Facebook: White Nationalism Is Thumbs-Up Like Emoticon!
Donald Trump's presidency has made white nationalism fashionable again. It doesn't help matters that social networking giant Facebook has offered white nationalists a global platform for their hate. Back in May, Motherboard obtained internal documents that revealed how Facebook planned to handle white supremacist content on its site after Charlottesville. It was incredibly stupid.
See, Facebook wouldn't let you post praise of white supremacy as an ideology or identify yourself as a "proud" white supremacist. It would allow you to post praise of white nationalism as an ideology or identify yourself as a "proud" white nationalist. All those tech bros and all those hoodies in the same place and they still couldn't muster the collective brain power to understand that white supremacy and white nationalism are synonymous, by which I mean the exact same thing but with a slightly different arrangement of letters.
Those of you who are quick to argue that white nationalism is no different from black nationalism, well, shut up! Also, historically, black nationalism promoted economic and political independence from a country that had actively oppressed and exploited black people. Black separatism would also seek to redress the original sin of slavery, as our introduction to America wasn't voluntary. Black folks could honestly take our seasoned food and jazz cigarettes and just live peacefully someplace. Hey, it's never been tested. White nationalism, back when it was called manifest destiny, has been tested, and it came back positive for smallpox.
Yes, there are black nationalists who are anti-Semitic and wrongly believe they are God's "chosen people," but they have no influence in mainstream society and no elected officials support them. It's not like Barack Obama had Louis Farrakhan over for bean pie socials. Meanwhile, Jeff Sessions and Stephen Miller are in the White House (well, not for long in Jeff's case). Issa Rae proclaiming that she's "rooting for everybody black" is not equivalent to the latest well-connected Republican donor turning out to be a drooling racist.
White nationalism meanwhile is increasing in prominence, which is easy to do when it was always prominent and never really stopped. It's like pointing out that Lupita Nyong'o has increased in beauty. How do you find a starting point for measurement? This is why Facebook's tolerance of white nationalist ideology is so repugnant. We already know how this works out because we have access to history books.
Becky Monroe, the director of the Stop Hate Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, recently explained all this to Facebook, and I imagine her face was in such perpetual eye-roll she had to wear shades to avoid offending anyone.
"The idea that making a distinction that is basically buying into what the white nationalists are trying to sell is deeply troubling."
White nationalism sounds better than white supremacy, especially in contrast to black nationalism. It's how Neo-Nazi retweeter Steve King can serve in the House of Representatives while Republicans roundly reject David Duke, who often praises them for saying things he says all the time. I dare say this is a form of classism -- viewing racism as the rants of "rednecks" in trailer parks and ignoring its more potent form when dressed up in a suit and tie and spoken without a Southern accent.
Amazingly, when Monroe's staff met with Facebook this summer, no one could come up with a single example of white nationalism or white separatism that was not inherently white supremacist. Actually, that's not amazing or surprising at all. It's best not to consider how much money Facebook wasted to come to a conclusion my dad, who attended a lousy segregated school in South Carolina, could've helped them reach over a phone call.
Facebook seriously allowed content calling for the creation of a white-ethno state. Their training slide even offered this genocidal gem as an example of what was "acceptable": "The US should be a white-only nation." It might be hard to notice at Facebook, but non-white people are already here. How did Mark Zuckerberg and his merry bros imagine white nationalists would solve this problem? I wouldn't trust any "solutions" that come from the Nazi-aligned.
I've noted that when it comes to racial politics, the black folks who gain access to a large platform are comparatively moderate. After all, even the hardly self-aggrandizing "Black Lives Matter" is considered controversial or even a hate group itself. Facebook has a documented history of treating those you might consider black nationalists the same way they do white supremacists. And even less extreme black thinkers rarely receive the "All Speech Matters" treatment that white nationalists enjoy. Writer Ijeoma Oluo had content scrubbed from Facebook that simply identified racism she'd endured. Facebook apologized but the damage had been done and the pattern continued with less notable users.
Monroe's team from the organization with the long name even patiently pointed out to Facebook that giving the thumb's up to white separatist rhetoric (e.g. "white separatism is the perfect solution to America's problems") was "at odds with the central tenet of Brown v. Board of Education, the foundational Supreme Court ruling which found the doctrine of racial segregation is inherently unequal." In other words: "Hey, dummies, we tried white separatism. It was called Jim Crow. Nina Simone wrote songs about it."
Facebook is a private enterprise and if it wants to offer a platform for racists, it's free to do so (and help make POC significantly less free in the process). But it does more than enable racism when it seeks to make a semantic distinction between white supremacy and white nationalism. It furthers the cause, desensitizing Americans to philosophies and institutions that the Civil Rights Movement spent decades fighting.
Honestly, guys, please hire some black people.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."