Friday, October 31, 2014

When 'GamerGate' and White Male Privilege Enter the Classroom

I have not written about the internet troll debacle that has come to be known as "GamerGate". I have made that choice for a number of reasons: that a small subset of video game obsessives would fulfill every stereotype about those men who share that hobby is not at all surprising; there are other folks who written very sharp and smart things about GamerGate that are worth reading, and thus there was little for me to contribute to the conversation.

I will have to modify that earlier decision as GamerGate made an appearance in one of my classes earlier this week. The "real world" (at least for my students) chose to intervene, and in its own way Gamergate produced a "teachable moment".

I have been blessed with a good group of students who are bright, curious, hard working, and well mannered. For those of you who do not spend their days in a college classroom, such traits are very agreeable and increasingly uncommon.

As I encountered the seminar room my students were engaged in a conversation about GamerGate.

One of the young women asked me for my thoughts on the matter. I said, "bad behavior knows no boundaries, many trolls are sociopathic and have other mental health issues, and it is unfortunate that a small group of video game players decided to be human caricatures as they harassed someone who they disagreed with in some type of victimology circus".

The young women in class smiled and largely agreed with my observation.

A young man chimed in from the corner. He seemed perturbed and annoyed. He often has good things to say in class. He is not a "talker" per se, but rather someone who is very measured in his words. He spends them wisely.

"This is really unfair. Just because you say something sexist or racist online doesn't mean you are a sexist or racist in the the real world. This whole thing is just exaggerated", he explained.

I paused. I had a hiccup in my thinking as I processed what seemed to me to be an utter disconnect in logic and speech. I do not expect an underclassmen to have mastered Marcus Aurelius's meditations. But, some measure of consistency in thought should be expected from a college student.

I asked, "If a person does something that is racist or sexist are they then not in turn a racist or sexist person?"

He seemed confused.

I continued, "are we not the sum total of our deeds and words? Do we not acquire the attributes of the things that we do?"

 The young man processed his thoughts and quickly replied, "people do things online that they wouldn't do in person...that isn't who they really are and people need to understand that."

I smiled. "I doubt that the people who are being harassed by racists, sexists, or homophobes online are making that distinction. It feels pretty damn real to the targets of that bad behavior."

He sulked down in his chair, a bit defeated, shoulders slouched. He was thinking but not sharing. Of what thoughts? I do not know.

I have no doubt that this young man is a decent person. He is likely pretty nice to his grandma, does not kick kittens, and wants to do right by the people in his life. Such traits are why modern racism, that which occurs in the "backstage" and online, is so dangerous. It is easy to drive the cartoon racists that are in the KKK or neo Nazi movement out of the public square: their offenses are obvious.

Challenging the quotidian white supremacy and sexism that works through expected and taken for granted systems of personal and institutional unearned advantage--which work by denying empathy for others (and silencing them when the in-group and powerful are made to feel uncomfortable)--is a much more difficult task.

There have been measurable and demonstrable improvements in the racial attitudes of white "Millennials", the Facebook generation, as well as the post civil rights generation, more generally.

However, while the public expression(s) of white racial animus has in many ways improved, these positive developments have been accompanied by how several generations of white people have learned to hide their true racial attitudes about non-whites, and to comport themselves in a manner that is appropriate for success in a multicultural neoliberal corporate democracy.

Here, the true measure of one's attitudes, ethics, and beliefs is not how one behaves when they are being watched by others. Rather, the reality of a person's ethics and values is revealed by how a person behaves when there is no one watching at all.

This is true for all age groups. Thus, is America a less racist society?  Or have white racists (sexists; homophobes, etc.) simply learned how to better mask their behavior?

The casual defense of racism and sexism in this young man's discussion of GamerGate is a lesson in how systems of oppression are intertwined. Here, GamerGate is a nexus of both Whiteness and misogyny in the form of aggrieved White masculinity.

But, we should always ask a foundational question.

 "What is this an example of more broadly? And what does this teachable moment signal about how young people are being trained and taught in America's schools?"

In the neoliberal age, the university and liberal arts are being transformed into institutions which produce workers, technicians, and drones. Courses that teach students how to think--and serve as responsible, reflective, and engaged citizens--are being removed from the curriculum.

Love of knowledge and critical thinking about one's morality and ethics are deemed by the corporateocracy to be skills that are of no value in the labor market.

The university now produces a class of indentured and indebted young people that possess technical skills but no vision or ability to reflect on citizenship and ethics. These are the perfect people for a life beset by the culture of cruelty, parasitic capitalism, and a world oriented around profits over people.

This is an arrangement that is disastrous for us all.

How would you have responded to my student? What would you have done with that "teachable moment"?


KissedByTheSun said...

If you were in a position to hire a man to be a kindergarten teacher who openly admitted that he likes to simulate the rape of children, would you hire him? After all he doesn't really rape kids, he just likes to pretend like he does.

amnesia said...

Great post- as usual right on the mark. Had an equally unsettling encounter (in a supposedly reflective piece) in which a student reflexively intoned something like "why couldn't be like they were in the 50s, 60s, and 70s". I encounter rather routinely especially from- millenials, gen- exers, military and aspiring law-enforcement personnel -racist diatribes directed at "them"; "they" are like this, "they" do this, and "they" create their own predicaments! Haven't had an opportunity to respond to the "why couldn't they ..." bit. How would you? maybe a subject of some future post?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

A friend posted the video of the woman walking around New York for a day and generated about 100 comments.

There were some real winners in there. One person argued that all men are biologically driven to gawk at women, so saying something to them in public is a natural. Young men also don't understand their sexuality, so they must act like this to help them grow as individuals.

Basically, a woman's feeling of harassment is secondary to a man's feelings of "finding his sexuality."

This person's conclusion was, Some street harassment is wrong, but there's nothing you can do about it. This is just men being men, but not all men do it.

What does this signal about what young people are being taught in schools? For this person, there is a misunderstanding and misapplication of biology and sociology.

I thought your response to your student was good. Obviously he has not been taught that what you put out into the world, whether online or in real life, is a part of who you are.

grumpyrumblings said...

I had this same conversation with a professor the other week (not the online part), arguing about how some libertarian wasn't racist, he just did racist things. I said pretty much the same thing...

Yoisthisracist covers it from time to time, so I think it must be pretty widespread, this idea that if deep in our hearts we don't want to be called racist, then we're not really racist no matter how racist our actions are. That, of course, is BS. Nobody wants to be called racist, especially not racists.

Buddy H said...

A friend recently became single, and she told me she went on craigslist to look for eligible bachelors. I told her I didn't think it was a good idea; a lot of these craigslist men are crazy and/or dangerous. She found this, and sent me the link:

This man was disgusted by the sight of a black guy walking with a pregnant white woman. He took a cellphone photo of them, and posted in craigslist "men seeking women" with the title "If this pic makes you sick you might be the girl for me."

So even racists need love. Any women out there want to catch this prize bachelor? Or at the very least, make his life a living hell?

chauncey devega said...

I am sure there are white supremacist dating sites...hmmm I just got an idea.

chauncey devega said...

He seems like a nice guy. That is the point. There are "nice" racists, sexists, homophobes, bigots, etc. I am really concerned about the big picture and how our schools that in embracing STEM at all costs, no child left behind, and other programs are just glorified trade academies that are not teaching people how to think.

chauncey devega said...

Goodness. How did someone who is supposed to know better rationalize this mess?

chauncey devega said...

What are your thoughts about thy "why couldn't they?"

joe manning said...

Its a case of expanding the objective at the expense of the subjective, supplanting morality with immorality. Sadly most young folks don't get to go to college to learn basic Soc 101. There's too much dog eat dog and not near enough love in the real world.

grumpyrumblings said...

It is a complete mystery to me-- especially since as economists we tend to believe people are what their actions say they are, not whatever they claim is in their hearts. You're a puppy-kicker if you kick puppies, even if it makes you sad when you do it. Not about racism, but we discuss this whole heart vs action thing here:

One of my more enlightened male economist friends says male economists tend to have blinders on and start thinking irrationally whenever research is about gender. I'm willing to be the same is true about race for many of them. (Though they mostly know they're not supposed to say overtly racist things.) That usually means blaming "pre-labor market conditions" (aka schooling and housing segregation) for differences in outcomes. A lot of people were shocked when Bertrand and Mullainathan recently showed that racism still exists for realz. (And a lot of them thought B&M were the first people to show that outcome(!) )

It's embarrassing. I apologize on behalf of economists.

Amaryllis said...

De-lurking to ask if you might have asked your student why he thinks that "on-line" isn't "real." How much of his own time does he spend on-line, for instance?

Many of us work on-line, socialize on-line, get the news on-line, discuss politics and art and life in general on-line.

To quote Greta Christina"Think about what it would be like if every time you went to work, every time you went out with friends, every time you went out to get a newspaper, every time you went on a charity walkathon, every time you went to a neighborhood meeting to plan the new public park, you had people screaming at you how worthless you are, how ugly you are, how much they hate you, how much they want to torture and rape and kill you."

fred ceely said...

It seems to be about the Not-Getting-Caught. The Not-Having-To-Own-Your-Statements. Anonymous or not, the intent and the ownership seem to be the same, don't they? And the hurt is real, and intended.

Thanks for the clarification about neoliberalism re: academia. A fine statement of the problem.

notconvincedgranny said...

That young man is the worst kind of troll - the kind who genuinely believes there is nothing wrong.