Illustration by Lawson

Tilting at trolls and Uncle Ruckus

Put down the phones and take up the fight

“Don’t feed the trolls,” my friend Mark Thompson tells me after watching me cross words on Twitter with some right-wing genius patriots, as they appear to regard themselves. Of course he’s correct. Whenever we respond to provocations on social media, we are diverting our attention from more productive efforts.

Still, I argue for a living, and I like to keep in practice. Recently I took on some trolls who jumped on journalist, podcaster, and “Black Minds Matter” Substack author Touré for tweeting, “I know the right thinks every problem can be solved by being cruel toward brown immigrants from the South but unfortunately for Fox viewers, that doesn’t solve anything. America is supposed to be a country that welcomes immigrants. That’s critical to our legacy.”

One of Touré’s trolls replied, “I think you need to read the original migration policy of the founding fathers, and I quote ‘white people of good character.’” (That’s from the Naturalization Act of 1790.) He also mentioned “Jewish slaver ship owners” and said, “Rothschilds print and sell you your own money.”

After calling out his antisemitism, I said the Founders did not live up to the equality they invoked in the Declaration, but they wrote in the Constitution about “a more perfect union” and allowed for constitutional amendment. America is the pursuit of an ideal. The Founders, while hypocritical, set a standard that we have struggled for 246 years to make real.

On another front, attorney Ron Filipkowski tweeted, “US Senate candidate Kathy Barnette (PA) broke down and started crying today when talking about evil Democrats that have turned the US into a communist country.” Barnette, a black Republican, wrote a book in 2020 titled Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: Being Black and Conservative in America. She urged black Americans to reject “liberal lies” and support Trump. She echoed his brazen assertion that he had done more for black people than any other president.

Barnette resembles Trump supporter Candace Owens, whom many have dubbed “Auntie Ruckus.” This refers to Uncle Ruckus, a black character created by cartoonist Aaron McGruder for The Boondocks. Wikipedia describes Uncle Ruckus as “internally racist, repeatedly proclaiming his love for the white race and disdain of the black race, and he even identifies as Caucasian, saying he suffers from ‘reverse vitiligo.’”

“Nothing to Lose” echoes Trump’s question, “What do you have to lose?” One answer that has played out in Republican-controlled state legislatures is the right to vote and to have that vote count. It is not clear how Barnette or anyone else can have missed that.

And that is the point: we are dealing not with alternate policies but alternate reality. Trump’s fanatics, in a massive act of projection, insist it is a “woke mob” (a derisive phrase the far right loves) that poses the real threat to America — which, as a troll invoking a 232-year-old racist immigration law demonstrated, means white America.

What chills me as I write this is not the freezing rain outside my window, but our country’s persistent failure to confront its racial demons.

That failure, exploited by an unscrupulous man and his fellow conspirators and abetted by social media and right-wing cable TV, resulted in the Confederate battle flag being carried through the halls of our Capitol 156 years after the end of the Civil War.

The failure is fed by ignorance. The trolls’ continued, aggressive hawking of baseless conspiracy theories — including the lie about a stolen 2020 election — illustrates the Dunning-Kruger effect, which Britannica defines as “a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain.” Another factor is confirmation bias, in which people filter out anything that doesn’t support their existing views.

Thanks to the former president and his cohorts, our republic is threatened by people who are convinced that patriotism means ransacking the Capitol, smearing feces on the walls, and threatening the lives of anyone who impedes their Glorious Leader’s despotic ambitions.

Imperiling us more, as Dr. King would point out, are those who know better but do nothing.

It is not only neo-Confederates who have aspirations. I dream of a day when the sight of a strong black person freely moving outside someone else’s comfort zone does not drive a significant portion of our population into a murderous rage. The same goes for bias against immigrants, queer folk, religious minorities, and women.

Aspirations, however, are not enough. We have to fight for them.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at rrosendall@me.com.

Copyright © 2022 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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Richard J. Rosendall

Richard J. Rosendall

Former president, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. Charter member, NAACP-DC Police Task Force. Co-founder, Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.