I spent a fair amount of time this weekend in mixed states of amusement, frustration, anger, and confusion as a grown man threw a fit in my online spaces. It had started on Facebook, with multiple comments left on my page, the same screenshots posted over and over. He then looked up my Twitter handle and railed against me there, trying to drag in a celebrity, his followers, and one of my employers. According to him, I was a fatwa-issuing Nazi (I’m not making this word choice up) of no journalistic integrity who was censoring the public. And the world needed to know.
Why had a man spent two days on a mission to tell the entire world that I was a journalism-destroying fascist? Because I deleted his comment on my personal Facebook page.
If this shocks you, you are likely not a semi-prominent woman on the internet, because this happens, to greater or lesser severity, about once a week.
I used to love debate. I believed in testing ideas and theories, and in the power of discourse. And I thought that debate, the back and forth of ideas, was instrumental to that. This love carried me through my Political Science degree. But I’ve found that there are two types of debate. There’s the debate of ideas represented in new vs. old schools of thought, nuanced critique, new study, and the progression of circumstance and ideas. And then there’s the patriarchal sport of debate now given new life in the age of the internet.
The latter is harmful, distracting bullshit.
Many western debates have had a strong element of privilege running throughout their history. To be able to imbibe at a salon, stand at a podium, or sit at a roundtable while sparring about the minutia of important issues requires a surplus of time, a dispassionate objectivity, and a platform that many don’t have the luxury of possessing around issues that can be life or death. We live in a world where the most hotly debated issues surround questions of women’s rights, health care, racism and racial oppression, immigration, trans rights, reproductive rights, and religious discrimination. To be able to take issues fundamental to the health and safety of millions of people and turn them into sport where winners and losers are decided by talking points requires some level of insulation from the negative impacts of the outcome in order to enjoy participating.
It is no surprise to me that online debate has become the international sport of cis white men. Those who are least likely to be negatively impacted by the outcomes of discussions regarding the rights of marginalized people, who are driven by little more than ego and the risk of slight discomfort if society is made more equal, can gleefully jump from post to post, forum to forum, challenging the heartfelt pleas of those most at risk. “Well actuallys” are flung at those working for justice and equality like drive-bys of apathy. And those who are fighting for their lives are then forced to battle each challenger bearing advanced degrees in Google and entitlement in order to prevent the outright dismissal of their lived experience.
But as much as I hate this sort of debate, as much as I make it known I hate this sort of debate, many men are more than happy to completely ignore that and challenge meâ€Š—â€Ševen if I’m a complete stranger to themâ€Š—â€Što a debate about basically any social issue I dare post about. I do not get mad at the challenge, even if the predictability and mundanity of it all does try my patience. I do get mad at the continued insistence of it. I used to just say, “I don’t debate this here,” when random strangers would find their way to my Twitter feed or personal Facebook page. But that boundary put in place on my personal page is almost never respected, and others jump in to argue on my behalf, and my online space is inevitably full of debate over the basic humanity of marginalized people that does nothing but remind the marginalized people watching that they are not valued or safe.
These sort of archaic anti-progress/anti-rights opinions already have a platform from which to shout their side of the debate on issues we should not still be debating. In this white supremacist, transphobic, ableist, misogynistic, hyper-Christian society, the majority of our speech platforms were built off the loud espousals of hatred that still hurt so many today. There is no lack of space for a white man who thinks that Mike Brown was a thug who deserved to die. There is no lack of space for a Midwestern white woman who lives thousands of miles away from anywhere that could be a target of tourism, let alone terrorism, and yet wants to spread fear of Muslim extremism. That side of the debate is heard in deafeningly loud decibels, to the detriment of the rest of us.
And honestly, these are not subjects that should still be up for debate to begin with. Whether or not a woman deserves the same pay as a man should not be up for debate. Whether or not a cop should be able to shoot an unarmed black man in the street without consequence should not be up for debate. Whether or not trans people should be able to use the restrooms that match their gender identity in safety should not be up for debate. Whether or not sick people and many disabled people should be allowed to suffer and die without medical coverage in the richest country in the world should not be up for debate.
And if you, in 2017, think that these issues should be up for debate, it is because you’ve willfully ignored or dismissed the fact that these debates have been had for decades, if not centuries, and progress and general human decency have already shown the fatal flaws of your arguments. There is no debate right now that will convince a flat-earther that the earth is round. If you think the earth is flat in 2017, it is because you are determined to think the earth is flat in 2017, not because you haven’t seen enough evidence. You are choosing to climb up on a cross of archaic bullshit, and I certainly have no intention of climbing up with you.
And so, I just do not have these useless, outdated, repetitive, one-on-one debates. When a comment about how “illegals need to get out” is left on my post voicing concern over families being torn apart over this country’s xenophobia, I just delete it. I don’t have time to debate something so backward, and I don’t have time to explain. My page is my part of the debate at large, this is true. But I’m not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry, I’m debating those who are instead wedded to the inertia of inaction and ignorance.
It has been really freeing, as a woman, to not have to ask permission or apologize for deleting a comment that I do not want. At first I just said no to really blatant hate. But now I delete whatever minimizes, distracts, obfuscates, or annoysâ€Š—â€Šif I feel like it. It’s my house and you will get kicked out if you smash my windows, and you also don’t get to track mud all over my floors or change my radio station. It has been really freeing, as a woman of color, to be both public and to be able to say, “no, not here in my space.” It has been empowering to know that yes, I could exist in the world and retain my right to refuse to engage with those who would force their way into my proximity. I don’t have to fight each individual foot soldier of oppression; I can keep my focus on the big picture and my fight on where it could be most effective.
And also, fuck those dudes.
But for my audacity, some men have tried their hardest to make sure that I pay. They have plastered my page with comment after comment, some hundreds a day. They have written about me in blogs and forums. They have written to my employers demanding that I be fired. They have sent me DMs and emails. Sometimes the harassment lasts a few hours, sometimes a few days, sometimes it will go on for a week, disappear, and then start up again a few months laterâ€Š—â€Šhate renewed over my continued, unbothered existence.
Sometimes I block these dudesâ€Š—â€Ša lot of people tell me to. But I usually don’t. My personal Facebook page (I don’t have a professional one) and my Twitter account are mine. I mean, I know technically they belong to the social media companies themselves, but my followers and my friendsâ€Š—â€Šthat is a community that I built. And I should be able to say “go away” when somebody insists, uninvited, on my time and attention. I shouldn’t have to block them, and lower my voice, in order to not be harassed. Other people in similar situations choose for good reason to deal with this sort of harassment differently, and many see my decision to repeatedly erase these demands instead of just blocking and moving on as impractical stubbornness. But the walls that I build for my safety because my “no” was not enough may eventually be the box that I am stuck in where my “no” can no longer be heard.
It is 2017, and whether or not a black woman has a right to decline conversation from a white man is not something that should be up for debate. So I won’t.