Today in Tabs: What Is Code If You’ve Been Publicly Black, by Jon Ronson

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Today in Tabs: What Is Code If You’ve Been Publicly Black, by Jon Ronson
[Photos: Flickr users Jeffery MacEachern, r. nial bradshaw]

On Thursday, Bloomberg Businessweek released the digital version of a special double issue comprising one 38,000 word article by Paul Ford titled “What Is Code?” and questions surfaced about whether Rachel Dolezal, the leader of the Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter, had lied about being black for years. The sheer length of “What is Code?,” comparable to a whole book for children aged 8-12 (without many pictures!), proved daunting to some readers, and it was widely summarized and aggregated. As active as she was on social media, it didn’t take long for details of Dolezal’s life and deception to emerge. She claimed to have been born in a teepee in Montana, and said that her family “hunted their food with bows and arrows.” Slate’s Will Oremus offered a pretty standard #Slatepitch, claiming that you’d understand code better by simply coding, rather than reading Ford’s whole opus. This is wrong on two different levels, since the article is more about the world programmers created (ours) and inhabit (theirs) than it is about how to actually code, but also if you’ve never touched an IDE before and want to, “What is Code?” should still provide an excellent idea of how you might begin.


The internet initially found the Rachel Dolezal story hilarious, but you could feel the Takes massing on the horizon. Jon Ronson almost immediately found a way to tie Dolezal to his apparently endless book marketing (more on this from Intern Romy below), and we learned way too much about Dolezal’s vajayjay. Paul Ford made the rounds promoting the Businessweek issue, making Friday “Behind the ‘What is Code?’ Day” on Gawker, Motherboard, and On the Media, and the behind-the-scenes interviews rolled on through the weekend.

The NAACP stated that it wasn’t really going to say anything about Dolezal, but the story achieved tersely worded reply-all status on Sunday as Dolezal attempted to cancel today’s chapter meeting. Unlike most (possibly all?) magazine issues, “What is Code?” also exists in the form of a Github repository (if you’re not sure what that is, you should read the article). As of this writing, 24 pull requests have been accepted fixing various important problems in the text, html, and accompanying technical demos. Buzzfeed’s Adam Serwer wrote that “What makes [Dolezal’s] such a quintessentially American story is that it reaffirms both the fiction of race and racism’s unending power over social interaction in American life,” and in Slate, Jamelle Bouie wrote about some of the history of black-to-white “passing”, concluding thoughtfully:

If it’s troubling, it’s at least partly because it feels like Dolezal is adopting the culture without carrying the burdens. And with the fake father and the fake children, it seems like she’s deceiving people for the sake of an à la carte blackness, in which you take the best parts, and leave the pain aside.

The “What is Code?” Github is also the home of the most predictable and characteristic response from the programming community. The CTO of npm politely noted that the company doesn’t consider its name to stand for “node package manager”, and was immediately actually-ed by a rando, kicking off a debate that eventually drew in Paul, who pointed out that npm’s own man page calls it “node package manager”, but was himself contradicted by a Github commit showing that as of January that very page has been updated to refer to npm as “javascript package manager”. Nevertheless, the pull request was summarily closed, and now we will probably never learn whether jet fuel can melt steel beams or whether there really are any limits to WordPress. Today, Rachel Dolezal quit as head of the Spokane NAACP chapter, explaining “this is not me quitting,” and Jelani Cobb wrote the best thing I’ve read about it: “Black Like Her.” If you click on nothing else today, do read that.

Meanwhile, in Florida…

Remember Ed Champion? He really was that awful. Google sheep view. Nick Denton sparks a J, talks wrestling. Lol rich people: East coast. Lol rich people: West coast. Former Tabs intern Vicky Mochama makes good! And finally, Smash Mouth debuted an amazing new version of “All Star” in Colorado this weekend.

So Romy, I hear you have some more Jon Ronson tabs for us? Why don’t you take over while I go see who’s at the door.


SPOILER WARNING: This tab contains spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones (plot details/events), and your day (existence of Jon Ronson).

In an advertorial in Vanity Fair, Twitter-shame-to-book-publicity engine Jon Ronson made the Walk of Atonement scene in last night’s Game of Thrones all about dot him.

After slotting Cersei Lannister’s punishment into a very lightly re-edited excerpt from his book about real-world judicially-mandated public shaming, he brings up Justine Sacco to highlight the similarities between her and Cersei. Ronson makes something of a habit of defending white women; only a few days ago he followed up his smarmy tweet with a GQ interview about Rachel Dolezal, adjudicating the public discourse like a spindly, faux-naive Roman emperor intervening to save the unjustly mocked.

Ronson trades in false equivalency, and his Thrones piece ignores… well, a lot, but most especially the gendered element to Cersei’s punishment, which removed sexual agency from a character who has explicitly stated that her beauty is the only power she has. To make the kind of comparisons he did indicates, once again, that Ronson has very little interest or insight in the different ways male and female bodies move in the world (or in Westeros).

Is Ronson not very bright (unlikely)? Is he being willfully obtuse (much more likely)? Is he a provocateur who is less interested in logic than book sales (DING DING DING)? These questions would take more time than an Intern has to fully answer. Perhaps the only person who could truly solve the Ronson riddle is Ronson himself. If only he weren’t prevented from looking inward by the law of his kind, lest he read his own name backward and be banished to his home dimension.

I know we have fun here on Tabs, but do you know what isn’t fun? Making fun of Jon Ronson. This kind of witch hunt, crusade, crucifixion, tearing-apart, literally rending limb from limb, and permanently injuring in a visceral, physical way by the actual fists and teeth of internet commenters that we’ve just seen is exactly the kind of thing handsome author Jon Ronson explores in his new book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” by Jon Ronson available now wherever books are sold. This is Rusty saying this, and not Jon Ronson, who would never break into Tabs headquarters in order to promote his new book (titled: “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” icymi). Nope.


Well, got to go now, I think I hear sirens!

Today’s Book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson

Today’s Author & Humanitarian: Jon Ronson

~Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me, Jon Ronson is the best author in the world~

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