How This Educator Handles Trolls (Bob and Weave Em)

Jose VilsonEducation, Featured, Race1 Comment

Last week, #EduColor had a chat on education research. It seems like a benign topic outside of the education sphere. Most folks in this chat should be people genuinely interested in talking about higher education. Mildred Boveda and Grace Chen put together the questions, prompting people to rethink praxis from PK-12 and beyond.

Yet, because it reached #8 on Twitter worldwide, we also unwillingly hosted a plethora of trolls, vagabonds, and also-rans, the usual folks who want to make America great again or whatever.

At first, my reaction was “Who are you and why are y’all always up in the conversations?” My second thought was “BLOCK, REPORT, BLOCK BLOCK BLOCK REPORT!” My third thought was “Let’s see if they can stand the heat.” So while Mildred and Grace graciously hosted, I played provocateur in the hashtag. An hour after the chat was over, I was still having to tell these hooligans to read books and watch anything other than FOX News. Friends would refer to my legendary patience as Jedi-like. I laughed from this side of the screen.

No one should feel obligated to volunteer their tweets for the service of people intent on rejecting their humanity, but I looked at my watch and said I got time for this today. If the education field has taught me anything, it’s that anyone can catch a lesson given the proper teacher.

Annie Tan recently said “organizing is humanizing.” Indeed, teaching as an act of organizing means that we know what it’s like to ask hard questions, delve deeper, and ignore the run reflex. Too many people mistake standing firm with standing still. Too many people mistake quiet for silence. Conversely, too many people mistake noise for action, too. There is dirty work that needs to get done, and for those that can engage, we should. For those that can’t, y’all need to examine why. For those that don’t know how we do it, please know that might never be enough to confront the institutional structures that perpetuate racism, sexism, and inequity.

I also recognize that I’m built for this, though. A few examples of some encounters in the last six months:

  • A fake profile mocking my organization and its members, created by a white teacher activist some of you know and love
  • A few teacher unionists who bristle at me challenging their faves (without apology) on race
  • A few tweeters who ask me if I had ever done calculus, only to see them calling me the n-word without mentioning me
  • A few folks who want to shame me into falling in line with their train of thought, but never address the issues I bring to the fore
  • A few folks who caught “inspiration” from things they saw me and my friends doing, but distorting elements of my life for their ill-conceived trash
  • A teacher-bashing huckster who thought following me would make me timid about speaking my truth

In other words, I’ve endured any number of trolls, some who have names, and some who don’t. So have many of my friends. What doesn’t digitally kill you steels your mettle.

I’m not saying self-preservation isn’t vital, either. Trolls can be relentless in their pursuit of virtual blood. We know plenty of high-profile tweeters who have a love / abhor relationship with social media platforms. It’s perfectly fine to block and report. It’s perfectly fine to not block and report. It’s perfectly fine to dissolve relationships hanging by delicate threads. It’s perfectly fine to keep some people around just to keep an eye on them.

Tolerance is a measure of privilege and power, and if you have the privilege and power to tolerate, it’s hard to determine someone else’s level for tolerance.

As an active social media user, I don’t care if I win the argument. I want the folks who don’t speak to see the interactions play out in real-time. On occasion, I can prompt them to jump in and speak their peace. When we deconstruct the arguments and force the human being on the other side of those anonymous accounts to hold their argument up, they rarely can. It’s less about being “nice” as it is about asking probing questions, reiterating their arguments back to them, and stating points of contention, if it ever gets that far.

Some say it “centers” the perpetrator, but, as a person of color, there’s something liberating about having someone else explain their point of view instead of us constantly having to defend our humanity and then our arguments. Please.

As a Black Latino man who does have this steely disposition, I find myself in situations where I need to stand up and speak to the discomfort. In 2017, the fight isn’t just at the federal or state level, but also the personal and professional level. The way we fight a “post-fact” world is through the actions and reactions we do on a daily basis, in whatever capacity we’re given. I don’t want these injustices, small and enormous, to ever feel normal. I refuse to let the dreams and aspirations of our best and brightest go to waste because neo-Nazi strangers can’t handle people of color shining. I believe in solidarity and despise ideological purity, but I do think there are ways we can build coalition and relationships without losing sight of everyone’s individual and collective humanity.

Get you a movement that can do both.

How do we build that coalition? Usually, it starts with a few common principles we build together. Kinda like this middle-school teacher does in the classroom. Let’s get to work.

Comments 1

  1. Thank you very much for writing this. For me, a lower-middle class white male, sitting in relative privilege globally, this paragraph resonated: “Tolerance is a measure of privilege and power, and if you have the privilege and power to tolerate, it’s hard to determine someone else’s level for tolerance.” There is always so much going on that we don’t see/know. I feel frustrated with myself when I lose patience with people who, although similarly privileged, still have a very different life and world view than I do. I need to learn to bob and weave better.

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