I think what Karin writes is true and is something Dr. David Campt talks about in the White Ally Toolkit — how sometimes a history of suffering discrimination and microagressions can lead a person to make an “attribution error” — seeing racism when in fact it wasn’t at play. Where it all gets very complicated and fraught, for me, is what to do when a member of a marginalized group says they feel unsafe and asks that action be taken against the alleged transgressor — how can the moderator assess the validity of the person’s feeling of unsafety — after all, a feeling is just a feeling, even if it stems from an attribution error, the feeling is no less real, and my inclination is to err on the side of believing that what they’re experiencing is real and do what’s within my power as a moderator to make them feel safe.

The recent controversy surrounding the banning of expressions of support for Trump on the Ravelry knitting website is a good example. Knitters of color felt unsafe participating in an online community in which people were expressing support for a white supremacist POTUS. Were the knitters of color actually unsafe or just feeling unsafe and is there a difference? Who’s to say? Was Ravelry right to disallow MAGA knitting patterns and other expressions of support for Trump? (They were certainly allowed to legally but whether or not they should have is another matter). I don’t know the answer, but it seems like a very hard call for moderators to know how to handle speech that some find threatening.

I’m not sure what % of knitters of color felt unsafe on Ravelry and what % agreed with Ravelry’s new policy. That would be interesting to know. What if it was only a minority of POC who felt unsafe? Should the policy cater to them? Probably, I think. What if it was only a tiny handful who felt unsafe or just one? Then, I’m not so sure.

I remember when the VA governor blackface scandal broke and I felt pretty strongly that he should resign and then I saw that a strong majority of VA voters of color thought he should stay. So my inclination is to defer to them b/ they’re the primary victims of blackface and they’re the ones who will be most impacted by the consequences of him leaving or staying. But what about the minority of VA voters of color who thought he should go? It’s impossible to meet everyone’s needs all the time, making social media moderation very challenging.

Writer, voting rights activist, mutual aid organizer. Author of Beyond Contempt: How Liberals Can Communicate Across the Great Divide (New Society 2019).

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