In this week's edition of The Daily Banter Mail Bag, Bob, Ben and Chez discuss empathizing with black Americans, Twitter trolling and the big Banter announcement!
1. Do you think you have the ability to put yourselves in the mindset of someone who's black in this country? I understand that each of you isn't black, but you seem like smart progressive writers so do you try to truly empathize with the plight of black America when you talk about it? Do you feel like your work suffers if you can't?
Ben: I absolutely do try. I grew up in London with lots of black friends (in fact my closest friend on the planet is black), so I saw exactly the kind of shit they went through - getting arrested for no reason, shopkeepers thinking they were criminals, teachers thinking they were stupid etc etc. It's pretty much the same in America, so I'm pretty familiar with it. Do I know what it actually feels like? No way. All of that stuff didn't happen to me because of my skin color, so I can't truly know. But I think it's incredibly important to try.
Chez: I'd never be so presumptuous as to think I could really understand what it's like to be black in America, no. I do try my best and I do think it's necessary in order to be sensitive to the black community's concerns and hopefully be taken seriously as someone coming from a place of good faith. You can't always control how you're perceived or whether someone misunderstands you or misconstrues your intentions but you can listen and you can accept that there are a lot of things you don't know and hopefully be informed by that.
Bob: It's impossible for me to know precisely what it's like. But I honestly do the best I can to learn and understand the history of why things are the way they are and to grasp the struggles that African-Americans face even in a post-Obama America. Frankly, it's one of the factors that drives my passion for studying the American Civil War, not to mention books like Douglas Blackmon's groundbreaking masterwork Slavery By Another Name.
2. Twitter says they're going to do more to stop trolls after what happened to Robin Williams' daughter. Do you think anything can be done at this point or is internet ugliness just beyond anyone's control? How do you personally deal with trolls?
Chez: I don't think a damn thing can really be done. I was telling Bob on the podcast yesterday that back in 2008 when I got canned by CNN for blogging I was all high and mighty about the internet revolution, preaching about how it was completely upending traditional media by removing the gatekeepers and kingmakers and letting average people run the media show. Six years later I feel like maybe we need some goddamn gates back because the inmates have overrun the asylum and we've turned the place into a nightmare. As for my own policy on trolls, I generally ignore them or block them. What else can you do?
Bob: There will always be ugliness, but I strongly believe that reducing the prevalence of anonymity will greatly reduce the ugliness -- or at least hold it accountable. In many cases (not all, of course) anonymity is a convenient shield for cowards, bullies and impotent cranks. I come from an old school journalism tradition in which letters to the editor always needed to have names and addresses attached. Not for publication, mind you, but to weed out the cranks -- as a deterrent. The internet could use more old school policies, and Twitter should be at the head of the line otherwise it's going to be destroyed by its own leniency. Eventually we will collectively grow tired of the pseudonymous pranksters and assholes, and simply abandon the format.
Ben: Trolls ruin it for everyone, and there needs to be some standards of decency when it comes to Twitter/Facebook/Commenting etc. We deal with trolls at the Banter by blocking them and their IP addresses so they can't come back. We monitor discussion threads quite carefully and always pay attention when comments are flagged. Any abusive stuff or comments that don't serve any purpose are either deleted or actively blocked. It's not exactly democratic, but we do discuss it internally when we make decisions, and do our best to be fair.
3. What's the big announcement?
Bob: Chez is Peter "Star Lord" Quill's father.
Chez: Ask Ben.
Ben: That we will be making a big announcement!