digital cut-up: james baldwin and white supremacist twitter bios

this is a very simple flask app that pairs lines from two corpuses: white supremacist richard spencer’s twitter followers’ twitter bios and an essay by james baldwin, “letter from a region in my mind”

i was working with the twitter bios earlier in the semester when i made an executive order generator. here were some sample bios:

PC Gamer. Social Democrat. Egalitarian. Admin at @TheDPWiki. I revel in your butthurt.

Biblical Christian and anti-corporate Libertarian. Jesus is my Good Shepard not the State or Allstate and we are definitely in the last days.

FutureDanger is an American news link Heatmap Dashboard. Achieve situational awareness of multiple threat indicators in one view. Be prepared. ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ

The Donald and #MAGA to save The Merica. Kek Meme generation and Ody cat integration.

i was struck by them: their rhythm, the way they reference an in-group with a shared vocabulary, the way they express ideology in buzzwords. the content of them is interesting, too: common themes are, predictably, whiteness, americanness, christianness, a certain kind of masculinity. they are provocative in predictable ways.

initially, i was going to generate new bios with a markov chain. markov chain projects, as allison helped me understand, highlight the ridiculousness of a corpus. markov chains say, “these words make so little sense that a program that primarily calculates statistical probabilities can reasonably replicate them.” the effect is light, silly. these bios are ridiculous, but they’re not light and silly. i wanted to highlight something else about them.

james baldwin’s writing is the opposite of these bios. putting one of his sentences next to one of their sentences contextualizes both. why do the bios say so little? why in that meaningless way? what do they never say? never own? why are they so angry? what do their writers think has been stolen? baldwin tells us.

the code

first, i got spencer’s followers twitter bios: https://gist.github.com/kaganjd/9a00be3932a2485abca047bc6733146e

then, i looked at baldwin’s essay: https://gist.github.com/kaganjd/5e8c2120713ccb3cc737e81c18575c0b

then, i picked out the lines from each corpus that had the word ‘white’ and printed them together: https://gist.github.com/kaganjd/36c455e95502102b2d72fb36c25f1e05

finally, i used all that to write a server: https://github.com/kaganjd/whiteness/blob/master/server.py

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