Mara Gay: The backlash to my math mistake was racist

Last Thursday a clip of MSNBC host Brian Williams and NY Times editorial board author Mara Gay went viral on social media. The reason it went viral is that it was utterly cringe-worthy watching two highly paid adults (plus the unseen producers of this show) struggle and fail to do 3rd grade math:

Allahpundit wrote about it last week and if you read his well-written take you’ll notice one thing that is not mentioned at all: The fact that Mara Gay is black. And really, why would it be mentioned? It has nothing to do with the math error here, just as the fact that Brian Williams is white had nothing to do with it. The question AP’s post asked was simply “How did this happen?” How did a bunch of otherwise intelligent people make a mistake this obvious? The answer he suggested was that Williams and Gay wanted this to be true. At a minimum, the mistake was funny. At most, it was an insight into why some on the left still believe taxing billionaires would cover the cost of Bernie Sanders’ agenda.

Jump forward to today and the NY Times has published Mara Gay’s opinion piece about the incident. It’s titled “My People Have Been Through Worse Than a Twitter Mob.” According to her, the backlash was all about racism.

I tried to laugh it off. “Buying a calculator,” I wrote on Twitter on Friday. “Brb.”

In a normal time, that would have been the end of it. But the country has lost its mind, so instead, it was only the beginning.

Across social media, right wing trolls celebrated. And some journalists did too. Most of them were men who are prolific on Twitter. (Going out and doing actual reporting? That’s harder.) The next time they make a mistake, I hope people are nicer to them than they were to me. “How did this end up on TV?” one of them helpfully wrote, sharing the video.

I’m not sure, but I think she’s talking about this tweet which is one that I saw circulating last week:

https://twitter.com/KFILE/status/1235808311834021888

She continues:

My great sin was trivial, harmless, silly. What’s it like when people are trying to cancel you for a math mistake? Weird, and maddening and painful.

Of course, in my case it wasn’t really about math, as anyone who read through my mentions on Twitter or saw my inbox would know.

“You’re a great example of why we need to end Affirmative Action,” someone named Jim B. wrote me in an email this weekend. “Get a job scrubbing floors. It’s the only thing you’re good for.”

On Twitter, it was about the same. “Keep thinking that your important. Lol … your a nobody … you fill a seat … only because your Black. that’s the only reason. cause if was based on education or merit, you would be working at Walmart … sometimes the truth hurts … your a lowlife.”…

I am a black woman who writes for The New York Times and appears on national TV. And if you’re black in America, no matter who you are, what you accomplish or how hard you work, there will always be people to remind you that you are black, that you are “just a nigger.”

Unfortunately there really are some racist creeps out there. I don’t think Gay or anyone else should have to put up with that crap and I don’t blame her for being angry about it. That said, I also don’t think a handful of genuinely racist comments means that most of the people sharing this clip were doing so because of her race. As someone who might have written about this (if my co-worker hadn’t gotten to it first), I can say that the impetus for sharing this was simple: A couple of progressives on a progressive network making a math error for the ages.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed that Gay referred to this as a “trivial” mistake. The tweet she put out sharing her piece used the same word:

The subject may be trivial but was the mistake itself really that trivial? Her answer (and Brian Williams’ as well) to how much money Bloomberg could have given each American: $1,000,000. The actual answer based on the numbers in the tweet: $1.52. That’s a bit more than a rounding error. Is it an important national issue? No. But it is pretty embarrassing that no one caught this before it aired.

Bottom line: There really are some racist jack-holes out there who enjoy harassing minorities from behind anonymous accounts. If you want to tell those losers to f**k right off, I’m with you. But if you assume that’s the norm (or just the norm on the right), you’re really painting with far too broad a brush. Don’t let the bastards get you down but equally important don’t assume everyone to the right of MSNBC is a racist just because they’re laughing about a math mistake.