Yesterday, the New York Times announced that it had hired Sarah Jeong, who is by all accounts an extremely talented tech reporter, as a new member of its editorial board. Today, Jim Hoft, once accurately called the “dumbest man on the internet” by Media Matters, published a collection of Jeong’s tweets which he deemed “racist filth.”
The tweets were not racist; they were jokes about white people, which is a different thing that is not racism. Among Jeong’s supposed offenses: saying “white men are bullshit,” that she couldn’t enjoy Breaking Bad because the premise is just “white people being miserable,” and that “it must be so boring to be white.” The tweets seem to have first been assembled by a Twitter user named Garbage Human.
Thank you, Garbage Human, for your contribution to the discourse.
The worst people in America quickly took this up as their cause. Conservative news sites, ranging from Fox News to the Daily Caller, screamed about Jeong’s “racist” tweets. Then, the Times and Jeong herself issued statements on the matter:
The New York Times really fucked this one up. Instead of ignoring this ridiculous complaint and letting it die—which it would have, because who the fuck cares what The Gateway Pundit is doing—they have validated it. (At least they didn’t fire her, you might say, but even responding to this garbage sets a terrible precedent and legitimizes a completely illegitimate, bad faith campaign to discredit Jeong and the Times itself.)
Now, according to the Times, it is fair to say that being rude about white people serves “to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media,” and that her tweets represent a “type of rhetoric” at all and not just... jokes, nothingnesses, completely mundane and honestly quite boring observations that have no wider importance or meaning. Do we think Sarah Jeong actually enjoys chasing down and bullying old white men for fun? Do we think she earnestly wants to “cancel” white people? No, because that doesn’t mean anything—“cancel” doesn’t mean “do genocide to.”
Making jokes about white people isn’t the same as making racist jokes about black people, or Asian people, or Jews, or gay people, or any other historically oppressed minority. This is a very simple principle, but one that many aggrieved whites find difficult to accept. You can’t say, “Well, imagine if you replaced ‘white’ with ‘black’ in those tweets,” because those two things are not equally replaceable. As much as you might find it desperately oppressive to not be able to use the n-word when you sing along to rap songs, there has never been a government-endorsed legal or societal campaign of oppression against whites. White people can be oppressed by other means, such as through gender or economics, but whites in the U.S. have never been systematically oppressed on the basis of their race alone.
In fact, white people in the United States have had it comparatively super good in large part because of their oppression of other races; when you, a white person, express or act upon your prejudice towards oppressed groups, you are taking part in that oppression. You contribute to the project of belittling, keeping down, otherizing, and exploiting historically oppressed minorities. When a member of an oppressed community complains about white people, that is different, because it is the whites who are doing the oppression. It is just different, which things often are.
This concept—that things can indeed be different—is difficult for some to comprehend, like Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, a warmongering egg who compared the Jeong tweets to those that got Kevin D. Williamson fired from the Atlantic:
Kevin Williamson was fired when it was revealed that he said on a podcast, and tweeted, that he supported hanging for women who get abortions. It wasn’t a purposeful misinterpretation of Williamson’s tweets or words on a podcast that got him fired; by Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg’s own admission, it was the fact that Williamson actually meant it that got him fired, as well as the fact that his “language was callous and violent.” So no, jokes about how Breaking Bad is about a sad white guy is not the same thing as advocating the murder of women who get abortions. This is not a challenging concept.
News outlets are going to have to think carefully about how they approach new hires’ old tweets and what the standards for them should be, given the proliferation of campaigns to get people fired because of ideological disagreements but ostensibly on the basis of tweets. It is the same technique and the same motivation behind people like Mike Cernovich and his guffawing fans pretending to think James Gunn is a pedophile because of some lame jokes. At the same time, there are obviously certain things that I think it’d be fair for news companies to not want their employees to tweet or have tweeted. I certainly don’t want people being fired for tweeting political opinions or telling Grover Norquist to eat their entire ass—because that would probably mean I, and many of the writers whose work I enjoy, would be unemployable—but there are things that should be beyond the pale, like (genuine) racism or homophobia.
This is a gray area, where news organizations have to make difficult decisions, and it is this gray area that stupid fucks like Jim Hoft exploit. There is no hard and fast rule about what’s unacceptable for journalists to have said in the past, so news companies will often substitute the volume of the screaming from those journalists’ opponents for a sensible, reasoned argument about whether or not those things are bad. It is vital that they do not do that, particularly at outlets as important as the Times.
Or, maybe more likely, perhaps the Times leadership really does think there’s some merit to the idea that being flippant about white people is in any way comparable to actual racism. Fifty-five percent of white people in the US think white people face discrimination based on their race; maybe the Times is as stupid as 55 percent of Americans. White people, am I right?