Interview and Conversation with @IanMillstein
full and unedited
Recently, we were featured in an article in the Lone Conservative (an online platform for conservative students to share their viewpoints) which chronicled "the mysterious rise of @RacismDog" and the effect the account had on "discourse"-- oddly without engaging in any discourse with us, the account owners-- and with the tagline that we "target conservatives." After we called out the article, the author, Ian Millstein, reached out to us to conduct a follow up interview. What follows is our full, unedited text-based interview with him.
Ian's questions are indicated in Bold
It’s unfortunate that we got off on the wrong foot concerning my piece on @RacismDog. In contrast to what some people think, I didn’t write the piece to unfairly malign the account or attack its rise to prominence. In reviewing the account’s tweets and researching its origin, I noticed a trend concerning its practices which I used to create an analytical case for what I feel that it’s doing wrong and what it could be doing better. I wrote it coming from a conservative perspective and for a conservative opinion blog, and was not attempting to label it as non-partisan. It definitely was.
The main reason that I did not initially contact you for comment was because I felt that I had enough evidence for the case I was making, and I eventually hoped to start a conversation if my article caught your attention. I originally suggested that the initial tweet for the article say “mainstream conservative figures” instead of just “conservatives,” which I thought was misleading and could come off wrong (which it certainly did). Regardless, I’m glad that you’re willing to have a conversation with me, and I included a brief list of questions and constructive ideas regarding the account. I look forward to your input.
Do you think that racism is endemic to conservatives? I understand that racism is unfortunately common among some fringe conservative movements (like the alt right) and even among some mainstream voices, however there are plenty of examples of racism present on the left too. I have included several below.
- Democratic Senator Doug Jones’s racist campaign flyers.
- The latest addition to the NYT editorial board has made some concerning comments regarding race.
- Cowboys QB Dak Prescott being targeted via race on his anti-kneeling stance.
Note: For simplicity, we’re mainly going to stick with first-person pronouns for our responses.
I don’t think there is an inherent problem with being conservative or having an opposing opinion. Your values are going to be different from mine, whether it’s your opinions on gun control or taxes. My issue is when certain conservative beliefs and actions conflict with people’s rights (see: bathroom bills, voter suppression, LGBT rights). Unfortunately, some of these ‘fringe’ conservative movements have large followings and have become more mainstream over the years. Their ideas are shared with other conservatives in positions of power and gain legitimacy in public debate. Then when they are called out or protested for their bigotry, they treat it as if they’re being censored in order to gain support from people who see those ideas as just a “different opinion.”
Sure, the left has problems as well. There is a common problem among white liberals to speak over marginalized groups rather than allow them to speak for themselves. It’s better to elevate the opinions of people of color speaking out about their experiences rather than talking over them. At the same time, though, white people are more willing to listen to other white people about these topics since it is often brushed off as “race-baiting” or “stirring the pot” when organizations like Black Lives Matter talk about these things. White people, especially ones with huge followings, should use their privilege to bring attention to injustices faced by marginalized groups.
On the articles you linked:
I haven’t heard of this story before, but it is cringe-worthy to pander to black voters in this way. When white Democrats try to use racialized language to pander to minorities (like the Biden “put y’all back in chains” comment). It does leave a bad taste in my mouth because of the assumption that this is the only way they could possibly relate to the constituents that do not look like them.
I’ll address this in the next question.
I think the criticism of Prescott was overblown, but the article makes a good case for why he would take sides with the NFL. It’s concerning how much the NFL is willing to crack down on their players kneeling for the anthem, especially since it receives millions of dollars from the U.S. military to have these grand displays of patriotism and nationalism. Prescott is saying what he needs to say to stay in good graces with the higher ups. I can’t blame him for that, but the criticism he’s received is not coming from nowhere. He would have received criticism from the right or the left no matter his opinion. The negative response to NFL protests show how much white Americans, especially ones on the right, value forced celebration of a song over the black people dying by state violence in their own country. I believe that if Colin Kaepernick was kneeling to bring attention to a different cause, like animal rights, instead of black lives, the NFL would have come out in full support of him. Instead, he was blackballed out of the league. He was used as an example for the other players: “Put one toe out of line, and you’re out of here”. Prescott made a statement that appeared inconsiderate, so he was criticized over it.
Do you think it is possible or ok to be racist towards white people? This question seems to be skewed between liberals and conservatives, with the former usually arguing that racism is inexorably linked to social context and therefore unable to be used against a group of people historically associated with oppression, and the latter arguing that it can be used against any group of people. Where do you stand on this (especially concerning @RacismDog’s silence on the Sarah Jeong comments)?
It’s a loaded question. The implication behind it is that all forms of racism are equal. Some white people will argue that if you make a joke about black people, it’s more likely to be considered racist than if you said the same thing about a white person, and that this double standard is wrong.
Here’s what they don’t understand. These jokes don’t exist in a vacuum where everyone is equal and every joke has the same impact on every group.
Maybe after black people:
take white people from their homes
ship them across the ocean
sell them into slavery for centuries
make them build up the country’s economy for free
have a war about whether or not they should be slaves
continue with oppressive legislation afterward
set back their success for decades through denial of benefits their black counterparts receive, such as home loans in nicer areas
lock them away in prison for years for having an ounce of weed
over-policing their communities
underfund or close schools in predominantly white areas
and then have the gall to wonder why white people are doing so poorly compared to other groups, then you can argue that “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men” is the same level of offense as “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old black men.”
White people can experience racism, but it is not going to affect them the same way it affects people of color, especially in America. I highly doubt that most of the people who dug up her old tweets were actually offended by them. They just wanted to feel the same way that marginalized groups feel for once while trying to point out an equivalency that is not there. Generally, when people complain about “anti-white” racism, it’s always something that could be considered racist, but even the people it’s directed at wouldn’t matter. Honestly, if a black person said “White people suck sometimes,” would you be offended? Does it affect your life in any way? Exactly. But if white person says, “Black people suck sometimes,” you have centuries of oppression and context surrounding why that statement could be interpreted as racist. The group it’s directed at won’t have equal responses to a statement like that.
I want you to take a look at this: https://twitter.com/hashtag/Verifiedhate?src=hash #VerifiedHate is meant to show some sort of hypocrisy between how Twitter bans conservatives for “having an opinion” while people who are verified make jokes about white people all day. Like I said before, context is everything. First of all, they clearly searched “white people” on Twitter and decided to mass-harass a large number of people for old tweets. Second, most of these are clearly sarcastic jokes. None of them are seriously advocating for white genocide or some nonsense like that.
Is it fair to associate controversial opinions with hate speech? While I disagree that Shapiro’s opinion on rap is racist, I definitely agree that it’s controversial and can be considered offensive. However, Racism Watchdog commands a huge base, and conflating avowed racists like Richard Spencer with mainstream conservative figures and the entire GOP exacerbates the misconception that conservatism (the small government and free market type) and racism are linked at the core. Racism is present on all sides of the political spectrum, and exclusively targeting right-wing figures while not covering controversial takes from individuals on the left is my primary concern.
Someone tagged us in an old Ben Shapiro tweet, but I highly doubt that his opinion of rap has changed since then. He wrote this more overtly racist article in Brietbart in 2009, three years before tweeting that rap isn’t “real music”: https://www.breitbart.com/big-hollywood/2009/03/29/rap-is-crap/ -- This year when a rapper said something he agreed with, he jokingly tweeted, “I take it all back rap is great now” https://twitter.com/benshapiro/status/989275126767276032?lang=en.
There is racism on the left, but the left is not actively pandering to white people and white nationalists as much as the right is. Like I said before, I don’t have a problem with conservatism in theory, but when beliefs and values shared on the right affect mine and others’ humanity and right to exist, I have a problem with that. When people treat undocumented immigrants like they aren’t people and call them “criminals” and “illegals” to justify splitting up families and putting children in cages, that’s a serious issue. When people bend over backwards to justify why the police had to shoot a black man twenty times in the back because he “didn’t comply” or because he was a “thug,” that’s a problem. If you read a misleading headline to an article about a state trying to attract a more diverse workforce to adapt to the changing market and then respond with the white nationalist dog-whistle “It’s okay to be white,” I’m going to call you out on it.
Conservatism is not racist at its core. No one is arguing that. I’m not even saying that all conservatives think the same way. No one’s saying that Richard Spencer and Ted Cruz are the same ideologically. I’ll explain this more in the next section, but one of RacismDog’s intentions is to cover more subtle forms of racism, also known as dog-whistles. We get a lot of replies for some tweets like, “that’s not racist” or “how is that racist”. Believe it or not, racism never went away. It is ingrained in our society and it always will be. The least we can do is repair some of the damage centuries of discrimination and oppression has done to marginalized groups in the U.S. and abroad. However, when we try to do that, there’s always pushback from people who are determined to keep their privilege and signal that to others. Those people are often conservative. You can say “not all conservatives” all you want, but at the end of the day, white nationalists aren’t siding with the Democrats.
That’s why they elevate any people of color who agree with them. Black conservatives like Candace Owens will say the same things that some white conservatives want to say but can’t because they would be called out as racists. They will say that most black people on the left are ‘slaves on the democrat plantation,” a statement that sounds a lot more cringe-worthy coming from a white man vs. a black woman (see the bulleted section earlier). It’s easier to find one black person who says all the other black people aren’t “enlightened” enough than to think critically about why the majority of those people don’t side with you. When your policies primarily affect people of color in a negative way, and prominent figures on your side are openly or subtly saying negative things about them, you’re not going to get a lot of people to cross the aisle.
Could the Racism Watchdog website include a brief methodology explaining how it qualifies tweets that deserve a “woof”? The thread you posted explaining why the account barked at Shapiro’s rap tweet was helpful and added some needed context. I also noticed that occasionally you highlight brief explanations on why you consider certain tweets racist. However, I think it could be immensely helpful if the website included a couple of sentences explaining the specific standards (whether it be overt, implied, contextual, or historical) of how it qualifies something as racist.
Oftentimes, our followers explain in the replies about why something we woofed at is racist, so we don’t usually explain it unless there is some general confusion. We’ve gotten comments before about explaining more tweets, but usually the replies give good explanations. It’s kind of funny that we’ll have people question why something is racist, then when given an explanation they disregard it. Even in the thread about Ben Shapiro, some of the replies were ridiculous because they still refused to acknowledge how it could be racist, even after a detailed explanation. Each tweet is on a case-by-case basis, and sometimes we’ll ask each other if a tweet is worth barking at. The number of woofs or barks are not always an accurate measurement of how racist something is. Sometimes more barks are done for a comedic effect.
Could Racism Watchdog occasionally address examples of racism on the left too? While I respectfully disagree what some of what the account labels as racist, I respect the account’s freedom to choose what it targets. I only ask that it includes some examples coming from the left too to make it more balanced.
If we encounter racism on the left that’s worth covering, we will. But it’s telling how some (white) conservatives react to something that they don’t think is racist vs. what they think is racist. Some of them don’t like that they share a similar opinion to what we tweeted, and that opinion being considered racist.
I’m glad that we have been able to have a civil conversation about the situation and I hope you consider the suggestions I mentioned. I think that a lot more conservatives would support Racism Watchdog if it took a more bipartisan angle. If there’s anything else I can do, please let me know.
We’re glad we could discuss these things. There’s so much to talk about that multiple threads on Twitter wouldn’t allow for more detailed explanations. You probably won’t agree with a lot of the things we say here, but it gives an explanation for where we’re coming from.