For some White people, it seems like that even if one makes a terrible mistake, the universe gives them a pass to say, "I'm rubber, you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!" It’s almost like their superpower or magic trick, ready to be unleashed whenever there is danger of being rightly held accountable for their actions. But why can’t some people just be wrong, especially when they’re dead wrong?
An example would be when you think it’s fine to quip to the world, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” There are plenty of lessons to be learned in the story of fired IAC PR director Justine Sacco, but many of her peers in mainstream media are doing their damndest to make certain that the narrative focuses more on those who laughed at Justine Sacco, as opposed to the action that allowed her to become such an easy target.
In “Sympathy For Sacco,” The Nation’s Michelle Goldberg does quite the dance with hyperbole and melodramatics. Goldberg argues, “She didn’t deserve to be treated like a monster on par with Ariel Castro.” She also warns, “Almost any of us could be vulnerable to a crowd-sourced inquisition.” To compare the public shaming of a PR person willfully choosing to prove how bad at public relations she is to that of a man who kidnapped and abused three young women for years is just…
Ditto for the declaration: “The next Justine Sacco may be someone who tweets something stupid about the military, or Israel, or motherhood and apple pie. Once we decide it’s OK to let a mob loose on anyone who’s offended us, the only people who are safe are those who never say anything at all.”
I imagine those folks who know better than to tweet racist things or anything else that can be deemed culturally insensitive might be relatively “safe,” too. Or at the very least, those who know better than to tweet incendiary language with their government names and job titles made visible.
Then there’s Nick Bilton, who also sings another sad love song for Sacco in the New York Times, where he laments, “Ms. Sacco was tried and judged guilty in a public square of millions and soon attacked in a way that seemed worse than her original statement.” To be fair, those who threatened Sacco with sexual assault and other sick acts of violence are despicable, but that has been a long ugly aspect of Internet culture. I, too, find it interesting that it took this incident for certain people to recognize this seediness and bemoan it publicly.
Bilton adds, “Maybe that need to impress, to find validation through the people that follow us online, was what led to Ms. Sacco’s inappropriate tweet, and also gave the people who attacked her the justification for their own vitriolic behavior.”
He isn’t the only one trying to rationalize (and subsequently scapegoat) Sacco’s tasteless joke.
Writing at Forbes, Jeff Bercovici, took issue with Sacco’s joke being deemed racist, noting, “I interpreted it as a self-deprecating joke about White guilt and Western privilege — about the sheepish feeling of being physically close to tragedy while remaining safe in an economic and cultural bubble. Others have told me they read it much the same way, even without knowing the author. ‘I think she was more mocking the aloofness white people can have on this issue, not celebrating that aloofness,’ says one friend.”
Thank you, Mr. White Man, for explaining how jokes work.
Now let me explain a few things to you and yours. Everyone is free to say whatever it is they like, but there are consequences—yes, even for privileged White people. That, more than anything, is what sticks out to me as the underlying theme in all of these “LEAVE HER ‘LONE!” pieces. It literally baffles some White people that you can’t be as “cavalier” as you want to anymore. That the voiceless may not still have as large a voice as the majority, but we’re louder and harder to ignore all the same. The new reality may scare you, but spare me this trope you’re exploiting to try and make Sacco a sympathetic figure.
To steer her story into some exercise in misplacing fault is too much. Like, a New York Times writer defending a racist joke about the racial disparities in AIDS cases when only weeks ago that same paper recently published a story highlighting how despite Black and Latino gay men becoming the face of HIV/AIDS in America, there’s little urgency to reach them. Yeah, the joke is even plainer now: She’s White so AIDS is of no major concern to her. Ha ha…hell.
Justine Sacco is a classic example of what happens when the pampered treat public spaces like their personal bigoted bubbles. Some people were out of line, but ignorance begets ignorance.
Rarely if ever do the Justine Saccos of the world ever get into trouble for saying stupid, racist things. And even when they do, it is not the end of the world. So yes, Black people and many of our non-Black friends laughed. She’s a PR director who created her own PR disaster. How could you not laugh?
Justine will be quite alright, though. After all, she’s still White.