Joan Walsh Sparks Twitter Brawl Over Obama and Race

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The Players: Joan Walsh, editor-at-large; numerous outraged Twitterers

Opening Serve: Joan Walsh commented on the state of American progressivism in a Salon article this week, in which she wrote, "I deeply resent people who insist that white progressives who criticize Obama are deluding themselves that they're his 'base,' when his 'base' is actually not white progressives, but people of color."

Return Volley: A tweeter by the name of Truthrose1 took offense to Walsh's comment and wrote, "@joanwalsh read your article, I resent white progressives who pretend they are the base of the Dem party and ignore AA's, we are even," sparking a back and forth between Walsh, Truthrose1, and several others that continues to drag on. Walsh attempted to defend herself by noting, "Not saying white progressives are THE base; opposite. But I resent African Americans who say THEY are THE BASE. Wrong," but Truthrose1 shot back instantly with the comment, among others, of "PBO is not your lap dog, thank god Gibbs called out the liars in the progressive media, u have done nothing but act like baggers."

Walsh tried to end the debate several times writing, "@truthrose1 Good night, life is too short for race baiting!" and even, "You're toxic, I'm sorry. Jesus. Get some help." But by this time it was too late, others had entered the mix, deeply offended by Walsh's argument. "AngryBlackLady" started her pages-long rant against Walsh by saying, "Just see if you can elect your preferred candidate without us. ~spoiler alert!~ you can't." Then "Cynthia" jumped in with, "@joanwalsh @truthrose1 @angryblacklady Ok. I was gonna let it go, but fuck it. Of course Black people are his base. And what about it??!!!"

After hours of argument, it seemed like everyone had finally come to an agreement. But no: the fight started up again this afternoon when Chicago lawyer David von Ebers declared, "@joanwalsh This is truly appalling.YOU DON’T SPEAK FOR ME," to which Walsh replied, "Thanks! Glad I don't speak for you. Wasn't trying to." von Ebers then demanded Walsh retract her initial tweet and then entered into an argument with Walsh-supporters in which, among other comments, he said, "Sorry but I have zero tolerance for white folks, left or right, lecturing black folks about race. Well intentioned or not, please stop it." (We've no idea of von Ebers's race, which by his own tweet would seem to be relevant here; going by his Twitter icon, it seems like he might be white.)

What They Say the Fight's About: Sticking to her guns throughout, Walsh's argument has remained that no one faction of the Democratic party that elected him should be considered Obama's base over another. Walsh's Twitter opposition, variably, argue that Walsh's comment was "tone deaf," racist, and untrue.

What the Fight's Really About: This fight seems to be about how, and why, the mention of race in a politically focused article such as Walsh's immediately sparks a black vs. white debate; in fact, Walsh was pointing out that both are on the same team and should be regarded as such. Mark Brooks notes this in his attempt to pursuade Dave von Ebers.

Who's Winning: Though neither side will let this thing go, Walsh is beginning to look like the winner, as she is now offering statistics, rather than merely the previous rhetoric, to prove her point. Princeton professor of politics and African American studies Melissa Harris-Perry reached out to Walsh to discuss the base question and clarified for one of her followers that she was "not heated with @JoanWalsh! I'm just engaging. We like and respect each other a great deal," to which Walsh added, "Yes, we can talk honestly about race, and sometimes disagree, and still learn and respect and remain friends." That appears to be the moral of the story, here, though it took many days of fierce Twitter fighting to get there.

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Update: Walsh has since issued a lengthy response to the feud at Salon. She stands by her initial argument, but clarifies and apologizes for some of her word choices, noting that "someone suggested I might have written 'I don't appreciate' rather than 'I resent' -- but that's 10 more characters! If I got a mulligan, I'd go with: I resent anyone saying African Americans alone are THE base. Or something. But it's Twitter, that's how it goes."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.