Your 140-Character Shaming Campaign is Weak

Your 140-Character Shaming Campaign is Weak


By Don Hall

About 15 years ago, my dad was confronted with a pretty epic betrayal. A man he treated with respect and care, a man he had spent five or so years mentoring, teaching him the skills necessary to be a stellar real estate agent, metaphorically stabbed him in the back.

I have no doubt Dad was hurt and furious. But he didn't act upon these emotions. He simply cut this man out of his life entirely. He walked away from this man, who was in many ways like another son to him (the man was at our Christmas as a member of the family several years running), as if he never existed. In that moment, I learned the mastery of shunning.


The operative word is "reject."

Currently, our societal response to someone who is obviously bigoted, blindly ideological, zealous in regressive politics or has been accused of language or behavior deemed criminal (without the benefit of any legal definition or trial) or just plain annoying is to shame them. The TwitterShame, the FacebookShame, the faux boycotts, the Petitions of Shaming. Without so much as five minutes and a WiFi connection, a huge portion of our social activism is activated by writing a 140-character shaming.

Shaming doesn't accomplish what you think it does. I mean, sure, it makes you feel like you're part of some sort of solution—the internet tribal equivalent to the end of Game of Thrones where the evil woman (I don't watch the show) is stripped naked and has to endure taunts and vegetation thrown at her. It does not, however, move things forward in any real way.

I find the tactic of heaping shame on bigots of all stripes (racial bigots, homophobic bigots, misgynist bigots) as entirely counterproductive. A Shame Campaign shuts them up but does very little to change their minds. Curing this country of systemic racism and sexism is not accomplished through shame. Eradicating bigotry is not accomplished by telling bigots how stupid they are (yes—I am guilty of this myself). All these strategies seem to do is make them go underground, use coded language that means the same thing (see pretty much anything about a black or brown person on Fox), and cause an entitled victim status utilized by the very people least victimized.

Shame only really works if the object of scorn actually gives a shit.

Further, using the power of openly trying to destroy someone because they have views more suited to the 1800s or the 1950s is a sad waste of time. Americans love to see the mighty fall almost as much as we love a redemption story. That's why we thrive on the bullshit fake apology as a pass for acting like a bigoted asswipe. Don't bother—the shaming and subsequent ask for forgiveness only makes them stronger, more resiliently bigoted and more justified for their hatred.

As I learned from Dad, shunning is more effective and feels better in the long run.

Keep in mind, shunning is not the same as simply ignoring. "Just ignore them" is weak and passive. Shunning is rejecting that person entirely. Eliminate contact. No acknowledgement of that person's presence. No ill will projected because you can't demonstrate ill will to someone who no longer exists, right? No need to try to force the apology or to destroy the person's life as that person no longer exists in any real sense to you. If the bigot in question has no importance to you, you defuse their power in the snap of a finger.

In my life, there are a handful of living, breathing human beings that I have decided to shun. These are people who, like my dad's real estate apprentice, crossed a line for me, betrayed a trust that I couldn't see past, or pushed me in a way that I decided it would be better to no longer have this person in my universe. Further, I tend to severely prune my life of those who no longer are active participants in my well being: ex-girlfriends, ex-wives, ex-friends. I don't have any photos of my exes (really, like any—not even old wedding photos) and I pretty much have deleted all of the correspondence to and from them. Life is so goddamned complex that having little emotional land mines lying around to transport me back to less idyllic times seems a bit of a waste of energy.

This whole process tends to serve me well. I'm generally happier for it—not spending much time dwelling on failed relationships (you toss out the good times, too, if you want to shun the bad times because that stuff comes as a bundle)—and the act of rejecting those who do not teach me anything or contribute to my forward momentum is a good one. It seems natural to extend that practice to those in society who I can no longer learn from or contribute to our forward momentum.

Bigots have no place in our society. They do not belong. These mouth breathing, angry exclusionists have lost their spot in line and need to be prevented from riding the rides or buying funnel cakes in this Great America. Instead of wasting one fucking drop of personal and societal fuel shaming them, my suggestion (and practice) is to shun them and save that energy to combat the common enemy of all of our society's forward growth—the Oligarchy. That is the Progressive's ball and chain and we focus so much of our attention on the bigots and their idiocy that we lose sight of the real enemy.

Stop shaming, start shunning.

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