After Sarah Jeong was hired by The New York Times, the alt-right attacked her by surfacing controversial years-old tweets and calling for her firing. The mainstream right, while not involved in direct racism against her, did advance the narrative that Jeong’s tweets were “racist” and put pressure on the Times.
”Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants,” the shared tweets said.
’Just think what SJWs would do if a white person said that about black people!!!’ the cliched response goes.
Well, excuse me for being a dumbass fucking white person* sharing his opinion online, but calling Jeong “racist” and calling for her to be fired is an overreaction and isn’t even defensible from a laissez faire conservative perspective. (*Although (((I))) am not actually a fucking white person, according to the alt-right…)
Over the past few years, conservatives have wielded the torch of “free speech” against “political correctness.” It was supposedly one of the reasons Donald Trump won the electoral college vote. He was the only one fearless enough to say that Hispanics are not qualified to judge cases impartially and that “#WhiteGenocide” is happening.
Alt-right took Jeong tweets out of context
Trump, you see, expressed actually racist thoughts. Jeong, by contrast, was mostly responding to racism directed at her (directly as an individual and indirectly as a member of a targeted ethnicity) and other minority groups.
The idea of “#WhiteGenocide” is illustrative. It is, as I have written, “the idea that diversity is bad because it increases the population of minority ethnic groups in the United States and thus decreases the percentage of whites.” According to the alt-right narrative, America is a white country and should remain that way. Any change of demographics, due to immigration, intermarriage, or group differences in birth rates, is considered “genocide,” because it, in some small way, changes the demographic characteristics of the country. Demographic change in the country, where the percentage of white children born is now less than half of all children, was a factor in Trump’s election.
.@RepDanMode White people have stopped breeding. You'll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along. 😈
— sarah jeong (@sarahjeong) August 16, 2014
Thus, when Jeong tweeted to “@RepDanMode,” a racist account that has since been suspended,
.@RepDanMode White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along. 😈
complete with a devil emoji, she was mocking the racist idea of “#WhiteGenocide.”
The idea that she individually—or minorities as a group—could have some kind of conspiratorial plan to decrease the fertility rate of members of the white ethnic group is hilariously stupid. Jeong was responding to something racist Mr. “Mode” said and treating it with the contempt it deserved. If anyone thinks she seriously has a plan to stop white people from breeding, they need to learn what sarcasm is.
See the difference? Arguing for banning immigration on the grounds of race is racist. Arguing against the racist idea that immigration should be banned isn’t racist. Using hyperbolic sarcasm to respond to racism is not the same thing as racism.
I am not saying that Jeong’s tweets were smart or professional, given that they can be so easily distorted out of context, but one should not be fired for stupid tweets from four years ago. Among the common screenshot being shared, 1 tweet is from 2013, 1 from 2015, and 7 from 2014. Writers and artists should be judged on the content they produce—that is, the articles Jeong wrote for Verge.
Do conservatives still stand for free speech?
The Jeong situation looked similar to other Twitter mobs that have resulted in the firing of Kevin Williamson, James Gunn, Cheri Jacobus, and others. In the case of Williamson, he was fired shortly after being hired by The Atlantic after Media Matters unearthed tweets and audio attesting to Williamson’s idea that abortion should be treated as murder—with the possibility of capital punishment. Gunn was fired after years-old tweets making reference to sexual acts with children were uncovered. Jacobus’s situation was most similar; she was fired in July for responding to sexist Republican Michael Caputo’s bigoted attacks on her. Conservative/pro-Trump tabloid outlets like The Daily Caller appeared to cheer on her firing.
When Williamson was fired, his colleague David French wrote:
”But in this America, the one we live in now, Kevin is one of our most interesting and talented voices. Like every single interesting and talented person I know, he can provoke. But so what? Aren’t we adults? Can’t we handle disagreement? Apparently not.” – David French, “On the Cowardly Firing of Kevin Williamson”
Are we adults? Can we handle provocation?
Not according to modern-day pro-Trump “conservatives.”
After Jacobus’s tweets—in which she pointed out that registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had been praised by Trump – https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-did-trump-and-clinton-pal-jeffrey-epstein-escape-metoo —the USA Today cowardly fired her. Caputo, however, was still openly campaigning for The Hill to drop her. Caputo isn’t just a deranged misogynist and anti-free speech warrior, he might even have sympathies with racists.
Trump, the leader of the Republican Party today, spends his days attacking the press with Stalinist epithets and crying for safe spaces whenever he gets offended. He wants to get back at media outlets he dislikes by raising taxes on them. The leadership of Trump’s Republican Party is antagonistic to much of the Constitution, especially the First Amendment.
To their credit, many actual conservatives (classically-liberal-oriented conservatives) are standing by their pro-free speech views. David French writes:
The Times is standing by its hire. Good. It’s time to end termination-by-Twitter and debate bad ideas head-on. (As for whether the Times and other elite outlets will display the same fortitude when a conservative is the target of online outrage, I’ll believe it when I see it.)
Kevin Williamson writes:
The Times can hire and fire whomever it likes — but not in my name. I’m sure that many of the people invoking my experience are well-meaning friends, but I’ll thank them to leave me out of this.
Jonah Goldberg writes:
That’s one reason why I think the Times’ leaders are correct to stand by Jeong, even though they open themselves to the hypocrisy charge. (In February they hired Quinn Norton, another technology reporter, and then immediately unhired her when some of her offensive tweets were weaponized.)
The idea of free expression traces itself back to the Peace of Westphalia, which put an end to the continent-wide, tit-for-tat religious wars that had wracked Europe for centuries. Simple exhaustion and the acceptance of “the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword,” in the words of C. V. Wedgwood, led the West to grudgingly accept the right to be wrong.
Robby Soave writes for Reason:
That ought to be enough. A culture in which people are allowed to seek forgiveness, grow, and go on with their lives without losing their jobs is vastly preferable to one in which armies of trolls are constantly hunting for that one career-ending tweet, statement, or association.
Even Ben Shapiro writes:
Should she have been fired? Nope. We’re living in an age of social media mobbing, and it’s got to stop if we’re ever going to have any semblance of a social fabric left – or if we’re ever going to engage in conversation like normal people without fear of firing every minute. Private corporations obviously have a right to fire employees; there are indeed cases where the toxicity of a person’s current statements or the revelation of past statements about which an employer was ignorant endangers the status of the employer. But this is not one of those cases: The New York Times knew what it was getting when it hired Jeong, and firing her would only encourage the kind of behavior we saw with regard to Kevin Williamson and James Gunn, among others.
French and Shapiro did, however, maintain that Jeong’s tweets were “racist.” Their point is that people expressing discriminatory and racially judgmental—yes, racist—views is wrong no matter who expresses it. That is true, and it is also the case that the radical viewpoint that non-white people cannot be racist is incorrect.
However, neither French nor Shapiro introduced evidence to prove that Jeong’s tweets were meant to express racist intent. They did not prove she actually supported discriminating against white people. If her tweets did support hating or discrimination, then they can be said to be racist. But there is plausible evidence that her tweets were simply meant to make a point about racism—to respond to racism.
Calling her tweets “racist” as opposed to “counterproductive,” which they might very well have been, is taking the charges against her too far.
Finally, there is a tendency by some on the right to say, “We are just playing by the left’s rules.” The idea is that SJW liberals started the trend of social media outrage. It is somewhat true that many of the early outrage campaigns were led by people who held liberal views. There were even cases of “the left eating the left,” as conservatives might say, like “#CancelColbert” and Justine Sacco.
But even traditional conservatives have been outraged and acted censoriously towards a different set of viewpoints that offended them before the rise of the alt-right. Bill Maher had lost his show on ABC, for example, for suggesting that the 9/11 attackers had acted courageously in pursuance of their beliefs—wrong as their beliefs were—and back in the 60’s, feminism, gay rights, civil rights, and sexual expression were controversial topics.
It is almost unavoidable that any individual will be a hypocrite sometime in their life. Life being as complex as it is, it is easy to think of exceptions for different circumstances or to encounter a situation that doesn’t easily fit into one box or another.
But to try to be principled means having fixed values that you define yourself, not casually adopting the (perceived, or straw-manned) arguments of someone else and bending them to apply to someone else when convenient. To do so is to be weak and reactionary.
If you actually espouse free speech principles, then it shouldn’t matter what someone else espouses. Thus, the claim that “the left does it to us” doesn’t hold water. Arguing for firing or punishing someone for their non-defamatory speech only works if you yourself think people should be fired for their speech.
If conservatives claim to support free speech—and classically-liberal conservatives still do—they must not support firing Sarah Jeong the same week she is hired. And furthermore, if conservatives oppose false accusations of racism, it is time to stop calling Jeong “racist.”