Two years ago, the ESPN host Bomani Jones appeared on the network’s “Mike & Mike” morning show wearing a T-shirt that seemed, at first glance, to bear the logo of Cleveland’s baseball team, but, in place of the trademark cursive “Indians,” the shirt read “Caucasians”; the crude caricature of a Native American had also been altered to look like a grinning white man. The reaction was swift: ESPN demanded that he cover up the shirt while on air; many white people criticized Jones’s “racism” on social media. The point was easy to discern: Native Americans continue to be depicted in derogatory ways and relegated to a kind of racist stereotype in a manner that many white people would find intolerable were it directed at them. Stripped of context, the shirt appeared to be a needless racial provocation. Situated amid the dynamics that inspired it, though, the shirt becomes an attempt to undermine racism by forcing observers to think about the nature of the Indians’ iconography.
These matters of race and context arose yet again (as they have almost incessantly in recent years) when tweets by Sarah Jeong, a newly hired member of the editorial board at the Times, resurfaced last week. Jeong tweeted, among other things, “white men are bullshit”; “basically i’m just imagining waking up white every morning with a terrible existential dread that i have no culture”; “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men”; and “#CancelWhitePeople.” Jeong said in a statement that the tweets were intended to be an inversion of the racist and sexist trolling that had been a feature of her digital life—an attempt to fight racism by deploying its own language against it.