We All Want to Diversify Craft Beer: The Question is, “How?”

So I have charged out of the gate with a gross overstatement. That’s par for the course in the clickbait era, right? Following up that overstatement with two clichés and a rhetorical question, however, is just a bit of snarkiness.  The point (there is one) that I want to acknowledge from the outset is that not all of us want to diversify craft beer.  That is, many of us agree that diversity (noun) in craft beer is an admirable end, but also believe that the effort to diversify (verb) craft beer is one that no one should be particularly concerned with (and certainly not feel responsible for) undertaking.

I have been researching and writing about beer and American culture for more than 7 years as one of the very lucky handful of academics who have gotten away with making beer the center of our scholarship. I’ve also been privileged to be included in the growing number of serious conversations about race and ethnicity in craft beer, and disappointed to be increasingly challenged with the question, “Why should we care?”  Though I have given this blog entry a title that suggests we’ve all gotten beyond this question, I want to pause for at least a moment to hazard an answer.

Why should we care who makes/drinks craft beer?

There is a growing list of practical responses to this question that touch upon important considerations like untapped markets, the dormant potential for new ideas and contributions to brewing practice, and the importance of extending the scope of community engagement. These are all critical. But I will give space here to a more challenging position–one that has, for many years, been the foundation of my unwavering love of craft beer culture.  We should care because we can. We should lead because we are able.

As an industry that has cultivated an ethos and built a mythology around navigating the status quo in thoughtful, challenging, and sometimes outright resistant ways, craft beer is unique.  Craft beer continues to do what conventional wisdom says it cannot (remember, that bubble was supposed to burst about 2,500 breweries ago?).  Diversification defines craft beer where most other industries are being swallowed by the twin forces of contraction (the trend toward fewer firms in an industry) and consolidation (the shift of market share toward the top few firms).

Among the very limited number of brewers I have had the pleasure to meet, I have observed a truly inspiring level of energy and action.  Sean Lilly Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery and Adam and Eric Marshall of Marshall Brewing Company were instrumental in changing the antiquated liquor laws in their states that not only suppressed the enormously positive economic impact that craft beer has on state and local economies, but were also stubbornly rooted in classist and racist assumptions about pathological alcohol consumption.  Erik Lars Myers of Mystery Brewing Company and Lee and Doug John of Apocalypse Ale Works tell truly remarkable stories of their community-built breweries, of greater access to the kind of entrepreneurship that galvanizes communities from the inside out.  Collin McDonnell of HenHouse Brewing and Calder Preyer of Preyer Brewing Company operate with a level of critical reflexivity, transparency, and awareness of industry dynamics that empowers us as consumers.  Brewers raise countless dollars for social change, make statements they do not have to make, and invite us into their taprooms and onto their brewery floors where we authentically connect–often without giving a second thought to how natural these connections really are–with people we would otherwise never have the opportunity or inclination to speak to.

I want to go on, but I need to get to where I was going (remember the title?), and to be 100% honest, the praises of the craft beer industry/movement have been more than adequately sung.  So I will cut this revelry short by saying, craft beer has already demonstrated a give-a-sh*t quotient that far surpasses what Americans have come to expect of our business community. It has opened doors, pushed boundaries, forged collaborations, and asked questions that others have not dared to ask.  It has in no way been perfect, but it has been willing–willing to self-critique, willing to dream daringly, and willing to try.  So, if any industry can rise to the challenge of “being the change we want to see in the world,” I believe craft beer can…and should.

So How Do We Diversify Craft Beer?

I am happy to write that more often than not, the growing number of serious conversations about race and ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic background in craft beer have concluded with a genuine desire to make brewery floors, tasting rooms, bottle shops, beer dinners, and even professional associations more diverse.  However, in these same conversations, we seem to habitually gloss the not insignificant issue of overcoming the biggest challenge to achieving this goal.  How do we do this–specifically without being stereotypical, condescending *ssholes?

As queer, black, woman (that’s right, triple threat y’all) my experiences in craft beer culture have run the gamut from transformatively-inclusive to terrifyingly-hostile. But when faced with this question, I have to admit that I have been largely stymied, offering remarkably unhelpful suggestions like, “you know, just be cool.”

The recent turning point in my thinking about effective, inclusive, ethical and authentic efforts to diversify craft beer was reading one of Julia Herz’s Communicating Craft articles on the Brewers Association website, Today’s Craft Beer Lovers: Millennials, Women and Hispanics. While this is a data-driven piece for an industry audience, I think it contains one of the most broadly applicable, succinct, and helpful pieces of advice for those committed to diversifying craft beer that has been published to date. [I am paraphrasing] Don’t overtly target underrepresented populations, work on eliminating the perceived barriers to entry into the world of craft beer. 

This has been an enormously helpful starting point, but I think it is also one that justifies a slight clarification.  Herz’s use of the term “perceived barriers” is important, as it draws attention to the fact that the barriers that keep some out of the craft beer community may not be perceived at all by others–particularly others that are comfortably on the inside of the craft beer community.  Too often we allow the fact of these differences in perception to lead us to the conclusion that the barriers are not “real.”  As I continue to refer to “perceived boundaries,” in this blog post, I want to make it clear that I consider them to be very real and to have very real effects and consequences.  Which is to say, that the suggestion that the lack of diversity in craft beer would be “fixed” if underrepresented populations would just “suck it up,” is a flaming pile of rancid donkey sh*t that I really have no time for.

I do not profess to have “the answers.”  But I am invested in the process of problem solving.  Many of us (and I may be one of the worst offenders) have invested considerable time and effort into naming, exploring, critiquing, and speculating about the causes of craft beer’s cultural homogeneity.  We have been rather successful in establishing a need for change and have adequately made the case for expecting positive outcomes from this change.  We have been significantly less successful in developing practical strategies for making this change (and I am not talking about making pink beer or angling for product placement in hip-hop songs).  Below, I make an effort to change this by offering five suggestions for those committed to diversifying the world of craft beer. Yes, I have gone listicle.

Suggestion 1: Don’t assume you have created an inclusive space just because you are nice.

This is a difficult place to start.  Because, I am challenging the commonly-held assumption that being a “good gal/guy”, being decent and kind, is equivalent to being diversity-minded. Unfortunately, it is not.  This isn’t a complaint about good gals/guys.  In my experience craft beer is an industry that has a disproportionally high percentage of these folks.  Because of this, however, craft beer culture is particularly susceptible to overlooking the unconscious and unintentional ways it builds cultural barriers to entry.  As Ms. Herz has already helped to establish, diversifying craft beer should not be about overt recruitment of underrepresented groups. I will add here that it is also not about overt bias, -isms, or -phobias directed toward these groups.  If it were, frankly, there would be little to do.  Diversifying craft beer will require making an effort that is a bit trickier than laying off the n-word.  It will require changing things we’ve often never thought to question.

Suggestion 2: Do not make assumptions about expertise.

One of the ways that the craft beer community most consistently engages in the kind of unconscious barrier building I reference above is by way of what I call the “economy of expertise.” Access to the varied pockets of the craft beer world, from festivals and tasting dinners to homebrew clubs and competitions, is often granted on the basis of perceived knowledge and experience.  Deploying the right vocabulary (whether or not you actually know wtf diacetyl tastes like), knowing one’s glassware, and/or having the name of a couple of rare seasonal releases on hand are, regretfully, dolled out like so many secret passwords.

More to the point, I believe many in the craft beer community make assumptions about who is likely and who is unlikely to possess this valued expertise more often than we realize or would like to admit.  That is to say, when expertise operates as a key to the clubhouse (a dynamic I find extremely problematic), and certain people are regularly assumed to lack that expertise, craft beer spaces look less like social hubs for our diverse communities and more like Augusta (if hipster lumberjacks took up golf).

I don’t know how many times I have been greeted with a somewhat baffled, “Can I help you?” when entering an unfamiliar beer bar.  This isn’t the friendly, “Can I help you?” that is usually coordinated with a menu being placed on the bar or an industrious barkeep expectantly pulling a clean pint glass from rack–I get plenty of these too. But the “Can I help you?” that I am talking about here more accurately translates to, “Are you lost ma’am?”, “No, we aren’t hiring”, or “We don’t have Michelob Ultra here, keep moving please.”  I also don’t know how many times I have been backhanded with the question, “Do you like light or dark beer?” after taking my time with a beer list and watched other unfamiliar guests be greeted with specific suggestions or the heads up that something rare is on tap.  These things have happened enough that I’ve developed something of an inside joke with my craft beer friends–they laugh after witnessing or hearing about one of these encounters and ask, “Oh no, did you have to put your craft beer d*ck on the bar?”

Having to constantly “whip it out” –to name drop or casually reveal my “credentials”–to gain access to the kind of service–the knowledgable banter, the adventurous taster meets tap handle curator dynamic–that makes craft beer so much more than a simple retail purchase is annoying, exhausting, and belittling.  It has been more than enough for me (someone who has already committed to a long-term relationship with craft beer) to avoid establishments where I have this experience more than once (no matter how nice people are).  But as obstacles to building that first connection, to bringing new drinkers to craft, the assumptions made as part of the economy of expertise can be formidable, more than enough to turn people away–particularly if they get the sense that these kind of assumptions are a product of their possession of breasts or darker skin.

I believe we need to seriously question the practice of allowing expertise to be one of the dominant means of entrance to cultural spaces organized around the enjoyment of craft beer.  But if we are going to allow expertise to continue to be a cultural currency, we can’t make assumptions about anyone’s individual wealth.

Suggestion 3: Be willing to accommodate those who do craft beer differently.

The value that many of us in craft beer have placed on expertise (we love our “geekery and gadgetry”, as I like to say about myself and fellow homebrewers) has resulted in a number of preferred “performances” in craft beer culture.  That is to say, we’ve adopted a number of common behaviors and attitudes that in many ways define us.  More importantly, being unfamiliar with these practices or simply failing/refusing to adopt them can leave drinkers on the outside looking in or even make them the subject of ridicule. Lager drinkers have intermittently occupied the short end of this stick.

I will readily admit, I am invested in the craft beer community’s most commonplace performances.  I aggressively avoid “corporate beer.”  I invest time, energy, and money in tasting as many new things as I can.  I buy beer in bottle shops rather than grocery stores. I show up early when bars put on kegs of rare offerings, advocate for casks and randalizers, politely request that my beer not be poured in chilled glasses, get excited about imperial things, and generally consider all beer drinking to be a “learning experience.”  But it’s only recently that I have stopped to consider how many of these practices are a result of my conditions of privilege, how arbitrary they may seem to an “outsider” or “newcomer”, and how remarkably rigid they are.

Suggestion 4: Be an Awesome Ambassador

About a year ago, I visited friend’s church for the first time.  Grace Episcopal is a small, rural congregation in central Virginia, and it was with these folks that I experienced my first Episcopalian church service.  It was not completely unlike the first Catholic mass I attended many years before, in that it was unfamiliar to the point of being alien–I grew up attending southern, black, Baptist churches.  In both cases, I felt like an interloper, conspicuous in my ignorance of when to stand and when to sit and when to kneel, when to speak and what to say, which text I should be referring to, and generally how to comport myself.

But the experiences of visiting these two new and unfamiliar worlds were also substantively different because of the actions of one congregant at Grace.  It wasn’t until I was driving back home that I realized that she had subtly moved down the pew in front of me to put herself in my line of sight, that the “coincidence” that she caught my questing or worried glances and quietly pointed out passages by lifting her own materials high enough for me to see them was no coincidence at all.  She was, without being pushy or presumptuous an attentive and effective ambassador for the congregation.  And I sincerely wish I would have realized what was going on in the moment, I would have thanked her profusely, because my comfort on that day (and my comfort in making a subsequent visit) were largely the result of her generosity.

Many of us in craft beer are accustomed to being lecturers, tour guides, gurus, and friendly adversaries, but we are far less often careful and attentive ambassadors–a role that requires more listening than is customary for a consumer culture that is in many ways defined by how much it talks to itself.

Suggestion 5: Engage in Uncommon Community Partnerships

My final suggestion is to find uncommon ways to do something that craft beer has traditionally done very well–develop partnerships (formal or informal, temporary or permanent) with other groups, businesses, and organizations.  I’ve already seen many wonderful examples–beer dinners, food truck rodeos, yoga sessions, live music festivals, art openings, knitting circles, running club meet-ups, vintage pop-up stores, roller derby training, farmers markets, CSA pick-ups, and more.  If it could be quantified, my guess is that these kinds of activities already do much to expand the customer base for many craft breweries.  I would also hazard a guess that, on average, craft beer has barely begun to explore the potential to expand and diversify with these kinds of activities.

The fact is craft beer community partnerships are often drawn from the same demographic well.  That is to say, it’s a good bet that most of the partnership opportunities I named above appear in one of satirist Christian Lander’s books.  Forming uncommon partnerships may require a leap of faith, a cold call, an awkward first meeting, and the accumulation of a couple of “no’s” .  These aren’t small things, I realize, but I suspect their costs will be negligible in comparison to what craft beer stands to gain in return.

Consumer cultures, no matter how vibrant, are the products of a profit imperative. I realize that this inevitably places limits on what we can expect any industry to take up, to invest in, to champion.  I am a realist.  But I also question the logic that assumes that anything that an industry and its consumer culture take up must be realized in revenue to be deemed worthwhile. I am also an incurable idealist.  In this conversation, as in many things, there are shades of gray to consider and nuances to be explored.  I hope these thoughts have the effect of expanding the gray, multiplying possibilities, and keeping this important conversation going.

 


I would like to sincerely thank Dr. Annie Sugar for turning me on to Julia Herz‘s thoughts on Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz.  These thoughts, like so many of Ms. Herz’s, are interesting and well-informed and consequently, inspired me to write this blog entry. Cheers to you both!

I Thought it was Hate, but it might be Laziness that’s Tearing Us Apart

I will come right out and admit it.

I have been hiding, shielding myself from current events, only spoon-feeding myself the barest facts about the horrors that have gripped our nation for the past week.  I have almost entirely closed my eyes to social media, not wanting to slog through the mire of knee-jerk responses, hateful trolling, and outright stupidity.  This is, for those who know me, a nearly total reversal of course.

It will be temporary, but right now, for my own reasons…I just can’t.

I acknowledge that this ability, to turn down and tune out, is one born of my conditions of privilege.  There are many who do not have this option.  I do not feel guilty for taking advantage of this privilege in order to attend to my heath right now  (mental and physical), but I am a firm believer that my privilege confers responsibility.  I am responsible for paying forward the wellbeing my privilege affords me today and I feel this responsibility even more acutely when I am unable to meet the bar.  Soon, efforts will be redoubled, risk taken, sh*t kicked, but for now I am resting and healing.

One of the few pieces of media that I have managed to consume over the past few days was this tweet from former congressman and nationally syndicated radio host Joe Walsh.  (Yes, this is the same Joe Walsh who garnered hours of media attention for his tweet declaring war against POTUS and the Black Lives Matter movement).

walsh_tweet

However, I want to set aside the generally heinousness nature of Mr. Walsh’s rhetoric.  It is exhausting and thoroughly unoriginal.  Rather, I want to draw attention to a number of “formal” elements of this tweet in particular, because they seem–depressingly enough–to be emblematic of a set of emerging genre conventions.

The Importance of Genre

Some of you are rolling your eyes.  You are thinking, “leave it to an academic to undertake something as esoteric as a genre analysis of a tweet in response to some really heavy, really real f*ckery going on in the world. Enjoy the ivory tower a**hole!”  It’s okay.  I think this way a lot of the time.  It happens to be one of my most frequent modes of self-critique.  But I am giving myself some leeway on this one and I hope the eye-rollers among you will give me a moment to explain.

Merriam-Webster defines a genre as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” I think most of us have the intellectual flexibility to extend the concept of genre beyond texts and artifacts that are traditionally understood as artistic, musical, or literary compositions to elements of popular culture–even to tweets.  But genre isn’t just about classification.  Genre does more than simply group things that are alike.  Genre establishes expectations, contextualizes our perceptions, and serves as criteria for making subjective judgments.  In short, genre is a technology for shaping meaning and in this way it can shape the way we experience and understand the world around us.

Take a banal example: the rom-com.  The romantic comedy’s genre conventions are so ubiquitous and so firmly codified that most adults of my age could draft a screenplay for a Meg Ryan flick in a couple of hours.  Now, imagine staring at a blank screen. You are going to watch a rom-com. The opening credits have not yet begun, but you already know some things.  You know that if circumstances conspire to keep the protagonist and their love interest apart, this is not occasion to mourn–things will eventually work out.  You know that frequent acts of stalking and codependent obsessiveness should be understood as “romantic devotion.”  You know, almost precisely, the contours of the unthreatening, nostalgia-tinged bemusement you will feel when the closing credits roll.  In knowing the genre, you know what to expect, you know how to understand the actions that unfold, and you will make judgements about the quality of this particular rom-com based on a set of largely-unspoken “rules” for this kind of film.

I used a thoroughly Hollywood example for a reason.  Hollywood recognized something in the power of genre that is often taken for granted. That is, genre provides a set of shortcuts.  Recycling sets, plots, characters archetypes, and methods of developing conflict makes filmmaking simpler (and more importantly, cheaper).  It makes film-watching efficient and satisfying for viewers in the way that wearing a threadbare T-shirt you’ve owned for 20 years can be.  And most pursuant to the argument I am making in this blog post, it cultivates a particular kind of laziness.

Genres in (t)ruth-Telling

What happens when we aren’t talking about films, or literature, or music, etc?  What happens when we are talking about politicians and influential media personalities?  What happens when we aren’t talking about the fine arts, but the art of persuasion–the art of telling the (t)ruth?  More importantly, what are the consequences of making shortcuts in (t)ruth-telling?  What happens when genre cultivates laziness among the producers and consumers of the (t)ruth?  We can use Mr. Walsh’s tweet above to delve into this question.

Let’s name this emerging genre. Betty Friedan taught us long ago that problems that go unnamed can be particularly insidious.  I’ll call it the Twitter Factish (Yes, this is nod to Bruno Latour. You’ll just have to come to terms with my Latourian ways).  In spite of copious amounts of evidence that it may be unrealistic, there still exists an expectation that information shared and spread by politicians and influential media personalities should be, at least on some level, true.  Thus the Twitter Factish, being pseudo-journalistic as a consequence of its authorship, is a (t)ruth-telling genre.  Specifically, it establishes the expectation that the content of the tweet has a degree of veracity than can be taken for granted,  it prompts consumers to contextualize the information communicated by these tweets as accurate summaries of complex issues, and it provides consumers with criteria with which to make “justifiable” value judgments.

Three observable genre conventions in particular facilitate these functions.

The Slight

The slight is generally a thinly-veiled negative assessment of an opposing person, group, and/or discourse. In this case, the tweet above came in the middle of Mr. Walsh’s twitter-storm, railing against social justice activists and POTUS (because, you know, it’s always Obama’s fault), both of whom expressed outrage over the shooting death of Alton Sterling.  Mr. Walsh’s statement that “Facts are stubborn things” accomplishes two things.  First, it establishes he and his followers as “users of facts” and by suggestion those with whom he disagrees with as “ignorers of facts,” allowing consumers of this tweet to make a negative value judgment of the opposition (they are ignorant, mislead, or delusional, etc.).  Second, it reinforces the expectation that tweets from Mr. Walsh are acts of (t)ruth-telling–as “facts” are (allegedly) deployed in the interest of (t)ruth.  (Yes, this is a little bit of cynicism.  Forgive me.)

The Reduction

The reduction involves a distillation of complex information to a single “takeaway.”  Twitter’s 140 character limit provides an excellent excuse for egregious generalizations and omissions.  In our example, Mr. Walsh states, “More white people die from cops than blacks” and provides completely unexplained “statistics” from 2015.  Immediately, we are to understand that this “fact” is the evidence that fact-users like Mr. Walsh and his supporters are presenting to undermine the legitimacy of  Black Lives Matter activists and anyone suggesting that the use of deadly force on the part of police might be influenced by race.

First, it’s worth noting that Mr. Walsh chose to use an oddly clunky phrasing when he might have used the more grammatically clear statement, “more white people killed by cops than blacks” for the same number of characters.  The differences between the verbs “die” (speculative and without specific culpability) and “killed” (concrete in the past tense and with very specific culpability)  shouldn’t go unnoticed.

But the more significant aspect of this reduction is how it strips this issue of complexity and thus distorts it enormously.  Mr. Walsh extracted two pieces of numerical information from a link (discussed below) that in turn extracted slightly more information from a Washington Post article detailing demographics about the number of people fatally shot by police in 2105.  From what was originally a wealth of information, Mr. Walsh reduced the “facts” to one–494 white individuals were fatally shot by police and 258 black individuals were fatally shot by police in 2015.  With this he made his argument…one is more than the other.

This is astonishing.

Let’s put aside for moment that the original source data reports  that 990 people were shot and killed by police in 2015 (an alarming number in itself).  What should be obvious here is that if race were not a significant factor in police fatalities, these fatalities should be occurring at a rate that is relatively consistent with the racial distribution of the general population. Some very quick math reveals that this is not the case. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 population estimates, white Americans make up 77.5% of the population and black Americans make up 13.2% of the population.  The data that Mr. Walsh (sort of but not really) cited reveals that in 2015, white Americans accounted for just 50% of fatal police shooting deaths and black Americans for 26%.  Thus, independent of reasons, it’s abundantly clear that black Americans are fatally shot by police at a much higher rate than white Americans.

But I don’t think we should stop investigating here.  It’s worthwhile to ask what the causes of these disproportional uses of fatal force might be.  The article that Mr. Walsh linked to in his tweet uses a spurious correlation to black-on-black homicide (which for the record occurs at only slightly higher rates than white-on-white homicide) to suggest that disproportionally high rates of fatal shootings by police among blacks are explained by unusually high rates of criminality in black communities.

Again, this is a reductive deployment of “facts.”  There are, in fact, higher documented rates of certain types of criminality in black communities.  However, it is important to consider two very important pieces of contextualizing information.  First, high rates of criminality in black communities are not a product of the race of the residents.  Rather, high rates of criminality in these communities is correlated with poverty.  For example, recent research published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics has uncovered some interesting trends about the correlation between violent crime and poverty.  Three of the most interesting findings are:

  • “Persons in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households.”
  • “Poor persons living in urban areas had violent victimization rates similar to poor persons living in rural areas”
  • “Poor urban blacks had rates of violence similar to poor urban whites.”

These data suggest that poverty, not race or neighborhood character, is the strongest predictor of violent victimization (being the victim of a violent crime)–and I think it’s reasonable to assume that the rates of falling victim to a violent crime in any given location are strongly correlated with the rates of commission of violent crimes in the same area.  Thus, the underlying issue is not that blacks (and thus black neighborhoods) are inherently more criminal, but that disproportionality more blacks live in poverty.  And while poverty has its own set of complex causes, we are a nation that is only half a century removed from a time when it was commonplace and perfectly legal to deny people housing (1968), jobs (1965), and educational opportunities (1954) based on their skin color.  When you consider that countless academic studies have determined that the strongest predictors of economic success are 1) parent income and 2) educational attainment (and that a recent Pell Institute study has determined that household income is the strongest predictor of college completion), it is very easy contextualize disproportionately high rates of poverty among blacks within a very recent history of systemic disadvantage.

The second piece of information has to do with the self-fulfilling nature of policing.  If impoverished black communities are understood to be more criminal, they are more actively policed.  More active policing results in more convictions.  More convictions provide justification for more policing.  The cycle continues.  But it’s important to understand that comparatively more documented criminal activity is at least in part a product of more active policing rather than more criminality.  Take for example recreational marijuana usage, still considered a criminal activity in most states, and something of a central focus of criminality among young urban black people.  Numerous peer-reviewed studies like this one and this one (not to mention the anecdotal information of anyone who has set foot on a residential college campus), suggest that marijuana usage is significantly higher among suburban (mostly white) young people than it is among young urban (mostly black) young people.  I think it’s worth asking, what if there was more active policing in these suburban communities?  Would this result in more documented arrests for possession and distribution?

I could go on digging into this information, speculating about causes, making connections and interpreting correlations.  The process of doing so wouldn’t lead me to simpler answers, rather it would lead me to assemble a more complex, and in its complexity a more accurate, picture of contemporary American society.  I happen to believe that this is how it should be–that (t)ruth-seeking should be a movement toward complexity and detail, that questions not statements should drive this process, that provisionality rather than certainly is the only ethical way to consider issues that are so obviously multifaceted.

The Link

The link is generally an explicit reference to external source material, whether it is an explicit hyperlink or simply an allusion to some colluding “authority.”  Interestingly, the link often does little more than provide a headline and featured image.  The fact of its existence, within the Twitter Factish genre, testifies for its legitimacy.  That is, we are not supposed to question the credibility or rigor of the source–blogs, fringe political websites, listicles, and memes created by neo-nazi sympathizers are all rendered credible source material by the Twitter Factish.  Even more unbelievably, politicians and media personalities no longer seem to think it necessary to vet the quality of the source material they use.

Symptom of a Trend toward Dangerous Laziness

When the Twitter Factish is put to work, much like Hollywood film genres, it cultivates a certain kind of laziness.  But instead of the result being bad formulaic movies, the result is dangerous reactionary thought.  It lulls social media audiences into accepting that tweets like Mr. Walsh’s above are the (t)ruth, when just a small amount of intellectual effort would uncover that the numbers he presented raise important questions at best and totally contradict his own argument through an act of racially-biased omission at worst.  When deployed as a genre of (t)ruth-telling, Twitter Factishes serve as the basis for people to make wildly unfair judgements about their fellow Americans.  They encourage people to reduce complex issues to ahistorical talking points with no consideration of context or history.

Of course the Twitter Factish is not itself the problem, but a symptom of what I personally (yes, I am owning this) believe might be a bigger problem than hate–or rather I believe that we might have the order of operations all wrong.  I have always believed that hate and fear makes people lazy thinkers, that hate motivates people to uncritically believe anything that justifies these emotions.  But I am starting to believe that it is just as likely that laziness makes people hateful and afraid.

I also want to be clear that while I used an example from a prominent (or at least loud) voice on the right, this kind of laziness is common in all camps.  The laziness that allows Mr. Walsh to reduce Black Lives Matter to an unjustified anti-police movement is matched by an equally dangerous laziness on the part of some activists who have arrived at the ridiculous conclusion that all police are malicious racists.  I, for one, am proof that it is more than possible to simultaneously support the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement and be extremely supportive of and sympathetic toward our police.   The laziness that empowers some people to loudly pronounce that rape culture does not exist is matched by the laziness that behind the assertion that if college football and fraternities were outlawed the problem would go somehow go away.  The laziness behind the mantra “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is matched by the laziness in assuming that the underlying causes of violence would be completely resolved if firearms were banned.

Things…particularly important things…are just not that easy. Courting nuance is hard and often frustrating work.  There are rarely satisfying answers to be had in such an approach to looking at the world.  But there are rewards–immeasuably awesome rewards–for undertaking this hard work.  I happen to think increases in compassion, reductions in hatred and fear, more effective perspective-taking, and more solution-orienated thinking are chief among them.

Guest Appearance on The Beer Curmudgeons Podcast

beercurmudgeonsI recently appeared as a featured guest on Episode #9 – “Why are we so male? Why are we so White?” of The Beer Curmudgeons podcast.  Collin and Sayre, the podcast’s hosts  are two amazing guys who are “elevating the discourse” around craft beer.  If you like thinking, and you like craft beer, and thinking about craft beer makes you feel all atwitter, you should definitely check it out!