Seeking Understanding in an Age of Silos

Seeking Understanding in an Age of Silos December 5, 2016

Image by charmar via (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Galen Broaddus (atheist blogger at Across Rivers Wide): Okay, can we talk a little about last Wednesday’s discussion between Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren? (For those following along, Noah is a South African comedian and host of The Daily Show and Lahren is a conservative commentator for TheBlaze.)

Andy Gill (progressive Christian blogger at Andy Gill): Yes, absolutely. Honestly, I just found out about it early this morning and watched the interview. Never even heard of Tomi, before this.

And, I noticed, there’s two interviews: an edited 14-minute interview, and a (seemingly) not-so-edited full length/uncut interview. The former is cut to make her look even worse…

Hind Makki (Muslim blogger at Hindtrospectives): Lahren’s popularity among a certain segment of America is an example of the silos that social media outfits like Facebook force us into. Apparently, FB uses an algorithm that makes sure her videos are seen by right-wing Americans. She has millions of viewers, yet many liberals had never even heard of her until The Daily Show. These silos blind “Conservative America” as much as they blind “Liberal America.” My worry is that while post-Election Liberal America is bending over backwards (in my view) to try to understand Conservative America’s concerns, there is no parallel reaction from Conservatives as to why so many of us are dreading a Trump Administration.

Andy, I only saw the unedited version. I will go back and watch the one that was initially aired.

Tomi Lahren and Trevor Noah
Tomi Lahren and Trevor Noah (screencap via Comedy Central)

Andy: Yes, in the first few minutes of the (uncut) interview she makes a few good points that make her sound and come across far less “white supremacist.” I haven’t watched the entire thing so I’m in no way defending her at this moment, but she’s talented (100% – she’s got a gift and a future in media, and I believe will have a large voice regardless of CC [Comedy Central] giving her this platform). But my point being that I feel FB, and the media alike, have created/perpetuated this us vs. them narrative.

It’s a separatist narrative, I believe, that merely divides our nation, by triggering and therefore deceiving us as a nation…I just don’t get why the powers that be want this narrative to be perpetuated?

Galen: Well, to be honest, because it seems to work. Partisanship is extremely high, and it has benefited at least certain political players (mostly, the Republican Party). That’s not a new strategy, either.

I think it’s interesting that this discussion is getting a lot of play for a few reasons. First, it’s not a new thing for conservatives to come on The Daily Show (although maybe it’s not something that Trevor Noah has done as well about). Second, the responses have been all over the place (just Google “Tomi Lahren Trevor Noah” and read the headlines) and almost predictably partisan.

Screenshot of Google search 12/4/16)
Screenshot of Google search 12/4/16)

Andy: Sure, I get that, but 1) why is it so high? and 2) are we not in need (especially politicians) of new political tactics and strategies?

Hind: One of the challenges I’ve been having about post-Election partisanship is this: as a self-described “interfaithy Muslim,” I’ve always valued the ability to hear echoes of my own story in the narratives of others. It builds empathy and, I believe, helps us as Americans to build a more perfect union. The problem with these social media silos, and toxic partisanship, is that the ability to listen to one another and see ourselves in the shoes of the other is totally lost. And that trend has led the country to a dangerous precipice with the election of Trump.

Andy: Hind, 100% agree. Although I’d like to put a possible spin on that last part in which I agree with… but the spin is, what if it’s not Trump that is so dangerous? What if the danger is in the people’s sheep-like laziness and political illiteracy and millennials’ (former?) disengagement from U.S./International politics?

Hind: It’s not that I believe that white supremacy would be dismantled in a day if only they came over for hummus and a heartfelt dialogue. It’s that I don’t believe most White Americans are white supremacists at all, but they don’t have avenues through which they can place themselves in the shoes of a Black mother of a teenage boy, or a Latino child of undocumented parents, or yes, a Muslim woman in a headscarf on the subway. We need to be able to hear echoes of our stories in the narratives of others and literally embody the Golden Rule. If we can’t — or are unwilling to — do that, then the American experiment will fail.

I agree that political illiteracy and disengagement is the bigger problem. It’s not only Millennials who were disengaged — we also didn’t see the same numbers of working class POC come out (whether that’s because of the apathy regarding the candidates, or because of voter suppression is still to be determined). The fear I personally have is this: Trump is totally uninterested in governing or in learning anything to do with governing. So he’s surrounding himself with racists, misogynists, and bigots, who are more than happy to strip away hard-fought Constitutional rights for some Americans. And I believe a lot of people in Tomi Lahren’s America will give them a pass while they do it.

Andy: Trump said to”make it impossible” for him to do so (kind of how Congress tried to do Obama), and by “do so,” I mean all the things we as “liberals” hate. I’m worried (as I’ve been constantly triggered by online arguments) that the Internet has been weaponized by separatists…it’s deflating, defeating and mostly (for me at least) just de-energizing us so that we then don’t have the space, or energy to unify…

Galen: I keep thinking about this interview, which is ostensibly about exposing the mostly-liberal audience of The Daily Show to a conservative who’s severely opposed to many liberal causes and movements. But ultimately, it feels like people either thought it was a triumph of their side or that it scored a victory just getting them in the same room. That feels a bit empty to me.

Andy: And we’re falling right. into. their. trapppp!!! Haha. (Are they going to pay us for this…?)

Hind: I don’t know – I think that Trevor Noah is genuinely interested in hearing out the other side, so to speak. He definitely disagrees with her views, but he also seemed invested in giving her the space to try to defend them. Which she sometimes did quite deftly, though she never actually answered one of his most salient questions: what does she think is the appropriate way Black people should protest racism?

Galen: To be clear, I’m not questioning his motives, and I think that he did a better job in that interview than Jon Stewart did holding some of his ideological opposites’ feet to the fire.

But we all know that, even though Noah tried valiantly to find common ground, there wasn’t much there to be had. So I wonder if the dialogue’s success as a dialogue isn’t somewhat contingent on the ability of each side to concede anything.

Hind: Yes, I’d agree. She came for a debate, whereas he was trying to hold a dialogue.

Andy: Well, I think that as I’m 2/3 of the way through the longer interview, she comes across less combative.

Hind: The debate/dialogue issue is one of the greatest pitfalls in interfaith discussions: some people come ready to argue, find flaws in other religions/moral perspectives and essentially “win the argument”; while others come to dialogue, hear the other person out, and try to learn from their experiences. The “win” in a dialogue is to come away understanding the other perspective better.

Andy: It feels like CC and possibly Noah’s goal (again, only feels like) was that they wanted to pit her as a “blonde, white, privileged bigot.”

Hind: Yeah. And she was definitely billed as “the young right-winger you’ve never heard of who has millions of viewers” by Noah. One thing that intrigued me was her refusal to agree that she (and her views) are now mainstream, while also trying to maintain the idea that she represents the winning majority of Trump supporters. Though she says she doesn’t identify as a victim, Trump’s whole campaign fed off of, and fomented, a feeling of resentful victimization of White Americans. It intrigues me that Trump supporters seem to feel a need to self-describe as both outsiders with little privilege and the silent majority. Because for me, as a minority, simply being part of the racial majority is a massive privilege.

Andy: Yes, I agree, Hind. I think also as a minority, I’ve been deeply questioning and come to feel (but very willing to be corrected) that although “being part of the racial majority is a massive privilege” it doesn’t necessarily mean that we as individual minorities don’t possess more privilege than many (if not millions of) U.S. whites…thoughts?

Galen: As the token white guy, I think a discussion of privilege might be more than this particular conversation can handle, ha.

Hind: Andy, that’s a great point. I have some privileges as an individual that millions of other Americans don’t have. I live near a city, I have 24 hour access to electricity and running water. I grew up with parents with university degrees and a huge library in our home. I have a passport and am tri-lingual. I attended a posh university (though I’m still paying student loans, wah) and have direct access to folks in the media. But I’m still affected by systemic racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia.

Galen: We talked about intersectionality last time, and that is all about privilege on multiple axes.

Hind: Galen, I’m going to talk about intersectionality all the time, LOL. I mean, I kind of hate the academic, jargony nature of the word, but it’s a critical concept. 🙂

Andy: I agree, I think this would be a great topic to carry on next week, as I’m just getting to know the two of you, and this is such a relevant topic to not just me personally but our entire culture and context. I am very curious what y’all’s thoughts are.

Galen: The funny thing is that even though I have no idea what will happen between now and then, there’s almost certainly something that will relate to this topic. Guess we’ll have to see!

Andy: ‘Til next week, then?

Hind: Til next week!

Image by charmar via (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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