I don’t get very many mass emails of the paranoid propaganda type forwarded to me, and when I do, I generally roll my eyes as I hit the delete key. Occasionally one of those emails lands in my box courtesy of someone that I either care about, think should know better, or both. In those cases, I’ll run the text of the story through Snopes or Urban Legends, and then forward evidence of the fake-ness of the story to the person who sent it to me. All that to say, I don’t give them a lot of thought, and when I have to think about it, I move on pretty quickly. For instance, a couple of weeks ago one of my students forwarded an email that has been going around for several years, having to do with the supposed rude and condescending response of a major network executive to a viewer who had complained about the “homosexual agenda” in a program. After running the email through snopes, I learned that the email was indeed genuine, but it was not from an executive, nor was it the official position of the network. I sent the information back to the student, the student issued a sheepish “sorry,” passed the info on to the rest of the people she forwarded it to and we were done.
Because I don’t traffic in nut-wingery, at least not that of the rightwing kind (yeah, I’ll cop to a little leftwing nut-wingery from time to time) I knew about the vicious anti-Obama emails flooding in-boxes across America only via hearsay and on the occasional blog. I knew they were out there, and I knew they were harmful, but I really didn’t think about them, you know? I was more concerned about the things that were being said on radio and television, what was happening at conventions and conferences and later on, at campaign rallies.
The other night I went to a meeting at my church. After the meeting, while most of us were out in the hallway bundling up to go home, one of the older (white) women in our congregation came over to talk to me. She is a sweet old woman, probably in her seventies. She recently read something I wrote that was published in real life, under my real name, about the campaign, the election and it’s aftermath.
The woman told me, kind of shamefacedly, that she had not voted. I was a little surprised. Then she went on to tell me that she was afraid. She was afraid of Obama, she said, because she had gotten so many emails offering “proof” that he was a Muslim and a terrorist. She was afraid of what was going to happen to the country if Obama won the election. She did keep assuring me that it wasn’t because he was black… it was the Muslim part that got her. And I want to believe her truth
Now, I knew this stuff was out there… I mean, it’s the whole reason the emails were flying around, along with all the other propoganda – the buttons, the waffle mix, the “satiric” magazine covers. But here I was face to face with a person I knew … telling me about the fear and confusion that had been placed in her. I don’t know if the people sending the emails to her were people she knew or not; in some ways it doesn’t matter. But it other ways it does, very much so. It means that someone was deliberately taking advantage of her because of her age, at the very least. And they got away with it – they frightened a woman who, because she is a citizen of this country has every right to vote – but they deliberately frightened her and effectively silenced her. She did not cast a vote for the person they wanted … she just didn’t vote at all. How many, many others did not vote for that reason? And, as my example above illustrates, it’s not just the elderly that get pulled into believing something just because they got it in an email from a friend.
And it makes me angry all over again – not at her, but at those who would not only disparage fellow human beings – an individual, on the one hand – fair game, I guess some would say – politics being what it is; but also entire groups of people – black men in particular, people of color in general, Muslims. That tactic was evident to anyone paying a marginal bit of attention – accuse him (or anyone) of being a Muslim; that will take away any measure of trust.
As I finish this post, I note that the Supreme Court has rejected the appeal over Obama’s citizenship… another wildfire internet rumor. I guess that’s something.