Censorship from the left, or That time Alt Yellowstone Nat’l Park blocked me for having an opinion.
Let me state first, so that my biases are out in the open: I consider myself part of the resistance against the budding authoritarian regime of Donald Trump. I call my Senators. I can’t march much because of physical limitations, but I can write letters. I’ve been physically threatened on Twitter by people who don’t know me. I don’t just talk to people I agree with, but also those who challenge me, and even those who disgust me. It’s not always fun, especially when radical neo-con white supremacists tell me I’m a “broken person” and a “Jew rat” for not being concerned about the “Euro-white future of an ethnoculturally segregated America.” Yeah, those people are out there. While I don’t support their vile ideology or hate speech, I support open lines of communication whenever possible, until it descends into threats and ad hominems.
So it came out of the blue when the first account to EVER publicly state it had blocked me wasn’t a right-wing neo-Nazi, but one of the rogue National Park accounts, @AltYelloNatlPar.
The Alternative Yellowstone National Park account had been tweeting a list of concrete ways to aid the resistance (along with some that were really more like self care), which including some like expected ones, like “Visit a National Park” and “Contact your elected representatives” — before it veered into some odd ones: “Don’t buy real estate” and “Make a friend of a different color.” The advisement against buying a home wasn’t clarified with any reasoning. But the one I chose to respond to was the latter.
My first thought when I read that was: people of color aren’t social merit badges. It’s frankly gross and weird to think that white people should examine their social circles and, if lacking diversity, actively try to hunt down someone’s friendship. Who wants to be around you just to fill the role of “my black/Indian/Muslim/whatever friend”? It’s disingenuous to suggest making a friend for any other reason than that you like each other.
While I wasn’t angry at them for tweeting that, it seemed like an incomplete thought. It felt like they meant, “Seek out people of different cultures and countries of origins to hear new perspectives you may be missing.” Can that result in friendship? Sure it can. But they are patently two different ideas: one speaks of expanding horizons, the other advises you to treat your social circles like a game of racial bingo to see who’s missing.
The hypocrisy of the Alt National Park’s advice was not lost on me. There’s someone else we know who likes to use the people around him to gain legitimacy: Donald Trump. When under fire for many alleged sexual assaults spanning decades, and outright bragging about sexual assault on that fateful bus trip with Billy Bush, Trump needed to find a way to salvage his reputation with women voters.
“I’ve hired tremendous numbers of women,” Trump said in an interview last March. “Women are in my highest executive positions.” (Nevermind that the numbers didn’t always back that up.) Even as Trump cited Barbara Res as an example that he had been a longtime champion for women, her version of events is very different, including his “hiding” unattractive female employees. In short, he pandered for legitimacy by invoking proximity to a demographic, in this case females.
Is that why you make friends? So you can invoke their image later to defend yourself against a charge of being racist/xenophobic/etc.? If I were a man saying denigrating things about women, could I say, “It’s impossible for me to be sexist! I have a mother!”? Exactly.
I responded: “@AltYelloNatPark Follow-up: Don’t cite their existence as evidence you aren’t xenophobic/racist. Friends aren’t merit badges.”
They instantly blocked me, saying “@lionthroat We blocked them. We’re not in it to argue, simply inform and resist. The truth will set you free. #fight #organize #resist” (The “Them” here is me, if you couldn’t tell)
I was pretty taken aback, because 1.) It was an innocuous tweet that I didn’t expect any response to, let alone an insta-block, and 2.) I had that moment of “Wait, but we’re on the same side! …Aren’t we?” and 3.) How ironic that they blocked out my voice while claiming to stand for the truth. Whose truth?
The answer to #2 is no, we obviously are not on the same side. When an apparatus of the so-called resistance shuts down voices from even its own people being heard — you’ve failed. Perhaps it isn’t truly censorship in the typical sense: after all, I can continue to tweet at them; they have merely indicated they will never listen to me again.
This is the definition of being a “snowflake” and only proves that the right wing criticism is sometimes dead on the mark —Alt Yellowstone considered their message so untouchable and their forum so fragile that one person’s comment had to be shut down. I wanted to encourage them to think about how they are framing their messaging. They wanted to put their fingers in their ears and go on megaphoning away, yelling their message without tolerance for criticism or input. Just. Like. Donald. Trump.
Tell me, is this really the environment of a resistance that will get anywhere? I’m hoping Alt Yellowstone is an outlier that can serve as an example of “How NOT to treat your online community.” But if this is indicative of a trend, if others in this growing movement are unwilling or unable to cope with an engaged audience who thinks critically and asks hard questions, the resistance as we know it is ultimately doomed to fizzle out and fail, and we will be looking at 8 years of DJT instead of 4.