Blogger and activist Shaun King has had quite the summer.
He's been accused in various right-leaning media outlets of making up or significantly overstating the extent of an alleged hate crime of which King says he was a victim in high school. And, he's been accused of -- well, you had to know that this was coming soon -- trying to pull a Rachel Dolezal.
That's right: King has been accused of claiming falsely to be both biracial and the victim of a hate crime. King has fired back with his own response detailing what he says are his real life experiences, racial makeup, identity and family composition. And he's done the now almost obligatory CNN interview and he's been the subject of all sort of public psychoanalysis. But the entire affaire de King highlights some very interesting developments in American culture.
The King media whirlwind shines a bright light on the way that writers for nakedly-ideological websites operate; on the country's stunningly antiquated grasp of race and family; and on our enduring blend of both fascination and disdain for hypocrisy -- real and alleged.
Let's take those one at a time, shall we?
King, who works with a number of anti-police brutality and misconduct causes including Black Lives Matter, also writes for The Daily Kos, the left-leaning and openly pro-Democrat political blog. King has written about social and racial justice matters for the site; his title is "justice correspondent." And it's likely the latter, or perhaps the combination of writing about alleged police misconduct and institutional racism for The Daily Kos and one story in particular, that led Vicki Pate, the conservative blogger behind Re-NewsIt! to dig into King's past and, in her words, "stalk" his social media accounts. King has written about racially-motivated bullying he experienced at his small-town Kentucky high school -- bullying which he says culminated in a group attack in which he suffered serious injuries. He has publicly identified himself as black or bi-racial, and said that his mother is white and his biological father African American. King says a second man, who is white, signed his birth certificate.
Enter Re-NewsIt!, Breitbart, The Daily Caller and The Blaze. The list may well go on, but since some sites simply link out, rewrite, aggregate or "borrow" (that's the nice word for it) copy from these Web sites, we'll stop there. Beginning in June, each of those conservative news sites and blogs have dug deep into the public records trail of King's life. They've looked at his birth certificate, previous addresses and social media accounts, his family tree and police accounts of the alleged group beating. And certainly, they found some interesting details there, not the least of which are a birth certificate that lists two white parents and a police report that describes the high school incident in much different terms than the ones King has used. With the exception of Re-NewsIt!, each of the publications have also made it clear that King declined to comment when contacted.
And if there aren't enough dotcoms and metanarrative mentioned above for your taste, consider this tidbit: On Thursday, Gawker published its takedown of Brietbart's King takedown. Gawker, of course, recently ran into a spot of trouble digging into the personal life of media executive David Geithner. Geithner also happens to be the brother of President Obama's first-term Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner .
So what you have here are a series of bloggers, who write with a particular political perspective and set of aims in mind at all times. You have someone of likely complex racial ancestry, or at least family composition and a blogger activist who (as he explained in detail in his own piece) has identified as black and bi-racial at different points in his life. And you have questions raised -- on social media, of course -- about his claims regarding a high school beating that have now spilled over into questions about his professional work and credibility.
There are also bits of borderline hypocrisy and rich irony for people across the political spectrum to behold. Left-leaning bloggers have made a practice of unearthing old speeches, public statements and even private activities that speak to a history or past characterized by bigotry of any kind while championing the importance of civil rights and civil liberties. On the right, where disowning the country's racist history and denying it's import in the present is a matter of almost ideological orthodoxy, claims that race does not matter at all proliferate. But in this case, right-leaning media outlets have picked apart King's story about an alleged racially-motivated hate crime and at least strongly implied that the truth about King's racial background and the fight itself makes King and his work meritless. (For his part, King wrote in the Daily Kos that his family history and parentage are not accurately reflected in public records.) Then, of course, there's the utter irony of someone tracking a movement that began on social media possibly being ruined by it.
What a totally modern mess.
There are, perhaps, a few valuable takeaways here for the rest of us.
When you write, and then participate in the things you write about -- or go a step further, and write about yourself participating in the things you write about -- you have to be prepared for any public scrutiny to eventually delve into what you may consider the personal corners of your life. And when you make public work of critiquing other people's private lives, this too may leave you vulnerable to the probing eyes and minds of people who stand ready to root out hypocrisy. Americans love that. And, that would seem to be the difficulty currently faced by one Josh Duggar, one-time employee of Family Research Council Action, a conservative lobbying group that has opposed gay marriage and supports, what the group considers traditional family values. This week we learned Duggar also ranks among those recently outed as a user of a hacked on-line dating site for married people seeking affairs. Several weeks ago, Duggar's name was in the headlines when reporters found public records indicating that Duggar had sexually abused girls, including some of his sisters, while still a teen.
That said, as the number of biracial Americans and those who are part of or create blended families continues to grow, it may also be wise for those who want to out so-called racial hoaxsters to embrace and fully explore the complex reality of race and even hate crime reporting in the United States. While the racial categories and options our public documents offer have remain largely unchanged for a decade or so, the number of people who by birth, choice or long ago and involuntary interactions are some combination of races and ethnicities isn't getting smaller. Neither are the number of families and households that at points include step-kids, formally and informally adopted members, and half-siblings. Add to that the fact that hate crimes reporting -- everything from what police record to which crimes are accurately identified or misidentified as hate crimes -- is notoriously spotty.
In fact, all of that was part of Rachel Dolezal's story too.
The personal can indeed be political. And that can get pretty messy.