This week, a letter written by a former UW-Milwaukee student to the university’s chancellor was posted on the I Have Forgiven Jesus blog. To say the letter was scathing is the understatement of the year, and we’re only a week in. As I said to the blog’s author, J, “I had to stop reading the letter halfway through. My glasses had melted and I needed to change them.”
Trumpenproles (*) like Milo Yiannopoulos (the subject of the letter) have a tendency to flip out and attack those who dare factually criticize them or hold a different opinion…and then direct their rabble of followers upon the target (vis-a-vis Leslie Jones). In response, I reached out to the letter’s author to show concern and solidarity before that happens. Because it probably will.
(* “Trumpenprole” is a better term than “alt-right” because they are uneducated masses disinterested in facts, have no idea of the effects of their words and actions or who they serve, vis-a-vis the 1%ers. The term originated with a Wall Street Journal hack last summer, but he was using it as part of an attack upon Obama, rather than describe the mindless populism of the new far right. It is less “populism” than priapism – they used to get away with violating others with impunity, but now they can’t get off like they used to and are lashing out violently in frustration.)
The reality of harassment is, the silence of bystanders favours the aggressor. Whether online or in person, saying nothing and not defending others has two effects:
1) An unchallenged aggressor takes others’ silence as assent with their words and consent to act out. Bullies only become confident and violent when there are no consequences.
2) The target of the harassment feels isolated, alone and likely outnumbered.
This is even truer in person with the threat of physical violence. Speaking up, however, has the opposite effect:
1) The aggressor feels isolated and lacking in numbers, especially when attempting to commit illegal acts that might have repercussions.
2) The target knows there is support, feels less threatened and may grow in confidence. And others who might have stayed silent will begin to speak up.
Back in September 2016, French artist Marie-Shirine Yener (a/k/a Maeril) created a brilliant comic on how to confront islamophobia. Her comic illustrates what I mean, that silence protects the aggressor, and speaking out more than cancels them out.
Speaking out is not a zero sum game, it’s a case of “the sum is greater than the parts”. Silence empowers aggressors by more than one person’s strength, and speaking out empowers the targets of aggression by more than one person.
If the target of aggression is someone you know, speaking up speaks volumes. Showing kindness and support to a stranger accomplishes more than with a friend, and it does the most for someone with whom you disagree and don’t get along with (hopefully, you have none).
Speaking out should be a moral obligation. I’ve been guilty of silence too often in the past, but I’m working on it.