Racial eruptions have become so common in the news of the Trump era that they can exhaust one’s capacity to remain perpetually outraged. Almost.
Yet, as a new twist on these tribally turbulent times, the case of Sarah Jeong deserves special attention — and it has been receiving plenty.
Right-wing commentators erupted in high, full-blown dudgeon outrage after Jeong, a highly regarded 30-year-old tech writer and author hired for The New York Times editorial board, was found to have a history of ridiculing “white people” on Twitter.
The questionable tweets, dating back as far as five years ago, included:
“White people! You were already running a karmic deficit but now we’re sending it to collections.”
“I hope the third travel ban forces white people to undergo additional screening before boarding municipal transportation.”
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing white people that folk music is good.”
I could go on but the tweet that sparked the most responses — and anger — by my estimation went like this: “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”
Ouch! Even I, an old Black man but with at least a smidgeon of empathy for my melanin-challenged brethren, felt the sting of that one.
Fox News, Breitbart, the Daily Caller and Rush Limbaugh, among other VIPs in the pantheon of conservative punditry, pounced on the Times’ apparent hypocrisy. Many cited Quinn Norton, another technology specialist who the Times hired before Jeong, but who was let go before she even started because of some of her newly discovered tweets.
The offense: allegedly homophobic comments on Twitter and an insistence on friendship with a notorious white supremacist, although she vigorously denied supporting that racist view. “I have been friends with various neo-Nazis in my time, yes,” she tweeted in 2014. “I have never agreed with them, and I’ve been clear on that.”
As for Jeong, she explained apologetically in a statement that she sent her offensive tweets, unearthed from as long as five years ago, as she was besieged by Internet trolls, people who drop unwanted comments on social media and other internet forums for no more purpose than to provoke a fight or argument.
“As a woman of color on the internet, I have faced torrents of online hate, often along this vein,” she wrote.
I don’t doubt that. As one who has received my own share of online hate, I have nevertheless been amazed by the volume and virulence of hate directed at my female colleagues.
In that ill spirit, one tweet to Jeong read: “@sarahjeong if I saw you. I would sock you right in your lesbian face.”
Others used vulgar language and ethnic slurs.
But I think she made a rookie mistake by trying to respond, as she put it, in the same racially satirical and sarcastic spirit as her tormentors. My No. 1 rule for dealing with online harassment is “Don’t feed the trolls.” Just presume that they have more experience than you do at being jerks and idiots, a standard down to which it is not worth trying to sink.
Instead, just block them from your Twitter or Facebook feed without letting them know, if possible. Enjoy the thought of their blabbing away endlessly without knowing that you’re long gone.
But instead of doing that, Jeong said she “engaged in what I thought of at the time as counter-trolling. While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers.”
Right. Counter-trolling never has worked in my experience. As my father used to tell me, “Never argue with a fool because the people who are looking at you won’t be able to tell which of you is which.”
So, is the Times hypocritically applying a double standard? Is this a case of manufactured outrage or a legitimate pushback?
More than a little of both, I’d say. The offended conservative pundits sound barely able to conceal their glee at finding some evidence to back up their relentless charges of racial hypocrisy by the left.
Yet, as certain as I am that Sarah Jeong has learned her lesson, I wish I could say the same for our nation’s current president. His own record for racially provocative insults gets a pass from many of the same people who attack Jeong.
The best way to handle President Trump’s racial incivilities is at the ballot box. Leave the online insults to him.