The limits of modern outrage and that photo of Ask Sarkar with her orange lolly…

THERE is a short but timely book published next month by Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles, entitled “Outraged: Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking”.

Charles hosts The 1Extra Breakfast Show with Dotty. Two years ago, she wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian, “As a black, gay woman I have to be selective in my outrage. So should you.”

Her book grew from that article, and her thesis is a useful one in these opinion-dented days.

Here how it runs: outrage was once reserved for the truly unjust, for civil rights activists and suffragettes; it fought against police brutality, racism, unequal pay, it abolished slavery and conquered slavery.

Then social media came along and outrage became a cheapened currency, all shouting and no thinking, as so horribly represented by Donald Trump’s empty-vessel bellowing on Twitter.

Dotty includes in her book a cautious but revealing interview with Katie Hopkins, the disgraced queen of right-wing outrage. A timely exchange as Hopkins has just been booted off Twitter for promoting hate. This led to her supporters – yes, strangely, they do exist – to bleat on about free speech, forgetting that free speech comes with responsibilities.

Dotty began thinking about outrage after a social media scrap when the retailer H&M had revealed a jungle-themed collection featuring a black child wearing a monkey-printed hoodie. She felt under pressure to be outraged, to join in the shouting, but was bothered that collective outrage had gathered in such a small but noisy cul-de-sac. Was this now the only purpose of outrage, she wondered?

If you spend too much time on Twitter – guilty as charged – you will be exposed to endless outrage. Oddly, quite a lot of the bleating comes from right-wing commentators who consider themselves a persecuted minority, a grievance that hardly stands up in a country where the right is nearly always in power.

What you will also see is hateful abuse of high-profile women. An unpleasant example occurred over the weekend when something silly accidentally collided with something truly horrendous.

Ash Sarkar is a journalist and lecturer who often gets under the skin of those on the right. Older white men seem particularly outraged by her brand of left-wing, anti-racist, anti-imperialist politics. The opinions of a furiously eloquent young Asian woman seem too much for them to bear.

Sarkar tweeted a picture of herself siting in a park in Hackney, East London, eating an orange ice lolly. For reasons that initially escaped this ledge-bound old dinosaur, she included an emoji of three oranges with her post. She did so, she later said, because there were three orange objects in the picture.

This silly little photo – fun, pleasant and, well, young – was pounced on by haters who mistakenly believed that Sarkar was sitting in the same park in Reading where three men had just been killed. They also imbued those three oranges with a dark political significance, insisting they symbolised terrorism.

Down in the Twitter basement, the hate started to boil. “What an absolute vile piece of filth…” began one tweet that became far nastier after that.

Ask Sarkar expresses strong opinions all the time, it’s her stock in trade, her selling point. Those who dislike what she has to say should argue back reasonably without descending to misogyny and the hateful babble of outrage. And without, for heaven’s sake, issuing anonymous death threats because she posts a photo of herself eating an orange ice lolly.

I am not sure why she thought that photo was for general consumption, as it looked like the sort of thing you might send a friend. That’s probably just an age thing. I’d never post a photo of myself eating an orange ice lolly as it would almost certainly be dripping down my T-shirt.

We should be able to discuss and disagree without turning into demented loons addicted to outrage.

Here, with that in mind, is an encouraging letter from today’s edition of The Times…

Sir, There were several articles in Saturday’s comment section (Jun 20) with which I profoundly disagreed. Keep up the good work….

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