Internet Partisanship Can Incite Physical Harm


Char Van schenck

On Tuesday, Feb. 27 at about 6:00 a.m. @ShimshockAndAwe tweeted: “One of the females, Charlotte Van Schenck, is an obese (white) barrel of crap with wet knickers for Islam. No wonder she hates white men, no self-respecting white guy would pi## on her if she was on fire, let alone shag the foul looking beast.”

This tweet was posted as a reply to the Daily Caller’s report of a Wake Forest Review article, entitled “Wake Forest Declines to Enforce Harassment Policies for Conservative Student.” The article, covering a couple of jokes posted by undergraduate LGBTQ students and students of color in response to an incident of anti-black racism, stretched the truth in order to paint a conservative, white male student as a victim of “reverse racism.”

As many Wake Forest Review articles do, this piece proliferated across the Internet’s far-right networks — the same people who participated in the Charlottesville white supremacist rally in 2017 applauded the bravery of The Review’s staff.

And, consequentially, the far-right now knows the full names, institutional affiliation, and more personal information of several marginalized students on campus.

To tether this discussion, “free speech” has become a god term in campus political discourse. However, the responses of The Review’s article have proven to me that only some bodies can truly speak freely.

When cisgender white men act upon their right to engage in political discourse, they are guaranteed their safety. They may be called funny names, like “mayonnaise monster,” but they will not be harmed.

On the other hand, when marginalized people act as political agents, they are subject to threats of physical and sexual violence.

Our histories inform us of the dangerous truth: these threats, like the tweet made about me earlier, should not be taken as empty jokes. They must be understood as real threats to our physical safety.

I cannot speak to the experiences of the students of color who have been targeted by the far-right readers of The Wake Forest Review.

However, as a transgender person, the  earlier tweet (and several, several more associated with this Review article) are rooted in the constant vilification of my body upon which cisgender people can ostracize us from social spaces and justify physical and sexual violence. Our bodies are disgusting, thus we can be excluded.

The statistics speak for themselves: According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly half of all transgender people will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

More than half us will experience intimate partner violence. Thirteen percent of us will be physically attacked. Each year, dozens of us will die.

The cisgender white man at the center of The Review’s article may be called a “cracker,” but the word “cracker” will never result in his dehumanization. On the next day, he will still be around, he will still be able to write and his articles will continue circulating throughout a Twitterverse of Nazi sympathizers.

To be fair to the writers of the article, neither they nor The Wake Forest Review have the ability to control the far-right sympathizers who apparently read their publication.

However, the fact that an army of white supremacists, virulent transphobes and misogynists have taken interest in the writing of the Review should be appalling.

This should be a signal that their politics are infected with the same strain of discriminatory ideologies that have inspired and continue to inspire gratuitous incidents of violence against POC and LGBTQ people.

In order to produce a campus in which freedom of speech is truly free, we must know the difference between political discourse and hate speech. This incident proves that the line is drawn along a gradation of violence.

My speech cannot be free from the far-right who want to harm me. This un-freedom is not true of the “victims “ of which The Review writes.