GATEKEEPERS GONE: A watchdog named Professor Cooper!


Part 4—Atomization and Babel:
In theory, a democratic society shouldn’t have gatekeepers.

We shouldn’t have a narrow elite which limits the things we’re permitted to hear. In theory, we the people should be able to handle The Crazy and Dumb.

We should deal with all that on our own.

In theory, we don't need gatekeepers. In theory, talented watchdogs can help us see where The Dumb and The Crazy are. We don’t need people like Walter Cronkite to keep such work from our eyes and our ears.

By now, the gatekeepers are gone. Today, our discourse overflows with The Crazy and The Dumb.

It also swims with loud watchdogs who are totally lacking in skill.

In our next post, we’ll look again at the horrible watchdog work emerging from our press elite—in this case, from two major figures at the Washington Post.

For now, let’s consider an emerging watchdog at the new Salon—a watchdog who sinks her teeth into bare flesh as part of our emerging new progressive world.

The watchdog in question is Professor Cooper of Rutgers.

Cooper may be a superb professor. For one small glimpse of her life, read a deeply human interview with Cooper on NPR last year.

Yesterday, Cooper played a bit of a watchdog role by way of her column at Salon. Her piece, and the reactions to it, display the problems which are widely observed as our new “progressive” sites continue to emerge.

The professor’s piece appeared beneath the headlines shown below.
Warning! At the deeply irresponsible new Salon, eye-catching headlines often have little to do with the contents of the articles they advertise:
White menaces to society: Keene State and the danger of young drunk white men
As the Keene State protests showed, some people feel the freedom to piss on people. Guess who they are
Those were the headlines which caught readers’ eyes, baiting subsequent clicks. Beneath them sat the piece by the professor.

As we type, it has attracted more than 600 comments. In many of those comments, readers insult each others’ reading comprehension, insisting that the other commenters have failed to grasp Cooper’s point.

So what the heck was Cooper’s point? We can’t say we’re real sure. She starts with the recent disruptions at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, where rioting students made a mockery and a mess of the community’s annual Pumpkin Festival.

What happened at the pumpkin event? Cooper linked to an AP report by Holly Ramer, who we last visited when she was bungling a history-changing claim: Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!

On Monday, Ramer reported the pumpkin chaos. This is the way she started:
RAMER (10/20/14): Keene State College students quickly cleaned up from a chaotic weekend on Sunday after violent parties near the city's annual pumpkin festival led to destruction, dozens of arrests and multiple injuries.

The parties around the school coincided with the Keene Pumpkin Festival, at which the community tries to set a world record of the largest number of carved and lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas as they tried to control the crowds.

Sophomore Mallory Pearce, vice president of the student body, said she saw a car flipped over in a parking lot, another car being destroyed and people being pepper-sprayed.

"It got way out of hand. Everyone I talked to said, 'I feel unsafe, I'm going home.' They didn't want to be part of the riot, and they couldn't do anything to solve it," she said. "I honestly did not feel safe."
Violent parties, whatever they are, led to dozens of arrests. The violence prompted police in riot gear to use tear gas.

Cooper linked to that AP report. As she proceeded, she compared or contrasted those events to events in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.

What point was Cooper trying to make? Rashomon was clearer! In comments, antagonists struggled to locate her meaning. If we were looking for her nugget, this is where we’d start:
COOPER (10/22/14): But what the events in Keene suggest is that white folks often test the bounds and limits of public decency and order with little long-term reprisal. There were some arrests, and some tear gas. But no dead bodies. No stigma about white anger. No come to Jesus meetings about White America’s problem children. No public discourse about these “menaces to society.” As many commentators on Twitter pointed out, there’ll be no articles about the absence of white leadership, or about how white folks just need to learn respect for public property.

How does it feel to be white? Does it feel like freedom? Freedom to piss on people and property with impunity? Freedom to burn shit up and live to tell about it? Freedom to threaten old people and wake up the next morning and chalk it up to drunkenness? License to kill?

This isn’t just about civility. This is, as are most things in this country, about stark and disparate forms of racial treatment. This is about the ways that white threat is largely illegible as “threat.” This is about the fact that a band of wild, drunken black college kids could not have turned over cars, threatened old people, and shouted about killing the cops and lived.
According to the Rutgers professor, black students couldn’t have done what the Keene students did “and lived.” Presumably, this meant that the black students would have been shot.

The professor offered no examples supporting this assertion. Her frequent references to the demonstrations in Ferguson led many commenters to miss a fairly obvious point:

Whatever one thinks of the conduct of the various police agencies which dealt with the Ferguson protests, demonstrators who were mostly black staged those protests “and lived.”

In fairness to the Rutgers professor, she did include one “for instance.” Continuing directly from above, she cited a campus event from last year:
COOPER (continuing directly): For instance, this is also black college homecoming season, and my alma mater Howard University canceled the annual free concert at the legendary Yard Fest this year, because there were a few issues with crowd control last year. The Yard Fest is the stuff of hip-hop legend, and it is the annual event that most alumni look most forward to participating in. But as a federally funded entity, Howard is hyper-vigilant about making sure campus events are models of black respectability. It cannot afford the public scrutiny if the event were to devolve into a cabal like that which occurred at Keene. So it canceled a portion of the event beloved by all of us, because any appreciable amount of black unruliness could be met with an unfavorable and devastating federal response.

It is an institutional example of how powerful systems of white supremacy are, how much those systems hold everyone from the most venerable black institutions to the most vulnerable black youth in their death grips.
Presumably, the cancellation of the annual free concert at Howard’s Yard Fest is offered as an example of “stark and disparate forms of racial treatment,” including the use of those “death grips:”

At Howard, an annual event was cancelled. At Keene, the kids party on.

Or something! The Pumpkin Festival is a long-running community event in Keene, not a college function. Beyond that, it isn’t clear what percentage of the rioters were students from the college.

Meanwhile, since the rioting only happened last weekend, there has been no time for anyone to cancel anything in bucolic Keene, New Hampshire. And then, there’s the basic problem with the citation of Yardfest, which, on a smaller scale, featured some factual errors.

In fact, the annual free concert had already been terminated as of last year’s Yardfest. Under the new arrangement, 14,000 tickets to the concert had been sold; no one else was allowed to attend. This led to last year’s disturbance, in which people tried to force their way into the venue, producing injuries to citizens and police.

In no way was this disturbance comparable to the events in Keene. But guess what? A largely black crowd staged a bit of a public disturbance—and everybody “lived!”

Everybody lived at Keene State; everybody lived at Howard. Did the extensive Ferguson protests produce any deaths? Unless you’re counting Kajieme Powell, everyone lived there too!

What was Professor Cooper’s point in her piece at Salon? Commenters seemed to have no idea, in large part because the august professor hadn’t taken the trouble to articulate a clear central point.

Many commenters, speaking for Cooper, articulated perfectly sensible points on her behalf. But no clear point was found in her piece, which spilled with somewhat florid racial comments.

Several pumpkins were colorfully smashed as the professor vented.

At one time, the gatekeepers of the civil rights movement would have kept this unformed screed out of print. In those days, those people were deeply oppressed. In this case, the professor has a very good job at a major university—but she didn’t seem to take the trouble to articulate a clear point.

(To gain a fuller picture of Cooper, see that NPR interview.)

The professor chose to vent. In the comments to her piece, you’ll find a hint of where we go when our new progressive watch-dogs behave in such careless ways.

What happens when careless watchdogs vent? We break apart into name-calling groups. We live in an atomized Babel.

That atomized Babel serves the interests of the farthest of the far right. They want the society splitting apart (as is of course their right). Theoretically, we progressives want to build a functioning nation—a nation whose government can proceed to serve progressives ends.

The commenters screamed and yelled at each other. They insulted each other’s reading comprehension. They called each other names.

Some made perfectly sensible claims which the professor hadn’t bothered to make. Others cited unflattering crime statistics concerning our various “races.”

They engaged in standard Internet Babel. Do you know what they needed?

Good lord! They probably could have used a couple of very good gatekeepers!

Tomorrow: Two major watchdogs and us the people


  1. A reasonable conversation doesn't need gatekeepers if the participants have goodwill and a sincere interest in exchanging ideas. I think the latter are largely missing on the internet. In this blog, people start talking about something interesting but are derailed by trolls and then the blog degenerates into name-calling aimed at the trolls. Since trolls have no goodwill and no sincere interest in dialog, cannot gatekeepers (moderators) keep them from commenting here?

    1. I find it difficult to conclude from your constant focus on this theme that you have anything positive to contribute either. Your only comments seem to be about other commenters. It is possible, since you go by Aonymous, for you to claim you have made past substantive comments, but there is a pattern of comments exactly like yours and they are all submitted by under the same name. A reasonable reader must conclude they are authored by the same person or someone of like mind and similar writing style.

      You are, in short, the very kind of commenter you would have Somerby moderate out of the box.

    2. Me too, of course -- with my mind-reading certainty that there is one and only one commenter opposing trolls in "exactly" the same way -- I'd be moderated out too. Or so one can hope.

  2. You cannot teach civil disobedience without undermining adherence to law. You cannot teach that laws are differentially enforced on racial lines and expect to engender respect for law. When people lack respect for law and believe it can be ignored, when they believe that there are consequences for some but not all, they are more likely to come into conflict with law enforcement officials. Because laws are taken seriously by the larger society, that conflict has unfortunate consequences for whoever comes to believe that obeying law is optional.

    Somerby has talked about brutal racial histories before. Part of that history included devising clever ways to circumvent laws and restrictions placed on African Americans, first during slavery and later during Jim Crow and subsequent institutionalized racist times. Law has been the means of enslaving people but it has also been the means of overturning social injustice. At some point African Americans, especially professors, must confront the damage being done by carrying forward dysfunctional attitudes and beliefs about rules and laws and the wisdom of circumventing them, whether to advance self-interest or to assert personal autonomy. It is getting kids killed, in my opinion.

    1. Disobedience to law is the heart of civil disobedience so of course it undermines adherence to law because it requires breaking the law. It's a tautology, so your statement is wrong. If you want to argue otherwise you will need more than 3 words.

    2. Snoop Dog (now Lion) appeared on Conan O'Brien and described how when he first got famous he attended a Hollywood party and stole items from the host. He didn't explain his actions and Conan didn't comment on them either. I suppose you could justify it by claiming that he felt like an outsider or hadn't become accustomed to his own fame or some such, but why would anyone feel like it is OK to steal household objects from a host at a party (not food, not consumables)?

      If some black people believe that stealing from white people is OK, there is going to be an ongoing problem with the law. If some black performers believe they must engage in such behavior as a matter of street image or to demonstrate toughness or whatever, that is setting an example for kids who are their fans that will get those kids in trouble. If black people who feel resentful about something think it is OK to take that out on others who are not of the same race, they are going to be treated as lawbreakers, not misunderstood victims of oppression. That will get kids killed, in my opinion.

    3. It is racist to assume the theft was from white people.

    4. It wasn't an assumption. It was a fact of the anecdote and told by Snoop dog himself.

    5. "Snoop Dog (now Lion) appeared on Conan O'Brien and described when he first got famous he attended a Hollywood party and stole items from the host. He didn't explain explain his actions and Conan didn't comment on them either."

      Nowhere in the anecdote that you recited does it say that the host was white. Further, neither Snoop Dog (now Lion) nor Conan O'Brien commented on it. Thus, if you correctly recalled this, you're simply making shit up to conclude that Snoop Dog (now Lion) stole from a white person.

      A reasonable conclusion from all that is what 23280 posted.

      What's that make you?

    6. I saw the segment myself. I'm not making anything up. That I neglected to state the race of the hosts is important but also obvious from the context of what I posted. They might have been black, but they weren't.

    7. You're waist-high. Keep digging.

    8. Something is obvious.

  3. The unbearable whiteness of Somerbeing.

    1. And the name-calling begins.

    2. That is a legitimate comment, and a fairly clever one at that. Doesn't mean it is right, but the piece comes dangerously close to a white guy telling a black woman when something really is racist and when it isn't. This isn't the first time.

      On the other hand, the concern with things that divide ordinary Americans to the glee of the far right is well worth pondering, too. However, I'm not sure that in these times African-Americans identifying practices they believe to be racist underneath is the kind of thing we properly ask to be squelched by the gatekeepers in the interests of political success. It's like saying that in order for progressives to be successful they need to hold back on one of the core principles of modern progressivism.

    3. There are so many core principles of modern progressivism I cannot see the harm in holding back on one or two every now and again. You may differ.

  4. Somerby responds to Cooper's piece as if he were devoid of any sense of irony. Doesn't he know academic satire when he sees it? There's academic satire, i.e. satire of the academy or of academic-style writing; but this is satire attempted by a usually serious (I think) academic. Very different animals. The first kind can be funny. The second is rarely more than -- ahem -- "humorous."

    Cooper is one of those Salon writers constantly telling SNL its business by braying for more diversity. Recently, the long-suffering Lorne Michaels has shown signs of caving in. the show now features five black cast members (two brilliant, one eye candy, one a eye-popping camera-mugging writer's crutch, and the fifth a bland joke reader). Do the math. Identity liberals see diversity only when minorities are overrepresented. The culture may be this black, but the country isn't.

    I guess in her role as chairperson of the Salon SNL Oversight Committee, the professor thought she'd show the professonals how its done -- satire, I mean. Not to worry; she dropped the ironic mask toward the end for those of us who too dumb to get the subtle message.

    Too bad she couldn't conclude instead with a Swiftian "Modest Proposal" as do so many occasional satirists. Maybe she's saving that for her advanced students.

  5. IMHO that Salon article was part of a campaign of denial. That is, denying the many very violent black riots and the great many attacks on defenseless whites and Asians by groups of blacks. Many of these incidents are listed, with links to news reports and videos, in the book 'White Girl Bleed A Lot': The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore It by Colin Flaherty

    The book details an enormous number of attacks and riots, most of which were not prominently reported. And, in many cases, the perps weren't prosecuted. IMHO Brittany Cooper's article is just another piece of the campaign to deny the big problem.


  7. Prof. Cooper's experience on the plane was almost too perfect. This interchange gave her a chance to portray herself as a victim. She said, "the fatphobic slur embarrassed me because weight is a struggle for me. And so when you have a struggle that's very public, you are self-conscious. ...The use of the N-word absolutely infuriated me."

    I think her reaction was pretty normal. Yet, I wonder why she comes across as so emotionally feeble. I've read descriptions of what Jackie Robinson endured in his first year in the major leagues. The words he heard were far more cutting, and there was physical punishment, too.

    I don't think that focusing on victims is the best way for a group to advance. Just within my own family, my black cousin B. has had a remarkable career. After becoming a tenured Professor of English and writing two books, she became a medical doctor. Her daughter L. has written for the New York Times. L has a book coming out momentarily and is has recently set up her own publishing unit. I think it would do more good if Salon ran articles about successful minorities, like my two relatives.

  8. Cooper is acting as an advocate, not a gatekeeper. The gatekeepers here would be the people who decided to print this. As an advocate, and since she and I share a race, I have no problem with her work: she's doing what people who actually care about an issue do, and that's state her position in as strong and effective a way as possible. Does anyone here doubt that black rioters are perceived, and treated, differently than white rioters? Notice that even Bob doesn't challenge this, instead focusing on the one weak part of an otherwise strong case.

    As for "atomized," we're already atomized. Almost a quarter of the population lives, politically, in a hermetically sealed world, bordered by Fox and Rush and Sean and Ann and the gang -- when they get any news at all (many of the rest simply "know" things, that actually aren't true, but they know them just the same). They chose to seal themselves in long, LONG before the left started creating a world of its own -- a far smaller and less influential world, I might add. If the left stops advocating, are all those people who sit around watching Fox news going to stop watching Fox? Are they going to rejoin us here in the real world and become sensible to facts and evidence? No, they won't. They'll stay glued to Fox, with the belief that everything else is part of the "liberal media," -- just as they did before Salon and MSNBC and so on came along giving a voice -- however faint -- to some forms of leftism.

    This whole thing is Bob being cranky. Sorry, Bob, your mythical "gatekeeper" cannot exist in the world as it now is. You either play the game as it is, or you keep losing at it. Your constant complaints about the -- left's, natch -- lack of gatekeepers is really a suggestion that one side disarm, and we go back to the good old days where one side has its views and interests constantly reinforced, while the other side sits around tearing itself to bits over how many black people need to be shot to death before someone like Bob won't go charging in waving their ruler around saying, 'Now hold on here -- you can't say that!" It's just cranky, foolish dumbfuckery.

    Oh, and who would these "gatekeepers" be? Who would choose them? Bob? "Went for a walk/ Took a ride Bob? Fuck that. The suits who run the major corporations who own all the major news outlets, the same ones Bob is always warning us about? The whole "gatekeeper" thing is just, to repeat, foolish dumbfuckery.

  9. Black and white rioters are treated the same in LA following Lakers or Clippers games or when a concert venue is overbooked. I think Cooper's complaints are exaggerated.