Updated opinions

In my time at The Daily, the University of Washington’s student-run newspaper, I wrote nearly 100 articles. Most of those, especially early in my career, were for the opinion and arts sections of the paper, and were often zero-source articles on hot-button issues which I based on my own opinions and observations.

I was 20 or 21 when I wrote most of these pieces, old enough to have an opinion but frequently too young to understand what I was writing about. With hindsight, I now understand that I was, at times, parroting the opinions of others around me, responding to arguments I didn’t fully understand, or projecting the complex emotions of my youth where they didn’t belong.

As I move forward in my career as a journalist, I also want to update, clarify, or even completely disavow some of those articles, since my opinions have evolved in the time since I wrote them. I opened the Pandora’s Box by writing on these issues in the first place, so I intend to give my honest opinion on them now, with the understanding that my opinions will continue to evolve. I will only critique my old beliefs or factual mistakes, not my writing style or any grammatical / spelling errors.

Since I’m not longer at student at the UW and I have no ability to update those articles directly, I am using this space to do so. What follows are my updated stances on every opinionated piece I wrote as a student, last updated on 9/22/2019. News articles are generally not included, as are most reviews of music / movies / etc. If you think I made a mistake in overlooking something, let me know.

One more note: some stories will be marked with “MUWR” — that means that, looking back, I should have made the piece more UW relevant by tying in my point to some issue going on locally. A newspaper’s editorial or opinion section should relate to the local concerns of its readership, not solely national or international topics.

1. Marijuana too dangerous? Why not just use cocaine?

Should be MUWR. Otherwise, no changes.

2. The Take: Cultural appropriation – What’s appropriation, and what’s appropriate?

Should be MUWR. This is also a case where I picked a random internet user’s argument as my foil — it makes for an easy puff piece, but its relevance to the actual topic, as it affects our university, is weak. Unavoidably, it brings up race and racism.

I didn’t explicitly take a side in the debate over the definition of racism in the article. At the time I hadn’t made up my mind and was afraid to stake out a stance. This is where my thoughts are at now:

First, ‘racism’ is an essentially contested concept. Not only do arguments about it very often fail to achieve a consensus on what it means, but the very meaning of ‘racism’ forms a huge part of those arguments.

‘Racism,’ pragmatically, is an umbrella term that refers to many kinds of prejudicial acts, structures, and beliefs. We lump racially motivated assaults, racial differences in funding for schools and other public services, and the way non-white people are processed differently in the criminal justice system all into one word; that’s maddening amount of things to lump under one term.

So, second, most of us are more likely to use a stipulative definition for racism, or one based in our opinion on what kinds of acts commonly thought of as ‘racist’ are the most damaging or harmful kind. In practical terms, ‘racism’ as a singular word (and not as an umbrella term) means, in my opinion, what you believe is the most significant or actually damaging kind of racial prejudice.

A joke about white people’s cooking on Twitter might be racist in the most literal, technical definition of the word, but I would not consider it racist in a way that is actually significant or damaging. 

And finally, if you ask me how I’d define racism, this is what I would say: racism is actions, behaviors or systems that significantly affect a person or people in unfair ways because of their race. This definition includes actions toward white people, not just from them, but only those of significance. So I also find Ijeoma Oluo’s definition useful: Racism is “a prejudice against someone based on race, when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power.” Anything more specific is beyond the scope of this response here.

4. Why the members of the Wesboro Baptist Church are American Heroes

(Hopefully) obvious satire. Should be MUWR. Otherwise, no changes.

5. Diversity in dance

No changes.

6. Combating sexual assault in schools

No changes.

7. The Take: Democratic debate – Black Lives Matter is about empathy

No changes.

8. The Take: Conspiracy Theories – Why don’t we care about our rights?

No changes.

9. I’m a boy, so I’m not spoiled – Prince Charming and the brat

I would probably disagree with my former interpretation of “prince” vs “princess” — I think they both have similar affectionate and pejorative meanings. But I do still think that some attributes I had (and have) were interpreted differently because of my gender.

10. A sticky situation

This is probably the first piece on the list that, overall, I regret writing. It was in response to the first article by Charles Mudede that I’d ever read, which meant I had no context to understand his writing style or the broader philosophical ideas he writes under. (I’ve since become a fan.)

For one, I didn’t really grok his argument, which was not simply about who enjoys the wall now that it’s established as a cultural edifice, but who decides what is allowed to become a cultural edifice in the first place. (Space in a city is not unlimited, and so we implicitly endorse the existence of whatever we allow to stay in it.)

I wrote that the wall is more of a monument to “cynical capitalism” than “white privilege,” which is sort of like calling a tea kettle “white-ish red” instead of “pink.” observation to make. And probably most embarrassingly, I wrote condescendingly toward a Seattleite and writer with vastly more knowledge and understanding of the city than I wielded.

In conclusion: like I said myself in the piece: “I very well may be wrong about the gum wall.” So I recant my piece on it, and instead posit that I am not knowledgeable enough to speak on the gum wall.

11. Thankful for: Mental Health Acceptance

No changes.

12. No job is beneath you

This piece is melodramatic, and thankfully proven wrong in my own case. The core idea that you might have to work unpleasant jobs while pursuing your dreams is true, as is the fact that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in doing so. But the market, for me, was not as dismal as I thought it’d be. It is certainly possible to get into your industry relatively quickly with the right blend of hard work, luck, and privilege. I can only speak for my own experience.

13. Art to Heart: On loving Star Wars, from a superfan

I regret referring to the movie “Star Wars” as “A New Hope,” which it was renamed to in its 1981 theatrical re-release. This is not sarcasm. I am genuinely embarrassed to have made this mistake.

14. The Overanalyzer: ‘Hotline Bling’

Drake probably knew what he was doing with this song and my attempt to analyze his intentions was ill-conceived. But otherwise I stand by my critique of the song itself.

15. Six steps to recovering from privilege

This is not the most nuanced take ever written on the subject, and could have used a bit more ‘time on the stove’ by including voices from experts and political organizers. I would probably refer to “amplifying” people’s voices rather than saying they have “no voice” in the first place. I also am not an authority on what goes on in Roland Emmerich’s mind when casting his films. Otherwise, I stand by the article.

16. The Overanalyzer: “White Privilege II”

In referring to Black Lives Matter in paragraph 9, I should have been more specific; I meant people who self-identify as members of the movement, not the movement itself.

17. There’s nothing (legally) wrong with the Pink Tax

Really needs to be MUWR. It’s also a bit of a straw man that really should have spoken more to things like the tampon tax, which I only briefly mention. Otherwise, no changes.

18. Boys and girls can be friends

I definitely no longer believe that “most, but not all, of the sexually inappropriate behavior we observe in men and women tends to happen when they’re in their teens and 20s,” but otherwise, no changes.

19. The Overanalyzer: ‘Sorry’

No changes.

20. Antonin Scalia: A retrospective

I’ll scale back my claim that we can’t ethically gloat over someone’s death. I wrote from a position that is easy to take as a detached outsider but which ignores affected people’s very real reasons for having strong emotions when someone passes away. And the distinction between “celebrate someone’s death” and “celebrate what someone’s death means” might be so thin that, practically speaking, it doesn’t exist.

Also: plenty of bad people were fathers, husbands and friends, and it shouldn’t sugarcoat how they are remembered.

21. The Overanalyzer: ‘Work’

This piece needed more research, and I don’t know enough about the Caribbean world and its linguistics to be speaking as an authority. In fact, I committed a sort of journalistic faux pas in presenting the article as my own ideas when I was really inspired to write it by this Nerdwriter video. If you’re interested in the argument presented in this article, just go watch his video — I was basically ripping him off anyway.

My overall point about appreciating music other than that of your own culture is fine, but I really ought to have either researched this song better or left the subject to someone more knowledgeable.

22. The Dean Scream versus The Trump Bump

No changes.

23. The Overanalyzer: ‘Stressed Out’

No changes.

24. Here’s the thing: Diversity of belief isn’t fatal to our nation

No changes, but I do regret this column in general. The articles I wrote for it combined many of my bad habits: focusing on non-local issues, delivering broad platitudes instead of specific arguments, and often, unconsciously trying to virtue signal to my peers.

25. Microsoft, Tay, and the power of a group— Don’t listen to the violent minority

MUWR. Also, as a clarification, my argument here isn’t that the 4chan users involved in the hijacking of Tay did so only for explicitly racist/sexist/(etc.)ist reasons. The expressed goal of the campaign may not have been to promote those ideologies, but that was the outcome. Users that contribute to the intentionally offensive, politically incorrect, and bigoted noise that pops up across the internet do so for both pure entertainment and earnest attempts at indoctrination. (Many, maybe most, sit somewhere in the gray area between the two.) Otherwise, no changes.

26. The Overanalyzer: ‘Hide Away’

Looking back on it, this column sure was called The Overanalyzer for a reason. But I’d make no changes.

27. Here’s the thing: We can not tolerate sexual harassment

This piece is thin on content but heavy on self-aggrandizement and big words. It doesn’t accomplish saying much beyond “grabbing someone without consent is bad.” There’s nothing wrong with repeating that mantra, but to justify an entire article around it without some deeper analysis was lazy and a bit self-serving. Most of all, I cringe a bit at myself trying to grace women with the revolutionary insight that they have autonomy over their own bodies.

28. A guide to using weed safely and legally in Seattle

I ought to have at least acknowledged why I happened to be fortunate enough to have never gotten in trouble for smoking pot, and the broader social reasons for that good fortune: I didn’t use cannabis for the first time until after it had already been legalized in the state, and I tended to use it in social settings that are far less heavily policed than others (specifically, among other decently well-off college students.)

29. The Overanalyzer: ‘Run for Your Life’

I’m making an argument that’s more than 50 years old here. Like other pieces on this list, the argument is fine, but it’s drawn out, relies on cherry-picked evidence, and doesn’t reach an interesting enough conclusion to justify itself.

30. Here’s the thing: Representation matters

MUWR. And I didn’t know enough either then or now to make a really rigorous assessment of whether Andrew Jackson is worthy of being placed on a bill.

I also made a pretty damn creative argument in my last three paragraphs to try to weasel my way out of the real point made in that Guardian article. I didn’t really address the substance of the argument, and I’m not really sure what my response to it would be today.

Otherwise, no changes.

31. The Overanalyzer: ‘Thank God for Girls,’ Weezer

No changes.

32. Here’s the thing: Loudness isn’t just noise

No changes, but again, I’m not sure that there’s much being said here that we don’t already understand.

33. The Overanalyzer: ‘The Numbers,’ Radiohead

No changes.

34. Here’s the thing: On voting philosophies

I ended up voting for Clinton, not Stein, after I actually read more of Stein’s platform and found many ideas which I fundamentally disagree with, such as ‘jobs as a right.’ And I treat that vote for Clinton as both an idealistic and pragmatic vote, although there certainly could have been other candidates I would have liked to see become president.

35. What the University of Chicago got wrong about trigger warnings & safe spaces

No changes.

36. Finding faith again

No changes.

37. The take: To be a father

It sounds odd, but at some level I think I was exaggerating my feelings in this piece. I still like the idea of fatherhood and know I would enjoy it, but I probably wouldn’t write an article about it now.

38. College Republicans argue for free speech, openness at the UW

No changes.

39. What’s next? A glimpse into the next four years

This piece reads now to me very melodramatic, but as overwrought as the language comes off, I wouldn’t make any substantial changes.

40. Hate wins: The only way is forward

This was a newsroom editorial, meaning I was only one of a dozen people who wrote it but am still 100% responsible for any ideas in it.

I’d maybe tool around more with the wording if I were to rewrite it now. If anything, now is very much the time to be ‘impartial’; ‘ambivalent’ would have been a more clear way to express what the second paragraph is getting at.

Otherwise, no changes. I still agree with the central conceit of the article.

And to quote it directly: “Do not lash out against opinions different from your own.  Seek to understand and educate instead. It’s not easy to admit, but divisiveness and alienation on both sides led to this outcome. We must do better, together.”

41. Protest: A public good

I still agree with the core message of the article, which is that protest which disrupts and annoys the general public is protest that actually achieves something. My thoughts on the substance on some of those protests have become more complicated, though. I didn’t know enough about the harms or goods of building the new youth jail or homeless camp evictions to stake out an opinion. Surely those policies both appear jarring and ethically dubious at first glance, but I am not enough of an expert to trace out whether they’re a net good or bad. If I ever get back into Seattle politics, I’ll spend some time educating myself on them.

42. Ridiculous anti-white politics are threatening people of color in Seattle

This piece garnered the most attention, backlash, and anxiety from any opinion piece I’ve written. First, here is my medium article where I address my thoughts on it pretty fully. That should cover the substance of the article itself.

Looking back at the article again, two things are apparent. One, the poster seems almost certainly to be a satirical mockery of Antifa, and bait for people who would be offended by it… bait which I took hook, line and sinker. Two, it’s clearly aimed toward white people, and the premise of my article, while not wrong, strictly speaking, was so far off from engaging with the lunacy of the poster that it should have been completely revised or scrapped completely.

This piece was a learning experience for me, and marked the final opinion piece I would ever write at the student newspaper. For a couple of reasons, it solidified my switch to true news writing.

It also taught me that this kind of opinion writing: heated, passionate, filled with righteous fury, doesn’t really come naturally to me. And when I try to force it, or draw from it without taking some time to cool down and edit afterwards, I can end up writing pieces that lack clarity and are born out of my own mental blind spots and biases.

Finally, I’ll address the line “dating really is hard as a white guy” and the surrounding paragraph. This was a now-embarrassing turn into the personal and one that, even then, wasn’t really true. I wish I could scrub it clean from the internet entirely. The concerns I vaguely alluded to didn’t really exist. Of course certain situations can bring awkwardness and uncomfortable-ness with them for a mixed-race couple and deserve reflection, but I distorted that into something that didn’t come off clearly, and honestly, makes me cringe a little bit to read now.

Given that the original piece is still receiving new comments well into 2018, I have no doubt that it will crop up now and again for me, so I hope people who stumble on it also stumble on my later reflections toward it.

43. 2017 ASUW endorsements

No changes.

44. The Daily’s seniors say goodbye: Alex Bruell

No changes.

45. The Daily’s 2017 King County Election Endorsements

No changes.

46. Album review: ‘Utopia,’ Björk

I gave “Sue Me” a raw deal, and although I still find the track a little mundane instrumentally, the lyrics are more interesting and important to Björk’s canon than I gave them credit for.

47. Murray fails to take responsibility for sexual abuse allegations; Editorial Board faults Murray

I originally signed this editorial, then chose to remove my name after the ed. board decided to update it with a stronger condemnation of Ed Murray that included calling on him to step down. (I don’t fault that decision at all; I simply didn’t feel that I personally could go that far, so I didn’t want to misapply my name to the piece at that point.) Other than that addition, I agreed with the editorial and still do now.

Murray ended up resigning, which I don’t believe ultimately proves anyone right or even demonstrates fault. The serious accusations against him became enough of a gray cloud for his position that he felt it was right to resign and prevent them from clouding the role of the mayor. The entire process was ugly and painful, but it ended with a $75,000 settlement toward Simpson. Whether or not that represents some kind of justice is only known to Mr. Simpson and Mr. Murray.

48. Debate Club: Title IX

I regret jumping into this video without having done more research on the topic. I made the point in this video that the campus hearings over sexual misbehavior are not criminal trials. The goal isn’t to convict someone of a crime, but to swiftly take action to keep students safe. So there’s not an obligation for the standards to be the same.

Still, I didn’t familiarize myself with the actual arguments that supporters of Devos’ decision made. For one, accused students who are found to be at fault from these hearings face real consequences, such as expulsion. Wrongful accusations are rare but they do happen. There must be room to criticize the system that evaluates claims of sexual misbehavior.

After reading more on the topic, I don’t think I have much of an intelligent argument to make on the topic. My colleagues did a fine job expressing arguments on the topic. I’d rather defer to them. If you ask me my opinion on Devos’ Title IX changes now, my only truthful answer would be that I need to do more research.

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