When Firebrands Start Tone-Trolling


Like Greta Christina says, anger motivates us, but unchecked it can destroy us.

– JT Eberhard, criticizing Bria Crutchfield for what he saw as her overly angry and harsh anti-racist commentary during Q&A at the recent Great Lakes Atheist Convention. A critique that assumed, among other things, that he is best able to decide when a white person is being intentionally racist versus, unintentionally so; that when it comes to racism, he is best able to decide when it’s best to present an outraged tirade versus calm engagement; and that he is best able to decide who African-American atheists should see as their allies in the atheist movement.

Sigh.

Jen McCreight has already done a masterful job dismantling JT’s piece, and I don’t have much to add to what she said. But since JT used my ideas to bolster his case, I want to say this. It’s an excerpt from my Free Inquiry essay, Why We Need to Keep Fighting:

In all too many cases, the exact same atheists who applaud my passionate, uncompromising anger about religion will turn around and say that I need to be polite, diplomatic, understanding, non-divisive, and moderate when it comes to my anger about misogyny and sexism. At least, when it comes to my anger about misogyny and sexism within the atheist movement.

If it didn’t piss me off so much, I’d think it was hilarious.

You don’t get to have it both ways. You don’t get to be inspired and motivated by my uncompromising rage about religion… and then tell me that my uncompromising rage about sexism and misogyny in the atheist movement is divisive, distracting, sapping energy from the important business of atheist activism. You don’t get to cheer me on for being such a badass when I stand up fiercely against religion in society… and then scold me for being a bad soldier when I stand up fiercely against sexism and misogyny within the atheist movement. You don’t get to applaud my outspoken fearlessness when I demand that social and political and economic systems be made safe and welcoming for atheists, and when I point out the ways in which they are not… and then call me a divisive, attention-hungry professional victim when I demand that atheist groups and organizations and events be made safe and welcoming for women, and point out the ways in which they are not.

Now, please do a mental search-and-replace. Replace “my anger about misogyny and sexism” with “Bria Crutchfield’s anger about racism.” Or “Natalie Reed’s anger about transphobia.” Or “Josh Spokesgay’s anger about homophobia.” Or… oh, you get the idea.

It is especially distressing to hear this notion coming from a hard-core firebrand atheist: someone who’s made a reputation and a career out of his uncompromising rage at religion and religious believers, and his passionate use and defense of anger, invective, and insults… aimed not only at religious believers, but at other atheists who critique his hard-line approach. And it is especially distressing to hear my ideas used in defense of this. Yes, I have said that anger can be a difficult and dangerous tool. But just as it is not up to religious believers to tell atheists how and when and where and in what tone we should express our anger about religion, it is not up to white people to tell African-Americans — or any other people of color — how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about racism.

So JT, in the future, please do me a favor: Do not quote me in support of your half-assed, hypocritical tone-trolling about social justice. Please assume that nothing I have ever said could possibly be interpreted as supporting your perspective on social justice. I do not support it. I think it is beyond fucked-up.

Comments

  1. says

    Bigger than his ability to divine whether racists are clueless, or the other, bad kind of racist, whatever that it, is his ability to divine that Bria Crutchfield was motivated by a desire to hurt the racist dumbass. Granted, I wasn’t there and there’s no video so far as I know, so I don’t know exactly what she did, but he hasn’t said anything that would lead me to believe that’s in evidence.

  2. says

    To be clear – I wasn’t there and don’t know what you said… but – that you are catching this sort of guff tells me you were on target. Weird metric I know.

  3. says

    (some extreme sarcasm here) But it is up to the Greta’s and Jen’s of the world to make sure JT knows when he can and can’t speak out if he thinks someone took that anger over the line. I mean, I realize this anger-card is a get-out-of-jail-free card when used by any non-privileged folks at any time, because if anyone suggests that there might be a limit to how much that anger can justify, it’s just wrong…unless they have the right qualifications of some other lack of privileged. Wait…why is Greta and Jen qualified to say how far racist comments are allowed to take that anger again? They are white. They don’t know. They don’t know what it’s like so how can they judge if the anger was warranted or not?

    I find some flaws in how JT wrote up the article, and maybe he’s not spotless, but for fucks sake he took a situation where he felt someone was over the line and addressed it. Fuck this tone trolling bullshit, if talking about where that anger can start breaking down into harm isn’t relevant to all of us I don’t know what is. I see a serious problem of burning down all the people who try to help because ‘they don’t know’…and make mistakes.

    I don’t give two shits about the term ‘ally’, I’m a human being and you can’t stop me from trying to make the world a better place in ways that align with other peoples goals (feminism, atheism, etc) but this burning down of people just because they bring up something wrong with someones approach to the point that Greta does by saying ‘ Please assume that nothing I have ever said could possibly be interpreted as supporting your perspective on social justice. I do not support it’…I’m sick of it.

    But hey…apparently anger can only be discussed by the angry. And those of us who feel angry with you but aren’t you…we can just sit on the side and stew while you do all the raging….(more sarcasm)

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    From a conversation between two Black characters on the West Wing:

    “If they’re shooting at you you know you are doing something right.” – Andrew MacIntosh, the white house computer repair guy.

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @otocump:

    Exactly what is sarcastic in your comment and what is meant to be true.

    Are you “sick of [statements like Greta’s]” or are you really wanting more of the same and sarcastically saying that you are sick of them?

    Sarcasm tags: methinks you don’t know how to use them.

  6. maudell says

    @otocump
    All those people abusing the ‘get out of jail free’ card! It’s a wonder the atheist movement’s reservoir of white guys isn’t hemorrhaging, facing this dire injustice. I guess their historical oppression has brought them much resilience.

    @SallyStrange
    You know, when people are too emotionally involved, they just don’t think rationally.

  7. eigenperson says

    otocump, in what sense is criticizing someone “burning down” that person?

    Bria Crutchfield criticized a person who asked a stupid question. JT Eberhard criticized Bria. Greta Christina criticized JT. No one burned anyone down.

    Notice that JT isn’t getting any flak for having delivered a criticism per se. He’s getting flak because his criticism was ill thought out and misdirected; in short, it was bogus. And if you think it’s somehow improper to criticize something that’s bogus, then why do you belong to a community that’s largely built around doing exactly that?

  8. says

    @otocump: Yes, some people have perhaps overstated their position. One can easily imagine some things that she could have said would have definitely been out out of line. Seeing as JT has claimed his main gripe was she hijacked someone else’s Q & A, why not let Mandisa Thomas be the judge of what sort of behavior is acceptable?

  9. says

    Crap. I’m angry and that sarcasm got splattered everywhere without being aimed where it was sarcasm and where I was just being angry but not sarcastic.

    Long and short…gah. I’m tired of these kinds of games. JT may not have made the best choice in how he called out Bria over what he perceived her overreaction is (and by all accounts of the description, hijacking 5 minutes of a QA to rip someone apart is over that line IMHO as well) and he may not be phrasing it best right now either, but its a legit topic and I’m angry how Greta and Jen interpret him is the worst possible light. Especially Jen’s ‘you’re not listening’ string.

    @AceofSevens Why not indeed. Why not anyone judge anyone else for that matter?

  10. llewelly says

    otocump:

    ” Long and short…gah. I’m tired of these kinds of games. ”

    You are tired?

    What about people who must live their lives bombarded with “these kinds of games” ?
    Women do not get to walk away from arguments about sexual harassment – because they are (almost always) the targets.
    People of color do not get to walk away from racism – because they are the the targets.

    I am tired too, often too tired to comment, but I at least am (in most cases) granted the luxury of being allowed to ignore the problem. But that does not help. It makes it worse.

    ” JT may not have made the best choice in how he called out Bria over what he perceived her overreaction is (and by all accounts of the description, hijacking 5 minutes of a QA to rip someone apart is over that line IMHO as well) and he may not be phrasing it best right now either, but its a legit topic and I’m angry how Greta and Jen interpret him is the worst possible light. ”

    The uses of anger and civility is indeed a legitimate topic. Greta covered that above. And she also covered the inconsistent and two-faced manner in which JT has applied those principles.

    This is not the first time JT has made this kind of error. It’s not the third time, or the twelfth time. He’s been carrying on in this smug and self-righteous manner for well over two years.

    And he was, for some time, given the benefit of the doubt by many people.

    He went to an awful lot of trouble to convince those people they were wrong to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  11. Ingdigo Jump says

    @Otocump

    From what I understand Friends have tried to explain shit to JT and might as well be speaking yiddish to a pig. So no a hissy fit over being read in the “worst possible light” isn’t valid, it’s whinging.

    Also this isn’t the “worst possible light” believe me. the worst one is that “Jt is a fucking racist weasel providing cover for racist weasels to earn his merit badge from the Grand Wizard”. This is reading it in the light he provided. Anything more generous is bending over backwards to give special dispensation to A Nice Guy(tm)

  12. Ingdigo Jump says

    I’m tired of these kinds of games

    Translates to: “I am sick of hearing second class citizens complain!”

    THAT is reading you in the worse light. Learn the difference

  13. says

    Tell you what, otocump. You go test a bunch of communication strategies and get some data on which ones cause people to stop acting out their isms most quickly and with the least harm to their targets. When you’ve got one that works better than this one, then you can be tired of ours.

  14. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Well, Otocump makes it absolutely clear that ze made no distinction between what was sarcastic and what was meant to be read straight [yes, multiple senses intended].

    However, we get no real clarification of the original post. Just, “I’m tired of all the talk about difficult topics like racism. How about if we agree never to bring up racism again, deal?” Which, of course, presupposes that a) anti-racist people of color aren’t tired of addressing this crap; b) how much Otocump is sick of racism is a relevant measuring stick to use when considering challenging racism and/or how much Otocump is sick of racism discussions is at all a relevant measuring stick to use when comparing and considering different possible tactics to use in challenging racism; c) things will be better if we just don’t talk about racism; d) things will be better if no one expresses themselves in an angry tone. Because the key to preventing another Amritsar was for Indians to be more polite in dissenting from British imperialism than those uppity folks passing out flyers by the well. Or something.

    Yeah, otocump, that’s a valuable addition to the conversation.

  15. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @indigo jump

    Oh, I don’t know. I bet that they’d get the hang of the shift from “slop” to “schlump” pretty quickly, myself. Sounds like JT’s taking a bit longer.

  16. says

    The very title of JT’s blog encapsulates his obliviousness to his own privilege. “What Would JT Do?” His perspective is the right perspective, and he should be the arbiter for everyone else.

  17. Drolfe says

    Five whole minutes? That’s the outrage?!

    IMO, racists, or rather people acting racist, don’t get yelled at enough. And it’s clearly not enough because it keeps happening. Like all day, everyday, everywhere.

    In the comments on the post Greta quotes I said exactly the same thing: replace sexism with racism in that piece and it’s just as valid.

    Greta is on point. Fuck racism.

  18. smhll says

    “What Would JT Do?” His perspective is the right perspective, and he should be the arbiter for everyone else.

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me his blog title is intentionally riffing on the Christian expression “What Would Jesus Do?”

  19. ischemgeek says

    @Lauren: It’s worse than that, because if JT were faced with a similarly-prejudiced and loaded question along his own axes of marginalization, we know what he would do because he’s done it in the past: Confront the person angrily.

    And yet, it’s somehow not okay when a black woman does it along her axes of marginalization.

    Hypocritical much?

    Personally, if someone asked me why I don’t just willpower through my asthma in a conference that was supposed to be welcoming towards those with asthma, I’d probably blow my stack just like Bria did. And I’d be justified in doing so. Martial arts analogy: The hits that hurt the most are the ones you don’t expect, that come when you’re relaxed and you’ve let your guard down. It’s no wonder she got so angry.

  20. says

    smhll:

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me his blog title is intentionally riffing on the Christian expression “What Would Jesus Do?”

    Correct, and substituting himself for jesus christ. Sounds pretty full of himself.

  21. roscoe says

    “But just as it is not up to religious believers to tell atheists how and when and where and in what tone we should express our anger about religion, it is not up to white people to tell African-Americans — or any other people of color — how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about racism.”

    Nor is it up to women to tell men how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about misandry, right?

    Pot, meet kettle.

  22. Greta Christina says

    Re roscoe @ #26: “misandry” = misogynist MRA dog-whistle. Banned.

    If anyone else wants to explain the difference between anger of the oppressor group and anger of the oppressed group, for the benefit of lurkers, go for it.

  23. says

    Yeah, I get it. I’m wrong (in a none-sarcastic way).

    Listen, I get that Bria was insulted. I get every single damn good point that she was justifiably angry. I don’t accept her method of venting that anger. I take issue with someone taking their anger and calculating a way to launch an attack on someone else in this way. I do not believe all possible methods of venting this anger are equally acceptable and agree with JT’s point on that.

    I am frustrated because I do see an issue with the way anger is being turned in and on some people, and not others, depending not on the circumstances but on what I view is past mistakes. Yes JT has had past issues and has been wrong. I felt he either figured them out and addressed them, but I guess not everyone kept reading that far and just wrote him off. Fine.

    I do see how much of JT’s blog came down as the complete worst way to phrase that concern. I’m concerned that even if he went through every correct step that he should have, this concern over how Bria vented her anger would not have been received well. I’m concerned that if anyone else had written this, the same situation would have arisen, because there doesn’t seem to be any avenue to have this discussion about what constitutes when that anger is taken too far.

    @15 and @18 I’ve read many comments. Like those here that like to compare the title of his blog to ‘oh then he’s just full of himself because he’s replaced jesus with his name’. But, listening and agreeing are two different things. For example: I don’t agree with Stephanie Zvan here because she decides what’s ‘ours’ and not what others might disagree on. 5 minute QA-jacking to vent ones anger? Not ‘ours’ if you’re including me. I think that’s a calculated asshole move. Not one done in the heat of the moment, but thought on and concluded that it was the ‘best’ way to get back at someone. But according to everyone else here, that makes me the ‘bad guys’ to think that going from one talk and justifiably taking offense to something, then reacting in a calculated asshole-ish way back… well isn’t justified. At some point it’s just not. But if @22 is right, five minutes wasn’t enough! Lets just interrupt the whole talk, why not! It was fine, Bria was angry. All actions are justifiable when we’re angry.

    My long winded point…Bria being angry isn’t carte blanche for all actions. I disagree with her actions. JT disagreed with her actions. JT wrote a bad post about it. I’ve written bad comments about it.

  24. imnotandrei says

    If anyone else wants to explain the difference between anger of the oppressor group and anger of the oppressed group, for the benefit of lurkers, go for it.

    I’ll do this one.

    “But just as it is not up to religious believers to tell atheists how and when and where and in what tone we should express our anger about religion, it is not up to white people to tell African-Americans — or any other people of color — how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about racism.”

    Nor is it up to women to tell men how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about misandry, right?

    As Greta pointed out; it matters which direction the anger’s going. Is it going *up* the power scale, or *down*? If it’s going *down*, no, it’s not up to the people on top to tell the people on the bottom how to express their anger — that’s just part of the arsenal of oppression. (I recommend Thomas Kochman’s Black and White Styles In Conflict for an excellent explanation of why.) The people on the top are used to expressing their anger however they damn well please — and as a result, they’re the ones who need to be called out on the damage that it does, intentional *and* unintentional.

    So: White people do not get to tell PoC how to be angry. The religious majority do not get to tell atheists how to be angry. The possessors of male privilege do not get to tell women how to be angry. Cis people do not get to tell trans people how to be angry. The rich do not get to tell the poor “Go away, we’ll listen to you when you’re clean and polite and respectful and can speak good English.”

    If the lurkers have any real questions, I’ll be glad to answer them, so that Greta doesn’t need to. People who think the above is unacceptable are politely, respectfully invited to go read Kochman and then come back and try and raise their points.

  25. says

    If someone in a group suffering present and historical oppression(s)….takes time out of their day to tell me how I fucked up… I am grateful that they said anything at all. Usually it’s too much trouble. Usually they are taking a great risk to even express anger – so if I am the target of that anger…I LISTEN.

    To get really angry – for most of us means there was a LOT that lead up to it.

  26. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    I don’t accept her method of venting that anger. I take issue with someone taking their anger and calculating a way to launch an attack on someone else in this way. I do not believe all possible methods of venting this anger are equally acceptable and agree with JT’s point on that.

    How do you know that this is what happened? Because other people who were there don’t think that Bria “attacked” anyone. She did say the question was illegitimate, and then she spent several minutes *explaining why.* Which JT self-admittedly walked out on. So, how is he a good witness for what went down?

  27. Kevin Schelley says

    OTOC, here’s a quote of the question from someone who was there and video recording the event. Keep in mind this person is on JT’s side

    “I don’t know if this is off the subject or not but I was wondering what your group might be doing with the black on black crime? The church has not been able to do anything and it’s just terrible, especially in Chicago. I mean I understand there are something like 20, 30 murders, you know a month. Uh, I mean that’s like 1 a day. Toledo may be a little better but certainly we have our problems so, what are you and your community ——- are you addressing this in any way, how?”

    Now this question is a massive racial dog whistle. not only has “black on black” crime been decreasing for the last 20 years, but the question would never be asked of a white person in regards to white on white crime. I don’t know about you, but if I were a person of color and someone brought out that question I would be infuriated.

  28. believerskeptic says

    I think I’d turn that question completely around. Hey, white people, what are you doing about the economic and racial inequalities for which you are responsible that create the poverty which foments situations of black on black crime? Along with pointing out, as has been said, that black on black crime has been decreasing over 20 years.

  29. piegasm says

    I notice how, in otocomp’s world, JT criticizing Bria is just a perfectly reasonable thing to do if maybe done a little clumsily but really he should be patted on the head and thanked for trying lest he take his ball and go home. Whereas Bria criticizing the questioner is an attack and Jen, Greta et al criticizing JT is burning someone down. But that’s totally not a double standard is it? The answer to your question, otocump, can be found in the language you’re using to ask it.

    This is also not the first time JT has mounted his Soapbox of +infinity to Privilege Blindness for the purpose of lecturing the marginalized about the proper way to criticize the privileged. People tried to explain the problem to him on those occasions as well but it fell on deaf ears just like it’s doing now. At what point is it reasonable to think that maybe someone who claims to be an ally is just in it for the cookies and doesn’t really care about whether he’s helping or hurting?

  30. dantalion says

    If you’re going to form strongly held opinions about JT based on one blog post, it might be worth reading the post in question first.

  31. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    datalion,

    Why do you assume we haven’t? Or that we don’t have extensive knowledge of JT’s writing and activism?

  32. piegasm says

    @38 dantalion

    Speaking of reading the blog post in question, have you read this one? Because the whole point of it is that Greta is familiar enough (at least) with JT’s writing to know that he often references her thoughts on justified anger in defense of his own approach to believers.

    Doesn’t look like you’ve read any of the comments either since, if you had, you’d notice a bunch of people referencing things JT has said and done in the past. So, clearly, we’re not forming opinions based on a single blog post.

    Good thing we have people like you around to lecture us about knowing what we’re talking about before we form opinions, huh?

  33. freemage says

    Here’s one thing that frankly jumped out at me as I read JT’s own description of the encounter:

    WHO THE FUCK IS JT TO TELL BRIA ANYTHING?

    He’s a peer, that’s it. It wasn’t his conference; it wasn’t his talk. If we’re going to mention tone and approach and all that good stuff, the first thing JT needs to realize is that he came across utterly and completely as if he believed he had some specific privilege to speak to her in this fashion. He “pulled her aside” (later amended to ‘spoke to her in private’ in the comments). I can’t imagine a fashion of doing so that wouldn’t fall into the category of controlling and condescending, and that’s before involving the racial factors at play. Once you add that in? I have little doubt it came across as nothing more or less than “White Man’s Burden”.

  34. ischemgeek says

    This is also not the first time JT has mounted his Soapbox of +infinity to Privilege Blindness for the purpose of lecturing the marginalized about the proper way to criticize the privileged. People tried to explain the problem to him on those occasions as well but it fell on deaf ears just like it’s doing now. At what point is it reasonable to think that maybe someone who claims to be an ally is just in it for the cookies and doesn’t really care about whether he’s helping or hurting?

    Yes, exactly.

    JT wants to be an ally so long as he gets to call himself an ally and use that to rub his own ego. His ally-hood stops where actually being an ally begins.

    An ally would’ve realized the question was a racist dogwhistle and taken the privileged person aside to explain that it was inappropriate and why, rather than taking the oppressed person aside for daring to object to oppressive actions. Because if someone’s really an ally, they’ve done their racism 101 homework and realize that question is right out of the Racist’s Playbook. It really is the “why don’t we teach both sides?” of racism, and it is every bit as loaded. And just like “why don’t we teach both sides?” it’s only used by those with a racist aim in the conversation. The person in question might be so fucking privileged blinkered they don’t realize what they’re saying is racist as fuck, but that doesn’t mean it’s not racist, nor does it mean they’re not behaving in a racist manner. Just like religious people can be bigoted against non-believers accidentally, and the mentally well can be bigoted against the mentally ill accidentally (consider how often you’ve used “crazy” in the past week to mean “horrible or vile” as a descriptor of a crime – unless you make an effort to remove that from your language, you’re probably marginalizing the mentally ill without even thinking about it by using ableist language), white people can be bigoted against black people without any malicious intent. Yet, that doesn’t mean that their actions don’t cause harm, and it doesn’t mean that black people aren’t fully justified in being pissed the fuck off over it and in calling the white people in question out over it.

    JT did not act like an ally in this. JT has a pattern of not acting like an ally to those marginalized on axes that he’s privileged. JT has a pattern, instead, of criticizing the oppressed in a breathtakingly hypocritical manner for their anger – I remind you that this is the guy who argued for the Warrior side in the Warrior vs Diplomat debate. Yet, whenever someone who is marginalized in a way that he’s not expresses any anger at all, it’s all tone police undiplomatic ineffective way to communicate makes people uncomfortable.

    In issues of SJ, he displays a lack of self-awareness and a lack of any real humility to admit that maybe he might be ignorant on some issues and so should listen to the marginalized rather than ‘splaining to them about the right way to do activism.

    What he should do is shut up and listen to black people on this. What I think he’s going to do based on his past behavior on issues of sexism is double down and then ‘take the high road’ by flouncing from the discussion when he can’t overawe others with his ever-so-clever privileged ‘splaining.

  35. says

    Just for the record, someone claiming to have been a witness to the exchange posted a comment on Jen’s blog saying that Bria’s behavior, while not 100% kind and deferential, was nowhere near as bad as some have made it out to be; and that other people at such conferences have been much harsher toward ignorant questions or comments without any of the admonitions that Bria got.

    Incidents like this take on a bit of Russian-telephone amplification, with the allegedly-bad behavior in question being made even worse with each retelling. Sorta like “Guys, don’t do that” becoming “ZOMG REBECCA WATSON WANTS TO CASTRATE ALL MENZ!!1!!” Trolls, don’t do that.

  36. piegasm says

    @43

    Works in reverse too, i.e. “cornered me in an elevator at 4am to ask me back to his hotel room for coffee” becomes “politely and respectfully invited Rebecca out for coffee.”

  37. piegasm says

    Further to my 43, that would be analogous to JT being demonstrably hypocritical repeatedly becomes a single totally reasonable but (maybe) poorly expressed blog post.

  38. jamessweet says

    There’s a nugget of truth in JT’s critique (just as there is a nugget of truth in the accomodationist critique), and it is this: Quite possibly the questioner was not intending to be racist (we can’t know that, of course, and it’s likelihood is ultimately a judgment call, so no point in debating it), and if so it’s likely that a different, gentler approach might have gotten through better to her (which is not to criticize Crutchfield’s approach, since it might well have been more effective at getting through to others who were listening — and even if not, it’s unseemly for JT to be criticizing a legitimate expression of emotion).

    If JT feels that way, an appropriate course of action might be to take the questioner aside later and try to explain to her in his way why the question was offensive — as opposed to throwing Crutchfield under the bus. Really, it’s the answer to the accomodationism question all over again: By all means, if you feel more comfortable with a more conciliatory approach, do that! After all, it’s true that some (not all) people will respond better to it. Just don’t throw your more outspoken allies under the bus. They are doing the approach that they are comfortable with, and some people will respond better to that approach.

  39. Pen says

    There’s really no paradox in this post. Anger is always inspiring when it’s directed at people you disapprove of, always cathartic when you’re doing it for yourself, always demeaning when you find yourself the unexpected target of it and always amusing when you were trying to rankle someone up on purpose. It’s great if you’re after inspiring followers or making yourself feel better, not so great at changing people’s minds – except perhaps in the case of structured displays of anger, like a planned ‘angry speech’ which has content as well as emotion and doesn’t directly and personally target the listeners. That’s what I believe. I know not everyone agrees with me because we’ve had this discussion around here before. But if I’m right, those responses are independent of the rights and wrongs of the anger and the privilege or lack of it of anyone involved.

    We’ve also had a ton of discussions about how to deal with painfully naive questions, deliberate trolling and how to tell the difference. If anyone feels differently about the situation with JT and Bria Crutchfield than they do in similar circumstances, they maybe need to think about that – especially JT if he isn’t being consistent. Personally, I avoid all forums where the culture is for people to routinely express themselves angrily. I just find those conversations completely worthless and a bigger waste of time than the original piece of naivety or trolling. I don’t really feel like being inconsistent over this case even though I agree the question asked was incredibly naive (and frustratingly often heard for that matter). If Bria lost her rag in that situation, I would completely understand and sympathise. The ideal place for it might have been off the speaker’s podium but what can you do? Genuine anger isn’t necessarily a choice. On the other hand, elevating anger to the level of a strategy or a default response style isn’t for me.

  40. Parse says

    @41 Freemage
    As the person who pointed out the issue with ‘pulling aside’, I half-regret doing it.
    Yes, the language he used to describe his actions is a problem, but so are the actions themselves. Taking JT at his word, I think that most people would see what he did – talking to somebody in private, to harangue them about their actions, and try to make them see what they did was wrong – as ‘pulling aside’.
    So, by pointing this out, it got him to change his language, not to reflect on his actions, which is what I was hoping for.

    As for ‘who is JT to tell Bria anything?’, as a peer (a fellow speaker), I’d say that, AT MOST, he could have said something to her about going off-topic during a different speaker’s Q&A. Where by ‘something’, I mean, like, a sentence. Maybe two. Certainly nothing about her anger, about her response, and sure as HELL nothing about trying to explain away the racism.
    Heck, if JT had used the same ‘pulling aside’ language, but only said a sentence about her using another speaker’s Q&A, I bet this wouldn’t have blown up in the way that it did. It’s like the difference between pulling somebody aside to tell them their shoe’s untied, and pulling them aside into the boss’s office for a chewing out.

  41. freemage says

    Parse: I caught what you were going for–the fact that JT completely missed it was part of what made his incomprehension of what everyone’s so pissed off about obvious.

    And yeah, the bit about it being another speaker’s Q&A is a legit point, and one that could have been addressed as a peer. And honestly, even then, it should be prefaced with a request for the person’s time (ie, “Hey, can I offer some advice?”). Because if that’s not your lead-in, you’re going to come across like… well, like JT.

  42. Onamission5 says

    Honestly, that whole thing about Bria interrupting another speaker’s Q&A is just cover for tone policing. If Mandisa Thomas had a problem with the interruption, I think it is fairly safe to assume that she is capable of talking to Bria about it herself and didn’t need JT to impose his all purpose, all place and time authority on the situation.

  43. says

    I’ve had my share of things to be angry about, and I’ve seen how demands for politeness and calmness can be used to marginalize a minority. If those without power don’t make a scene, the status quo just reinforces itself. Those who have power don’t like it when people make a scene. Treating the expression of anger as a breach of etiquette in itself or grounds for dismissing the meat of their argument is one of the most irritating tropes I get from theists and woos. I get angry because I care. Dismissing my anger so reflexively makes me think of cartoon villains who tell the heroes, “Your emotions make you weak.” It’s like militant apathy.

    I’m not arguing that anger is always effective in all circumstances. Firebrands need some level of tempering to express whole ideas instead of just issuing primal screams. There are some people who can masterfully control their anger to calmly but firmly explain what’s wrong, what should be done, and why. If you’re one of those people, it can be a valuable strength. But even they can get worn down by the constant struggle, and if you’re a member of a disadvantaged group, the fight typically comes to you. The biggest thing that helps me when that happens is understanding. I do my best to understand the struggles others go through so I can better understand their anger. If it’s anger against injustice, I can share that anger and reinvigorate the people who expressed it. And they’ll often do the same for me.

    Sometimes, calming down is exactly the wrong response. If someone calmly analyzes every technical detail, the passionless tone can backfire and give the impression that both sides are on the same level and/or that it’s just an irrelevant, academic issue instead of an urgent one that affects people. Sometimes it helps to season the meat of your argument to break through the apathy. On the opposite extreme, a well-timed primal scream can sometimes express just how enormous the problem is or shock your opponent into realizing he’s being oblivious to something obvious. Naturally, it can backfire, so use with caution.

    No matter how in control we are of our anger or how precisely we calibrate our response to the circumstance, there will be tone trolls who characterize us as completely irrational because we fall short of the Vulcan ideal. If someone’s angry at me, I’ll try to listen and let them air their grievances, but people of privilege directing their anger towards the powerless have to meet a higher bar, since that’s usually the selfish anger of entitlement, not born from legitimate concerns.

  44. piegasm says

    Sometimes, calming down is exactly the wrong response. If someone calmly analyzes every technical detail, the passionless tone can backfire and give the impression that both sides are on the same level and/or that it’s just an irrelevant, academic issue instead of an urgent one that affects people.

    This is a really excellent point. I’m a bit of a true crime buff and I remember reading about Lindy Chamberlain and there was this massive public sentiment that she must have been guilty because she was too composed when she testified. The fact that she hadn’t sat there and sobbed through the whole thing was held against her. Any time victims of some crime are seen in public appearing less damaged than people think they ought to be, they’re accused of milking their situation for money or fame.

    You can’t win. If you’re emotional, you need to reign it in lest the privileged “allies” take their collective ball and go home but if you’re composed then you’re mercenary.

  45. Onamission5 says

    @Ze Madmax & Nathaniel Frein:

    Thanks both for linking Mandisa’s comments.
    From Jen’s comment thread:

    Bria has my full support with this matter. I also think there should have been a better effort to involve the primary organizer of the convention if JT, Mark, and this woman were truly concerned. This obviously didn’t happen, and it is disappointing.

    Hopefully that will clear up any “Bria was rude for interrupting the Q&A” confusion distraction.

  46. Martha says

    From # 42

    An ally would’ve realized the question was a racist dogwhistle and taken the privileged person aside to explain that it was inappropriate and why, rather than taking the oppressed person aside for daring to object to oppressive actions.

    Yes, this, exactly! QFT.

    Excellent post, Greta. Again!

  47. says

    I don’t accept her method of venting that anger.

    First, octohump, who the fuck are you to “accept” or “reject” someone else’s response to someone else who is not you? And second, your self-important judgement makes ZERO reference to the substance of comments made here by Bria, and by Mandisa — whose forum was the place where it all happened, and who has explicitly said that Bria was not that far out of line. Seriously, dude, how can you judge “her method of venting that anger” when you won’t even mention what, exactly, that method was?

  48. Anthony Tufo says

    And yeah, the bit about it being another speaker’s Q&A is a legit point, and one that could have been addressed as a peer. And honestly, even then, it should be prefaced with a request for the person’s time (ie, “Hey, can I offer some advice?”). Because if that’s not your lead-in, you’re going to come across like… well, like JT.

    @49
    I thought of that too. when reading otocump’s #29. I think announcing “I have something to say” makes more sense. The problem there is asking for “permission”, even subtly, to speak about an issue like this seems to be going down the wrong path. “No, this is GOING to get said and I will cry in front of these people if I can get it out.” Seems to be the new narrative for me.

    5 minute QA-jacking to vent ones anger? Not ‘ours’ if you’re including me. I think that’s a calculated asshole move. Not one done in the heat of the moment, but thought on and concluded that it was the ‘best’ way to get back at someone. But according to everyone else here, that makes me the ‘bad guys’ to

    @29
    I don’t want to keep coming back to you because you probably get it by now, but I have a more general point.

    I just want to note that it’s unfair to expect someone to be ready for EVERY POSSIBLE trigger question out there. The fact Bria, or anyone else that recognized the question as a trigger, didn’t say anything right after the question was asked/answered speaks to their self-control.

    Also, want to thank otocump, if you are still reading, for convincing me how ridiculous my train of thought was. Which, while not the intent, still helped me.

  49. Drew says

    @50, 57

    [pedant]
    At least according to JT’s blog: Mandisa’s Q&A wasn’t the one that was interrupted. It was Darrel Smith’s Q&A.
    {/pedant]

  50. Rieux says

    Lauren @21:

    The very title of JT’s blog encapsulates his obliviousness to his own privilege. “What Would JT Do?” His perspective is the right perspective, and he should be the arbiter for everyone else.

    smhll @23:

    I may be wrong, but it seems to me his blog title is intentionally riffing on the Christian expression “What Would Jesus Do?”

    Lauren @25:

    Correct, and substituting himself for jesus christ. Sounds pretty full of himself.

    I dunno; I think that’s unfair.

    JT’s taking a lot of flak here and elsewhere over things he’s written recently, and I’m not going to pretend that he hasn’t earned the large majority of it—but inferring arrogance and abuse of privilege from his blog title seems to me unwarranted.

    Obviously “it’s just a joke” is generally a no-no as a defense of privileged ugliness, but it seems to me that JT’s blog title is not only a joke but a punching up joke: it mocks a common theological cliché wielded by people who occupy a more privileged position on a particular axis of privilege—religion—than JT does. I have a hard time seeing the superficial arrogance of JT’s title as anything other than an ironic tweak of the WWJD cliché.

    (FWIW, plenty of other bloggers, including FTBers, use the same kinds of ironic overstatement, including in blog titles, no? Say, Almost Diamonds, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, The Crommunist Manifesto, Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men (yowza!). Surely it would be a less-than-apt criticism of Stephanie Zvan that she thinks her blogging is the next best thing to diamond-pristine, right?)

    None of this, I stress, is a defense of JT’s criticism of Bria Crutchfield, which seems to me seriously problematic on substantive grounds for all the reasons Jen McCreight, Greta, and several others have provided.

  51. John Horstman says

    But just as it is not up to religious believers to tell atheists how and when and where and in what tone we should express our anger about religion, it is not up to white people to tell African-Americans — or any other people of color — how and when and where and in what tone they should express their anger about racism.

    So, executing all members of the oppressor class is on the table now? It’s generally only advocated by fringe elements of any given anti-hierarchy or social justice movement, but it is suggested. I’m guessing you don’t mean to suggest that, for example, it is not the place of White people to insist that a contra-genocide carried out by First Nations groups would not be okay, but if you are insisting universally that dominant groups not be allowed to critique the ways in which oppressed groups express anger, then my admittedly extreme example is covered. Hence the problem with the universal statement – certain bounds ARE appropriate, for example, not considering murder an okay way to express anger. For that matter, I’ll take a far less extreme example: if a Black woman decides to start going around to White women walking along the sidewalk – Greta Christina, for example – and shouting at them about their roles in perpetuating racism for minutes on end, would you be wrong for telling her that her tone is probably only serving to alienate people and that she’s harassing you? I think Crutchfield is actually more justified than my example, as she was prompted by a racist question, but your statement seems to imply you’d have no justification to complain about such behavior.

    You appear to functionally be arguing that being a member of an oppressed group makes one’s actions above criticism from members of a dominant group. That is absurd. While it’s frequently the case that the entirely reasonable anger of oppressed groups is dismissed, and this is a big problem, that fact does not automatically make any and all anger that a person who is a member of an oppressed group may feel reasonable or appropriate, and it likewise doesn’t mean any and all actions expressing that anger are okay.

    Criticizing JT because in this particular case he’s wrong (reading JT’s piece, Jen’s response, and this, I’m solidly of the opinion JT is wrong with respect to both walking out and how he was telling Crutchfield to behave later*), because you think that Crutchfield’s actions were reasonable and appropriate (justified in response to a common racist JAQing off question) and undertaken in an appropriate context (a venue promoting dynamic, free-flowing conversation during Q&A sessions), is going to be a much more defensible position than asserting a problematic universal claim. Crutchfield isn’t being silenced – she made her statements, and this debate about them is, if anything, serving to broadcast them to an audience that would otherwise have been unaware of them. She’s being criticized by JT, and you and Jen are criticizing JT’s criticism, and I’m criticizing your criticism of JT’s criticism. That’s generally how potentially-productive conversations work – no one is prevented from expressing their opinions (this actually has to be the case, it can’t only nominally be the case; it appears to be the case here, unless JT is censoring Crutchfield from commenting), and no one is immune from critique. Someone in the comments on JT’s argument asked if Crutchfield had shot the questioner in anger whether JT would have been justified in objecting, and the commenter to which ze had directed hir question dodged it by saying that’s not what happened. True, but again, the universal assertion that a member of a dominant group can have no place in policing the actions of members of oppressed groups is not a good assertion, because objecting to murder is appropriate. It’s a matter of where it’s okay to draw the line – I seriously doubt anyone thinks we shouldn’t be able to draw any lines.

    So, the TL;DR summary: I think you are absolutely right to criticize JT for what you (and I) see as a problematic criticism of Crutchfield, and I think that the particular statement I quoted is extremely problematic when expressed as a universal instead of focusing on the particular details of a given case.

    *Even his own charitable-to-JT relating of the conversation he had with Crutchfield sounds imperious to my ears.

  52. says

    So, executing all members of the oppressor class is on the table now? … You appear to functionally be arguing that being a member of an oppressed group makes one’s actions above criticism from members of a dominant group.

    John, if you can’t understand that we’re talking about VERBAL expression here, not actions, then you really need to take your hands away from the keyboard and do more reading.

    We’re not talking about a terrorist act here, we’re talking about how certain people TALKED to each other. Do try to keep up.

  53. smhll says

    So, executing all members of the oppressor class is on the table now? It’s generally only advocated by fringe elements of any given anti-hierarchy or social justice movement, but it is suggested. I’m guessing you don’t mean to suggest that…

    Whoa. I think we have all been talking about angry word, up to and including yelling for (possibly) five minutes. I don’t think anyone said anger justified physical violence.

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