• Sarah

This politically-correct witch-hunt is killing free speech, and we have to fight it



It’s only in a totalitarian state where everyone appears to agree on hard topics. If you look around you and see that, it means people are silencing themselves or being silenced. Neither one is okay.

I’ve been silencing myself, but I’m done. Critical thinking, rational thought, and individual courage are how we escape the Orwellian nightmare we’re heading into. Censorship and control is not acceptable, even in the name of social justice. It’s time to stand up.

Have strong opinions, loosely held; maintain that looseness so you can modify your opinions when confronted with new information that you deem worthy. Only a fool blindly clings to his opinions in the face of new, possibly conflicting information. Be a critical thinker, not a zealot. You have the mental fortitude to sit across from an opposing idea, or a person who disagrees with you, and hear it. It will not infect you without your consent. You can choose what to believe.



This begins as a story about drag queens, but I promise it’s headed to a place that will make sense. I have been a fan of the show RuPaul’s Drag Race since its first season in 2009. If you don’t know it, it’s a reality show where drag queens compete to be America’s next drag superstar. I watch primarily with my two gay male friends and am active on the subreddit. I’m a bisexual woman myself, not that it should matter because identity politics censor and divide people. But we’ll get to that.

I noticed about three years ago that the conversation surrounding the show on social media… changed. It got angrier, more PC, more woke, and more out of touch with normalcy. People started directing lots of hate towards the queens, often based on how the show was edited that week; people getting a villain edit on the show got real life hatred on social media. People started angrily demanding that RuPaul allow trans women to compete on the show, or cisgender women competing as drag kings, or basically anyone identifying as anything and wanting to dress up as anything, and that his refusal to do so made him transphobic.

Some of the “love” for RuPaul

Keep in mind we’re talking about RuPaul here: RuPaul Charles, unquestionably one of the most effective and most important gay rights activists in history; someone who put drag on the map, destigmatized it, and made it mainstream. A black, gay man, a business owner, and an executive producer. It’s his show: he has a formula, the formula is for cisgender men to dress as women, the formula has worked for 17 seasons, and he’s stated he’s not changing it. Personally, I think adding trans performers would breathe life into Drag Race. But I’m a viewer, and I don’t get to decide that. The point is that RuPaul’s Drag Race is RuPaul’s show, and we don’t get to scream and cry and throw tantrums until he changes his own show. Drag performers don’t have a constitutional right to appear on RuPaul’s show; they can perform everywhere else. The Boulet Bros. Dragula, for example, allows anyone of any gender identity or expression to compete, and Dragula rocks. The entitlement required to think you deserve to benefit from someone else’s work by forcibly inserting yourself into it — while loudly criticizing it — is stunning.

This shift in the drag community was odd. And it started to affect the show itself, whereby its contestants realized that the public’s condemnation would be swift and severe if they came off badly. Almost all the real interpersonal drama on the show disappeared, because everyone started being nice (and fake) to everyone else to avoid looking like a villain. People stopped expressing themselves authentically. It started becoming a race to be the most likeable, to gain the most social media followers, or to possibly win the crown by being the least problematic contestant. Needless to say, the show has taken a dive. It won a bunch of Emmys and it’s become mainstream, but at a cost. We still watch it, but it’s RuPaul’s Best Friends Race now. RIP.

From that point on, almost every conversation I’d see publicly about this show felt more and more disconnected from reality. I recently saw a livid post where fans tried to destroy Gigi Goode, a drag queen from a recent season, calling her a “tonedeaf queer of privilege” for tweeting a side by side pic of her on the show in a scene where she was wearing a bald cap next to the famous photo of Britney Spears having her shaved head meltdown.

This is an iconic pop culture moment for everyone, but especially for the queer community. Gigi made some innocuous comment about how they were twins. And people were coming for her for this. It astounded me. I didn’t even get why. I had to dig to see that the “problem” was — and I’m still not totally sure I have it right — that Britney may have been having some mental health issues at that time, and therefore it’s bigoted to poke any fun whatsoever at her.

I was like, let me get this straight: drag queens are no longer allowed to make reference to celebrities? Drag queens are the definition of counter-culture: they’re standup comedians, people on the fringe of society, who make controversy part of their shows. And now they can’t make light-hearted references, let alone to legendary, extremely well-known celebrity freakouts? Apparently the same goes for comedians, who are getting canceled left and right for “problematic” punchlines, regardless of when they made them or what the context was. Welcome to 2020, a world where you could never make The Office, the South Park movie, Animal House, Sixteen Candles, Blazing Saddles…although I’m sure that 100% politically correct and inoffensive comedies will be just as good as these classics 🤦🏻‍♀️

During this period, I’d basically sworn off politics. I got my law degree in 2010, immediately started working in startups, moved to Boston, and focused on work. I only filtered in tech news; politics seemed overly negative and click-baity and a waste of mental energy. My only major areas of concern were privacy and free speech, given that I worked at a privacy startup. I view those two as opposite sides of the same coin: when our privacy is violated or undefined, when we feel we’re being watched, we censor ourselves. Tracking and surveillance have chilling effects on freedom of speech, freedom of association, self-expression, and other celebrated, protected activities. We aren’t ourselves when we think others are watching, and we don’t speak freely. And even back then, I was seeing signs that a world was coming that would sift through your metadata and your old posts and likes and judge you, potentially preventing you from getting hired, getting you fired, and otherwise putting your livelihood at risk. I fought against that and saw it was a losing battle. I even got doxxed myself once on Reddit, having to delete my first account. But I was still an active member of these Drag Race communities, and I was seeing the culture shift through that lens.

Over the past 3 months during the quarantine, I started noticing the discourse change extremely severely. Fear crept in and made people accept what they heard from “authorites” and stop questioning messages. The things I’d been seeing that made me feel alienated and unrepresented among a show I’d been a fan of for over a decade were now everywhere on the internet. I used to see multiple views on social media; suddenly I only saw only one. It was like everyone online got a copy of the same script.

At first, the script was about COVID: “if you don’t stay home and don’t wear a mask, you are literally committing murder.” I didn’t agree with this overly simplified statement for a lot of reasons, most of all that it demands that people remain at home in potentially horrible environments. This is most applicable to poor people, who are disproportionately likely to have unsafe home environments, abusive family members, or otherwise violent and unhealthy surroundings. And yet mostly white, mostly wealthy virtue-signaling people were shaming everyone into a unified behavior, without regard for individual differences, without regard for the crushing effect on the economy, without regard for the fact that 50% of Americans have less than $1k in their savings accounts and that a forced quarantine without work would bankrupt them. The poor have borne a disproprionate amount of the inequality of this pandemic.

Then, obviously, BLM was reinvigorated in a big way. Like pretty much every American with a soul, I was appalled by the death of George Floyd. Justice for George Floyd is a paramount goal for US society. I understood the protests. But despite his killer getting fired and arrested, the protests became more violent, more destructive, and more divisive. Suddenly it was “racist” to take the nuanced view that protests are okay but smashing businesses’ windows and walking out with big screen TVs is not, despite the former looking like activism and the latter looking like a felony. Not to mention the nearly overnight shift in The One True Message being “stay home and isolate from people or you’re the devil” to “go out and protest in large groups of people or you’re the devil.” It reminds me of 1984 and the sudden shifts in allies and enemies in war:

“The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.”

And then came the over-the-top wave of social media bullying. If you aren’t posting #BLM, you’re racist. If you ARE posting #BLM but you say it in the wrong way, you’re racist. If you’re white and you’re silent, that’s violence. If you’re white and you’re speaking up, you’re talking over black voices and only they should be heard. If you’re white, you’re privileged and racist; your “fragility” means you’re also racist if you deny it. If you’re one of the 26.3% of Americans who are neither black nor white, do you get a say in all this? If you’re black and you disagree with any of the BLM tenets, you’re an “Uncle Tom” (their words, not mine), and “you’ve been so traumatized” through racism that you’re incapable of thinking for yourself.” I highly recommend the documentary Uncle Tom — featuring 100% black thinkers and advocates — if you want to learn about this phenomenon. The hate for Candace Owens in particular is hard to stomach. You might not agree with her politics or enjoy her way of delivering them, but she doesn’t deserve death threats.

I watched as many drag queens — a white queen in particular having the most vitriol — yelled at RuPaul for not posting anything expressly supporting the BLM movement. Again, this is despite RuPaul’s 59 years of lived advocacy on this planet. It started to feel as though image mattered more than substance, as though the bullying around failing to post or posting the wrong thing mattered more than how you’ve lived your life across decades. It’s an unwinnable situation: agree with the mob, or disagree/stay silent and get labeled a racist. Listen to Obama: wokeness sucks.



Then I saw the vicious hatred that JK Rowling was getting, not for a racist comment but an allegedly transphobic one. She reacted to an article titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID world for people who menstruate.” She tweeted, “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people [….] Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” Basically she called out that women menstruate. You’d think she tweeted that trans people deserve to die, because instantaneously there was outrage everywhere I looked. She responded by writing this blog post. I read it and found it well-researched and poignant. For example, one of her points is that some trans rights activists maintain the position that lesbians are bigots if they have a preference for dating a woman without a penis. Yes, just let that sink in: it’s transphobic to prefer that your female lover not come equipped with a penis.

I thought this was nuts, because obviously there is a biological difference between the sexes. All reasonable people know this. This is what allows people to transition: you’re going from one state to another. This is also why you never see people up in arms about trans men threatening fair competition in most sports. I’m not here to argue this fact because evolutionary biologists have done it countless times.

This issue is not like society’s slow adoption of racial equality or gay rights, where older generations were stubborn in their conservatism and got aged out in their social beliefs. Those were beliefs. We are talking about established science here, and all you accomplish when you — the mob — scream “transphobe” at people is push them underground where they don’t publicly voice their acknowledgement of these scientific facts. They do not change their minds or go away; they are still the majority of the population. And frankly you’re making trans people look like irrational bullies, when most are not.

Gender is a spectrum, biological sex is real, and trans people exist and deserve equal rights and protections. All three of these statements coexist simultaneously and none should threaten the other. Plenty of trans people stand up and acknowledge these scientific facts and don’t agree that the existence of biological sex differences invalidates them, people like Buck Angel and Blaire White, to name a few. These people have done their research, made up their minds, and are now standing by their positions and are not afraid to express them. They shouldn’t feel afraid to talk, and you shouldn’t feel personally attacked by what they say.

But none of that appeared to matter regarding JK Rowling, because hordes of trans rights activists (most of whom aren’t trans themselves, by the way), had labeled her a modern-day Hitler. That includes most of the drag queens I love and follow via Drag Race, who have vehemently blasted their hatred for her, as well all the child actors from the Harry Potter movies, who’d have nowhere near the success they have today without her stories.

We should pause here to talk about the ever-evolving rules of speech based on identity, or “intersectionality,” where the more “victimized” you are by society, the more you’re allowed to talk:

Intersectionality is a form of identity politics in which the value of your opinion depends on how many victim groups you belong to. At the bottom of the totem pole is the person everybody loves to hate — the straight, white male. And who’s at the top? Well, it’s very hard to say, because new groups claim victim status all the time. No one can keep track.

Not only is it impossible to track or apply logic to — e.g., I’m a bisexual white woman, so do I have more speaking privileges than a straight black woman on LGBTQ issues? Less? — but it constantly draws attention to the characteristics that make people different.

I’m often the only woman on company boards, and the last thing I want people thinking about in those meetings is how I’m the only woman there. It’d be terrible to preface every comment I make with “well, as a woman in tech, here’s what I think.” Let me speak for myself, not for all other women. Judge me as a human being by my contributions, please. Intersectionality is a clownish social policy that prevents any meaningful discourse because the issues at stake affect everyone; everyone needs to pitch in and be able to discuss them. It’s actually racist to assume that everyone in an identity group has the same opinion.

Intersectionality creates a lot of lopsided exceptions to its own rules, too. Take the concept of cultural appropriation. Assuming a positive context, of course, wearing an outfit inspired by another culture used to be considered an homage. It drew attention to different groups of people and their unique styles. But today, beware of wearing anything outside your own culture lest you commit the sin of “cultural appropriation.” The line between celebration and appropriation is invisible and moves depending on the race of the wearer. And in a country like America, better for being a cultural melting pot, who can even tell which race “owns” what? How much of a certain ethnicity do you need to have in your blood before you gain the right to make reference to it? E.g., drag queens Raja and Shuga Cain have worn Native American looks on Drag Race, although Raja (left) received complaints because she isn’t part Native American, and Shuga (right) did not because her mother is part Native American:


Raja on the left (no Native American ancestry); Shuga Cain on the right (mixed Native American ancestry)


Or how about the Madonna runway (season 9, episode 6) where four different queens opted to portray Madonna by wearing Kimonos? Is it fine because they’re portraying Madonna, and Madonna is the one who originally culturally appropriated when she wore kimonos in the first place? Or is it not fine and appropriating Japanese culture, because none of the queens wearing kimonos are Japanese? But Kim Chi is Korean, and Koreans also wear a type of kimono called a Hanbok, although kimonos generally originated in Japan, so…is that fine? You see where this gets complicated.

Kimonogate


Words that someone used ten years ago, that didn’t mean anything loaded at the time, are now being declared “offensive” and used to get people fired, or at the very least grovel pathetically for forgiveness for something they didn’t do or intend. It’s as if people don’t understand that language is a living, breathing, evolving thing. I just saw a beloved fitness influencer on Instagram do an unironic, grave apology for releasing a line of t-shirts 5 years ago that say “feminist savage” on them. As in, “it’s savage to be a woman who’s a weightlifter and strong.” Somehow “savage” is offensive to Native Americans now, even though her post was filled with comments from actual Native Americans saying this is, in fact, stupid and they don’t find it offensive at all.

I’m ethnically Jewish, but it factors very little into my day-to-day life. I rarely think about it unless I see blatant anti-semitism (or my 23andMe results). But I don’t spend every day hating Germans. I’ve visited Germany and it’s a delightful country. It disgusts me when Holocaust deniers say it didn’t happen, not even because I’m Jewish, but because I’m a human being with a fucking soul who knows right from wrong. But I respect their right to have a voice, even if I completely disagree with it. Especially because I completely disagree with it.

I’m fighting for truly free speech, which means that everyone can say anything, so long as A), it’s not an immediate, direct call to violence, or B), it has the effect of inciting violence (like yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, which causes people to freak out and stampede all over each other). This is what the First Amendment protects. Truly free speech is divorced from what you look like, where you were born, the gender you prefer to date, or the color of your skin. You shouldn’t get speaking rights based on skin-deep traits.

The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

BLM may have started as a movement to get justice for George Floyd’s killers, but it’s become about much more. It’s Occupy Wall Street 2.0, as Bret Weinstein says. It’s been co-opted by shrill SJWs policing language and screaming about Eskimo Pies and Splash Mountain and chess and Aunt Jemima being allegedly racist (despite Aunt Jemima’s own family saying the opposite), rather than doing much that’s meaningful to improve the experiences of black people in America. You could say it looks less about black lives and problems plaguing that community, and more about censorship, vilifying, and fear. Which is unfortunate.

When I talk about free speech, I’d be remiss not to address the censorship that black people have received through their overrepresentation in prisons. Not only does the physical state of being in prison make it harder for their voices to be heard, but the difficulty of their lives after release also negatively impacts their ability to speak: e.g., through being denied voting rights after a felony conviction, which affects 1 in 13 black Americans versus 1 in 56 non-black. Legalizing most drugs, releasing prisoners with non-violent drug-related offenses, removing mandatory minimum sentencing rules, ending felony voting disenfranchisement, and incentivizing employers to hire people emerging from the prison system (rather than shun them, and make it more likely they’ll return to their former lives) would all help to amplify black voices.

I want to be extremely clear on this: of course black lives matter. Most Americans believe this wholeheartedly, despite the racist finger-pointing you’re seeing all around you. The actual racists — not those declared “racists” under these new definitions using fragility and privilege and who’s not posting what hashtag — are scum and they’re the minority. The statement “black lives matter” is easy to agree with if you’re a decent human being. The entity and the organization Black Lives Matter, however, is a different story and a different beast. Make your own interpretation of the fact that the BLM founders describe themselves as “trained Marxists.” Peruse their mission statement. Watch this video of a BLM leader. It’s smart marketing to cram a group that espouses radical ideas underneath a statement as impossible to disagree with as “black lives matter.” It’s about oppressed versus oppressor, the haves and the have-nots, capitalism versus socialism. I’ll discuss this in an upcoming post.

This has become a moral panic, a witch hunt where people point fingers at their friends, family, and co-workers to label them “racist,” the dirtiest word in America. It’s like the Cold War era, except we’re turning in racists instead of communists. Or Nazi Germany, which everyone seems to forget happened slowly and creepingly among normal citizens who turned on each other over the supposed moral high ground. Why people think this can’t happen in the US, I don’t know. But it’s happening, and I see it. Socialism kills people. People not thinking critically and blindly following others kills people. Stalin’s socialist Russia killed 20 million people. Do we really need to run that experiment here?

To be clear, I think that people still know reason, that the sky is blue and 2+2=4. But increasingly they are denying these things in public, out of fear that the mob will get them and destroy their reputations, livelihoods, and safety. There is an assault on professors, scientists, and journalists right now for publishing or stating any scientific fact that upsets the mob of woke social media users: thousands of people being “canceled” for a tweet they made 10 years ago, or stating that men are different in certain key evolutionary ways than women. People are not only afraid to post what they think, but even to like other people’s statements, or follow them. This article does a great job of highlighting what’s going on.

Image from The American Soviet Mentality,” by Izabella Tabarovsky in Tablet Mag


One of many such examples I saw this week surrounded Mike McCulloch, a PhD physicist and lecturer who tweeted that “I am now being formally investigated by my university for my Twitter feed. So we’ll see what happens next.” He learned the ominous follow-up info that “Someone anonymous sent a list of all the tweets I have liked to the Equality Team!”

Think about that: it’s not even what he’s said, but what he’s liked, over potentially the entire history of his Twitter account. Do we really want to live in a world where there’s an Equality Team (which sounds a lot like the Ministry of Love) scouring over these things, where a single disapproved “like” can get you fired? How sinister is that? Where is there room in this new panopticon for learning, curiosity, personal growth, or mistakes? Note that free speech advocates around the world rallied to defend Mike, and the university dropped its charges. See, we can make a difference when we stand up.

I was a Democrat for most of my life. I’m socially liberal, and that’s always been a key part of my values and my identity. I’m pro choice, pro LGBTQ rights, pro environmental issues, pro free speech, and anti-racism. I’ve been supporting nonprofits like InnerCity Weightlifting that help under-resourced kids and families for 7+ years, donating a significant chunk of my annual income to them. The left, which used to stand for tolerance and equality, has become almost religious in its moral zealotry, so sure of its correctness that it feels justified using bullying and doxxing to force apologies, get resignations, and push people to parrot their doctrines.

Because of the fears all this is creating, publications are shifting: you now see these radical ideas all over the media. Even the so-called free press isn’t free; it’s trying to incite outrage for clicks, all while avoiding being canceled itself. Journalists are individuals with jobs and coworkers and kids and bank accounts to think about, and putting their name on an article that goes against the mob’s beliefs is a de facto firing so long as employers keep caving to appease them. Stop bowing to this madness and you remove its power.

I realize I risk sounding like I’ve lost my mind when talking about “the liberal media.” I rolled my eyes that that phrase my entire life. It sounds like a massive conspiracy theory with no payoff; how could so many news organizations be in on it, and why? I encourage you to make up your own mind on this, as you should with every issue, but here’s the gist.

Headlines that raise your blood pressure make money. If you’re shocked by what you read, you’re more likely to click, engage, and share. Journalists want to shock you, but they don’t want you to hate them; they’re just the messengers. So they research what public sentiment seems to be on an issue, then spit that same sentiment back into the void of the Internet so readers feel safe and validated. E.g., journalists tested the toxic waters of twitter to gauge public sentiment about JK Rowling’s tweets, and they saw mostly angry people frothing hatred that she’s wildly transphobic. So the journalists wrote stories also condemning her, and people ate it up. The shock is a mix of validation and righteous indignation (“I knew JK Rowling was transphobic; look at this article saying so!”) along with horrified confusion (“Why is everyone saying JK Rowling is a bigot when she didn’t seem to say anything radical?”). Meanwhile, there is a silent majority of us growing increasingly alienated from what we’re seeing in most mainstream press.

I’m telling you, I feel like Neo in the Matrix after waking up to this. We’re supposed to have a First Amendment right to freedom of the press, but this phenomenon is ruining it. Now I view every headline, every quote, every tweet, every book excerpt, everything on both sides of the political aisle, completely differently.

Taking the red pill is first and foremost about waking up to your reality. It’s not my fault that a bunch of angry men and a political party are also trying to claim it. The Matrix belongs to everyone and no one.


It feels like the political spectrum isn’t a line but a circle, and the far left and the far right have converged on the same energy and tactics. There’s little difference between the radical left that wants to attack anyone with any perceived “privilege” and tear down our economic system, and the radical right that wants to force a co-mingling of church and state and anti-science theories like Creationism. They both act possessed. Does the following description sound familiar about both the far left and far right?

“They see political life as a conflict between ‘us’ and ‘them’, a struggle between good and evil played out on a battleground where compromise amounts to capitulation and the goal is total victory…Both are disposed to censor their opponents, to deal harshly with enemies, to sacrifice the well-being even of the innocent in order to serve a ‘higher purpose’, and to use cruel tactics if necessary to ‘persuade’ society of the wisdom of their objectives.”

I started to the left, but the left has pushed me squarely into the middle with its abhorrent behavior, as it has done to many others; look at the #WalkAway campaign for examples. I’m registered Libertarian now and have walked away towards the center, where I can make up my own mind, issue by issue. My focus is now on free speech and privacy. The left is obliterating both right now, because the left is the loudest voice on social media. It may not represent the majority opinion, but it’s hard to rise above noise that loud and self-righteous.


Canceled professor Bret Weinstein on the silent majority.


Increasingly there are only two types of people on the Internet: 1, those who can have a nuanced discussion about complex issues, and 2, those who can’t. And those I’m seeing in group 2 are mostly, shockingly, on the left. They are the group I used to identify with. Somehow because they believe they’re fighting for the underrepresented or disenfranchised, they are imbued with utter confidence, utter conviction, that they are 100% right and can use any tactics necessary. If you’re doing something because of peer pressure despite your gut telling you it’s wrong, or you haven’t thought through the logic or the consequences, stop.

It takes a lot work to live in the gray area. Being skeptical and questioning everything you see takes more cognitive overhead. But I promise you: it’s worth it. It makes you stronger. You become a free agent, an independent mind uninhibited by the shrieking all around you. You can still accept facts, principles, and stereotypes, but only once you’re satisfied that you’ve verified them enough to internalize them. You’ll start to see that issues are rarely black and white, and that you’ll often find yourself aligning in one direction on some, and another direction on others. You can pick and choose what you believe, like ordering a la carte off a menu of ideas. Your current stance on an issue does not define who you are, but being a critical thinker does.

The artistic and literary works that have always had the greatest impact on me are about totalitarian control: 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Clockwork Orange, Man’s Search for Meaning, Gattaca, Black Mirror, etc. The scariest world I can imagine is one where people can’t acknowledge reality outside of little winks or subtle gestures, where “offenders” are carted off and disappear for their aberrant views, and it feels like we’re headed there: a totalitarian regime that’s self-inflicted. We’ve never had more opportunity to speak our minds and reach strangers in 2020 with the Internet and all its social media platforms. But we’ve never had less incentive to be honest, with all the punitive actions the mob, employers, and others are taking or being forced to take.

Big Brother is watching. Or more accurately, the outraged mob is.


Here’s what the mob should remember (or learn, if these concepts are new). When you really take the time to learn about issues, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. No one is entitled to anything. Just because someone has something doesn’t mean you deserve it. No one has the right not to be offended. Your desire to feel “safe” and untroubled in all settings and all environments is not paramount. If you’re upset by facts or scientific principles or other realities, you need to deal with that yourself. Find a way to be strong, because very little in life that wasn’t achieved via suffering is worthwhile. Read books — whole books — sometimes, not just headlines. Don’t be complicit or go along with something that you know to be false because it’s easier.

Now let’s return to today, and especially the last week. I had been thinking all of these things, keeping them to myself and a few trusted friends and family members, and being silent like everyone else to protect myself from the mob. Over the past few years, while this fervor and unreality accelerated, I had gradually stopped liking tweets that could be at all problematic. Or upvoting Reddit posts, or commenting on articles, or sharing YouTube videos, or liking Instagram comments, or following new people whose views weren’t in line with the woke borg’s. I kept thinking, “What if someone sees this? What if they see it in 5 years? 10 years? How can I know what the political climate will be then? How will I know what words are suddenly unsayable?” And the net effect was that I wasn’t getting much out of this incredible online world because I was stifling myself out of fear.

By the way, I have some experience with the mob: maybe 3 years ago I responded to a tweet where someone asked about neighborhoods in Boston, and I said something to the effect of “I live in Eastie and it’s great — more gentrified than Dorchester but not as much as Somerville.” I tweeted that, trying to be helpful to some random person looking to buy a house in Boston, then dropped my phone and didn’t think more about it. I reopened Twitter six hours later to hundreds of tweets calling me a racist and that I was “literally killing black people” (despite Eastie being only 2.9% black in 2017, compared to 57.7% hispanic and 32% white, but we’ll ignore that) with my use of the word “gentrification.”


I guess the Oxford dictionary missed the third definition where gentrification “is literally murder”


This mystified me, because this is A, a dictionary word; B, that the real estate industry uses; C, that the real estate agent and developer who sold me my condo used; and D; that describes an economic phenomenon that concerns things like property values, personal income, and crime statistics. Race may be linked to these things, sure, but not always and not in the same ways: for example, Eastie’s population shifted from mostly Irish in the late 1800s, to mostly Italian in the 1960s, to mostly Latin American in the mid 1990s, which continues today. Regardless of whether “gentrification” has been deemed a dirty word, it’s still a real estate reality, it’s still happening, and people need a way to describe it. Excuse me for not knowing a non-standard definition of a word.

I ended up apologizing, not because I meant it, but because I was scared. Meanwhile I had dozens of people privately messaging me — because they feared the same mob — telling me I was right and I shouldn’t bend the knee to this insanity. The whole incident shook me because it felt so removed from reality, and I started tweeting less and self-censoring more. Not exactly the promise of free speech and expression that we were all offered with social media.

I’ve been thinking that I wished I had the safety and security to be someone like Elon Musk or JK Rowling, people with “fuck you” money and a devoted audience who have the power to say what they think and are largely cancel-proof. Sure, Elon has to answer to shareholders and board members and the SEC, but he’s still independent and his success speaks for itself. Same with JK Rowling: despite everyone trying to hurt her for her supposedly transphobic comments, her publishing house won’t drop her because she wrote the most beloved (and highest-selling) children’s book series of all time. There’s safety in that.

I don’t have that kind of safety. Or at least I didn’t think I did, but then I reconsidered. Being cancel-proof isn’t about money, although it can help. It’s about having courage and being able to live with yourself, knowing you stood up for what you believed in and not being plagued by “should haves.” My partner knows how I feel and has my back unconditionally. I’m now an independent contractor with my firm that’s supported me no matter what I’ve said or done, and I don’t speak for them here. I co-founded a company with my best friend, a woman who shares all my views on these things and is a staunch Libertarian; she’d never fire me. Many of my friends have expressed the same beliefs to me in private. My parents love and accept me for who I am, and my dad — a longtime Republican — is thrilled that I’ve finally woken up to the bullshit lies and corrupt nature of a lot of what we see in the mainstream media. I’m not loaded, but I have money in my bank account and marketable skills. I’ve got a law degree, so I’m secure that I’ve “educated myself” on these issues and continue to learn; I’m consuming information and thinking critically about it. I have a portfolio of investments where my work with those founders and my willingness to take big risks on them stands for itself. And I’m lucky to be imbued with natural confidence; I don’t feel much shame or anxiety and I own who I am, and I know that’s not easy for many people. Insults on the Internet aren’t fun but they don’t shake my foundation.

When I really looked at it, I’m pretty fucking well established to take one for the team (the team being the silent majority who feels just like us but can’t express it). And the only way the pendulum will swing back from the chaos and terror and division of today is if people like me, and like you, start talking back. We have to learn to think critically and not be afraid to express ourselves. We have to take risks. Taking action means going against our natural instincts, as human psychology wires us to be more averse to losing what we have, than putting ourselves at risk to gain something new. I began tweeting and Instagramming about this last week, first vaguely, and then more and more specifically, stepping out of the shadows. I woke up, and maybe I woke up too late, but I have to try.

I’m sure it will change with this post, but I haven’t received any hate yet. I’ve only received countless empathetic, thoughtful, supportive messages, almost entirely in private because of the circumstances. I’ve gained a lot of followers, to my surprise. I’ve found entirely new groups of free-thinking people who speak up despite feeling the same fears. I don’t doubt that the mob will come for me, as it comes for everyone. But the keys, as Dave Rubin describes in his book, are to never apologize, never doubt yourself, and never back down. The mob has the collective attention span of a gnat; they will be on to their next target in no time. Everyone and everything is “problematic,” after all; there’s just so much cancelation to do. Everyone will have their 2 Minutes Hate. If your reaction to this post is not to consider what I’m saying and add to the discussion, but instead jump to name-calling and cancelation, you’re part of the problem.

I’m not perfect, but I stand by my body of work and the way I’ve treated people. I may burn at the stake for writing these things, but I’m expressing them with the hope that others will pick up where I leave off. I stand by what I’ve said here and don’t think it warrants “cancelation,” especially by those who know my body of work. But if it happens, I might as well get it over with, eliminate the people who aren’t truly my friends or allies, and align with people who are. I don’t want to live and operate in fear of being “outed” for who I really am.

If you appreciated this outpouring and want to support me, you can by:

  • embracing living in the gray area and questioning everything

  • engaging on real issues over long periods of time (years or decades, not the time it takes to retweet)

  • standing up similarly in your own lives and telling your own truths

  • protecting those the mob is currently attacking, so long as you believe it’s unwarranted (I’d argue it rarely is)

  • sharing and liking this (despite being scared to do so) so that others see it

  • hating it and sharing it to express your hate, which accomplishes the same goal as the point above

  • following me on Medium, Twitter, Substack, and Instagram

  • donating to InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW)

If you’re afraid to take any public action, ask yourself what it would take for you to do so? What statue would have to come down? What book would have to be burned? What obvious scientific principle would have to be declared false? What common dictionary word you use every day would have to become unspeakable and a fireable offense? What person in your life would have to suffer for their old social media posts coming to light before you speak up? Is there anything that would lead you to say something? What do you care enough about to be uncomfortable and engage where you put yourself at risk for an ideology?

I’ll end with some quality, free-thinking people and resources who aren’t afraid to post their views. I have found it immensely helpful to diversify my feeds with different opinions and people. Many of them surprised me because I’d been led my whole life to believe they were rabid, alt-right lunatics. Turns out, they’re rational. Do I agree with everything they say, all the time? No. But I’m not threatened by that. This list spans ages, races, political affiliations, sexual orientations, and genders, but the thing they all have in common are that they are brave truth-seekers. Please let me know who else I should follow. Oh, and take this as you will from an agnostic like me, but God bless America and remember she’s worth fighting for.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

©2020 by Sarah Downey