Racists on Twitter vs Racists at Public Pools

So my morning on Twitter was interesting.  Apparently, one of the racist women at the pool in violent incident in McKinney TX has been identified, and there’s a Facebook page calling on people to call her employer and get her fired.

I am a little skeptical about the ethics of public shaming. At the same time, I understand that for the historically marginalized, public shaming is often literally the only tool they have to effect social change, and to impose penalties on people who perpetuate racism and sexism. As a journalist, I expect at some point to make a mistake, to be shamed for it, and to try to make amends.

That said, Jon Ronson wrote a widely publicized book, including this New York Times Magazine piece he got to write, on not shaming people on the internet. So I wondered: Now that this woman has been identified, what would he have us do about it?

He didn’t answer. Instead, he said that this woman is nothing like the people he talked about. Here’s a storify of the tweets that followed.

I asked him – how can you tell who is the “real” racist and who is a fake racist (or sexist, as in Mr. Donglegate)? He didn’t answer, but spent some time in a huff on his timeline subtweeting me. I suspect I’ve been muted.

But again – I’d like to know. What’s the difference between saying something racist online and saying something racist at a public pool? To me, the answer is – nothing.

Update: I forgot about this fantastic review from Jacqui Shine. Read it!

Ronson’s right, of course, that each of us is a “mass of vulnerabilities,” and we shouldn’t have to face a gauntlet of shame when we make mistakes. But we’re also subjects of wildly disproportionate privileges and privations. In a world where people who have historically been powerless have a new means with which to fight back — or at least make their voices heard — it’s important to notice when this empowerment is made out to be dangerous.

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