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Rational debate not hate

Why should talking about race and equality in the mainstream media make you a target of bile? Simon Woolley says that in a world where comment is free (and abuse is freer) it’s time for rational debate, not hate.

I was struck the other day reading a quote by the writer, actor, technophile and ‘twillionaire’ Stephen Fry, lamenting the level of abuse he now receives on Twitter and other websites.

He argued: “Their resentment, their desire to be heard at the most vituperative level, at the most unpleasant and malevolent, genuinely ill-willed, malevolent level is terrifying and I am very often simply not able to cope with that.”

Mr Fry, welcome to our world.  ‘Our’, meaning decent Black  people who seek to challenge, for example,  racism, islamaphobia, and social injustice by writing articles and having a public debate about some very challenging issues. We are  not celebrities nor are we individuals who cannot take criticism. On the contrary.

But in the wild west, that is the internet, the few Black writers who are writing on these issues on even fewer mainstream sites – the Guardian, the Independent- are subjected to a level of vitriol that is wholly disproportionate, furthermore, they  hardly ever engage with the debate.

I was persuaded by friends and family to temporarily stop writing on the UK’s number one blog site ‘Comment is Free’, because for example, 280 comments of bile and abuse out of 290 does not represent engaging with the debate.

The regular 90%-95% response full of bile that many Black writers face was likened by one writer as to putting yourself in the stocks for the public to throw mouldy vegetables at you.

In the Independent newspaper, I honestly don’t know how Yasmin Alibhai Brown (pictured above) mentally survives such levels of abuse. Of course, you could argue, she gets paid handsomely to write in a national paper, which I’ve no doubt she does, but so do all the other columnists too.

The crucial difference being the level and scale of abuse she is forced to endure on a regular basis, that to me amounts not only to a lack of duty of care by her employers, but also it highlights the broader challenge of embracing much of the internet’s ‘wild west’ personae, whilst demanding a basic level of civility. In the end the level of abuse dramatically skews the argument.

Our response to mainstream internet abuse has been to circumvent it, by setting up our/this OBV Blog. Here we can discuss, debate and challenge difficult issues, but without being personally vilified.

We’ll continue to engage with mainstream sites wearing a metaphorical flak jacket along with a warning sign-abuse will surely follow.


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