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What Twitter Fights Reveal about White Myopia

The next speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Michael Humphrey, whose interest is in life stories in digital spaces. Today's talk is focussed on the idea of white privilege, however: this can also be understood through the language we use, which colours how we see the world around us. We look at life through many filters, and tell our story through these filters; some of us take an agentic approach to telling our stories (we are at the centre), while others take a more communal approach (we are part of a group).

Some of this can also be seen in discussions about major fights on Twitter, especially also when those fights are about white privilege. One of these started at the 2015 Oscars, when Patricia Arquette called out the wage inequality for women in Hollywood and asked black actors to fight for women's equality. This caused a major stir, and the argument that unfolded is worthy of further attention.

Some of the argument draws on comparisons between acts of discrimination against women, black people, and other minorities; it positions the speaker as a self-determined agent, part of the community, or as supporting the community.

A second fight followed a Forbes article by a white writer imagining how he would fare as a poor black kid. The article stressed the writer's agency, and compares and equates white and black experiences.

Such cases can be used as narratives of discomfort, pointing out the problems with such statements. The aim here might be a kind of "muscular empathy" to overcome the myopia of such conversations.