Posted by Curt on 23 June, 2020 at 7:42 pm. 1 comment.


On May 28, progressive election data analyst David Shor tweeted about a new paper by Princeton professor Omar Wasow, showing that peaceful civil-rights protests moved public opinion toward protesters while violent protests had the opposite effect. The tweet violated a taboo in some left-wing quarters against criticizing violent protest and led within days to his firing.

What happened after that was even more bizarre. On June 11, I wrote an article briefly describing Shor’s tweet and firing. Four days later, “Progressphiles,” a LISTSERV for left-of-center data analysts, kicked Shor off. In a message to the group, the moderators described his tweet as “racist” and further accused him of having “encouraged harassment” of another member of the list:

David Shor, a member of this community, knowingly harassed and bullied another member of this space. In response to a well-deserved call in over a racist tweet, he encouraged harassment that led to death threats instead of choosing to learn and grow from his mistake. We as the Progressphiles Moderators, professionals in this industry, and as people, absolutely condemn this behavior. It is unacceptable to make people on this list and in this community feel unsafe for calling out wrongdoings. We cannot begin to decolonize our minds if we do not create safety for those fighting against white supremacy. It is on all of us to do this work, but especially to show up for those already doing it and make sure they are safe. By not acting, we are perpetuating the racism and sexism we know exists on this list and in our community at large. As such, we have removed David Shor from Progressphiles.

The “racist tweet” was of course a straightforward summary of a respected professor’s work. The moderators have not publicly substantiated the accusation that Shor encouraged harassment, nor have they responded to my request for comment on the charge.

I have obtained the entire thread. I am omitting the names of contributors, because they had an expectation of privacy when they contributed to it, and their identities aren’t terribly relevant. It reveals, first, a cruel attempt to destroy the professional reputation of Shor by smearing him with unsubstantiated charges in front of his professional peers. Second, it suggests an unsettling fear of open inquiry within the left-of-center professional data world. “Progressphiles” has roughly 1,000 members, only a tiny percentage of whom participated in the discussion about Shor, but many more of whom received a chilling message from his expulsion.

More important, the debate offers a case study in the norms of discussing race and gender within the progressive universe. Many progressives have sidestepped the problem presented by the illiberalism of these norms, dismissing them as goofy campus pratfalls. Over the past few years, and especially the past few weeks, these norms are gaining a foothold in elite professional settings, codified by tomes like White Fragility into tightly circumscribed scripts of accusation and confession. And as well intentioned as they may be, they lend themselves easily and almost automatically to abuse.


Shor’s expulsion prompted a heated but heavily one-sided debate. The handful of members who defended Shor were met with reminders that a person who says they were victimized must be believed, and that anybody who questioned the charge needed to undergo self-examination:

I rarely post here, but I think the way this conversation has unfolded has been egregious, and I feel called to name that. I thought this was meant to be a progressive space. Many of us are not acting like it. I’m really disappointed to see so many people here reacting to defend a white man who was being held accountable for his actions, and prioritizing that over the harm he did to a queer person of color.

To all the BIPOC and especially Black folks reading this, you deserve better than how this space is behaving. To my fellow white people: If you find yourself leaping to defend a white person when they’ve been called in for doing something racist, notice that impulse, and then SLOW DOWN. Stop. Sit down and breathe and feel your feelings, take a really close look at what you’re doing and why. Find another white person who is an appropriate person to help you process them. (I am willing to do that for a few folks! Email me directly.) Find a different, more constructive action. Keep breathing. Black lives matter, Black safety matters, Black mental health matters, Black emotions matter.

This is a condensed version of the procedures laid out by writers such as Robin DiAngelo. Indeed, one member helpfully quoted a passage from White Fragility:

In all of this, please consider the very real impacts of your words and defensiveness on the BIPOC members of our progressphiles community. Instead of invalidating their perspectives, this is a great opportunity to listen and learn more about the challenges they face being in the progressive data space. I hear outrage on behalf of the person who was removed from the list, but less outrage that people in our community felt unsafe because of harassment from another person in our community. If you must take issue with the moderators’ decision, I would recommend you communicate that privately with the moderators. I offer some words from Robin DiAngelo from her book “White Fragility,” a book I would highly recommend to my fellow white progressphiles members as a great learning tool:

“If you are white and have ever been challenged to look at your own racism ­— perhaps you told a problematic joke or made a prejudiced assumption and someone brought it to your attention­ — it is common to feel defensive. If you believe that you are being told you are a bad person, all your energy is likely to go toward denying this possibility and invalidating the messenger rather than trying to understand why what you’ve said or done is hurtful. You will probably respond with white fragility. But unfortunately, white fragility can only protect the problematic behavior you feel so defensive about; it does not demonstrate that you are an open person who has no problematic racial behavior.”

You might think the “progressive data space” would give more leeway to the citation of data. But that assumption proved incorrect. The majority of posters affirmed that sharing Wasow’s paper was indeed ipso facto racist, because it could be used to support the conclusion that violent protest is harmful:

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