Posted on August 3, 2018

In Latest Concession to Conservative Trolls, New York Times Blames Bigotry on Many Sides

Inkoo Kang, Slate, August 2, 2018


{snip} This week, the target of organized conservative trolls is tech and legal reporter Sarah Jeong, a widely respected thinker set to join the New York Times’ editorial board next month. The far-right Gateway Pundit got the ball rolling by claiming that Jeong’s Twitter is “littered with racist filth,” and other, more respectable sites, like Fox News and the National Review, have since followed suit. Among Jeong’s alleged offenses: “#CancelWhitePeople,” “Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” “I just realized why I can’t stand watching Breaking Bad or Battlestar Galactica. The premise of both is just ‘white people being miserable.’ ” To the pitchfork wielders on Twitter claiming that Jeong is the “real” racist here, the Times responded by treating their new hire like a disappointed parent: “For a period of time [Jeong] responded to [sexist and racist online] harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media. She regrets it, and The Times does not condone it.”


{snip} Jeong’s tweets were clearly jokes, not policy proposals. When people of color rail against white people, that’s often shorthand for speaking out against the existing racial structure that serves to keep white people in power. The jokes that people of color make at the expense of whites are furthermore not supported by past and present state and corporate institutions. {snip}

{snip} White fragility is real, and so I’ll grant that some readers may have had their delicate skin stung by Jeong’s comments, but it’s more than likely that the very same trolls who tried to endanger Jeong’s position at the Times were acting in bad faith. The Times also ignores the fact that the current alt-right hysteria about besieged whiteness is also fuel for a violent movement that uses its power in the White House to justify inhumane and racist policies.

Jeong’s apology for her “white people” tweets, which mostly mirrored the Times’, includes two extra elements worth considering. “These comments were not aimed at a general audience, because general audiences do not engage in harassment campaigns,” she wrote. “I can understand how hurtful these posts are out of context, and would not do it again.” She notes, with the screen grabs to prove it, that she has been the victim of “torrents of online hate,” while implying that her allegedly offensive comments were meant for a specific audience: most likely other users of color who related to her frustration at America’s racial structure as well as white users with the cultural understanding to know where her jokes were coming from. Jeong’s statement that she “would not do it again” is disappointing, because it suggests her participation in Twitter communities that welcomed those tweets may now be curtailed. {snip}

As for the Times’ editorial board, it’s difficult not to notice how protective they’re being of white feelings at a time of renewed and active discrimination against people of color. Earlier this summer, the board published a treatise on the intellectual sidelining of the Jordan Petersons of the world. The following week, they put forth, practically back to back, pieces about how liberals’ meanness and smugness were responsible for a newly insurgent movement toward racism and misogyny. And earlier this week, a contributing writer essentially advised progressives to stop calling a racist person racist, at least to their face. It’s tempting to see the Times’ approach to the Jeong kerfuffle as tactical, given its older white readership who enjoyed decades in which people of color’s jokes about white people were forced to stay underground or out of earshot. But now is not the time to accommodate the already privileged.