Sarah Jeong and the Media Alt-Left
When we talk about the alt-Left, we’re talking about the media.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism
Ever since the New York Times decided to hire racist blogger Sarah Jeong, despite her history of hateful tweets about white people, “the world could get by just fine with zero white ppl and the thing stopping POC (people of color) is...a disinclination toward genocide?”, white women, men, heterosexuals and Christians, and then refused to part ways with her (unlike its treatment of previous hire, Quinn Norton, whom the left had accused of homophobia based on a few tweets, despite her being gay), the debate has been about all the wrong things.
Jeong isn’t really the issue. Her racism is typical of an influential subset of the left.
Some of the pro and anti Jeong essays briefly circle around the actual problem before quickly zooming away. Andrew Sullivan writes in his anti-Jeong essay of the “extent to which loathing of and contempt for ‘white people’ is now background noise on the left”. Vox's Zack Beauchamp, wrote in his pro-Jeong essay that comments such as hers in the "the social justice left" about "white people" are typical.
But what part of the “social justice left” or “left” is really producing Sarah Jeongs?
To answer that question we have to talk about what no one really talks about, the alt-left. Unlike the alt-right, a subject of numerous essays, news reports and investigative pieces, the internet culture of racism, misandry and heterophobia that is the millennial alt-left is mostly undocumented.
The alt-left’s norms of discourse are defined by the same harsh contempt and winking racism that appear in Sarah Jeong’s tweets. It’s an internet culture where “white people” is an inherently derogatory term and new slurs, such as “caucasity”, are coined. Ironic racism is defined as “resistance” to whiteness. And what better way to resist whiteness than with racial slurs aimed at white people?
Sarah Jeong’s hateful tweets aren’t extraordinary examples of one woman’s bigotry. They’re variations on the typical memes and jokes on the alt-left. When we talk about Jeong’s racism, we’re really talking about the bigotry of an intersectional movement that is obsessed with punitively destroying the “privilege” of white people and other majority groups with racist memes, taunts and harassment.
The alt-left preceded the alt-right. The features of the alt-right that the media has attacked are mirror images of its origins counter-trolling the alt-left. When Sarah Jeong’s critics and defenders claim that she was “counter-trolling”, they hilariously get the origin of the internet culture species completely wrong.
Long before the alt-right (at least in internet years), the alt-left was weaponizing racist memes (“white tears” was a popular one) and harassing targets with online mobs (today’s social justice mobs are alt-left online harassment coordinated with alt-lefties in the media). The current trend of media stories that dox targets on the right almost all tend to come from media millennials aligned with the alt-left.
This isn’t the first time that the alt-left’s ironic racism has gotten its members in trouble. There was plenty of outrage when Drexel University's George Ciccariello-Maher had tweeted, "All I want for Christmas is white genocide". Just like Jeong, the defense was that Maher was just kidding.
The claims by Vox lefties that Sarah Jeong and the “social justice left” are being ironic in their racist remarks about white people, is not a defense, it’s an indictment. Ironic racism was prevalent on the alt-left before it was mirrored by the alt-right. It’s also a misuse of the term. Non-ironic irony is typical of millennial internet culture that uses humor as a distancing mechanism to normalize repellent views.
That’s not ironic. It’s cowardly and disingenuous.
The “ironic” alt-left humor of Sarah Jeong uses absurdity and winks to convey actual hatred for white people. But the same “ironic racism” that the media condemns when it appears on the Twitter accounts of the alt-right is somehow acceptable when it appears on alt-left accounts like Jeong’s. Even the argument that Jeong and the alt-left are just joking is the same “wrongfooting” defense that the media never accepted from the alt-right, even as it now tries to “wrongfoot” the right on Jeong’s racism.
Even the 1488ers, the Neo-Nazis who are the most noxious part of the alt-right, had their original counterparts in the tankies (Communists) in the internet culture of the alt-left. (You’re less likely to have read about them because the media loves writing about Neo-Nazis, but not its own Neo-Commies.)
When we talk about the alt-left, it’s often in terms of antifa, but Black Lives Matter owes as much to the alt-left as it does to the black nationalist thugs it adores and worships. And the violent activists are just a tiny portion of the larger internet culture that is the alt-left. But neither is the alt-left composed of minorities. Most of the alt-left, like the rest of the left, is white. Its racism isn’t the outcry of an oppressed minority, as the pro-Jeong pieces have contended, but of an ideological bigotry.
As John Perrazo notes in the Freedom Center’s pamphlet, “The War on Whiteness”, “The ultimate objective in stigmatizing whiteness is to intensify racial tension. But the anti-whiteness movement also intends to destroy whites’ comfortable assumption that their skin color is ‘normal’ or ‘neutral,’ without consequences, and to make them color-conscious and ultimately rub their noses in their whiteness.”
The left politicizes race. The alt-left’s war on whiteness is an overt rejection of post-racial neutrality and the grand bargain of civil rights. The stream of racist abuse aimed at white people is meant to politicize whiteness. And to force white people to align with racist movements on one side or the other.
What the alt-left fears above all else is post-racial coexistence. And so it fights tolerance with racism.
Why do we hear so little about the alt-left? For the same reason that the media throbs with defenses of Jeong’s ironic racism and the leftist internet culture that birthed it. The media’s millennial new guard is drawn heavily from the alt-left. It seeks out and destroys media millennials who are not alt-lefties.
The alt-left is the media. Gamergate, frequently referenced in the defenses of Sarah Jeong, was a clash between the alt-left entrenched in gaming journalism (tech journalism, and especially gaming journalism, were the parts of the media most likely to hire and quickly promote millennials) and gamer culture. But the alt-left now pervades the entire media from foreign affairs to sports journalism.
Jeong’s past tweets are just one of numerous examples of millennial media hires who had been caught spewing toxic alt-left rubbish. Jugal Patel and Fahim Abed kept their gigs with the New York Times after their old and ugly tweets came to life. There was no reason to think that Jeong would lose hers.
Sarah Jeong’s alt-left racism wouldn’t have dissuaded the New York Times. It was the reason she was hired. Being a vocal alt-lefty on social media while blogging about social justice issues has been part of the Tumblr-to-Times pipeline for a while now. The media looks for a social media background in its millennial hires. Broadcasting alt-left memes in those circles makes you more likely to be retweeted, recognized, quoted and hired to fail upward with more racism at major media orgs.
Gamergate used to be a debate about the alt-left’s takeover of journalism. Now that the alt-left controls journalism, period, it’s become a national debate about fake news.
Sarah Jeong’s racism isn’t an isolated incident. It’s a culture that is taking over newsrooms. The complete disregard for facts, the pervasive contempt for the political opposition, the impassioned victimhood, and the ravening hatred poorly disguised as comedy now defines the media.
And so we don’t talk about the alt-left, because when we talk about the alt-left, we’re talking about the media.