Monday, February 26, 2018

One Good Essay on "Immigrants Get the Job Done"

American Olympian Mirai Nagasu landed a triple axel at the Olympics. That's a big deal (apparently -- I don't really know a lot about figure skating).

New York Times columnist Bari Weiss reacted to the occasion by tweeting out: "Immigrants: They get the job done."

Problem: Nagasu isn't an immigrant. She was born in the United States.

Weiss suggested that "poetic license" was in order, as Nagasu's parents were immigrants. She also questioned what the big deal was.

The answer was that Weiss -- perhaps inadvertently -- stepped on the trope of Asian-Americans as "perpetual foreigners": never really American, always forced to answer the question "no, where are you really from."

From this conversation, internet hell predictably came down (Nagasu's own eventual statement was quite diplomatic. But between the fact that a huge chunk of the internet had already decided that even slightest showing of offense proved one was a deranged threat to American freedom as we know, and the fact that Nagasu almost certainly had no interest in wading into any sort of political controversy while she's, you know, focused on being an Olympian, I think it's easy to overread it).

The vast majority of the comments on l'affaire Weiss were stupid. This essay by Mari Uyehara is a welcome exception. I encourage you to read it.

As for me, my one contribution to the conversation was simple: Had Weiss simply acknowledged that the initial tweet was sloppy and let things lie, there would have been no storm. What made it a big deal was Weiss (and later, her defenders) continually doubling-down on the notion that no sane person could have possibly took exception to the tweet, that it was wholly innocuous, and that anyone who raised any questions about it whatsoever embodies trigger-happy internet "call out culture" that's toxic to free expression and the open discussion of ideas.

In a sense, it was a vindication of an oft-misunderstood maxim of "SJW" culture, which is that if an outgroup says you've done something that wounded them, take a moment to listen. Breathe, keep a level head, and assume that they're saying it not because of some gratuitous desire to take offense, but because there's at least some there there. Had that simple advice been taken, had Weiss simply said "I meant to honor Nagasu's immigrant parents, but I see how the tweet could be construed differently. I'll take it down," a lot of pain and a lot of frankly idiotic commentary could have been avoided.

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