Outrage: Why I Will No Longer Follow Humans of New York

EDIT [7/8/14]: An updated version of this post that contains HONY’s response can be found here: https://medium.com/race-class/from-outrage-to-disgust-how-hony-exposes-our-continuing-racism-420201d6e0b7 ]

I experienced something incredibly unpleasant today.

The blog Humans of New York, which I have loved ever since I moved to New York City, blocked me from commenting on a post and deleted my comments.

Why?

I told the truth. I feel like Huey Freeman.

I was not hateful, or ignorant, or abusive.

I simply commented on a post about a (white) man, a teacher in the neighborhood of Harlem, that spoke about how difficult it is for the students to extract themselves from poverty because there is not a “culture of expectation” at home.

Nearly all of the comments were patting him on the back as a hero and great guy, but I thought differently. I commented, “A ‘culture of expectation’ is hard when you are in a ‘culture of I work 16 hours a day.’” I also stated that though his heart was in the right place, his ideology is implicitly racist, and would fall under the umbrella of cultural racism.

Someone then responded to me that I was unnecessarily “playing the race card” because there are also poor white children and because this man did not openly express anti-black or anti-people-of-color sentiments. The commenter then told me that she did not mean “to dismiss racism in any way.”

Super comforting, lady.

I let her know that someone who is not dismissive of racism would not use the term “playing the race card,” as it implies that in most cases, racism should be dismissed. I let her know that I was very aware that there are poor people who are white, but I also let her know that to be white and poor and to be black and poor, in this country, are two very different things. I let her know that the latter is actually much worse; black people live in a level of poverty that only one percent of white people are even exposed to. I told her I had links to the statistics and studies if she wanted them.

I let her know the truth of the matter, and I was silenced for it. I cannot begin to express my outrage at this.

Commenters were having trouble understanding my argument. They wanted to know how I got a racial argument from what he said, and said I was “ridiculous” for thinking that this was in any way racialized.

Really guys?

Harlem is well-known as a neighborhood containing project housing as well as mostly people of color (many of whom are black). You’d think that these “Humans of New York” would recognize demographics in long-standing neighborhoods of New York.

But there’s more to it than that.

People were finding it difficult to understand coded language, that is, that one doesn’t have to say “I don’t like black people” in order for their philosophies to be racist. This lack of understanding speaks greatly to the ongoing, and insightful discussion The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates has been having over the past few weeks with author Jonathan Chait.

This man is probably not a racist, but his philosophy, that the parents are to blame for the children’s lack of success, is shortsighted. It ignores that many of these parents work grueling hours and sometimes multiple jobs, not leaving very much time or energy to invest in their children’s education. It ignores the systematic and structural racism that leaves many of the families in these circumstances black or people of color, who are by and large economically disadvantaged. It assumes that the parents just don’t care about their children’s education, that they don’t value it.

This philosophy, if you ascribe to it, ignores the real problems at hand, mainly, that racism in this day and age is often subconscious and implicit; you may have to think critically about it, rather than just seeing a black body hanging from a tree and understanding that it’s wrong.

There is a larger structural problem hanging over the heads of African Americans like a stormy cloud, and yet, even though society keeps that cloud over our heads, they still blame us for our wet clothes.

I often read anti-racist activist Tim Wise, and he speaks often about how, psychologically speaking, white people are more likely to change their minds about this and other forms of racism if it is decoded and then given to them by a white person. It is for this reason I applaud and appreciate white activists like Tim Wise, because I don’t care who is changing the minds and preaching the truth, as long as it’s happening.

After the Suey Park Twitter Fiasco, I am aware that social media is not the best arena for a discussion of important topics. But make no mistake, it is a problem that we only take things at face value. It is a problem we would rather praise the white savior mentality, and ignore that this teacher blames the kids’ parents for their lack of “cultural expectations” due to their poverty, which is no fault of their own.

By silencing a naysayer, Humans of New York establishes their position by perpetuating that these parents really are just culturally lazy and do not care about their children’s education, an idea and philosophy that I find much more hateful and damaging than myself pointing out the facts of why those parents may not be able to be as involved in their kids’ schoolwork, which exposes a larger, systematic problem with our society.

I find it morally repugnant and deplorable that my voice, an educated and reasonable one, was silenced for telling the truth. I find it disgusting that if I had not challenged the status quo, if I had not challenged a white man on a blog run by another white man, if I had simply praised him for the good without criticizing the problematic, my comments would most certainly still remain.

I am sad to say that I will no longer follow Humans of New York.

I can only hope that in the future, they do not silence educated, non-hateful voices in lieu of uneducated and hateful conjecture, or worse, blind acceptance of a situation without thinking critically about it.

Edit [April 24]: I encourage conversation, but I ask that you please only comment if you actually read this piece. Most of the comments below involve people who clearly did not read it at all, which is fine (obviously you don’t have to read it), but why comment and accuse me of things I have not done and accuse me of not addressing something I have absolutely addressed? Why not come to the discussion fully understanding my position, rather than guessing, assuming, and making me repeat things you could have understood had you read the post in the first place? I am a graduate student, so I am nothing if not thorough and knowledgable on these issues.

I will leave you with a wonderful quote from this blog in which the author sums up white people’s relationship to racism and it’s recognition:

Privilege not only causes white people to miss instances of racism but it causes them to think they get to set the terms or parameters for what constitutes racism as well. For example; situations that can universally be understood as racist like a blatant hate crime, are “in bounds.” But anything that’s not as obvious is dismissed and those who attempt to shed light on less obvious forms of racism get accused of race baiting or, my personal favorite, playing the race card. Which essentially means that if it’s not obviously racist to a white person then it’s not racist.

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422 thoughts on “Outrage: Why I Will No Longer Follow Humans of New York

  1. Stating that students’ homes lack a culture of expectation isn’t necessarily faulting a parent or guardian for failing to establish said culture of expectation. Poverty is cyclical in nature because those who are raised in poverty rarely surmount the countless barriers it requires to do so, including strenuous work schedules and limited capital, whether it be social, political, cultural, or financial. I think it is valid to say that children are a product of their environment, and children who come from low socio-economic environments are not always, but often deprived of a culture of expectation. Threaded throughout every statement is the acknowledgement that research and statistics prove these statements to be mostly true, but exceptions always exist. Having worked in education in Birmingham City Schools, I have worked/work with families who foster a culture of expectation and persist that hard work will result in scholarships and opportunities. However, the narrative that dominates is one in which children are expected to perform at higher and higher standards at school and they simply are ill-equipped when compared to their suburban counterparts because they do not have the same support system. This comparison could be that of a rural school to a suburban counterpart. I look to the historical narrative that has undeniably shaped our society to detriment of our children, but I do not deny the reality that children of poverty, black and white, do lack the resources and environment necessary to succeed.

    I would like your thoughts on the difference between perpetuating negative stereotypes, or racist ideologies, and acknowledging realities in order to address them head on?

    Liked by 1 person

    • This phrase “culture of expectation” is used in the context of people who blame poor people for being poor, and minorities for the educational and income disparity. It’s coded language, i.e. language that seems neutral at first glance. For example, “thug” is code for “black”. Obviously “thug” is also sometimes used by people who mean someone who commits crime, but on a large-scale level, it is used in place of the word “black” – Richard Sherman has some great words on this.

      I don’t deny that home life affects children, and never say that it doesn’t. My point is, saying there isn’t “a culture of expectation” is understanding there is a problem but saying that the problem is at home, rather than understanding the problem is much larger than that, i.e., systemic racial inequality and poverty, that makes home life difficult for some children.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have the feeling that, with this, you are demanding that structural racism be centred as the root cause of both poverty and poor educational outcomes. Presumably, until racism is ‘solved’, you will continue to doggedly centre it. Fine. Yet when you do try to leave out the racist slurs like “telling ‘white ppl’ the truth’ and this ‘white’ man’s words suck because …white… etc. It just inflames racial tensions. While you will find many people willing to humor your temper and give you space to vent, know that for myself I am simply questioning why you needed to target that particular teacher for same? What, specifically, was it *about him* that set you off? That he’s a white guy? That he didn’t explicitly centre structural racism before breathing a word of his own truth?

    Like

    • It may be in your best interest to a) understand what a racial slur actually is and b) try and better understand the difference between criticizing words that perpetuate racial stereotypes (the coded language discussed here) and “his words are bad because he’s white” – the latter, your accusation, is a gross simplification of what is happening here, and is also quite defensive.

      As I say multiple times in this article, I have nothing against this man or white people, but rather, need to make a point to let people know when they are perpetuating damaging ideals and coded language (ESP those who are unaware) so as to aid in at least one way with the dissolution of racism.

      Have a nice day.

      Liked by 1 person

    • @Karen did you SERIOUSLY suggest that being called a ‘white man’ is a RACIAL SLUR?

      Hi.

      I’m a white man.

      I have never felt offended by the term ‘white man’ nor can I imagine even a single scenario in which that phrase is offensive to me.

      I have a vivid imagination, I can imagine a lot of things, I have a rich inner life of complexity, and yet, despite all that, I can honestly not imagine a single instance in which ‘white man’ is a ‘slur’.

      It could certainly unnerve me if I was walking somewhere and someone yelled, at me, “HEY WHITE MAN”, but not because it was a slur; I’d be unnerved in the same way if someone yelled “HEY DUDE WEARING PANTS!” It would make me nervous if a stranger screamed at me.

      Slurred, however? Offended? Dear God no.

      Karen, I don’t know what you’re on about, but I suggest having a nice cup of tea & vegging out for a few minutes.

      Like

  3. Hey, I read your piece and I really like what you have to say.
    However, I have a small problem with what you posted on that last reference you made to another blog post…
    I wanted to ask you, because I have a really hard time finding someone to discuss these things with, as these topics of discussion can get really touchy feely…Especially in the US.

    What are your thoughts on affirmative action?

    Because as I see it, “white privilege” is a very dubious term for what I believe to be erroneous beliefs. That feels like a copout, I don’t perceive it to be different from “pulling the race card”

    No one ever gave me anything for being white. In fact, to be completely honest, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to voice my views on matters in a society that does nothing but demonize, and blame me for cultural problems.

    Like

    • Hello! Thank you for reading and for commenting!

      I think it is difficult for many white people who don’t feel that they are given any special privileges to understand white privilege, but I think this is why discussion is so important! The thing about white privilege is that it can be proven with numbers. White people, on average, stand to have almost twice the amount of wealth over the course of their lives than blacks. White perpatrators of crimes are more likely than black people (be that perps or victims or unknown) to be apprehended, rather than shot on sight.
      If someone believes that white privilege is an excuse, and they don’t believe in systemic inequality, then they’d have to believe that black people, rather biologically or “culturally” are just meaner, more violent, lazier or not as hard-working. Which is indeed a racist belief. This is kinda lame, but I’ll quote myself (from the updated version of this post) about getting to the heart of cultural pathologies:
      “Because it is easier for us to dismiss the problem as “cultural” (“It’s your problem, not ours!”) than it is for us to take on the colossal task of eliminating poverty and institutionalized inequality in this country. We cannot explain this disparity in our worldview of rugged individualism, therefore, it must be “cultural.”

      The myth of a “cultural pathology” standing in the way of educational achievement is nothing more than an assumption made (and make no mistake — it is absolutely an assumption, made mostly by cultural outsiders) because it fits a worldview that does not make us think any further.”

      So I’ll leave you with this link that is essentially white privlidge in numbers. Hope this helps your understanding!

      http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6016154?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000047&ir=Black+Voices

      Like

  4. Hello! I found this post from this article: http://thoughtcatalog.com/anonymous/2014/08/this-is-why-i-hate-humans-of-new-york-and-you-should-too/ and couldn’t help myself.

    Every point you made is valid and well-supported, and I’m really displeased to see how many people don’t read it all, or maybe do and don’t understand what they’ve read. There’s a lot of social and racial bigotry going on, when it’s unjustified and even in some cases, completely uneducated.

    In a lot of cases, people hold racist philosophies or beliefs without even realizing they’re doing so. To be honest, it’s still part of how some white Americans were raised, especially in small communities like the one I was a part of growing up, and actually the city where I’m attending college right now. It’s amazing how many people will say something offhandedly and not even realize that it has negative connotations. I’m not trying to justify inherent racism, either, but stating it as fact.

    The social context, though, where someone presenting their honest and straight-forward opinion, supported with facts, can be shut down and prevented from voicing it? It’s absurd. It’s not that you were trying to start something by pointing it out, but that you saw something other’s didn’t see which is equally as valid as anything they might have seen. And when people turn on someone who does that, they’re proving their rigidity and unwillingness to change and see another point of view, perhaps for racial purposes, but also perhaps because they don’t want to admit that they may have been wrong about it.

    For HONY to block you from posting, then, was an attempt to stop an argument that shouldn’t have even become an argument in the first place. People often comment and give brash opinions based on only reading half of what’s there, if even that much, and understanding less than that. I won’t say that everyone is innately bad at comprehending social and racial issues, but I will say that there are faults in our education system that allow people to think they can get away with only skimming things.

    But the education system is a completely different topic, and I won’t go there.

    I’ll just close again by saying that I agree with you, again, and whereas I never followed Humans of New York, after this I am not likely to start. And I apologize for part of this, because it’s mostly a stream of consciousness ramble that I didn’t bother to check.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi!! Thank you for reading and thank you for your thoughts and encouragement.

      It is INCREDIBLY frustrating that people don’t read comprehensively and think critically (and yes, education is a different but related issue and I could rant about it too haha).

      But I think what happens is that people get so caught up in the discomfort these conversations often invoke, so they at most, tell loudly about how wrong and awful I am, and at least, just try and sweep it under the rug.

      I truly wish many could come to the conversation with an open mind, realizing I’m not attacking them or trying to hurt their feelings, but, as you say, just stating somethings pretty plainly.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. That was a very good read. When I first read that post by HONY, I didn’t even realize that the man was making racist implications, you know, because I was becoming accustomed to the “good-willed” gestures that we usually see in their posts. I won’t stop following HONY, because I do thoroughly enjoy reading those posts, but you’ve expanded my horizons, and for that, I thank you. I’ll be on alert for more implied racism in the future. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Are you sure that you were blocked by HONY? One thing I have realized about FB is that if you say something people do not like they can ‘report this as ‘spam’ which blocks you from a page. If people report your page enough times it can close down your account for 30 days. I barely if ever comment on FB and I have recently been banned for 30 days. I noticed I was first blocked on a page of mine and when I contacted the owner at their website they stated I was no blocked.

    FB is nefarious. They allow multiple hate accounts and fake accounts but what I have learned is that these same trolls can report your page as ‘fake’ or your name’ or as spam and something will happen blocking you from the page. Anyway, just thought I would state that to give you another perspective on blockage in the FB era.

    Like

    • YES, that is what I experienced as well.

      I found this page after being blocked by HONY as well. Out of curiosity and interest, I have of course read the whole article – very eloquent.

      But, content about the post itself aside, I do wonder indeed if you were blocked by HONEY itself. HONY has millions of followers, I don’t really see Brandon or his team (does he have a team?) manually blocking. This might have been an automated thing indeed, a result of too many people ‘reporting’ you. It’s the weak thing to do – “We don’t agree with a person, let’s report as spam”. It’s infuriating, but that might be what happened.

      I still don’t know what happened before I was blocked – I comment a lot, but nothing offensive at all. HONY itself doesn’t reply.

      Like

  7. I have to say, this was an awesome read. Thank you for giving me another insight to understanding HONY’s posts. Personally, I’d like to believe the white man didn’t mean to put down the work of the children’s parents and imply they’re “lazy” in some fashion, however I’m not sure what to believe. Also, thank you for pointing out the standard of living between people of color and whites–the difference is there, has been for quite some time, and it is a BIG difference. This said, I really do enjoy HONY’s posts, and I do wish HONY would be a little more careful with his posts, although, in the end, we have one man (a white man) attempting to portray the “humanity” of his subjects through his lens. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s just that is a disadvantage he is experiencing.

    Your thoughts sparked an interesting topic I wanted to ask you about, and I was curious about your beliefs on it. It deals with the topic of patriarchy. First of all, how do you think patriarchy formed, and what is the reason, do you think, behind men taking up more leadership roles than women (though, in recent decades, that gap has thankfully been closing just a bit)?

    The reason I ask is you’re extremely knowledgeable in this area of study, and I wouldn’t mind writing a citation with your name on it whenever I am taking a sociology class that’s asking for a project on this. 😀

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Brianna. This is great stuff! I hope you have a great day!

    Like

    • Hey there! Thank you for reading and thank you for commenting (and for your super flattering compliments!).

      Just one word regarding your comments on my post and then I’ll address your question on the patriarchy.

      I completely agree with you that this man absolutely 100% did not mean to be offensive or imply anything offensive. However, his coded language, regardless of his intent, does say those offensive things – and therefore perpetuates offensive stereotypes and oppressive systems. And that was my goal with this post – to let people know that often we are doing and saying oppressive things without meaning to (or knowing) at all, which disagrees with our narrative of “racist” being a character trait/flaw. Instead, racism is an essential part of our society that is deeply ingrained in the culture – so much so, that we can perform racism without being “a racist” or meaning ill will or any bad things.

      I’m with you about HONY – I super duper loved the blog until this happened. And to make matters worse, their response to me (it’s included in the updated version of this post linked at the beginning) made me realize they were not really for progress or any sort of discussion at all, really. Because of this, I feel that I can’t really support HONY anymore :/

      In regard to the patriarchy – I have no idea how it formed! Maybe because women are more often than not less physically strong then men, men thought they could oppress them? I can say, though, that there are many ways that the patriarchy has continued their power. I recommend the book “Caliban and the Witch” by Silvia Federici – one of the greatest and most informative books about all of the ways throughout history women have been oppressed and the patriarchy has been perpetuated.

      Have a good one! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, this is the HONY world, it is funny how far away from the real world it is.

    I know it can be good for some people to live in this kind of place and they seem to adore watching every post with the typical nice comments “Never give up, you can do it if you think you can!”, “you’re beautiful as you are, never change!” or repeated quotes about effort and success… The worst comment you can find is a not very funny joke (that doesn’t criticise of course) and people seem to love these too.

    But the thing is, I don’t mean to read nasty comments coming from people who like to make fun of the subjects in the pictures, however, I expect some different point of views, some comment giving an opinion which contradicts another comment, or a comment about how someone doesn’t agree with the photo subject’s opinion. And yet that never happens, either the censorship is just too strong or people who ever had a different opinion from the thousands of comments you can find in HONY are banned, or both.

    That’s why I no longer bother reading the comments anymore, I like the pictures though, but the comments section and the philosophy of the website seems to me a bit fake, you have to try to improve the world you live in, not deny it and replace it with a fake perfect world.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A follow-up to my earlier comment – I have now read that statement from Brandon about him and his team of moderators. I remember it, in fact. And I must admit – I liked what he said, at first. Because people shouldn’t attack or insult the people in the photos. But something about that post didn’t feel right, it felt like an excuse to moderate (i.e. ban) people that raised valid yet impopular questions.

    Like

    • Hi! Thank you for reading. I can never be quite sure what happened, but I have another anecdote that may provide more perspective for you. A bit after I published this (about a year or so ago) there was a post with three teenaged boys – two black, and one who was maybe Latino – and Brandon asked them “what’s your greatest struggle?” And they responded “not being white”.

      My husband alerted me to the INSANE comment section, full of racial slurs and “Go back to Africa” type language, and by the time I looked (after the post had been up about a week) these comments remained.

      This tells me that:

      a) his response was absolutely disingenuous, because these comments were 100% attacking the subjects; and

      b) that the moderation is not automatic.

      I agree that people should not attack the subjects. But, I’ll maintain that my post was not attacking the subject. I used his words and that of the commenters to expose a larger issue in America. If it’s an “attack” to point out harmful language, than how can there ever be progress? It was all very sketchy to me.

      Like

      • Yes, yes and YES! Again, very well put and observed. My experience is exactly the same. Even though I can’t be sure what happened either, I have now been able to trace back and remember when I got blocked, and it was after a photo that showed (part of) a girl that came to NYC, very troubled, and was seeking refuge in BDSM with an older man she felt safe with. The comment thread was full of truly horrible comments, ranging from whore to homewrecker and worse. It was also very clear that most people didn’t know what BDSM was. I don’t do BDSM but have seen, heard and read quite a lot about it and was trying to tell people they were making all kinds of harsh, hurtful and incorrect assumptions. I was never offensive, but merely factual – basically your sort of commenting style, from what I’ve read about your HONY-experience. Yet I was blocked and many, many rather extreme comments remained. That doesn’t prove that I was manually blocked by HONY, but it does show that there’s not much consequence for attackers and/or the page isn’t as well moderated as he claims. There’s something about it that makes me uneasy – which is a shame because there was a time when I really liked it, but it just didn’t hold up after closer inspection.

        Thank you for your response and your (rather insightful for a possibly ignorant white woman) blog.

        Chantal

        Like

  10. Hi,

    I enjoyed the way you put together your point of view here and I am here bc I too have been “banned”. I used to like this page because I found myself able to try to empathize with people who are very different from me.

    I rarely post on this page. I only posted recently on a photo of a woman who married someone and had a kid with them while she was here on her tourist visa. I simply pointed out that her situation is not extreme and that she made the decision of having the child here in the states so the hardship that followed are consequences of her decision. I didn’t criticize her at all just simply stated that not ALL illegal immigrants are illegal because of some unfortunate life circumstance. I also pointed out to many of the posters that legal immigrants also go through some of the same struggles yet they still did things correctly. A couple of days later, I am now no longer allowed to comment and all my comments are deleted. Some of the more harsh (GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY) comments still remained and the people whose comments were filled with profanity that were in response of my comment are still there.

    This makes me feel like the bans themselves are just for censorship. If you have an unpopular comment, no matter how polite you are or how you are trying to address the situation you will be banned. For this and reasons you also pointed out, I will no longer support or follow this page.

    Like

    • Wow. That is basically a literal transcript of what happened to me. Very unfair. I have tried to contact HONY numerous times, without any reply. I am still really curious how this works – if it’s an automated thing (if so, does that mean many people flagged your comment?) or a manual (if so – what is the reasoning, because I’m sure there are many comments much more offensive). And then the complete blocking, which means also removing any other comments ever made, which might have been wonderful, nice, educational, whatever – what a waste of time to write them and then see them all vanish. Frustrating.

      Like

  11. I got back banned now too. I can’t even like a post. I can only share.
    HONY has now joined the ranks of any other elitist organization where the one in charge has the only say and people can only agree with him. I cannot like anyone like this or their page.
    FTR, I wasn’t being anything. There was a Korean vet who said he was gay during the Korean War. They had to stay in the closet back then, but they went to hotels, etc and had their fun and no one found out about it. I wrote and said good for him but also everyone should keep sex private between each other and not demonstrated to the world…and that goes for everyone gay or straight!
    Seems HONY is ran by perverts. Next thing you know they’lol want to free sex offenders.

    Like

  12. He blocked me too because my comment was different than the others, everybody attack me for saying the truth. Anyway, as Gandy said “Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you are right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” or as the Bible says, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

    Like

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