Over the last few days I've noticed a lot of folks on the Twitter and the Face-book linking to the new Tumblr sensation. It's called racists getting fired (& getting racists fired), and its purpose is to find people saying nasty racist shit on social media, finding out where they work, directing their superiors to aforesaid racist shit, and getting them fired.
I kind of really hate it.
I'm not apologizing for racists. It's unnecessary to explain why not: their beliefs are ignorant and atavistic and should have no place in the twenty-first century (or any century, for that matter). But it makes me uncomfortable that many of the same people who were so livid at at the Gamergaters' doxxing tactics are the ones linking to and applauding Racists Getting Fired.
When you disconnect the politics from either scenario, what you essentially have are a group of motivated zealots targeting a total stranger who has offended them and proactively working to ruin their life. We would certainly be upset if, say, some mean-spirited trog outed somebody—someone they've never actually met face to face or spoken to—as gay or transgendered, or got them fired from their job at a Catholic relief services nonprofit by pointing to a blog post where they refer to undergoing in-vitro fertilization. But then we Like and Favorite and Retweet when someone performs the same sort of attack on a person whose views we don't like.
"Bullshit," you say. "People need to be held accountable for believing and saying things beyond the pale." Sure. Remember that when you arrive at a moment in your life when your personal compass doesn't align with the crowd's.
I think it speaks to how personhood has been revised by the internet.
The people (assholes) on Racists Getting Fired aren't really people to
us. They're just the part of them that says racist shit. It's really
easy to advocate for a stranger's public humiliation, to go behind
their back and divest them of their income, to hand out their phone numbers to thousands of acrimonious anonymouses when what you're dealing
with isn't someone you see as an actual and complete person, but as a remote abstraction of a person. (Funny: don't we often think of racism as the reduction of a human being to a single characteristic?)
What bothers me most (as someone who would like to consider himself a progressive) is that tactics like these aren't going to be very effective in the long run. They're great for rallying the believers, but not necessarily for winning converts, which is what we want to do. The successes of the queer community towards achieving social acceptance over the last thirty years weren't achieved by an intimidation campaign, but by what was essentially good PR: by demonstrating to an ignorant and hitherto biased public that, gosh, these are people with feelings, aspirations, and contributions to make, just like anyone else. Winning hearts and minds. You don't persuade holdouts to change their beliefs by subjecting offenders to a digital auto-da-fé. More likely than not, it will leave their noxious beliefs unchanged or reaffirmed (how often is a forced repentance honest?), and help "SJW" further along its way to becoming a slur. We don't want social progressivism to become associated with vengeful thought-policing, with people who only care for free expression when what's being said is what they agree with. Not only will its proponents risk being discredited, but so will the cause itself.
People like Daryl Davis have the right idea. (I wish I had occasion to link to that piece more frequently.) We can't all do what he can, but the key is to make our ideological opponents into our allies. We can't very well round up and gas all the racists in the world; we have to give them cause to sincerely become non-racists.
But yeah, it's much easier and more immediately and viscerally satisfying to terrorize them via the internet, and it'll win you more followers on Tumblr. So carry on.