Let me be forthright at the outset and admit that I have no idea who Sarah Jeong is. I don’t say that to be dismissive of Ms. Jeong or to disparage her in any way. It’s just that I’ve never read her work before and neither have I been privy to her until I saw her name being bandied about by partisan media personalities. Because we can’t go one day without some new manufactured media contretemps, the story of Ms. Jeong is the newest entry into the Soul Train dance line of antagonism. I don’t write this to jump into the fracas, rather I thought I would use this occasion to speak against these never ending cultural wars that are ginned up by demagogues on all sides.
If you have not heard of the story yet, Ms. Jeong is the latest hire to the New York Times editorial board. When some right wing pundits found out about this, they made a beeline to the outrage factory to act incredulous that the supposed “paper of record” would bring on board someone who was a “racist” and a “bigot”. They culled a bunch of Ms. Jeong’s tweets where she taunted “white people” and made some offhanded remarks while responding to other people’s jabs.
For the record, I do not condone Ms. Jeong’s stances and some of the most vitriolic statements she made in the past. However, I’m also not in any position to condemn her on this front. The truth is that I too used to say the same things in the past, if not worse, before life taught me to be to be more circumspect in my thoughts. Passions can get the better of all of us, when we feel marginalized and witness unfair treatment of some people and preferential treatment for others, it is easy to lash out and blame all for the sins of a few.
The only reason I moderated my limited view of justice is because a stint of homelessness showed me that suffering is shared by all. Before 2015, I thought that “white people” were the root of all that was wrong in the world. Let’s just say I had my Malcolm X Mecca moment by way of missions and shelters and it finally dawned on me that collective judgment is wrong. This is not to dismiss the malicious policies and heinous practices that condemn billions around the world to a life of hopelessness and destitution, but affixing blame on all for the sins of a few is immoral and counterproductive.
It took me until the age of 42 and a dance with tribulation that shook my soul for me to realize this. Ms. Jeong is 30 years old. I am utterly grateful that social media was not omnipresent in our lives when I was thirty years old. We have entered into an age where outrage is our default mode where each lapse in judgment is treated as an unforgivable act. On this front, irrespective of her age, Ms. Jeong is not innocent of this charge. After all, she got hired by the New York Times because she is a lightning rod when it comes to these never ending cultural battles. And this my friends is what this story is truly about. All sides are engaging in a duplicitous kabuki theater of manufactured indignation in order to pander to their mobs. Click To Tweet
What we are witnessing is the self-medication of society through a mix of rage and sensationalism. People who are easily manipulated and moved into anger are always at the mercy of those who think with cold calculated logic. Make no mistake my friends, the politicians, pundits and media personalities too many of us keep fawning over don’t have a single sincere bone in their body. They inject hostility and animus into the public square as a business decision. When the weekend comes, they are chumming it up with the same people they pretend to be enraged about. We keep taking the bait and paying for it, that is why America has become Malibu for the 1% and Mudville for the rest of us.
There is another irony to this story, it’s fascinating how personalities always keep trumping the broader point—we keep missing the forest for the stumps. People are outraged that Ms. Jeong was hired by the New York Times, but should the focus not be more on the institution than the newest faces they bring on board. Lest people forget, the New York Times was the main propaganda machine that convinced us into the Iraq War. Time after time, they have shilled for more wars and ran interference for politicians on both sides of the aisle while policies were passed that mauled the masses in order to feed the greed of the oligarchs. The New York Times did not bring a truth teller abroad, they hired another pundit who will stir society into a froth.
In a time that urgently calls for a mature dialogue about race and inequalities among the various social strata, we instead have carnival barkers on all sides pretending to be incensed when really all they care about is counting their likes and checks. We are bracketed by grievance evangelizers who keep tearing open historical wounds and rupturing new lesions because they know there is money to be made by keeping us riled up. Ms. Jeong, the New York Times, the pundits on the right who are losing their minds and the pundits on the left who are shocked, all of them are winning at this moment.
The rest of us, when we easily get manipulated and incited into anger, we lose all the time.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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