Offensiveness Week – Exhibit C: The Greens, Tumblr, and Social Justice

(What’s Offensiveness Week?)

Last week, amazing author/videoblogger/man John Green posted a brief blog on his Tumblr about a woman who is also a videoblogger called Laci Green (no relation). Laci made almost 150 videos on her Youtube Channel about sex and sexuality. I hadn’t seen her videos before the following events occurred, but she always spoke with a great positivity and openness on the subject, something I very much admire.

To summarise the above link for those that don’t want to read it; John was pretty pissed off, because Laci had recently been sent some really scary hate messages over the web that had driven her into internet-hiding. The story started with this Tumblr message sent to Laci:

Hi Laci. Why do you use the word “tranny” in your video about Haters from 2009? …You really shouldn’t be using that word as a cis girl and it’s really disappointing for the people who look up to you.

to which she responded (emphasis her own):

Probably because I was 18 and ignorant.  You are totally right and I sincerely apologize for my mistake.  Before I educated myself about trans issues I had not the slightest inkling of how the word is used to dehumanize nor its place in the cycle of violence against transfolk.  Now I have seen people hurt by it and seen it used as a nasty slur.  Words have power, and “tranny” is not a word for anybody but transfolk themselves to use because only they can reclaim it. If I knew that was in a video, it would have been long long ago removed.  Consider it banished forever.

and she deleted the video. Really, in a perfect world, that should have been it. The wronged parties had their apology, the video would not be shown any further, and nothing else should’ve come from it.

But for those of you that are aware of the “social justice” section of Tumblr, you’ll know that’s not how they do things. There were accusations of Islamophobia as well as transphobia flying around (among other things), and she tweeted a few days later that she was on the phone with the police after being sent death threats with pictures of her apartment.

Then, last Monday, she posted a farewell to Tumblr, saying she would be taking an indefinite break from her videos, and the general internet. Enter John Green with his post. The point he makes is that this is wrong and stupid. I would put it in my own words a little better, but really this penultimate paragraph summed up the whole ordeal:

It’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to respond to a transphobic comment with a threat to kill someone. It’s not acceptable to harass and stalk women because you want their attention. And it’s not acceptable to use threats and intimidation to silence women you disagree with.

Now Laci was gone, the hate shifted to John. Followup messages were posted, clarifying that he was not defending what Laci said in her video three years ago, he was merely saying that it is impossible to truly debate on the internet if death threats silence voices.

A couple more bits and pieces came out of this, and whilst the whole conversation seems to have died down now (though with no return of Laci), I wanted to focus on this specific one, because it’s probably the one that caused me to think this was bloggable. This message from a user on John’s Tumblr:

The minute you use a slur that doesn’t belong to you is the minute you lose all credibility. The t-word is NOT okay for you to say. It doesn’t belong to you.

to which John very rationally explained that he did not use the t-word, but in fact put it in quotation marks. He quoted what Laci said. Let me clarify, I am not saying that quotation marks are some kind of magical shield that should stop everyone from being offended about anything; what I’m saying is that the important point that you (author of the above comment) are missing is this: CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING.

That is no exaggeration. The context in which someone uses a word should affect every single judgement you make. I’m going to expand on that point in Exhibit E on Friday, but if you take anything away from this week that should be it. I don’t know how Laci used the t-word in her original video because it’s been taken down, but it should be clear that John’s post is no less valid because it uses one word. Laci noted in her apology that “words have power”, and that is true to an extent. But the thing that gives them the power they have is context.

There is a slightly deeper issue here, which is something I’ve just discussed with my stepdad as I type this. I touched on it in Exhibit A on Monday, but it should be even clearer here that people on the internet do not think before they type. The web is spontaneous, and instant, and it’s wonderful because of that, but it’s also horrible, because people feel they can use it like they would use a regular conversation, where speech is thought up, said, and forgotten in seconds.

However, it’s not as similar as people seem to think it is online. It’s not forgotten, and it’s not lost. Every tweet, every video, every blog, every status update…it’s all somewhere in the murky depths of the web, and if someone really wanted to they could keep an archive of those for decades.

Laci learnt that when she made an almost certainly unscripted video that came back to bite her in the ass three years later, but she dealt with it maturely and humbly. Now the people threatening Laci and insulting John need to learn it. Before you start crying out against them, or anyone for that matter, stop and think. Ask yourself: “If I disagree with someone, should I really be sending them death threats, or should I be attempting to constructively debate it with them?”.

Put down the pitchforks, because every issue has its complexities.
Extinguish the torches, because people have their complexities too.
And call off the angry mob, because in three years time you are going to look back and wonder what you were thinking.

See you tomorrow.

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8 thoughts on “Offensiveness Week – Exhibit C: The Greens, Tumblr, and Social Justice

  1. I enjoy your point about context because I feel that context gets lost when words are used in a certain way. Before this whole incident, I didn’t know that word was consider a slur or bad. However, I think people on the Internet tend to react way too quickly when they find something that send their tempers boiling. I’ve been guilty of over reacting on the Internet more than in real life.

    • “But look, it’s clear that–” “NOPE NOPE NOPE” “Listen, stop being a child and understand the–” “CAN’T HEAR YOU”

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