By Sam Pfeifer | Illustration by Cate Johnson
One of the less-than-ideal habits I have comfortably picked up during quarantine is a default state of Twitter scrolling. The operative word there is scrolling; I tend to not share my own thoughts unless they are in the form of a retweet, or my Catalyst work. This is mostly because I have only accumulated 91 followers in my brief time as a Twitter user, compared to the 422 people I follow. However, I have come to recognize that one might learn as much through simply observing and watching the Twitter verse unfold without interacting in any way.
The bulk of these individuals are either reporters and political figures, or people who have something to do with ultimate frisbee. The politics and news feeds can be informative but can quickly descend into an echo chamber yelling about Trump. The ultimate Twitter-verse is entertaining, yet quite fervid.
I have been drawn to many of the ultimate feeds because they are helpful resources (I play and captain for Colorado College’s men’s team). For example, I have used it to gather ideas on how to build an even more successful program going into the future. Although, as I have learned about Twitter, one cannot get the pleasant without the unproductive.
In the past few days, controversy has centered around a tweet sent out by a respected player and coach; he also happens to be the former coach of Wasabi — the men’s team here at CC. The tweet took a rather jarring take on fitness and healthy eating. In a nutshell, he stated that people should stop complaining about being “fat” and “lazy” — and just eat their damn veggies and go on a run!
The tweet was definitely a perfect illustration of what one might call a “hot take.” I certainly do not agree with the characterization that in order to live a healthy life, one can easily stop whining and get to work. There are way too many variables that determine health and wellness that are systemic by and large. There is also an immense amount of privilege in this statement.
You can bet that the vast majority of the ultimate Twitter world took great offense to it as well. In the first couple of hours, many prominent ultimate tweeters pounced. The first retweet came with the response, “It’s weird I didn’t see “fat and lazy” on the list of Social Determinants of Health. This is a stellar example of someone who is a professional in a field being completely blind to the deeply entrenched biases of said-field.” Afterwards, the whole ultimate Twitter world erupted. More and more people either commented or retweeted. The original tweeter eventually deleted their entire account.
I don’t disagree with the wording or the basic premise of the multitude of responses. I did, however, have lots of problems with the means of “informing.” When does a healthy debate, for the purpose of education, and for the sake of social justice, become unregulated outrage?
This recent episode reminded me of, you guessed it, another tweet. In response to the prompt, “what is the greatest critique of Twitter?” prominent neuroscientist and author Sam Harris tweeted, “It magnifies (and weaponizes) the delusion that everyone must have an opinion on everything.” I find a lot of truth in this statement. It is, in my opinion, perpetuating dangerous and utterly unhelpful acts of citizenry. If we assume that a type of self-aggrandizing virtue-signaling, via social media, is the ultimate characteristic of civic virtue in this brave new world, things are looking gloomy.
The most glaring illustration of this growing trend is with our current president. When he gets on Twitter and spouts nonsense like “OBAMAGATE,” it is human nature to call it out. It is important to call out incompetency, corruption, racism, bigotry, sexism, and everything in between. Nonetheless, after all this time, tweet after tweet, have we not become numb to the outrage? I know I certainly have. I should not feel that way.
Another recent instance has to do with Ahmad Arbery. A video surfaced on May 5 providing all the evidence in the world that Arbery was lynched in cold blood, while running in his own neighborhood. America took a stand. Mainstream media started reporting on the case in-depth. Celebrities and political leaders used their influence on social media to spread the news. Eventually, Gregory and Travis McMichaels were arrested. What I would assume to be millions of well-intentioned Americans were tweeting about the injustice. Many were also sharing photos of Arbery on their Instagram or Facebook stories and feeds.
In President Obama’s 2008 speech, “A More Perfect Union,” addressing inflammatory comments made by Pastor Jeremiah Wright, he challenged our country to refrain from discussing race simply as spectacle or in the wake of tragedy. In other words, on the whole, the way our country deals with race, facilitated by white supremacy, is reactionary. An unarmed black man is shot and killed in the streets, and the world becomes outraged. The world, then, forgets.
Social media exemplifies this. Outrage and anger drives clicks and likes and retweets. It feels good to be a part of a greater call for justice. But is it enough to drive change? From my experience, this work requires an ongoing effort. Theatrics only work for the preservation of the status quo. One of my role models in the sport of ultimate is Claire Chastain. Not to mention her playing style, what I truly admire is her authenticity and honesty as a human. Recently, she wrote an article in Medium which I found incredibly pertinent and sobering.
Titled “We are a Problem,” she takes on white supremacy in the ultimate community, specifically in the time of the coronavirus. “We are greedy. We are selfish. We are comfortable. We are complacent. We do not seek justice; we benefit from injustice. We will never seek justice while we continue to benefit from injustice. We Retweet, Like, Share & Comment. We do not scream, fight, yell, or arm. Well, we do… to get haircuts,” wrote Chastain. I highly suggest you read the full article, whether you are in the ultimate community or not.
It is really easy to express outrage and not, in any way, regulate that outrage. The hard part is to take that outrage and anger and put it into work that tends to be grueling and vulnerable, especially for white folks like me.
I don’t know what the reaction to this article will be. I can imagine that some will take issue with me criticizing certain actions in a time where we are all uncertain and quite terrified. Or, that I have simply diagnosed “a problem” without considering a solution. I don’t have a solution. I also know that I have and continue to participate in this problem. I desperately need to do more work myself.
There are, however, actionable steps. When we get back to campus, we can enact greater student participation in improving and strengthening CC’s anti-racism agenda.
In November, we can vote Donald Trump out of office. We can help elect leaders like Amy McGrath in Kentucky; Jaime Harrison in South Carolina; Cal Cunningham in North Carolina; Mark Kelley in Arizona; and Andrew Romanoff or John Hickenlooper in Colorado.
Most importantly, right now, we can do all of our jobs by staying at home. No excuses. And when we need to go out, we can wear a mask and practice good social distancing. We must believe that things will get better.