Here’s a story about something that happened this week on NextDoor.
For those who are unaware, NextDoor is a social media site that is specific to small geographic regions. The entire purpose is to create a sense of community within a neighborhood. It’s just a high-tech version of the community bulletin board. “Lost cat!” “Curb alert!” “Can anyone recommend a good local contractor?” Etc. For the most part, pretty mundane, vaguely useful stuff. Of course, as with most things, it has been weaponized for both good (a nice chuckle- my neighbor alerted the entire city to a shortage of Funyuns at the local 7-11), and evil (the level of vitriol that can be summoned by debating something as simple as electric scooters is, frankly, more terrifying than anything happening in national politics right now). It’s also an easy way to learn which of your neighbors are racists and/or nutjobs, which is always… fun?
But this story is a little different. Somehow, for a few brief days, my nutty little virtual neighborhood stayed (mostly restrained). Here it goes…
One day, a post popped up. It was titled “Track LIVES MATTER – [redacted name] begins bid for world title” I didn’t read the entire post closely, but it chronicled the achievements of a local track star who is currently competing at the very highest level and would be shown on TV this week.
I held my breath when I saw that title. “Ooh, boy, here we go…”
TRACK. LIVES. MATTER.
Oof. My neighbors would be all over this. I live in a very liberal area. Every other house (including my own) has one of those “No matter what language you speak or where you are from you are welcome here” signs. A famous white supremacist tried to open up shop here a couple years ago and was met with protests (he has thankfully since moved out). And, to nobody’s surprise, despite putting up our “we love everyone” signs, we are smug assholes to folks we disagree with on NextDoor. This title is insensitive. In poor taste. Making light of a very real and disturbing social issue. This lady was about to be ripped to shreds in 3… 2… 1…
But nothing happened. The post had maybe one or two comments that said something like “Wahoo! Wish him luck!” And that was it. It got less reaction than my post asking if anyone was doing teal pumpkins this Halloween.
I think everyone else had the same thought that I did. Okay, yeah, that was a poor choice of title. But the post itself was so positive and nice and chances are the person just wasn’t thinking. There are bigger internet fish to fry (like those bike lanes taking away our parking!) Whatever. Do an eyroll. Shrug it off. Let this lady be happy about these local kids, it’s not like she’s going to do it again-
Oh. Shit. She did it again. The next day a second post went up. This time titled “Track LIVES MATTER II” and continuing to chronicle the track star’s progress. This time around, somebody responded in the comments. Two people with one comment each, to be precise:
“I’m excited for [name redacted] but I think the heading of this message is a pretty insensitive appropriation…”
“I agree. There are better ways to offer support without denigrating an incredibly serious issue and…”
These people had slightly longer responses, but, for reasons that will become clear later, I can only directly quote the beginning. Just please take my word that the rest of their comments did not diverge at all in tone or message. You may of course disagree, but in my opinion these comments were respectful, articulate, and non-confrontational. They also made it clear that nobody is against showing support for the track star at the center of the posts.
Usually, this would be the point where all hell breaks loose on the internet. Someone might jump in claiming PC culture has run amok. Someone else might suggest there’s nothing wrong with supporting athletes. Someone else might criticize the original poster, but use more pointed or condescending language. Shit would spiral quickly.
But that did not happen. There were no more comments.
Soon there was a third post. “Track Lives Matter” again, followed by more exciting news from the track world. A couple comments encouraging the athlete. Nothing further criticizing the ill-conceived title. We had thicker skin than I’d thought.
But the dam finally broke with “Track Lives Matter 4.” One commenter’s patience had finally run out. She started with “I can’t believe you’ve made a fourth post with this title. I can’t even read about the…” and then she said something along the lines of “the achievements of this young man because I’m so disgusted by your title.” She was more eloquent than me, but, again, I’m missing the direct quote. I think she may have been the one who listed a bunch of fun alternate titles like “Baby Got Track.”
More people chimed in…
“This title is extremely insensitive and offensive. As an earlier commenter noted, there is just no reason for joking about a movement that lots of people feel passionate about regardless of your own feelings about it.”
“I totally agree with the previous comments that this is a truly insensitive and offensive title. As has been said, you had so many other options for clever titles. You’ve taken an otherwise very happy and proud occasion and made it truly off putting.”
“Please reconsider your title. I assume you didn’t mean to be insensitive, but it sounds like people have already tried to explain how it comes across. I understand if you’re feeling defensive. But please try to let empathy overcome defensiveness.”
I forgot to mention something. I already said my neighborhood is ultra liberal. But it’s also crammed full to the brim with insanely smart people. Read these comments. They are clearly and carefully worded. At this point, nobody is being mean. People are begging and pleading for a title change. They are giving her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she just didn’t know. But after ignoring the complaints and continuing with her ill-conceived title, people are, politely but firmly, trying to explain.
In the entire series, the only comment that flirts with being smug was one uber-hipster (I know he’s an uber hipster because he used to live next door to me in real life) who cheekily suggested people who don’t understand the issue here may suffer from “affluenza.” (Okay, Mr Manbun, I don’t disagree with you, but yeesh, buddy, this is not helping!)
Finally, it happened. The dreaded phrase that you already knew had to be coming. A new commenter chimed in:
“ALL lives matter, and I support [name redacted]!”
Our little corner of the internet had been holding its shit together so well. But now a newcomer was doubling down. Why? And was this going to be the point where things finally implode?
Perhaps this is a good moment to take a step back and check in with you. There’s a chance that you have no clue what I am talking about here. Maybe you live in a different country than me. Or maybe you never really pay attention to the news. Or maybe, sure, you’ve heard of “Black Lives Matter,” but like chill out, what’s the big deal? Nothing wrong with a little lighthearted play on words! lol
So here’s what we’re talking about. “Black Lives Matter” is the name of a movement that was established a couple years ago to protest the disproportionate application of police brutality against people of color. It’s a very real and a very serious issue. People are dying. Those responsible are getting away with it. And for too long in American history, the treatment of victims and offenders has varied drastically based on racial lines with no end in sight. Slavery ended 150 years ago, the Civil Rights Movement was 50 years ago, but society’s message to black people continues to be “your life does not matter.” This shit is fucked up, and nobody should be ok with it. And yet…
Somehow, things got twisted. Having the audacity to point out institutional racism was viewed by some as a suggestion that every person occupying these institutions was a racist. Police officers felt attacked by these accusations. And so we wound up with “Blue Lives Matter.” Well shit. It’s looking like folks have to start picking sides. Which lives matter? Black lives? Or blue lives? What’s the easiest way to get out of this without having to actual state an opinion that might make people not like me? (especially if I’m a politician who has to worry about elections) Ah ha! A solution…
ALL Lives Matter!
There, now nobody can get angry at me! I like everyone! Let’s stop bickering amongst ourselves and just all be happy together! Weeeee!!! What could possible be wrong with that?
Well, how about the fact that it ignores that fact that the whole reason black people are trying to remind society that their lives matter is because society acts like their lives to not matter? Here it is explained several ways, all of which do a better job than anything I’d type here: https://www.vox.com/2016/7/11/12136140/black-all-lives-matter
Now there’s a decent chance that you are lucky enough to have never had to have thought about this all too much. Maybe you don’t get pulled over every time you drive through a nice neighborhood. Maybe your son’s marijuana possession got dismissed instead of landing him in prison and labeling him a felon for life. Maybe, if a police officer shoots your grandkid to death for playing with a Super Soaker at the park, that officer may face repercussions. Lucky you! There is, of course, nothing wrong with being fortunate enough to not have to deal with shit like this in your life. And, to a point, its excusable to not realize how serious an issue is when you don’t know about it because it doesn’t impact your life directly. Maybe you don’t realize that, when you’re making light of the phrase “black lives matter,” you’re not just making light of a trendy phrase; you’re making light of the countless lives that have been destroyed by generations of deadly injustice. But…
…when people are out there begging you to listen and empathize, and you just shut down and refuse to listen to their experiences because doing so might imply that at some point in your life you may have been wrong about something…
THEN we have a problem. Because then you’re just an asshole.
Returning to our story, we’ve just encountered a person who was doing just that. We’ve got countless calls for reason. To which this newcomer responds “All lives matter!” Oh for fucks’ sake.
To the internet’s shocking credit, things STILL stayed sane! Because, I think, this issue is too important to get wrong. Maybe there is still hope here. A teachable moment. If the whole point of “Black Lives Matter” is to teach that black lives matter, then here’s an opportunity to do just that. One brave soul ventured forth…
“Yes, all lives matter. But all too often in our history, sadly, black lives have mattered less or not at all. That is where the slogan came from and why this title is disrespectful. By appropriating the title, you are reinforcing in public that you do…” It continued from there and, again just trust me, it was civil and non-confrontational.
I wish I could get the exact response from Mrs. All Lives Matter, because it was pretty bizarre and I can’t do it justice. Something along the lines of “I am no spring chicken. I used to live in DC and have seen discrimination first hand. My parents were against discrimination in all forms. That being said, I stand by my support of [name redacted]. All lives matter!”
Our brave soul made one more attempt. “I think you need to understand why what you am said is so wrong…” followed by a mini essay I can’t remember.
Things didn’t go much further than that, because this is about when things got shut down. One commenter made a plea that other people join them in flagging the posts to NextDoor to get them removed since the original poster was refusing to change the name and the posts just kept coming.
For better or for worse, I decided to flag. It was my first time reporting a post, and the process gave me pause. You have to answer a handful of questions:
“Offensive” seemed to fit. So far so good. But then I reached this question:
Huh. This person was not being uncivil. They weren’t really rude. Or vulgar. They weren’t discriminating. They weren’t engaging in a personal dispute. They weren’t shaming anyone. But she is going against my values, I guess. I picked that one. And in response I got a pop-up saying “Your report doesn’t sound like a violation of the Community Guidelines, so it will only be sent to Nextdoor. The author and local Leads will not be notified.”
So I flagged the next one, and picked “Discrimination.” The next screen provided a text box to explain the situation, and so I wrote out the problem. And with my click of “Submit,” ALL five (yes, a fifth one snuck in there at the end) Track Lives Matter posts disappeared.
And, I admit, I felt kinda bad about it. Not just because I could no longer go back to read everyone’s comments and had to rely on the partial posts from my notifications emails to piece this story together for you, but because, through this entire ordeal, there was one crucial piece missing in this drama…
That’s Original Poster for you non-website. In the comments, people were pleading. For several days. And some other random neighbor responded with their All Lives Matter nonsense. But you know who never responded in any way? The person who’s poor choice of title was setting off this firestorm. If I were a betting man, I’d have switched genders. But I also would be betting on the fact that the OP had NO CLUE that any of this madness was happening. If I had to guess, the OP was as blissfully unaware of their comments section as they were of the reasons why their title was not the best. It was probably just an excited lady who wanted to share some fun local news, but maybe isn’t really the best with technology. Or the nuances of race in America. I have to hope that, if that is true, they also don’t know that their fun community posts have been removed. Maybe the notification saying “You have been flagged for discrimination” goes to the same junkbox where her “someone has commented on your post” notifications go. But even if they see the notification, they may not understand it. “Discrimination? Must be a mistake- I was just cheering on a track star!”
In the end, the person who was trying to promote an amazing young black man got shut down and quite possibly will have learned nothing. And the (mostly white) neighbors who were trying to do some teaching wound up learning even less. So, everyone loses. Oh wait, except…
Thankfully there is at least one winner in this tale. The local track star at the center of all this? He won his first world title this week.