Living Among Trolls

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Have you ever looked at The Roots comment section? You should. It is populated by smart, hilarious, opinionated readers who share their thoughts on news, opinion, politics, race and everything else under the sun. It’s where our audience engages in intelligent debate, expounds on articles and slaps virtual high-fives. If nothing else, you can always find the best memes on the internet in the comment section.

And then there are the trolls.

Even before we elected a short-fingered, lace-front liar to lead our country, we had become accustomed to trolls. If you participate in the phenomenon of social media, you can’t help encountering them. For every 10 astute, witty, reasonable people whom Cyberspace Jesus drops from internet heaven, the devil sends one vicious troll.


They are a minority of mean, antagonistic, slow-witted rabble-rousers with venom in their hearts, time on their hands and bad grammar in everything they write. They don’t want to contribute to any discussion or debate; they want to derail it. You never know when they will pop up, you just know that they will pop up out of nowhere and spray troll feces on all happiness, joy and reason with their disgusting hate.

I am fascinated by trolls. I do not usually engage them (only because I know the discourse will eventually devolve into them calling me “nigger”), but they intrigue me just the same. I wonder where their hate comes from, whether they have children and what they do for a living. If the internet is a cross section of America, then it stands to reason that we are often surrounded by a secret legion of undercover trolls hiding behind the barrier of internet anonymity. But who are these people? Are they like this in real life, and if so—are they that difficult to suss out?


We all know who they are.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is one of them. He has been on an extended rant all week, spouting “alt-right” dogma to his true believers. On Sunday he echoed the sentiments of the “white genocide” movement when he tweeted his support of anti-immigrant, right-wing nationalist Geert Wilders of the Netherlands:


The next day King appeared on an Iowa radio show and, because he is too dumb to dog-whistle, he failed again at suppressing his racist rhetoric. King told host Jan Mickelson not to worry about blacks and Hispanics overtaking the white population because he predicts that “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other before that happens.”

King’s statements set off a flurry of simultaneous actions. Conservatives smart enough to keep their Ku Klux Klan uniforms tucked in immediately distanced themselves from him. Flabbergasted progressive Caucasians ran to the nearest phone booths, donned their white-savior capes and began explaining how wrong he was. The media ran 1,012 different versions of, “Can you believe this guy?”


But it was black Americans who collectively had the most genuine, revealing reaction of all:

They shrugged.

Have you ever looked at America?

It is mostly filled with hardworking, well-intentioned people of all shapes, sizes and colors. Most of them want to scratch out a living, find their niche, raise a family, fall in love and live happily ever after. Aside from the First Nations people, it is a country composed mostly of “others” who were desperate, crazy or strong enough to make it across an ocean. Damn near every single one of us wants the same thing: freedom.


And then there are the trolls.

Black people are used to trolls. We exist alongside a legion of anonymous antagonists who hide behind smiles and social norms, but we know they are out there. For every well-meaning, good-hearted American, there exists an equally vicious heart that manifests their hate and prejudice in real life. There are flesh-and-blood people behind those racist comments and tweets. They live next door and down the street. There are people who voted for Steve King.


As you’re goofing off at work right now reading The Root (and we thank you for it), there is someone else in your office doing the exact same thing—only that person is reading Breitbart. We aren’t concerned with trolls like Donald Trump or Steve King. It’s the invisible ones who make us paranoid.

Trolls like Dan Close, a Trump supporter who posted homophobic, racist rants on social media for years. It is easy to dismiss people like Close when he begs people to vote for Trump “so Muslims could be butchered”—except he teaches history and government at an Oklahoma High School.


There are undercover rabble-rousers like Josh Doggrell, who was a longtime member of the League of the South—a kinder, gentler Klan. Doggrell was so loyal to the white nationalist cause, he was chosen to speak at the group’s national conference. Aside from his dedication to creating a “godly nation dominated by European Americans,” Doggrell lived a simple quiet life—as a police officer in Anniston, Ala.

The most unremarkably simple-minded trolling comment of all time is “Go back to Africa.” It is so overused, it barely even moves the needle of the black anger meter anymore. But Mark Hulsey was a Florida Circuit Court judge when he said black people should “go get back on a ship and go back to Africa.”


These are the troubling trolls. All around you, there are teachers, police officers, judges and politicians who are the quiet underbelly of hate in America. Some refer to them as “ghost skins”—members of hate groups who display no outward signs of allegiance. The FBI’s counterterrorism unit even admits that white supremacists have infiltrated and maintain “an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies.”

To be black is to live in America’s comment section. It is having to consider if your children’s teacher secretly hates them. It is thinking the police officer who pulled you over would rather see you dead. It is wondering if prisons are a judge’s version of “back to Africa.” It is a constant tightrope balance between reasonable paranoia and sanity. If you have ever asked yourself why some black people “make everything about race,” or wonder why some black people are seemingly mistrusting of whiteness ...


Have you ever visited the comment section?

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About the author

Michael Harriot

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.