Two years ago, the ESPN host Bomani Jones appeared on the network’s “Mike & Mike” morning show wearing a T-shirt that seemed, at first glance, to bear the logo of Cleveland’s baseball team, but, in place of the trademark cursive “Indians,” the shirt read “Caucasians”; the crude caricature of a Native American had also been altered to look like a grinning white man. The reaction was swift: ESPN demanded that he cover up the shirt while on air; many white people criticized Jones’s “racism” on social media. The point was easy to discern: Native Americans continue to be depicted in derogatory ways and relegated to a kind of racist stereotype in a manner that many white people would find intolerable were it directed at them. Stripped of context, the shirt appeared to be a needless racial provocation. Situated amid the dynamics that inspired it, though, the shirt becomes an attempt to undermine racism by forcing observers to think about the nature of the Indians’ iconography.
.. Jeong said in a statement that the tweets were intended to be an inversion of the racist and sexist trolling that had been a feature of her digital life—an attempt to fight racism by deploying its own language against it. She said, “While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers.
.. Jeong’s satire defense is, indeed, not entirely sound. Her words may well have been satirical, but they are a form of satire with a high risk of collateral damage. The most devoutly bigoted figures of our era, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Donald Trump, have used the satire loophole as a way to gerrymander the boundaries of acceptable conversation to contain their most inflammatory comments.
.. Donald Trump has reaped incalculable political benefit by exploiting the apprehension that white people have become societal punching bags. In his rhetoric, Trump is not missing the context but deliberately erasing it, contriving a misunderstanding that is profitable on multiple levels for its architects. They understand the current debate around free speech and social media not as an attempt to create parameters of decency around public dialogue but rather as part of a board game in which each side attempts to remove valuable pieces from the other’s team.
.. The dishonestly named Project Veritas has attempted a number of outlandish schemes meant to entrap journalists or distort their words into some fireable offense.
.. But there is also an even greater effort at work, aimed to strip away the moral authority of people belonging to a vulnerable group, in order to make the spurious argument that they’re too compromised to hold anyone outside that group accountable. This is the off-brand cousin of Trump’s method of responding to the Mueller probe: strip away the credibility of those who are making the accusation, and you diminish the weight of the accusations themselves.
.. the conversation in the past week has focussed entirely upon Jeong’s reactions to racist and sexist assaults rather than the fact that she was subjected to them in the first place.
.. the idea of reverse racism serves as a blunt instrument to facilitate the actual kind.