The whole world is Twitter mad once again, and even though I hold the platform at arm’s length, it is hard not to be obsessively scrolling over the tweets bouncing back and forth like discordant sound. Even if you try not to get embroiled, headlines and soundbites echo the 280 characters driving a wedge between us all. Thanks to these Twitter tantrums, hate talk replaces straight talk with the ease of a click. Perhaps that was not always the intent of social media.
“At times during 2011, the term Arab Spring became interchangeable with “Twitter uprising” or “Facebook revolution”, as global media tried to make sense of what was going on.
But despite western media’s love affair with the idea, the uprisings didn’t happen because of social media. Instead, the platforms provided opportunities for organization and protest that traditional methods couldn’t.
In the words of one protester, Fawaz Rashed: “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.”” (Maeves Shearlaw).
But over the past two years we have witnessed the lack of ‘coordinating’ in these minute messages, in fact, dialogue across spectrums has sunk to the worst form of discourse thanks to a lack of social norms in social media posts. Or just some new allowance that we can’t back away from perhaps.
During the last batch of tweets that @realdonaldtrump shot out to the public, which we heard repeatedly via every source willing to fan his derisive message, clearly, in this tirade and in a myriad of others, Trump sounds like any other white supremacist. Not surprisingly, even in Vermont, a state made proud by being the first to grand Civil Unions, we hear applause for his race- and ethnicity- based tweets.
“There was not one person in the crowd that did not agree with him. When people come to this country LEGALLY, they should not bite the hand that is welcoming them. To say they support the enemies of this country that are killing Americans makes them an enemy to me. There is no place for anyone living in this country that feels this way. I would have added, ‘If you’re not happy here, you can leave and we’ll help you pack.'” (Johnson Woolen Mills, Vermont)
Trump is a shoddy magician blowing smoke lest we follow his hands too closely. Always distracting, continuously disrupting, keeping his subservient base nodding in whatever direction he wishes. Do they question his baseness? His crudeness? His sleight of hand when the power always ends back in his stack and not yours or mine? Racism is the issue, of course, clouded in a call to return to a glossy past where white male power wasn’t challenged, and women kept in their place.
“When people say that this “is not racism,” they are saying that this is not transactional racism–they are offended by the liberal comments and feel justified in saying something offensive in return. They do NOT understand that Institutional Racism allows this comment to be thrown at people of color while missing any reference to white immigrants–as the vast majority of Americans are. Several naturalized elected officials mentioned this in their comments against the President” (Greg Burrill).
I know I’m stating the obvious for anyone who reads. I’ll clarify, anyone who reads widely. That’s the real problem I’m wrestling with, how do we return to an educated country that respects the right to challenge those in power, because I teach high schoolers who, mostly, haven’t developed the desire to read widely, yet. They scroll through tweets, survey headlines, overhear sound bites, but digging deeper into multiple texts to understand the nuances isn’t happening, yet. In their superficial research they will however hear the tones of hatred. They will catch sight of how privilege leads to discrimination. And ultimately, they, like so many other Americans, will mimic these new protocols advancing our social media discussions. They too can insult and belittle without shame. How will I counter this new world order? How will I model and teach civility when from the nation’s highest office such civility has vanished? Are we arming citizens with the power to tear down but no skill to negotiate or compromise, no ability to show empathy or compassion?
“There’s no excuse for any response to those words but a swift and strong, unified condemnation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as the House debated the resolution. “Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets.”
As Republicans rose to protest, Ms. Pelosi turned toward them on the House floor and picked up her speech, her voice rising as she added, “To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.” Julie Hirschfeld Davis reporting for the New York Times
There has been no condemnation of anyone’s tweets from a vast number of Americans. As there was no condemnation for the murder of Eric Garner. Or Michael Brown. Or Tamir Rice. Or Jamar Clark. Or Freddie Gray. Or, too many others. Can we as a nation function through the contemplation of facts anymore? Or remorse? Or justice? Can we read widely?
How will I enter a classroom and demand anything from a room full of 14 year olds who are now accustomed to locker talk, or even worse, unabashed attacks from not only the President, but from untold numbers of other social media screamers out to prove they are right and don’t give a damn about rules of conduct? True, as I was reminded by a wise colleague last night, politicians, like sports players, aren’t role models. They don’t use the same ethics as you and me, but shouldn’t they? As they sit in our White House? Why do we grant immunity for their sharp tongues or negative impact? Aren’t they our elected officials? Can’t we vote them out?
Like many, we wonder what to say to the next generation, or even to ourselves, while our politicians exchange barbs. This advice came from a former high school classmate (on social media no less) and I was glad to read his sensible words.
“Often when battle lines are drawn about something being racist or not, it is the white silence that further emboldens the racists.
This is a pivotal moment in US History, and I implore anyone who believes they are a “white ally” to people of color to open your mouth and proclaim, “This is what Institutional Racism looks like. You have two choices, oppose racism as it is espoused since this is what it looks like, or have us believe that you are an active proponent of Institutional Racism based on White Supremacy Culture“” (Greg Burrill).
For the rest of July, as I survey the flowers dotting my porch and yard, I will plan how I might create a culture of respect in my classroom during the upcoming school year. In this era of easy expressions of bigotry, it is more important than ever to practice listening. To hear ideas different than our own. To allow student voices to echo around within four safe walls. I will depend on the words of Arthur Miller, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alice Walker, Alison Bechdel, Ralph Ellison, Ntozake Shange, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, Elie Wiesel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a rainbow of other writers who represented their radical perspectives from every corner of this tiny spinning planet, as I ask students to read widely.