Updated: Sep 22
It was an average Tuesday. An email that suggested I kill myself; a private message that painted a vivid picture of my family burning for eternity; no fewer than twelve comments about being washed in the blood of a 2000-year-old zombie and one particularly lovely message warning me never to show my face in Pakistan or “Who knows what happen!”
I’ve never not been able to handle this. I am able to see it for what it really is: strangers who are frightened by me. It’s all them, not me. My skin gets thicker every day because that is the only reasonable way to deal with this shit. However, I still seek out relief, and on this past Tuesday, I did so by heading to the channel of one of my favourite Youtubers, Dave Rubin.
One of the things I love about Rubin is that each time I go check for new interviews, I never know who to expect to see on his channel. Sometimes it’s a familiar face, like Peter Boghossian or Michael Shermer. Other times, the guest is someone I have never heard of, like Milo Yiannopoulos or Larry Elder. No matter who the interviewee is, though, I watch because there has not been an episode of the Rubin Report that I didn’t come out having learned something new or feeling as though I have been exposed to new ideas (not always ideas I agree with).
Two days ago, I visited Rubin’s YouTube channel and saw that the latest interview was with a man named Tommy Robinson. Like other guests on the Rubin Report, I’d never heard of this man. I am a Canadian who has never visited the UK. I’m not up to speed on UK politics or issues that affect that area of the world. Tommy Robinson was just another name to me.
I fixed myself a bowl of pho, poured half a bottle of sriracha in it and clicked play on the interview. Having zero idea who Tommy Robinson was or what he was known for, I sipped the spicy broth and ventured into what I found was an extremely interesting interview.
This, I would soon find out, is tantamount to lovingly licking Hitler’s noxious shaft.
I sat through the interview and thought that Dave was asking great questions; questions with the clear intent of introducing viewers to Tommy and what Tommy is all about; questions that gave Tommy the floor and allowed us to hear who he is in his own words. Another thing I love about Dave Rubin: his interviews are not confrontations. He has guests on to let them speak. Even the ones his viewers may disagree with.
When they got to the portion of the interview during which Tommy talked about his time in a UK prison, my interest was piqued even more. You know me. You know I have been interested in prison issues for over a decade. You’ve read my Reasonable Doubt series and my Ultimate Punishment series. You follow along with my Innocents series. You know the issues that arise in correctional institutions are issues that greatly interest me, and when Tommy talked about his time locked up, I couldn’t help but be fascinated.
At the end of the interview, as is the case after most of Rubin’s interviews, I found myself wanting to learn more about the person he’d just spoken with. But first, I wanted to give a shout out to Dave for creating another bit of content I enjoyed. I tweeted:
You continue to outdo yourself, Dave Rubin
and included a link to the interview with Tommy. This is how I thank people who create things I appreciate. I know, as a content creator myself, my content’s success depends on my audience sharing what work of mine they enjoy, so I try to repay the favour to the content creators I enjoy. I have a few followers. A tweet out to them helps Dave and that is what I was going for.
What I meant by “outdo yourself”, was that no other interviewer I’ve come across has so consistently introduced me to new faces I would never have sought out otherwise. Whether I agree with those faces or not is not the point. The point, is that I’m dragged out of my comfort zone, exposed to new ideas (even if some of them make me recoil) and forced to think about new things, and new issues. This is the mark of a great content creator and I will not back down from that position.
So, I tweeted what I tweeted and went about searching for more information about this notorious Tommy fella. As I typed my query into the Google search bar, I could swear I heard the distant sound of jackboots zeroing in on me. I saw the notification number on my Twitter tab steadily increase. If there had been a weather vane in my office, I swear it would have started spinning. I could feel the storm as I clicked back to Twitter. I could feel it, but I had no idea this was a category 5, Dawkins-esque shit storm that was fixing to devour two days of my life.
My eyes fell on my notifications.
In that brief moment between posting a tweet and beginning a search for more information on Tommy Robinson, I’d pissed people off so badly that a photo of me in a swastika bikini would have been a welcome relief to them. I was Hitler. Further, I was Hitler in bed with Tommy Robinson, a man who didn’t just ruffle feathers. He plucked them and burned them in the ashes of euthanized puppies. Apparently. I still had not been able to verify any of his alleged evils myself.
I spent the next two days fielding childish responses from people who could not separate my enjoyment of an interview from express support of someone’s politics. I was giving Tommy a platform. I was accused of saying things I’ve never uttered in my life like, “feminazi”. The M.O. here was obvious: shut down this conversation. Shut down those who facilitated this conversation. Shut down those who enjoyed listening to the conversation. Just shut it down. Shut it all down and pretend it’s not there; this is the only method with which we can cure racism, bigotry and hatred.
Except it’s not. All of us with anything that resembles a thinking mind know that the only way to move forward into a less hateful and bigoted future, is to keep this conversation going. It’s paramount to progress. We need to hear the ideas that scare us the most, and then we need to engage those who hold them in conversation. Civil conversation, because that is how you change minds. That is how you bring ignorant people out of the dark, illuminating their world with reality. That is how we grow.
As I said in the beginning of this post, hate doesn’t phase me. Criticism does not bother me. I don’t give a fuck what faceless people I have never met think of me personally. What I do care about, however, is keeping these important conversations going and when you try to shut them down on my Twitter feed, I’m gonna stand up to that. When you use slimy tactics like labeling people “bigot” and “racist” to try and discredit them without so much of a shred of evidence to back it up, I’ll get in your face. Whether you’re doing this to me, to Dave Rubin or to the fucking Pope, it doesn’t matter. I will fight you the only way I know how: with words.
As far as Tommy goes? I still have yet to find what makes this man so evil. I knew he’d been to prison, which doesn’t bother me. As far as I am concerned, time served is time served. I’ve seen him struggle with tact in conversing with people I respect, but that’s nothing I have not been guilty of myself in the past. I’ve seen him suggest ideas that I disagree with, such as deporting recent Muslim migrants, but my neighbours say shit like that all time and I still go to their BBQs. I saw one particular article that claimed he assaulted a man in prison in a hate-fueled rage, but when I dug deeper, I read that his life had been threatened and he claimed self-defense. Perhaps he’s not telling us the truth, but I don’t have enough evidence to decide either way. As you have likely already guessed from my constant writing about wrongful convictions, I wouldn’t condemn a man for something without solid evidence he’d done it for condemnable reasons. Further, I’d suggest you ought not as well.
I don’t know what I am missing about Tommy Robinson but I am open to learning more. I’m sure to some that reads as, “I wholeheartedly support Tommy” and that would be a great way to know for sure that you’re intellectually dishonest. I’m ready for the evidence that this man is so evil that anyone who so much as utters his name needs condemning. I’m ready to find out why my mere appreciation of Dave’s effort in interviewing Tommy makes me racist and bigoted by proxy. I’m ready and open and genuinely curious. This is your opportunity to present your case.
If the case is made, and you convince me that Tommy is a horrible racist, I’d still stand by my appreciation of the conversation he had with Dave. The goal, when one meets someone who is so bigoted that it’s intolerable, is not to run and hide. The goal is to open a dialogue and try to change minds. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn a bigot into a friend and ally? If you truly cared about snuffing out racism and bigotry, you’d stop calling people names and trying to discredit them and you’d start talking to them in hopes of changing their minds. You aren’t going to do that with your block button. You’re not going to change minds by screaming, “Bigot!”. You’re certainly not going to do that by shutting the conversation down.
You will only change minds by conversing, presenting things objectively and sharing ideas and that is precisely what Dave Rubin is striving to do. As I said on Tuesday, Dave, you continue to outdo yourself and I thank you.