verifiable fact, without attempting to manipulate its audience, and someone reads it and draws a conclusion, I can’t see how that, in any way, is brainwashing. (Note that conservative “news” manipulates its audience intentionally every day by distorting the facts and not questioning unsupported claims.)

Conservatives give lip service to individual liberty. However, conservatives are all too eager to oppose that exercise of personal liberty when individuals make up their own minds about their own lives and the lives of those around them in a way that does not conform to an established conservative point of view.

Conservatism, almost be definition, is threatened by new ideas and the reconsideration of how we as a society view the world. It is thus not in favor of personal liberty at all, but rather the adherence to a strict set of codes of (mostly old fashioned) behavior. If a news outlet such as LAWeekly questions those conservative “values,” it is seen as a threat to the conservative ideal.

A threat that, unfortunately, is sometimes targeted for elimination. So who is the larger threat?

Maybe this is an isolated incident and perhaps I’m over-generalizing (overreacting?). And maybe the ideal of having news that’s free of bias is a pipe dream. But the possibility that reasonable people cannot agree on some basic structures of society, such that we now have flavored news that meets our preferred tastes, is frightening.

“Participatory democracy depends on a broadly shared view of reality, and therefore on trusted institutions of journalism and mass media.” – Kevin Platt, University of Pennsylvania