#BoycottStarWarsVII: Why I did feed the trolls

Prologue

This is my nephew. He loves Star Wars.

This is my daughter. She still hasn’t seen the movies, but she knows all the characters by name and by sight, and she loves Star Wars, too.

But neither one of them has ever really been a full participant IN Star Wars. And that’s a big part of the reason I decided to feed the trolls on Monday.

Feeding the Trolls

Monday afternoon, as I scanned Twitter, I spotted this:

A fantasy analyst tweeting about Star Wars and knocking bigots? Curiosity piqued.

Skimming over to Twitter, I found a bunch of bigots getting their bigot on, but far more not-awful people telling the bigots to stick it where the two suns don’t shine.

As the back and forth lit up Twitter, it spread quickly to blogs and news sites. Nearly all the initial coverage laughed at the haters and cheered on the good guys. Pretty nice win, it seemed.

Then this evening, a friend posted this article to my wall:

According to this piece, one of the loudest and most putrid online hatemongers claimed Tuesday morning that #BoycottStarWarsVII was a joke, a way to bait liberals into overreacting.

And hahaha, boy did she get you all, silly liberals, says this piece, while a more concerned version on Vox chides that we’ve all been duped into doing just what these jerks wanted and giving them a bigger platform for hate.

Yes, that’s something these clowns do. They throw nastiness for the sake of stirring people up, because they like to know they can make you angry. And if the only thing engaging could accomplish is feeding that, there wouldn’t have been a point. But there was a point on Monday.

A long time ago, in a young man far, far away

When SyFy remade Battlestar Galactica and cast Starbuck as a woman, I was 25. And though I would have been horrified to be labeled a sexist, I was annoyed. The Starbuck I grew up with was a man — why did they need to change that?

I was typical of many who think of ourselves as fair-minded, but who have internalized the purity-industrial complex in ways we don’t quite understand.

I wasn’t racist, but I thought if I told racial jokes with irony, that was OK. I wasn’t a sexist, I just didn’t see why they made a (male) character I loved into a woman.

Mostly, no one had ever had a real conversation with me about how my irony may sound funny to me, but the jokes reinforce oppression no matter how they’re told.

No one had ever explained to me that while it was easy for me to see myself as the hero in any story, some kids will only see people like them cast as a villain or someone who needs saving, if they see someone like themselves on screen at all.

Confronting privilege

Unless we’re explicitly asked to face it, most white Americans will never think about representation in film or pop culture — and the odds of it happening organically go down as you add points of privilege like male, straight, and so on.

Why would we? I see myself everywhere. When I played Star Wars, I could always be Luke or Han without much stretch. It never occurred to me that it might be hard for my daughter or my nephew to imagine themselves in those roles.

The concerned folks at Vox say by engaging #BoycottStarWarsVII , we give the trolls a platform. While that might be partially true, there’s another side. The bigger the hashtag got, the wider it opened a door for a conversation with millions of people like 25 year old me.

Vox claims “roughly 95 percent of those using it are talking about how ridiculous and disgusting“ it is. Even if you accept their back-of-the-napkin numbers, at least 5% of the conversation is still disgusting. And it doesn’t take long to find that 5% if you go and look.

To be clear, the people hurling slime on the hashtag aren’t the target audience for the conversation we need to have. Those aren’t people who look in the mirror of privilege or bias and are shocked to see themselves there. Those are people who wear white pride and Men’s Rights proudly. Maybe they can be converted, but theirs isn’t the changeable bias I’m looking for.

I’m looking for the people who would never be proud to see their own bias reflected back at them. I’m looking for people who are repulsed when they see bigotry laid bare in front of them.

Seeing the ugliest side of the bias that lurks quietly inside you is a powerful motivator towards change for fair-minded people

Episode VII’s leading protagonists are a young white woman and a black man. The good news is, we’ve made enough progress that most people haven’t even noticed that.

But we need to make sure people do notice.

Luminous beings are we

Exposing proud bigots behind #BoycottStarWarsVII opened an opportunity to start a constructive conversation about representation, in a way that people might be able to hear it.

And those of us who aren’t left out when the good parts are cast must help bring our friends, families and communities to the table.

We don’t need to do it because it feels good — we need to do it because the difference between inclusion and exclusion changes people’s lives.

Badly skewed representation is a real problem, with real consequences. Kids who don’t see themselves included internalize exclusion, even if it’s not as blatant as, say, casual slurs in screenplays.

Even if it means feeding the internet’s most wretched hives of scum and villainy, lifting up #BoycottStarWarsVII gives us a rare chance to raise that on a major stage.

Star Wars is an unmatched cultural touchstone. It revolutionized an entire industry, and holds huge social capital.

But it fails at representation. Though Leia is an undeniable badass, there are no central, non-white human heroes, and all three original films fail the very modest bar of the Bechdel test. The fact is, Star Wars has till now been mostly about straight white men.

The bigots are proud of the technological terror they’ve created— they believe they have no weaknesses. But each time we can expose their beliefs, it gives us a chance — not to drop a torpedo into their battle station of bigotry, but to help someone who doesn’t even know s/he’s trapped inside find a way out.

I will always remember the conversation that opened the door for me to escape. Someone saw an opportunity to engage me. She saw that I was uncomfortable in a moment, but didn’t know how to process what was happening. She approached me with compassion, and helped me begin the journey that made me see my own face behind the mask, and gave me a chance to start down a path of intentionally dismantling the bias that was lurking inside me.

Step one in having that conversation with millions of people was lifting up #BoycottEpisodeVII and exposing the real underbelly of that bigotry.

Now we need to go find someone to talk to about representation, and why it should matter to all of us.

I grew up on Star Wars. Hokie as it is to say, the concept of The Force is about as close as I get to a religious philosophy (minus the micro-organism nonsense introduced later).

In my games, I could always be Luke, or Han, or Obi-Wan. My sons have that luxury too. But what about my daughter? What about my nephew? On December 18, they — and millions of little girls and little boys of color — won’t just be side actors in someone else’s play.

My sons will get to see that heroes aren’t heroes because they’re white and men, they’re heroes because of what they do in the world. My nephew will see that he can be THE Jedi, even if that’s not the path he travels first. And my daughter will see that she doesn’t need her dad or anyone else to save her — she can be pilot the of her own ship.

That’s a conversation worth having.

The cardboard X-Wing I built her when she was about 8 months old