For as long as people have been talking about social justice online, there have been people, trolls really, who make a point to argue, harass, and otherwise engage in actively hateful and bigoted behaviour. This has been the case in every online community I have been involved with: the feminist community, the atheist community, disability community. There is always someone prepared to defend the vilest behaviour you can think of. If you are a representative of these communities: a Person of Colour, a Trans Woman, a Disabled Person, if you are a member of some minority, the number of people who target you in particular escalates.
The sheer number of people committed to spreading hate has made places like the comment boards on Youtube a place to be avoided. Many magazines and blogsites have closed their comment sections. More than one writer, activist, organizer, and so forth has been forced off the internet as a result of death threats, threats of rape and violence, dealing with a constant barrage of slurs and hatred, and even having their private information released to the public.
Many of the policies on places like Facebook, and other major social media sites, favour harassers and abusers rather than vulnerable communities. Policies like name policies that leave victims of abuse or stalking, trans people, people with non-English and especially PoC cultural names, vulnerable to harassment by reporting their names. Among many people it’s an open secret that reporting something for being racist, sexist, or any other example of hate speech, or violence, will not result in something being taken down. Unless that is, it is something that is aimed at men or white people. Calling a black person the n word? Totally cool according to the Community Guidelines. Calling the person who used that word a racist, is a step too far.
In all this time, when we make a point to highlight the scary levels of hatred on the internet, we are always told the same thing. “It’s just the internet.” “It’s not like most people think this way.” “People say things on the internet that they don’t actually believe in real life.” “This is just a few loud people, most people are not that [racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, etc.]” The point, we were meant to understand, was that the internet was no real. That internet harassment was just words on a screen and not representative of reality.
Then this year, Trump ran for president. What followed was one of the most hate filled elections that people of at least my generation can remember. Here was a nominee who was not only endorsed by the KKK, by Neo-Nazies, by White Supremacists, but had the eager and enthusiastic support of a former KGB head who has had a consolidated hold on Russian politics since before the wall fell, was outspokenly racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and transphobic, was under investigation for multiple counts of fraud, sexual assault including that of a minor. This was a man who was on video admitting to sexual assault, who was on video admitting to ogling nude underage girls, a man so abusive in his presentation that there was a recorded increase in mental distress among victims of domestic violence, abuse, rape and molestation, and harassment. His name became a recognized trigger for people on matters of race, sexual assault, gender, appearance, almost every single facet of social justice. His rhetoric was reminiscent of Hitler in his rise to power, his entire campaign, to the point where survivors of the holocaust warned others of the similarities.
Throughout the entire campaign, we heard the same responses. “He doesn’t have a chance.” “The media is making more of this than it is. It’s just a few people who really support him.” “He will never get elected.” No matter what people did to point out the dangers of discounting the levels of racism and other bigotry, we were told we were overreacting. We were told that most people were ultimately good and would not allow someone so clearly dangerous and unqualified anywhere near the nuclear codes.
Except that is exactly what happened.
A man who the internet has dubbed CheetoHitler was elected and with the exception of some unprecedented move by the Electoral College will be the President of the world’s largest military and nuclear arsenal.
The election took place a week ago and in that time there has been a visible spike in violence. Not generalized violence, but specifically racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, and otherwise hatred motivated violence. The election of Hitler Trump has energized bigots of the worst kind, not just in the Red States, not just in the US, but in other places like Canada as well.
Where once people in the KKK might have feared to be out in public in the garb of the clan, where once people might have hidden their association with the Klan, in the last week we’ve seen a resurgence in people donning white hoods. Pro-Trump victory celebrations have been thrown by Neo-Nazies and other white supremacist groups.
White Supremacists are actively recruiting in public, with posters, and demonstrations. They no longer fear any public backlash for being admittedly in favour of genocide and a return to the open racist values of the past as opposed to the “veiled” racism of the last several years.
There are stories all over the place of women being assaulted by people identifying themselves as Trump supporters and following in their Commander-In-Chief’s example. Children and adults alike have faced threats of deportation, of violence, of internment. The fear faced by many is so great, that the rates of suicide among vulnerable populations have already risen. Even more terrifyingly, the rates of suicide among children have already spiked. Schools have had to call in trauma counselors.
The Obamas, the first family, have overwhelmingly faced blatant racism despite their exalted position in US society. Michelle Obama, the most qualified First Lady ever to live in the Whitehouse, an activist, a scholar, an incredibly accomplished and elegant person, is compared to an ape: a racist trope so old it predates anyone alive today. The President himself has faced more resistance in congress than any other president. It could be even be argued that the republicans who claim to be avowed defenders of the constitution only valued him at three fifths of a president.
And again we are hearing the same refrains. “Give them a chance” “That was just election talk, no one is really that racist.” “You’re overreacting.” “Just wait and see what happens.”
It’s not about providing evidence. There are studies that show the prevalence of systemic and internalized bigotry. There are scholarly works going back generations. There is anecdotal and situational evidence everywhere. So why is it so hard to get people to believe that it is more prevalent than they think? Why are people so resistant to the idea that prejudice is still widespread in our society that they are willing to ignore what is going on around them?
I don’t have the answer to that. It’s not even something that has just one answer, but there are multiple factors that play a role.
An unwillingness to face their own complacency in a bigoted system and their own internalized prejudices.
A lack of sufficient reporting by media or misrepresentation in the media
An apathetical approach to the world around them
The influence of prejudices whether conscious or unconscious.
The truth is that for all that people try so desperately try to convince us that the Internet is not real and that the bigotry we see all around us is really just isolated incidents and not part of a greater patter, BIGOTRY is a lot more pervasive than people think. Accepting that means accepting the way in which you yourself have contributed to another’s oppression.
And so people create their own virtual reality that flies in the face of the evidence around them, and react in anger when forced to confront the cognitive dissonance of their own privilege induced blindness.
The next few days, weeks, months, and years are going to be critical in determining what our future looks like. This next little while is the pivotal moment when we decide whether our future will resemble the dystopias that we’ve been warned against in the Hunger Games, in the Handmaids Tale, in Oryx and Crake. Now is not the time to be calm. It is not the time to wait and see. Will we repeat the mistakes of the past? Or will we finally learn from those mistakes and fight to be our better selves. Will we reach for a better future or will we watch as the world once more gives in to its basest and most vile instincts?
Now is the time when we are being asked to live up to that promise that so many of us make when we learn about the horrors of the past. To be the ones who stand up to the tide of evil. To be the ones who refuse to be silenced in the face of injustice. To not be the silent bystanders to the world’s worst atrocities. It’s a game of Blood & Roses only this time we decide whether the next years will be marked at the world’s worst atrocities or humanities greatest achievement.