Basic Thought: An example of online social justice’s disconnect from offline communities

I live in Alabama. This state has one of the highest poverty rates overall, as well as one of the highest rates of extreme poverty (defined as those making less than $2 a day). The state government of Alabama, in all its beneficence, gives these families a grand total of $215 per month. That’s right: Alabama gives these families just enough to maybe cover a bill or two.

Beyond the stats, though, the pictures of human suffering abound in this state. There’s the girl, who looks no older than 14, smoking a cigarette in front of a dilapidated trailer home in the middle of a weekday. There’s the young men of the Black Belt, sitting out on the stoop shooting the shit because there’s no jobs for miles around. There’s the stray animals, wandering around Tuscaloosa because no one has given them a second thought for weeks, months, or years. There’s the lines of people in front of Chuck’s Fish on Thanksgiving, waiting to partake in the free dinner that their American Lunch program is offering to members of the Tuscaloosa community.

I am familiar with these conditions, because poverty has always been a part of my family. But living in Alabama will radicalize anyone who gives a damn about poverty and the working class.

So when I had heard that some folks within the social justice community on Twitter had simultaneously deleted their accounts, I rolled my eyes. I left Twitter over a month ago because the constant infighting and escalating stupidity of many people in that space became too much to deal with. I knew these people as bullies; folks that would fly off the handle at the slightest of disagreements. I saw them harass someone off Twitter for the crime of being a white woman on a natural hair site. I saw them malign a Black writer for calling out a writer for Colorlines over her defense of catcalling, then malign him for being in an interracial relationship. This same person also queried why Latin@s were “more concerned” about the disappearance and murder of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Mexico than police brutality:


I saw them ask, in the middle of Israel’s bombing of Palestinian women, children, schools, and basic infrastructure needed to live, why they had not tweeted about Marissa Alexander:

Won't anyone think of the celebrities?
Won’t anyone think of the celebrities?

And why was that ridiculous request for support made? Because Palestinian solidarity movements had criticized two celebrities for tweeting their support for Palestine and then quickly deleting them under pressure from Zionist groups. And then there were their bizarre requests for compensation because they freely gave their opinions on a site that is free to join, open to everyone, and non-compulsory.

But then came the letter they wrote detailing their reasons for the deactivation. It was a joke. But it was not a joke because of the completely delusional belief that PhD students are waiting for them to come back so that they can steal their ideas for their dissertations. It was not a joke because of the talk of their frameworks, which are really just basic sociological concepts that have been denuded of meaning for capitalistic consumption. It is not a joke because of the decree that wholly common-sensical acts of compassion and community-building are somehow radical. It is not a joke because simple disagreement has been translated into “abuse” and “triggering” behavior. It is not even a joke because I’Nasah Crockett, Zahira Kelly, Trudy Hamilton, Aura Bogado, Lauren Chief Elk, Sarah Kendzior, and Jessica Luther are all jokes themselves.

No. It is a joke because it is a document that is so removed from the communities that these people claim to represent. It is a joke because such self-centered and narcissistic performances have become a regular part of these “activists” shticks, and the notion that other people suffer in this world is of secondary thought to their mantra of “fuck you, pay me”. It is a joke because for all the discussion of praxis, these petty bourgeois capitalists do not seek radical change and an overturning of our socioeconomic and political systems. It is really incredible to see, actually: capitalists paying members of an oppressed class to write about their real or perceived oppressions, offering solutions that always center on such atomized and individualistic notions of “rhetorical violence” and “spaces” and “privilege-checking”. They are paying these people to maintain the status quo with radical aesthetics, and these writers are completely okay with that. That is a joke.

At some point, though, the joke stops being funny. It starts being a distraction to real movements for change, and it takes up space and energy in offline organizing. At some point, the show has to end, the mic has to be cut off, and people gotta be told to take the no-talent show somewhere else. I am not on Twitter anymore, nor will I ever be again. But my hope is that their screeds may find a few less retweets, a few less favorites, and less enthusiastic displays of solidarity now that their true intentions of capital accumulation and attention-seeking have been revealed.

It is a hope that I expect to be dashed. Here’s hoping I am wrong. Our movements for change depend on it.