I can't begin to tell you how many times I have started this post, only to  abort it, thinking "WTF is the point, Matt, no one cares about facts anymore. You'll just be barking at the moon… again."

But today, I was called out by an old Twitter acquaintance for supposedly being an apologist for Hillary Clinton's use of the racially charged code word: "superpredator." I had just admonished Senator Bernie Sanders on Twitter for telling a CNN debate audience that the term was "racist."  Our disinterested media let him get away with this because everyone had basically already accepted the oft-repeated assertion that the term was always a "racist code word." But it wasn't. Not when Hillary Clinton said it.. And not even for months—even years—after that. And I will prove it.

I'm not going to bother giving you the entire history of this issue of the 1994 Crime bill, and the national mood that surrounded it at the time. Plenty of others have already done that.  The short form is that back in early February, a Bernie Sanders supporter ostensibly present as a Black Lives Matter activist (but more likely as a Sanders's operative) interrupted her at a private function, unfurled a banner reading "We have to bring them to heel," then challenging her to explain why she once used racist code words like "superpredator" in a speech she gave 21 years ago at Keene College.

It is now well known that Hillary Clinton has since said to Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, that she "should not have used those words."  But she never actually specified the exact words she was referring to. The phrase "Bring them to heel" has been around for centuries, and while it's been said that it's "common knowledge" that slave masters were known to have used it (which I've yet to confirm), it's more typical meaning is to bring dogs or prisoners into a heel, i.e., insist that they obey a direct order. After 20 minutes of Googling (prior to the date of incident), I still can't find any usage in that context. Not saying those examples don't exist (I may have just missed glaring examples that someone will soon point me to), I'm just saying that if they do, they are not widely used enough to be easily found. Still, angry Sander's supporters have basically implied that no African American should be allowed to hear these awful words without getting a sternly worded trigger warning beforehand. 

I've assumed that meaning of these words does exist somewhere, just as do the many far more common, innocuous and non-racist interpretations of them.  But despite their relative obscurity when you try to find such meaning, our national television and radio airwaves have been awash in a tidal surge of Sanders's surrogates insisting that this was a famously common expression of those disgusting slavers, about 150 years before they were born, and any other possible meaning should be jettisoned in favor of the worst possible interpretation. (In addition to my Googling for it, I was also trusting my fairly good memory. I do a lot of reading, and can't recall ever seeing these words used in any context other than animal training, and some metallurgist explaining that his experiments had brought some "rogue molecules to heel.")

But no matter the reality (I've been saying that a lot this year), Mrs. Clinton's words were evidently close enough to that vile slaver connotation, that even if she didn't know of the particular phrase origin at the time, enough people explained it to her since, and persuasively, that because it was coupled with "super-predator," which has come to have clearly racist connotations over the past 20 years, it would be best to simply cut her PR losses and admit that:

Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.

Fine. She apologized for what was being portrayed as racist language, because at least some of it is seen as racist language today. Good on her. Nip it in the bud and move on. To paraphrase GEICO Insurance ads, "If you're a politician, it's what you do." But is that really a true account of what she felt, and was it really fair to her in this context? I don't think so. And that she apologized—for something—that had blown up that big in a campaign for President of the United States means slightly less than nothing to me.

It's not news to any political professional that once a politician decides to apologize for something, advisers always tell them to never make what could be seen as a half-hearted or so-called left-handed effort. Just apologize and move on, leaving the nuances for others to discuss after the fact. So even if she wanted to, it was simply unwise to even think about breaking her apology down into its basic parts to explain that unlike the (presumably) offensive "bring them to heel" phrase (which sounds ugly when used about human beings for any reason), the word "super-predator," while clearly a code word today, wasn't one at the time Clinton used it. I can say this with a confidence, which I will document later, mainly for these two reasons:

  • the term had only been coined two months earlier, which by any definition, isn't enough time for any term to take on the onus of a bona fide racial stereotype, let alone a vicious code word. (Almost by definition, they must be widely known to have any value as code words.)
  • national magazines like Time and Newsweek were still generating "buzz" about the term only a few days before she had used it, and national publications aren't in the habit of splashing racist code words all over their pages without at least putting them in quotes or masking them (like the "n-word").

The fact is, the term "super-predator" (or "superpredator") was coined just 2 months earlier in an November issue of Bill Kristol's brand new conservative rag, "The Weekly Standard," in a now-infamous article by Princeton Prof. John Dilulio entitled "The Coming of the Super-Predators." 

In it, Dilulio cites statistics about youth violence, and does suggest that a high percentage of black boys are engaged in gang activity, but by and large, the piece was mostly about his theories about these new young super criminals. You have to really work to find any obviously racist canards or tropes therein—although they would become that much later.

Naturally, that doesn't stop modern-day liberals (mostly Sanders supporters) from suggesting it was right there, and so obviously racist, that Hillary Clinton must have just leapt out of her chair and run to her speech writers, insisting they use this hot new racist trope wherever they could—immediately <sarcastic eye-roll here>.

In the real world (that many Liberals don't seem to live in anymore), most reasonable people know that new words and ideas, especially incendiary ones, catch fire with the media, and politicians (or their speech writers and PR flacks) are experts at seizing on them when they want to sound informed and current about breaking cultural news, events, or political matters.

And that's all Hillary Clinton was doing at Keene College when she used "superpredator;"  she was talking about the context of her husband's Crime Bill and inserted the hip new term on everyone's lips that was all the rage in the media that very same week.  It was not until our anti-hero, Prof. Dilulio followed up that more general article with a much more racist-sounding screed titled "My Black Crime Problem—And Ours"  that things started to get uglier. In it, we find the more obvious chestnuts that clearly reeked of the implicit racism which his entire theory would come be associated with over the many years to come:

The second reason to keep the champagne corked is that not only is the number of young black criminals likely to surge, but also the black crime rate, both black-on-black and black-on-white, is increasing, so that as many as half of these juvenile super-predators could be young black males. But just when we need to think most earnestly about black crime, the space for honest discourse about race and crime is shrinking. The evidence of that shrinkage is everywhere: in the lickety-split O.J. verdict and its racially polarized aftermath, in the utter certitude of many blacks that the justice system is rigged against them, in the belief of many whites that violent crime is synonymous with black crime and the fear they feel of every young black male passerby not wearing a tie or handcuffs.

[Bold emphasis mine]

Despite the hopelessly dishonest Fair.org account that I linked to above, it took years before Dilulio's bogus theories became a standard topic of conversation whenever wretched racist stereotypes and propaganda about African Americans came up.  To his credit, Dilulio aggressively recanted his theories years later, citing very bad research by himself and others.  But all of this took a long time to evolve, and long after his second article appeared.  Hillary Clinton could not have steered away from a code word that hadn't even become one yet.

How can I be so positive of this? That Dilulio first coined the term just two months before Clinton used it?  Because a) I was alive at the time, and was quite politically engaged and remember conversations about superpredators like they were yesterday, and b), all you have to do is a simple Google Search for "superpredator OR super-predator" prior to Nov. 27th, 1995, the date Dilulio's article was published.

 

 

See? Nothing there. Zip. Nada. Prior to the date of Dilulio's article, "superpredator" was being used for discussing mean kitty-cats, biological imperatives, and a mathematical model of a tritrophic food chain. 

Nowhere, not even once before that date was the term being used to discuss extreme violence in human children in any form,  let alone as it might apply to African American children. But once introduced, the term exploded onto the national and international stage, appearing almost everywhere at once.  It was all over the nightly news, the late night talk shows, and everywhere in between.  Just FIVE DAYS before her ill-fated Keene college speech, another Google search reveals that the shiny new—and oh so scary—term was on the cover of Newsweek.

 

For Bernie Sanders, or anyone else in this campaign or the media to suggest that Mrs Clinton was using a known racist code word or associated trope, when that word only came into existence a few weeks earlier, is intellectually dishonest at best, and scurrilously slimy at worst.

Does anyone seriously believe that there would be any rational reason for a First Lady, hugely popular with African Americans, to willfully seize on a known racist trope or narrative and toss it into a totally unimportant speech in New Hampshire? What would be the point? Where's the gain? There isn't any. And it's just political opportunism to suggest otherwise without some other corroborating evidence or patterns of her using such dog whistles before that. She hadn't used before then, and she certainly hasn't used any since then.

Clinton was simply trying to show American families that along with parents everywhere, their government was also alarmed by this extreme new form of violence that was being reported. Again, no one knew how bogus the theory would be for several more years.  And did it cause any shrieks of racism from the public at the time? Nope. I haven't even been able to find the speech mentioned in any relevant way in the days, months and years since.

Had it not been for Buzzfeed, no one would ever know the Keene speech even existed. Revisionists for Sanders will probably say Dilulio was so obviously racist, "she should have known,"  but there is not a single person or piece of data from the period that confirms such a reading—by anyone.

But that doesn't mean many other liberals weren't fretting over this terrifying new criminal class of children that was reportedly emerging all over our precious heartland, and using the same language.  Here's the very liberal journalist  Alex Kotlowitz, using "super-predator" in a New York Times op-ed just two weeks after Clinton's speech. 

If "superpredator" was anything like a code word, dog whistle or other racist construction, you can be damn sure there would have been plenty of outrage over it at the time.  Good luck finding any. Yes, there were some people on the left critiquing and rejecting Dilulio's thesis almost immediately.  But they weren't aiming their fire at Clinton, nor condemning the First Lady for using racist language in any form, or in any public record, anywhere. Full stop.

So there it is. The full early history of this term "super-predator," and nowhere in it can you find any hint that it was remotely controversial at the time. 

But as we've learned over the past year, the Bernie Sanders campaign has taught millions to hate Hillary Clinton by any means necessary, and once trained, these vicious haters don't much care about alternative, rational, or accurate explanations for anything. If they can ascribe bad intent, faith, or motive to anything Hillary or Bill Clinton do, they will. 

Senator Sanders's staff knew of the original incident and the easy accusation of racism that was out there to be repeated, and desperate for any edge they could get in a NY primary race where he trailed by double digits in, they went for it. Boom. A dishonest smear from February gets repeated as an even more dishonest debate smear in April.

Once again, as I usually do, I mostly blame our criminally lazy media for these kinds of distorted and dishonest narratives. The Google searches above took me all of 5 minutes of work. Good luck finding anyone else who tried doing that among the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Times, and countless other outlets who covered this story sensationally (twice), using only the popular narrative that she apologized for using inappropriate words that she wouldn't use today.

No one has ever asked her if she even knew superpredator had any racial overtones at the time. And since her very blanket apology, it's all moot anyway.

I personally believe that she did not know or even suspect that ANY of those words had any racist baggage, and superpredator certainly did not.  There simply hadn't been enough elapsed time since the word was coined for a reasonable analysis to conclude that it was a well-established racist trope.  Which is why only last week, knowing this issue would come up again and again, I tweeted this to her campaign team:

And that's also the reason I finally gave in and decided to write this post. We have many months left in this miserable 2016 election, and even if Sanders's or his acolytes don't bring this up again, the Republicans surely will.  I wanted these facts to be out there so I don't have to keep relitigating them on Twitter.

You're welcome.

May I go enjoy some Friday night pizza now? Thank you.

 

 

 

Twitter's new Shared block lists are well intentioned…

I myself discussed such tools years ago with friends and associates—often in public.  But, we never imagined such a feature being executed by Twitter without some kind of interactive host service to keep them accurate, current, annotated and cancelable. Yet that is what Twitter has just announced.  And many people are celebrating, but I fear prematurely. 

I strongly feel that any seasoned Twitter user will be able to see the very large — if not fatal — flaw in this idea that will probably make it unpopular, controversial, infrequently used, and thus, not really the significant anti-abuse tool that Twitter and its proponents think it will be. In fact, it will actually offer new ways to abuse users.

I've discussed it with enough people I trust to know I am probably correct in my take on this, but perhaps I am l not. So let me lay out my fears and let's see what you think?

The Shared Block list idea is very basic 

I "export" my list of say 600 blocked people to you (I really have far more), and you being a big fan of mine, "import" my list and voila! You now block everyone that I blocked. Simple, right?  But what if I blocked them:

  • by accident — this happens 3-5 times a month on many devices (I, like many, can block people in the same week and rarely remember who or why until someone asks or tells me.)
  • because of some transient issue, grudge, gaslighting, or gossip. Drama you couldn't care less about.
  • I just don't like them, or hate their position on some topic or issue that you aren't even aware of or feel passionately about
  • my friend @SnippyWitch hates them and would kill me if I didn't block them, too
  • their shoes offend me, and I want thousands of my followers to block them… just because I can
  • a political operative in my stream copied my block list to thousands of other operatives so they know who I don't like — and then tell them.

Do you see the problem? These are just a very few examples. I can think of many others. I'm sure you can, too.

But, you say, people can be selective about which names they import!

Yep, and that sounds good on paper. But in actual practice it will rarely if ever happen on a large scale such as this.

Are you likely to take the time to study and learn about every name you see in my list of 600 accounts (or even 60), most of which you won't recognize, even if you already follow them? I myself follow thousands of people I enjoy seeing in my feeds, but I'd never recall their names on sight. And like me, you're very unlikely to notice that one special account that you like, but I don't. Yet if you imported my list with only a cursory glance, and no investigation as to why I blocked someone that you did not, poof, they're gone from your world forever.

But wait, there's worse!  Twitter's new feature also has an option to export not only your entire block list, but each and every name on each and every block list that YOU imported.

So now, in order to be fair to some people that you know could be innocent, or just to be responsible, you would have to review not just your own blocked names, but also those names on every list that you import.  Considering all the possible false positives already mentioned, can you see the potential for chaos, confusion, and unfairness? 
 
And worse, is the vast Scarlet Letter potential. if you end up on one famous/popular person's block list that many of their close friends and associates use, you will be forever invisible (or tarnished) to those people, and neither they, nor you will even know it. Even if you're on that list totally by accident, you have just been wiped from the face of their Twitter timelines, with very few options for remedy or recourse. It happens virtually every minute on Twitter. Not a day goes by that most of us don't see tweets like:

"Sorry, I blocked you by accident"; or "Hey, @tinkletoes, I just learned you blocked me, How come?; and finally, "Hey @ShortWad, please tell @JakeTapper to unblock me, willya?"

The ugly fact is, that now merely being on ONE popular person's shi…err… block list… will result in perfectly innocent people being blocked by very large numbers of that person's followers, friends, colleagues, contacts, and associates, and then exponentially, to far more people as their block list propagates to their own followers.

People will just be inexplicably disappeared from each other, bi-directionally, cut off from one another, and neither the blocker nor the blockee will even know that it happened, let alone why.

And even worse, resolving the oversights, mistakes, or malice will need a lot of open-channel communications across multiple timelines, streams, and communities. Correcting even a single error will require everyone who imported the list to be informed of it.  And that's if anyone even wants to bring it up.  Who wants to be seen broadcasting:

"Hey,@Caitlyn_Jenner, why did you put me on your block list available to your five million followers? What did I do to deserve that?" 

Few of us want to go through that. Correction, none of us do. Yet if you can't see it happening, and almost immediately, you could be new to Twitter.

Any way you look at it, despite the good that was meant to be achieved by Shared Block Lists, I fear very bad things coming from this idea. Even if it only gains popularity among a handful of sizeable accounts, it could wreak absolute havoc upon potentially thousands — even millions —of social graphs and relationships, or simply crush Twitter's wonderful ability to discover new and interesting people.  And you're not going to care that not everyone is being harmed by this optional tool, if it is you, a friend, or even your employee being harmed.

Just reclaiming one important relationship, personal or professional, could require a lot of time, effort—and even embarrassment.

While righteously trying to address the many issues of abuse that exist online, I fear that Twitter has made a mistake rushing into this particular feature with no public feedback, a very primitive import/export implementation, and virtually no communications capability for editing, updating, annotating, commenting, or appealing any of names contained in these distributed black lists.

If I am correct, it is likely to be a disaster already happening, especially for innocents who get tainted and/or rendered invisible to large numbers of important people and communities merely because one popular account distributed their name in a widely distributed Shared Block List.  

That's my take. What's yours? Your comments welcomed below (they're moderated, so don't expect them to show while I'm sleeping.)

Further Reading

When do Twitter block lists start infringing on free speech?   By @mathewi

An exchange between @mathewi and @anildash concerning "Free Speech" issues

  • FYI: I agree with Dash. There is no free speech issue here.


 

 

On October 10th, 2014,

the @washingtonpost produced this extraordinary project about the "N-Word." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dre/features/the-n-word

This prompted an op-ed piece by the often incendiary @piersmorgan,

which, as he's known for, generated a typical firestorm on social media:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2829080/PIERS-MORGAN-black-Americans-want-N-word-die-kill-themselves.html

I felt this latest public vetting of this very old controversy is a good time to call attention to a documentary by Todd Larkin Williams that got of notice in 2004, but not a lot since. Sadly, it's not complete on Youtube, but what is here, is pretty interesting and surfaces just a few of the many ways this issue is and has been discussed by people of all colors and from all walks of life.  Here;s some back story on it.
 

The N-Word Documentary

List of interviews

Part 1  – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN1JengGaZg
Part 2 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLTazJIkrGc
Part 3 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLaII-v-jMo
Part 4- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rq5jQ_4iTw
Part 5-  Missing
Part 6 – Missing
Part 7 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ8e9RI5DH0

Tim Wise on the use of the word "nigger/nigga." 

"No, white people should never use it. History has been a double standard, so get over it."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmLXZ6_PW9A

Wynton Marsalis, the renowned black musician disagrees with Wise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJ5dOOoBydM

My opinion on this issue is irrelevant, and has nothing to do with why I produced this post.

I feel it's the media's job, as well as our educational system's role to help discuss these kinds of issues in thoughtful and informative ways without always maligning or impugning people merely for having an opinion about a controversial topic.  These issues must transcend race because we are a multi-racial planet. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone should be able to voice theirs. Yeah, even Piers Morgan.

Related

Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy

It’s “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets,” a word that whites have employed to wound and degrade African Americans for three centuries. Paradoxically, among many black people it has become a term of affection and even empowerment. The word, of course, is nigger, and in this candid, lucidly argued book the distinguished legal scholar Randall Kennedy traces its origins, maps its multifarious connotations, and explores the controversies that rage around it.