CN: Queer and QPOC erasure.
Reply All is currently my favorite podcast – it is a show about the internet. Since I basically live on the internet, it’s like having a great podcast about my hometown. They wander off topic occasionally, but when they do I still generally find the stories they tell pretty awesome. This week the episode contains one of the best instances of allying I have heard in quite awhile.
One of the segments on Reply All I like best is called “Yes, Yes, No” in which the two internet-fluent hosts explain confusing things (usually tweets) to their less net-savvy boss, Alex Blumberg. If done poorly this could be a painfully boring process, but instead it gives them an opportunity to discuss some of the most interesting parts of internet culture. They have previously used it as an opportunity to explain and condemn Gamergate, and shed light on annotations made through Genius. I love this segment because although I often have some knowledge of the things they discuss, I always learn something new.
Recently they did a Yes, Yes, No segment on a tweet about the Clinton campaign’s social media work. It was one of the less complex versions of this segment, but included a bit that I (along with probably a million other people) noticed as incomplete. They were discussing the phrases “Yas” and “Drag him” as used in that tweet. Their description of the background on the word “Yas” went:
ALEX GOLDMAN: So, then, “yas” Y-A-S.
ALEX BLUMBERG: [laughs] OK.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Do you want to take this one?
PJ: It’s just like, an emphatic –
ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, it’s just like –
ALEX GOLDMAN: – yes.
ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh-huh. Right.
The discussion of “Drag him” was not significantly better. I remember thinking “Well, there’s a lot more to it than that…” and then moving on with my life. Luckily not everyone moved on, and apparently many people contacted the show to let them know that the story here is a lot more complex. These phrases have a rich, decades-long, history in queer communities, especially among gay men and trans women of color. It was popularized more recently (largely by the TV show Broad City) and has spread among straight and white people, especially on the internet. This is one of those classic stories of the broader culture appropriating the coded language of a minority group without acknowledgement.
Rather than ignoring this oversight, or even including a short comment about this, in the most recent episode of Reply All PJ spends a significant amount of time correcting this mistake. PJ uses this as an opportunity to delve into queer history, the gay ball scene, and Paris is Burning at length. He interviews and highlights one of the men from Paris is Burning, amplifying one of those voices erased in the original segment. PJ acknowledges the voices in the gay community lost to AIDS and discrimination, and the commits to continuing to learn more by accepting an invitation to the upcoming Latex Ball. The segment and interview are humble, curious, and wonderful to listen to.
What PJ did here is how allying is done. When he made a mistake and got called on it he made no attempt to defend himself (at least not publicly, I don’t know or care what he did privately). Instead he apologized, listened, sought more information, amplified the voices of the people who were previous erased, and committed to learning more. His humility and real desire to better understand come through with crystal clarity in the episode. This is how it’s done.