Cassandra Santiago and AJ Willingham, CNN, December 6, 2017
Social media conversations on race typically take one of two routes.
The first, and the one less traveled, leads to a thoughtful, fact-driven exchange of ideas. The second (more popular) route leads to bitter back-and-forth filled with tired stereotypes or racially inflammatory barbs.
But now, when discussion swerves in the second direction, there’s a group of white allies prepared to do the rerouting.
White Nonsense Roundup is a social media watchdog group with about 100 white volunteers. Its goal: to relieve people of color from the emotional labor of engaging with a person’s racist or racially insensitive thoughts.
Say, a person of color makes a post about Black Lives Matter. Then others respond with ignorant or offensive comments. That person can tag White Nonsense RoundUp to snatch some edges — or, better put, to educate people with context and fact-based views.
Think of it like roadside assistance for social media debates you’re tired of having.
“It’s really unfair that we expect people of color to experience racism, but then also explain it to us,” the group’s co-founder Terri Kempton, a book editor and college instructor, told CNN.
The arguments they hear the most
When a volunteer receives a tag notification, they read through the conversation in question and spend time figuring out the best approach. This one dialogue can last a volunteer’s entire two-hour shift or it could be one of several conversations they tackle.
There are some old standbys like, “I’m not racist because I don’t see color,” or, “Well, I don’t personally act racist.”
More specific topics also get trotted out: “Cultural appropriation isn’t real,” “I don’t have white privilege because of [x],” “Why is it always about race?” and the particularly thorny refrain, “All Lives Matter.”
Occasionally, volunteers receive private messages from other white people asking for guidance on a topic or resources to get educated on their own time.
Sometimes those questions stump the volunteers and founders. In those moments, the group relies on its advisory council — a group of 9-10 people of color that offer guidance and help plan next steps.
How they keep in good faith
With so many eyes on them, White Nonsense RoundUp only brings on white people who know their stuff. There are no training wheels.
Before they are hired each potential volunteer must provide personal information and respond to four problematic statements in a “firm but compassionate fashion” — that’s a key to the group’s mission. They’re not out to own trolls, they’re out to educate and engage.
If everything checks out to the group’s standards, the new volunteer is added to the roster. Each is asked to work a two-hour shift a week, but many choose to do more. The group has volunteers across the country.
The group uses published resources, analogies and other rhetorical and educational tools to support their arguments. Many times, rather than riff with their own take, volunteers try to use learning materials already produced by people of color.
You won’t see individual profiles within White Nonsense RoundUp, either. Volunteers assume anonymity under the group’s social media handle. It’s a precaution to protect the safety and privacy of volunteers, and also to ensure the genuine nature of the work they do.
And it’s a service Kempton hopes curbs the “exhausting” nature of educating white people from a person of color’s standpoint.
“At the very least, we want to be white people on the record, standing up against racism.”