Segal: Hope for trolls | AspenTimes.com

Segal: Hope for trolls

Rabbi David Segal
Continental Divine

"The Atlantic slave trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations."

So says a geography textbook being used in Texas public schools. That statement has generated quite the social media firestorm — and not for winning an Understatement of the Year Award, though it deserves one. I look forward to the publisher's forthcoming Western civilization textbook, where we learn how the Romans hired Christian lion tamers for the Coliseum and the Nazis supervised millions of Jewish campers. At this rate, I can't wait for their new Bible translation, in which the ancient Egyptians piloted a revolutionary Jewish jobs-creation program. No wonder Norwegians use "Texas" as slang for "crazy" (e.g. "The party last night was totally Texas!").

I hope there aren't people dismissing the textbook's many critics as too sensitive. This isn't about overreacting; it's about plain old facts and immorally euphemistic language. Describing the slave trade as bringing "millions of workers" gives new meaning to the phrase "burying the lede." I'm all for embracing a diversity of opinions, but not at the expense of recognizing basic facts.

However, if you don't like to face facts, there are other ways to express your social grievances. For example, you could become a Twitter troll, like the ones who launched a social media campaign to boycott "Star Wars Episode 7," which opens next month. Their gripe? The film, they say, has too many non-white characters. Yes, you read that right. You would think that trolls would be excited about the various troll-like creatures in the Star Wars universe ("Look, it's one of us!"). But no, all they can see is "anti-white propaganda."

You might think that sentiment, applied to a fantasy world, is ludicrous. (It is.) But if you'll join me in a pastoral mode, you'll see that there may be something deeper going on for these sad, race-baiting trolls.

Our country is changing. The so-called white majority is giving way to a colorful mosaic. For some people, this change represents a loss, which is painful. Anticipated loss leads to resistance. That's why you hear people advocating for an impractical wall, asserting Jesus' and Santa's whiteness, and now denouncing Star Wars for too many minorities.

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The sad thing is, America's historic privileging of whiteness has undermined, not amplified, our ideals. Racism was built into the Constitution in its accommodation of slavery and assignment of fractional value to the personhood of slaves. As Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War taught us — or should have — institutionalized racism has to be purged from the American body in order to fulfill the Founders' vision of a land that honors people as created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights. True, those rights also extend to trolls, and as long as they avoid hate speech and incitement, their free speech is one price we pay for ours. (That said, their hashtag "#whitegenocide" might cross that line.)

What should unite us as Americans is not our color but our willingness to uphold freedom, goodness and decency. Our test as Americans is our commitment to a system that guards the rights and dignity of all, not just those who look and sound like us.

In response to the Star Wars boycott, director J.J. Abrams tweeted a note inviting all kinds to enjoy the newest trailer: "I don't care if you're black, white, brown, Jawa, Wookiee, Jedi or Sith. I just hope you like it!" Fans had already rallied to his inclusive call. Most of the tweets about the Star Wars boycott have criticized it, not supported it.

Abrams and fans know that the moral core of the Star Wars mythology is the fight for good against the dark side. It's a cause that transcends race, nationality, home world and species. And as we've learned from the Star Wars movies, even someone consumed by the dark side can be redeemed. I guess that means there's still hope for trolls, too.

Rabbi David Segal can be reached at rabbi@aspenjewish.org or 970-925-8245. He blogs at http://www.aspenjewish.blogspot.com. His column runs the first Sunday of the month.