Another casualty of identity politics

This story is worth reporting, but not in the way the Washington Post has chosen:

The three D.C. students couldn’t believe the news. They’d developed a method to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains, and NASA announced last month that they were finalists in the agency’s prestigious high school competition — the only all-black, female team to make it that far.

The NASA competition called on students to find creative ways to use space technology in their everyday lives. The teens said they considered dozens of ideas but settled on a water purification system because they noticed some water fountains in their school could not be used because of potential lead contamination.

They worked at the Inclusive Innovation Incubator — a technology lab focused on diversity and entrepreneurship near Howard University — where they volunteer, and their mentor at the incubator encouraged them to compete and supervised them on weekends as they built a prototype.

The teens purchased two jars, placing meters in each to test the purity of the water. In one jar, the teens place shards of copper in the water — with the copper acting as the experimental contaminant. An electric fan spins the water while filtering floss — a type of fiber — collects contaminated particles. Once clean, the water is transferred by a straw into the second jar. The meters verify that the water is clean, and the teens said they trust their system so much, they drank the water.

This is a fantastic achievement for which the three girls ought to be extremely proud. Here’s their picture.So what’s the rest of the story? This:

The next stage of the science competition included public voting, and the Banneker High School students — Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner and Bria Snell, all 17-year-old high school juniors — turned to social media to promote their project.

But while the teens were gaining traction on social media and racking up votes, users on 4chan — an anonymous Internet forum where users are known to push hoaxes and spew racist and homophobic comments — were trying to ensure the students wouldn’t win.

The anonymous posters used racial epithets, argued that the students’ project did not deserve to be a finalist and said that the black community was voting for the teens only because of their race. They urged people to vote against the Banneker trio, and one user offered to put the topic on an Internet thread about President Trump to garner more attention. They recommended computer programs that would hack the voting system to give a team of teenage boys a boost.

Which is pretty appalling however you cut it, but I suspect it is a symptom rather than a cause. In the era of affirmative action and identity politics, a lot of people would assume these three girls had advanced in the competition because they were black and female, rather than because their invention was any good. If you are going to promote people on the basis of their membership of a minority group rather than their competence, pretty soon people will question whether any member of a minority group is competent and deserving of their position.

As I’ve argued on this blog before, what is so insulting about efforts to help women in STEM fields is that it ignores the millions of women who have done very well in STEM without affirmative action or other patronising policies which lower the bar. The real losers from affirmative action policies aimed at helping minorities is not people who fall outside the designated groups but genuinely competent minorities who not only have to sit alongside less-capable colleagues of the same sex or skin colour, but now have their own competencies called into question. Some time ago a very capable female engineer was invited to attend a management training course reserved only for the best and brightest in the organisation. She confessed she felt uncomfortable because she found it full of women, and she hoped her being female wasn’t the only reason she’d been asked to attend. She wanted to be there wholly on merit or not at all, and I could understand why.

The online abuse targeting the three girls in the story above is unsurprising given how gender and race have been elevated above human achievement in the era of identity politics. At some point, those who fall outside the designated victim groups will start to push back and much of it will be unpleasant. Not so long ago few would have doubted these girls deserve to reach the finals of the NASA competition, and they would have been held up as an example to aspiring black and female students. Instead their achievements are being doubted and the competition, along with everything else, turned into a political circus. It’s a shame the Washington Post chose to make the story about idiotic racists on obscure web forums rather than the appalling effects on society of the poisonous identity politics they’ve done so much to promote.

Liked it? Take a second to support Tim Newman on Patreon!
Share

35 thoughts on “Another casualty of identity politics

  1. Um, I’m no scientist, but if you’re inventing a system to remove lead contamination of water would not testing it on water that has some lead contamination be a good idea? Not putting some ‘shards of copper’ in instead? Especially given that copper is used for domestic water piping just about everywhere so can’t be considered a contaminant either?

  2. The numbskulls on 4chan are probably “pushing back” because they are actually knuckle-dragging racists doing it for the lulz. It has nothing to do with identity politics or affirmative action, in this case. I doubt there has been a calm and objective evaluation of the merits of the project. Can’t think why.

  3. “It’s a shame the Washington Post chose to make the story about idiotic racists on obscure web forums”

    The attacking of 4chan has not been restricted to the Washington Post, most of the establishment media has been giving them a bit of a kicking of late which seems to be due to their anonymous (and possible pro-Trump) Q-Anon poster that has everybody talking atm.

  4. The numbskulls on 4chan are probably “pushing back” because they are actually knuckle-dragging racists doing it for the lulz. It has nothing to do with identity politics or affirmative action, in this case.

    I think you’ve missed the point. That this case has nothing to do with identity politics is correct, but the reason why knuckle-dragging racists on 4chan can make it about race is because, in an era of identity politics, everything can be made about race. 15-20 years ago you would not have had people conducting internet campaigns based on the race of the participants, but since this approach has been actively promoted in national elections, it’s unsurprising this is how things are done now.

  5. A quick google shows that activated cabon filters that remove lead are cheap and readily available.

    Have they shown that theirs actualy works?

    This is even worse than clock boy.

  6. I think the reason that 4chan engage in racially motivated attacks is mostly it often ends up in places like the Post.

    It ends up in the Post because as Tim says everyone is now suspicious end a BAME9F) achieves anything in STEAM.

  7. Have they shown that theirs actualy works?

    I hope it does. Possibly the worst outcome would be story whereby three black girls have made it to the finals of a science competition simply because they were black girls, and then subject to racial abuse by wankers on 4chan.

  8. It’s _always_ been about race when it comes to just bashing people for the lolz! Any excuse will do and always has been that way. It also went on during that now-imagined magical period between civil rights/race relations act and the rise of identity politics. There were still plenty of people using race as an excuse to bully people.

  9. I think the reason that 4chan engage in racially motivated attacks is mostly it often ends up in places like the Post.

    There’s probably some truth in that. Liberals genuinely believe half the country goes around looking to lynch black men, so it’s not surprising shitlords on the internet are trolling them.

  10. It also went on during that now-imagined magical period between civil rights/race relations act and the rise of identity politics.

    Nobody’s mentioned a magical period, but I do believe race relations have become a lot worse in the era of identity politics than at any point since the Civil Rights era. Can I presume that you don’t?

  11. Correct, I don’t. But I don’t live in the US where this identity politics stuff is all the rage.

    Equallly, if some goons on twatter or chan decide to bully you, I feel sorry for you, but whatever reason they pick is likely to be little more than a mask for bullying people for fun. I really don’t think the channers have sat down and decided to do this as some kind of well thought-out protest against affirmative action, or even becoz dey iz black. It’s just that they want to make some people miserable, and humans just love doing that.

  12. I really don’t think the channers have sat down and decided to do this as some kind of well thought-out protest against affirmative action, or even becoz dey iz black.

    So you think this is happening in isolation to prevailing trends in identity politics and race relations? Okay, it’s a viewpoint, I suppose.

  13. Having been “one of the guys from 4Chan” for a number of years now, I can honestly say that most of the stuff posted there which would be classified as “racist” is done ironically as a reaction (admittedly, sometimes an extreme overreaction) to a society that is so filled with identity politics that a misspoken comment can lead to you becoming an instantly unemployable social pariah / outcast.

    In such an environment, you need mechanisms of release and that is what 4Chan is (particularly /b/ aka “random”). Sure, the inhabitants act like a bunch of twelve year olds on an acid trip, but better that they unleash their anger and frustration with pranks and trolling SJWs than taking it out on the real world.

    In fact the worst that can be said of 4Chan is that much of it is in childish bad taste rather than deliberately racist, spiteful or even hateful. For the most part it is just kids blowing off steam from a society that is increasingly restrictive, controlling and puritanical.

  14. “For the most part it is just kids blowing off steam…”

    And doing at that at people on the basis of their race is racist.

    “So you think this is happening in isolation to prevailing trends in identity politics and race relations?”

    It could be, it could be intellectual frustration with the excesses of identity politics. It doesn’t matter, this action is still racist.

  15. It doesn’t matter, this action is still racist.

    What do you mean it doesn’t matter? We shouldn’t speculate as to possible motivations as to why people make racist remarks in the era of identity politics, we should just say “it’s racist” and leave it at that. Did you mistake my blog for The Guardian?

    I expect I roam the fringes of the alt-right to a greater degree than you, but a lot less than some of my readers. As John Galt says above, the racism on 4Chan is, to no small degree, a reaction to the stupid identity politics which has convinced some white men they’re an endangered species in modern society.

  16. I’ll have to agree with BiG on

    “It also went on during that now-imagined magical period between civil rights/race relations act and the rise of identity politics”

    I’m uncomfortable with the blanket, wall-to-wall, race-n-sex-n-disability-body-image (and the list goes on) obsession in the media, because I think it is having many of the negative effects that Tim picks up on, but also because I’m worried that it is politically and socially divisive. On the other hand I’m well aware that racism and sexism were well underway even when they weren’t being so widely reported – even if the general trend was favourable, the experience of some members of those target groups could be pretty deplorable. Still continues to be in some cases. Shoes I wouldn’t necessarily want to walk in even now.

    (Mind you I’m also covered by certain minority protection myself and haven’t felt much need to use the legal framework because either people/organisations are basically decent to me and there’s no need to exercise my legal rights, or they’re pains in the backside and I’d rather just avoid interacting with them. But then I know some interactions are less avoidable.)

    What motivates 4channers I’ve no idea, I’m not in the target audience. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if they were independently capable of being nasty and racist without having had increasing coverage of minority rights etc to blame it on, but that’s not an especially useful or empirically testable counterfactual. For me it makes more sense to condemn the racism and abuse than whatever excuse those responsible for it proffer, while still keeping a Big Picture eye out for what the underlying causes might be.

  17. As described, the experiment is asinine, and that is what provoked the 4channers to go rogue on the girls. In a more courteous world, their experiment would have been kindly ignored, as a kind of innocent faux pas. High school science projects, even the big time winning projects, are almost always asinine. It’s part of the genre, and the girls should not be singled out for abuse when nearly all the participants deserve it.

  18. Mind you I’m also covered by certain minority protection myself

    You, Nikki Lauder, and who else?

  19. Er…is the lead contamination in the water in the drinking fountain particulate (like the copper shards) or dissolved? They only tested on particulates, and not even the one they were supposed to be combating. I’m not sure the glass fiber would be much good at filtering dissolved contamination. It seems as though the activated charcoal filters like Brita would work better on both particulate and dissolved contaminates, even lead?

    The accolades for these girls on top of passing them through without questioning (and probably fearing to question) the quality of their project is more harmful to them than the 4chan trolling. They will never benefit from failure, learning from failing, getting stronger, and doing better.

  20. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_modern_Western_subcultures

    Bloke in Germany.

    “Knuckle dragging racist” is defo on the state approved list of insults for double ungood white people. Well done you, I’d give you a gold star to wear but I’ve heard something about people wearing gold stars in Germany, didn’t end well or something.

    Here’s a few questions. Are the Irish white? Because I remember what a bog wog was so slapping white privilege and calling them racist for not letting half a million Congolese move to Dublin seems somewhat rich.

    How about Polish. Was the Nazi treatment of the Poles racist? The EU seems to think the Poles are ultra racist for not accepting migrant quotas and the Israelis want to fit them up with a joint enterprise charge over the holocaust. Its all very confusing.

    Speaking of Jews, are they white? Lol. Are they, dare I say, racist?

    Are these girls black? What is black. In RSA they’d be Coloured, not black. The one on the left is what was once called high yellow, prized for their beauty, see the song Yellow rose of Texas or for a modern example Beyonce.

    Anyway I reckon all this anti racism rubbish is a psyop. It’s to provide cover for mass thirdworld immigration to Europe. This drives down wages, thus keeping inflation at bay. Inflation is bad for lenders but good for borrowers. It is class warfare just like Warren Buffett said and his class is winning. The middle class are now playing the part of millionaires battered wife to the financiers. Can’t leave but to staying is only getting worse.

    I always considered myself a Geordie and working class. The mother in law was still on coal central heating early 2000’s. Only recently I discovered I’m actually a “white man” who’s unconsciously biased and have spent my life oppressing various minorities who may or may not be high profile celebs, international business tycoons and the Mayor of London. This fucking world and all the cunts in it.

    Still loving the blog Tim, wish I had more time to comment, too busy oppressing minorities and bringing up the next generation of racists.

  21. recently read a post on this with a, uh, different perspective:

    This wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

  22. “Anyway I reckon all this anti racism rubbish is a psyop.

    Only recently I discovered I’m actually a “white man” who’s unconsciously biased and have spent my life oppressing various minorities who may or may not be high profile celebs, international business tycoons and the Mayor of London.“

    Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean people can’t be knuckle-dragging racist morons independent of the unnecessary and destructive onslaught of diversity/vibrancy/identity/race-awareness loony-tunality going on.

  23. “I expect I roam the fringes of the alt-right to a greater degree than you, but a lot less than some of my readers. As John Galt says above, the racism on 4Chan is, to no small degree, a reaction to the stupid identity politics which has convinced some white men they’re an endangered species in modern society.”

    Sorry, but how do you divine the motivation for this particular set of racist actions? And in what way does the view that “Identity politics is stealing my job/pride/freedom of speech/access to pussy” justify anything? How does identity politics justify lashing out at people because of their skin colour? Does that mean Marxists are right to lash out at the rich for being rich?

    “I’m uncomfortable with the blanket, wall-to-wall, race-n-sex-n-disability-body-image (and the list goes on) obsession in the media, because I think it is having many of the negative effects that Tim picks up on, but also because I’m worried that it is politically and socially divisive.”

    +11111

    So we have the typical play-out of modern day politics, with two sides screaming about different things to cross purposes.

  24. recently read a post on this with a, uh, different perspective:

    Ye gods – I looked at the posters of all the projects. Just the thumbnails at first, and theirs jumped out at me for how bad it looked, how thin on content it was. While the others all seemed to follow a template that “looked” good anyways, they kind of did their own thing, which would be fine, if it was good. There was hardly any writing on their poster – not even a bunch of BS. Did they even THINK about their project? I did see they included a group picture, though. If I didn’t know better I’d say they were trolling NASA and SJWs and everyone else to see just how far they could get that naked emperor down the street before someone had the balls to say something.

  25. “So you think this is happening in isolation to prevailing trends in identity politics and race relations?”

    Yes, because bullying is fun. Most casual racism is just bullying, there’s no wider point being made. And as Iain has illustrated, race is such a poorly-defined concept that it’s impossible to tell anyway. Race is basically a meaningless concept – in Brazil you get to pick your own from a list of about 20. You can be “blue” in Brazil, which means blacker than normal black. Of course Poles aren’t in any sense a different “race” from Germans, but the Nazis believed Slavs to be an inferior race. Race is in the eye of the beholder.

    Jews also, basically Caucasians, but go spend some time in Israel. Aside from being a fantastic country to visit, the social structure is fascinating. The descendents of the Ashkenazis are absolutely top dogs, the Jews who were driven out of Arab lands (and arguably need the country more than anyone), barely higher on the social scale then the Arabs in Israel. Jews being racist against other Jews. Again, arbitrary distinctions for no greater purpose than beating the crap out of others.

    Race is mostly a convenient hook to justify the different treatment of others, which is why whether or not the perpetrators actually believe their shit (mostly not, I suspect), is irrelevant. It’s how you treat other people, regardless of what you think, that matters. And that is a key area the identity politicans get wrong. They want to stop you commiting ungoodthink, whereas the focus (highly successful over the last decades) should be on stopping people doing ungoodstuff.

  26. Sorry, but how do you divine the motivation for this particular set of racist actions?

    Firstly, you seem confident their racism is motivated by…well, an unexplained desire to be racist, so I don’t think it’s possible for me to lose in the credibility stakes here. Secondly, I’m obviously speculating as I usually do on this blog, but doing so on the basis that the alt-right and 4chan groups in particular freely admit to being motivated in the way I’ve described.

    And in what way does the view that “Identity politics is stealing my job/pride/freedom of speech/access to pussy” justify anything?

    Who is justifying it? Who is even attempting to justify it?

    So we have the typical play-out of modern day politics, with two sides screaming about different things to cross purposes.

    Which was pretty much the point of my post, i.e. in an era of identity politics, people shift to the extremes.

    Yes, because bullying is fun.

    So because bullying is fun we should assume all racism in the US is bullying and has nothing to do with prevailing trends in identity politics and race relations. Uh-huh.

    Most casual racism is just bullying, there’s no wider point being made.

    This seems a little more targeted than casual racism, and even if it were, “most” does not mean “all”.

    And as Iain has illustrated, race is such a poorly-defined concept that it’s impossible to tell anyway.

    What has this got to do with anything? People can’t engage in racist identity politics because race is hard to define?

    Race is mostly a convenient hook to justify the different treatment of others

    Really? Who knew?

  27. Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean people can’t be knuckle-dragging racist morons independent of the unnecessary and destructive onslaught of diversity/vibrancy/identity/race-awareness loony-tunality going on.

    Nobody is saying they can’t. But if it’s a bunch of alt-right 4Chan shitlords targeting what now appears to be a blatant affirmative action Potemkin village, it’s reasonable to say it’s part of an ongoing trend in the deterioration of race relations in an era of identity politics when young whites are beginning to think along racial lines. And I don’t need to put in caveats that “it might be just random bullying” on the off-chance somebody who seemingly knows nothing about the alt-right decides he’s got a better theory.

  28. But if it’s a bunch of alt-right 4Chan shitlords targeting what now appears to be a blatant affirmative action Potemkin village, it’s reasonable to say it’s part of an ongoing trend in the deterioration of race relations in an era of identity politics when young whites are beginning to think along racial lines.

    Indeed and given the circumstances, aren’t the trolls and lolcat lovers of 4Chan justified in acting in this way? Given that satire was considered a necessary movement in the 1960’s to pop the bubble of snobbery that was the establishment of the time, can 4Chan be said to be any different really? It’s neither harsher nor ruder than Peter Cook when compared his Derek and Clive period.

  29. “””….. How does identity politics justify lashing out at people because of their skin colour? …….:””””

    You say this. Except liberals, absolutely nobody in the planet Earth does not want to exterminate the entire race only because their skin color.

    Nobody demands that Africa or Asia must be diverse and multicultural. Only liberal demands that entire white race must be exterminated because their skin color.

    BTW this is also one reason, why people fanning mr. Putin. Popular rumor claims that mr. Putin using Chechen muslims for he`s nonviolent protests. This is poetic justice. People who want us enriched by diversity, get enriched themselves.

    Let,s take Boris Nemtsov. He probably used racial slur when he was in the car and brave muslim,s made clear that Islamophobic hate is not okay. And because of nonviolent anti racist protests are legal, then police does not have the reason to investigate. Case closed and everybody happy.

  30. @Tim
    “You, Nikki Lauder, and who else?”

    I even get a tick box on most public sector job applications – check it to confirm my status and the fact I want to take advantage of the “guaranteed interview” scheme, and I get a guaranteed interview. If I ever wanted to go back to public sector work that could conceivably be quite handy – getting through the filter to the interview stage often being the tricky bit these days – but I’d never been tempted to tick it. Not a lot of point getting invited to an interview I had no chance at (imagine a post put up with the clear intention of giving someone on the inside a promotion for example) and if I did get a marginal job I wouldn’t really want to end up overpromoted by dint of having ticked a box. But I have very mixed feelings about whether that box, or other opportunities for (semi-)automatic interviews for the disabled, ethnic minorities, underrepresented gender/sexuality groups or whatever should be there at all.

    @BiG
    “+11111”

    Cheers. I think there’s a whole lot of talking-past on this topic, as there is on many a theme, but in common with most heated debates much of that talking-past stems from different sides trying to take the conversation and play it on their own terms. Far as I’m concerned if WaPo or whoever want to publish a story on racist abuse directed at a couple of school kids for sticking their heads above the parapet with a science project (perhaps a naff one, as these things tend to be, but better than getting coverage for their criminal endeavours or record-setting ages of teen motherhood or whatever other crappy stereotype they could have fallen into) then so be it and good for them for reporting it. It’s their prerogative. To be honest if they pitched it as “evils of affirmative action” that would be a bizarre editorial slant for them. But on the other hand if a blogger wants to look at why (without excusing it) people produce nasty racist abuse, whether people are losing faith in awards to minority groups and so on, that also seems more than fair enough to me.

    Overall, I’m always wary of anyone saying “the real story here is…”, “the main point about this is…” or similar, because these stories and the issues surrounding them are so multifaceted. I don’t think any one person or group has the ability, or right, to define the “correct” angle on it. Yet it’s always convenient for anyone when a fresh story pops up that fits neatly, as they see it, into their narrative and it therefore ends up being assimilated, often by opposing sides, into the body of anecdatal folklore that feeds their respective discussion points. As such the same body of facts ends up cross-referenced in two or more essentially parallel, independent conversations with very little cross-chat – and even though there’s something there that looks like a common reference point, it generally doesn’t serve as one that stimulates productive debate between sides because the role and importance it plays in each discussion is so distinct. And often largely independent of whichever facts were commonly agreed anyway.

    (Am sure some communications theorists have expressed this basic idea far more eloquently than I’ve just managed.)

  31. Overall, I’m always wary of anyone saying “the real story here is…”, “the main point about this is…”

    I agree that is annoying, but I find a lot of media outlets, particularly liberal newspapers, express concern at symptoms and ignore the causes – which in many cases they champion. The election of Trump and the media’s reaction to it is probably the best example of this, and I like to point out when I think this occurs. Perhaps this post isn’t the best example of it, but I don’t think I’ve wandered off the reservation into wild theories either.

    Yet it’s always convenient for anyone when a fresh story pops up that fits neatly, as they see it, into their narrative and it therefore ends up being assimilated, often by opposing sides, into the body of anecdatal folklore that feeds their respective discussion points.

    This is a fair point, and I’m probably guilty of it as much as any other.

  32. “Cheers. I think there’s a whole lot of talking-past on this topic…”

    Indeed. Like Juri’s conflation of “saying racist acts are always nasty irrespective of the motivation” with “the advocation of white genocide”!

    Tim – I guess that’s a “fringe alt right” modus operandi.

  33. @Tim

    Agreed about the media outlets though I don’t think it is limited to the liberal ones. They all seem better at news than analysis and few seem self-critical about the negative effects of whatever causes or values their editorials espouse -the Mail certainly is as bad as the Guardian or Indy, but I doubt it is that we need a “horseshoe theory” of media political alignment so much as all press everywhere being self-serving and insufficiently self-aware.

    Am pretty sure you haven’t wandered off the reservation here either – black girls winning prizes are going to produce huge cynicism even if they win fair and square (by whatever potentially sound or potentially crummy criteria the contest is set) and it’s worth looking at the extent some measures to help the group have proven counter-productive. But vice versa, also worthwhile to examine whatever extent they’ve actually worked – are eg participation rates of women in science/engineering actually up after decades of efforts?

    As an aside, something else I suspect BiG has picked up on, you’re starting to get some a couple of very dodgy comments from the anti-Semitism point of view. Hopefully we aren’t going to need a sweep-stake for the time until the first BTL holocaust denial…

Comments are closed.