Making Aaron Schlossberg Famous

Can Public Shaming be Good?

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Screenshot from Aaron Schlossberg’s racist rant in a Midtown Manhattan Fresh Kitchen

Aaron Schlossberg.

I know his name. Much of the world now knows his name. He’s had the honor of trending in the United States on Twitter. He will likely face sanctions from the New York State Bar Association and may even be in jeopardy of losing his license to practise law. He’d been anonymous. Now he’s famous.

This tweet is why:

On the morning of May 16, Aaron Schlossberg entered the Fresh Kitchen next door to his Manhattan law office and began berating two of the employees for carrying on a private conversation in Spanish. In his bizarre rant, he called them “illegals” whose welfare he was paying for (undocumented immigrants can’t receive public assistance) and threatened to call ICE on them. As if all that wasn’t horrible enough, he closed with fat-shaming, admonishing one of the women to, “Take a break from the food.” She responded in true New York fashion, telling him, “Maybe you should get hit by a car, you piece of shit?” (I hollered.)

Shaun King caught wind of the incident and activated his 967,000 Twitter followers, tasking them with discovering and exposing the identity of the man in the video. Tips soon revealed that Schlossberg had a history of accosting and verbally abusing New Yorkers he suspected of being immigrants.

King shared this new information with his followers, and the heat turned up. Within hours, he had a name and personal and professional information about Schlossberg. (Private Investigator Twitter always finds the receipts.)

The revelation that Schlossberg is an attorney sparked new waves of outrage. King and others, including New York Congressman Adriano Espaillat, filed complaints against Schlossberg with the state bar. King prodded his followers to do the same.

Schlossberg’s law firm’s Facebook page was inundated with scathing comments, as were the firm’s Yelp reviews. His Twitter infamy crossed over, and he made the nightly news.

But was all this a victory? Was it good?

In 2015, Jon Ronson, published his book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, in which he examined case studies of individuals who had been dragged on social media for violating social norms. Individuals like Justine Sacco.

Before hopping on a long flight to South Africa, Sacco tweeted out that she hoped she wouldn’t catch AIDS while there. I remember clearly her plane’s flight path being at the top of the Google search for her name — that’s how big the story had gotten. She was in a bubble in the sky, thinking all was well. We down on earth knew better — her professional life was being devoured by flames, and she’d never live down that careless tweet.

At the time Ronson’s book was published, the backlash against Twitter was building, and the brand seemed to be on the decline. There were too many trolls, too many small grievances being blown out of proportion, too much petty vengeance on people’s timelines. I was inclined to agree that individual bad behavior didn’t require virtual mob justice with real-life consequences. And doxxing unidentified people behaving badly seemed like a bridge too far.

Those were more innocent times.

Schlossberg’s transgressions happened on the same day the President of the United States said of undocumented immigrants being targeted for detention and deportation, “These aren’t people; these are animals.” This is the language of fascism. It is the language that precedes genocide.

Schlossberg’s actions didn’t happen in a vacuum and must be considered within the context of the Trump presidency.

On June, 16, 2015, when Donald Trump descended that escalator in Trump Tower to a gaggle of paid actors and decried Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, something shifted. Or perhaps, it’s better to say a mirror began to be wiped clean, and America could see itself more clearly. Donald Trump personifies so much of the hideous past many Americans had convinced themselves their country had moved beyond. Wasn’t America “post-racial” now? The success of the Trump campaign abjured that notion.

“He says it like it is.”

This is Trump’s appeal: getting old-school racism back out of the closet, switching out the white linens for polos and khakis. There are no more dogwhistles, no more coded language, just straight-up, unvarnished racial animus. Make no mistake, the Aaron Schlossbergs of the world are making themselves in his image. This is all about White America, White men in particular, reclaiming power (to whom they thought they’d lost it, I don’t know).

The numbers don’t lie. The Trump presidency is White America’s creation.

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2016 U.S. Presidential election results broken down by race

And the “economic anxiety” myth that rose up to explain Trump voters’ motives has been debunked. Although, it is quite telling that the phenomenon driving Trump supporters has been dubbed “cultural anxiety” and is not being called out for what it is: plain old American racism. This squeamishness, this inability of the corporate media to tell the truth about a country that was a de jure Apartheid state until the late 1960s is what Trump exploited to achieve his rise to power.

Many of the people who were spitting on Black children de-segregating schools are still alive and voting, as are the children they raised in their image. The unwillingness to accept this reality may become America’s undoing. Nativist vindictiveness is no way to run any country, much less the sole remaining global hegemon. And it’s too unstable and volatile a philosophy to guide the running of a military that possesses enough weapons to annihilate everyone and everything on the planet.

We need to begin discussing frankly what’s truly at stake. And Stormy Daniels has nothing to do with it.

I grew up with a father who always insisted that the United States was in decline. It wasn’t as obvious in the 90s, but it is clear today. Donald Trump’s presidency embodies the decay, but I reject the notion that this is “Trump’s America.” He’s merely switched the lights on, and we’re watching the roaches that have always been there scurry.

Polite debate and pearl-clutching aren’t going to right things. And, whatever you may think of Shaun King, he understands this. There is an element of petty savagery in his campaign against Schlossberg that is just so perfectly Twitter. It is of this time, and it is necessary.

Perhaps the most important lesson of the Trump administration is how fragile the norms that hold society together are, and how important it is that they are enforced. Slapping Schlossberg around in public does more to re-establish clearly where the lines are than any town hall or policy debate can. Thorough repudiation and meting out meaningful, real-life consequences are the only way to counter behavior like Schlossberg’s. Shrugging it off as inconsequential is a non-starter in today’s political climate. The signs and portents are too dark, the potential catastrophe too great.

The lines must be drawn often, firmly, and, most importantly, publicly.

So, of Aaron Schlossberg and people like him, I say: dox them. Make them famous. Show the world they’re weak bullies who can’t take a dose of their own medicine.

*squinting in Nanny of the Maroons* | Read my essay collection, DISPOSABLE PEOPLE, DISPOSABLE PLANET: | IG: kitanyaharrison

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