post cover

White babies

Or how a 4Chan shitpost continues to haunt me

logo

Emily VanDerWerff

Sep 21 2020

12 min read

0

My hope, if I did this right, is that you are here because you’ve seen an image of an article supposedly written by me floating around the internet, one under the title “Dear White Women: White Babies Are White Supremacy.” In most iterations of the image, the “screenshot” of the article is pasted under a picture of my headshot from Vox when I was still going by Emily Todd VanDerWerff.

The article exists only as an image. If you Google that headline, you won’t find it, especially on Vox (the publication that supposedly published it). If you Google the “text” of the article, you won’t find it either. If you Google the author of the piece — a “Todd VanWerff” — well, that person doesn’t exist either. The 4Chan poster who made this image (because of course it can be traced to 4Chan) didn’t even bother to get my fucking dead name right or my last name right. That’s how stupid this whole thing is.

And. Yet. It. Keeps. Following. Me. Around. The. Internet.

Caption
Look at this nice baby. I have no idea where this photo is from, but it’s attached to the image the 4Chan shitposter made, so.

I’m going to quote a bit of the “text” of this article in hopes of pinging the Google robots, so that everybody who asks me “did you write this?” because they’ve done a Google search for the article and found nothing (this should be your first clue!) will come to this one-stop shop for information on an article I did not, in fact, write; an article that does not, in fact, exist; and an article that I do not, in fact, endorse in any way.

When I see a white woman with a white baby, I see the perpetuation of white supremacy and it scares me. As a person of color to white women, our babies make me feel unwelcome and like my children will never have an equal opportunity.


It… goes on from there.

So in case you need a handy, bullet-pointed list of reasons this article was not written by me, here they are:

  1. The article doesn’t exist. Seriously. Google it. The only links are to people posting the image.
  2. I have never once used the name “Todd VanWerff.” My last name is VanDerWerff.
  3. The fonts used in the screenshot look nothing like the fonts we use on Vox.
  4. C’mon, I am the whitest human being alive. There is no way I would dare claim to be a person of color.
  5. I cannot believe anyone would dare suggest my beloved editor would allow something as sloppily written to be published.
  6. Here’s what’s most damning: I can show you where the image came from. A 4Chan shitposter doctored it up in the week after I came out as a trans woman. (I came out June 3, 2019. The image first appears June 6, 2019.) If you go to the post where it happens, then scroll down a bit, you’ll find plenty of people saying how obvious of a fake it is, because it’s an obvious fake.
  7. Seriously, how delusional do you have to be to think that “white babies are white supremacy” is a belief held by anybody outside of an extreme fringe?

This image has followed me around in the year-plus since it first showed up. It never reaches any real level of harassment, but I am only ever a few days away from it surfacing in the comments of a right-wing blog somewhere and causing a bunch of people to flood my Facebook messenger with questions of “IS THIS YOU?? YOU ARE RACIST AGAINST YOUR OWN KIND!” It happens with regularity, every two or three months, and then I spend time very kindly explaining internet literacy to the terminally angry.

I’ve gotten death threats over this image, but only ever one or two at a time, so they’re easier to dismiss than the ones when, say, I was being harassed by a full-on internet mob just a few months ago. But when that mob kicked up, plenty of people dug up the image to say “IS THIS YOU?? YOU ARE RACIST AGAINST YOUR OWN KIND!”

If you are here because you Googled the image, the next section is for you. And if you are here because you regularly read this newsletter and wonder why it’s suddenly called “White Babies,” well, there will be a section for you later. Read on, Googlin’ friends!

If you Googled “White Babies Are White Supremacy” by Todd VanWerff, and you are here because of that: Hello. I hope you appreciate that I used my SEO skills to invite you to my humble newsletter. Tea? Coffee? No?

I want to lead with a very sincere apology: I am so sorry you were lied to. I am so sorry you were duped. I am so sorry a doctor image of a fake article landed you here, certain that you had found yet another godless liberal who wants to do something horrible to children. I am sure you thought of the children or grandchildren in your life and became emotional. I might, too.

Now here’s my request for you. It’s easy. If you see this image in your jaunts around the internet, please be sure to tell people it’s fake and direct them to this post. That’s all. If you just do that for me, I’ll be incredibly grateful. But if you can do one more thing for me, keep reading.

When you see an image like this: Google it. These doctored screenshots pop up all the time, and they’re always targeted at writers of color, at women, at LGBTQ+ writers. Usually, a simple Google will prove the article never once existed. Okay, that’s two things. Do you have it in you to do a third? You don’t have to! But if you do, keep reading.

You are right to feel lied to. You are right to feel like not everything adds up. You are right to feel that there are forces making the world a worse place. You are right to fear that the world your children and grandchildren will grow up in will be a worse one than the one you did. You are right to feel uncertain and off.

But the people lying to you are not doing so in secret, behind closed doors. There is not a conspiracy to keep you blinded, a plot by powerful journalists to mislead you about the true state of the world. The people lying to you lie brazenly. They lie openly. They dare you to call them on it by suggesting they are the only people who can defend you.

But that’s not true. There is power in finding others you can band with in solidarity. There is power in forming communities and bonds around the idea of making the world better.

Right now, we are in the grips of something like five dozen apocalypses, all jostling for our attention. We are seized by a pandemic that has killed 200,000 of my countrymen. We are captured by a whole system of lies designed to keep the powerful in place and to hoover up every stray dollar into a bare handful of wallets.

You are being lied to. You are being lied to. You are being lied to.

If you want to keep talking about this, please leave a comment on this article or email me at emily.vanderwerff@vox.com. Put “Lies!” in the subject line so I know it’s you. You can also leave a comment on this article.

A nation is a shared story. Right now, the nation I live in is being splintered in many pieces by a story that is no longer shared, by a belief that someone is trying to get one over on you. But the people trying to get one over on you are doing so right out in the open. So let’s talk about it. I’d love to keep the conversation going.

If you’re just a regular reader of this newsletter who wonders what the fuck is going on: Hey, thanks for sticking with this! Coffee? Tea? You don’t want coffee or tea either? Geez.

I was telling my best friend about how the white babies screenshot was back tonight, and she said, “This is why I don’t think we can get out of this. People just want to believe the worst.” And, I would add, they are too quick to jump to the conclusion that “the worst” is true even when it’s not true.

A rather revealing conversation I had with one person who sent me the screenshot and asked if I had written it was, when I proved to him that it was fake and told him I was sorry he had been duped, he angrily insisted that he knew I believed what was in the article anyway. How could you possibly know that, sir?

In the wake of the harassment mob, I’ve come to realize that this belief that my own motives are not the motives I actually possess is probably everywhere and unlikely to be dissipated by anything I could possibly say. This screenshot is of an obviously fake article, and still…

I’ve tried ignoring it, and I’ve tried reasoning with people who send it to me, and now I’m trying this. But I think it’s worth trying to figure out a way to defeat this that isn’t on the people who bear the brunt of its awfulness.

And you know what? I have no fucking clue how to do that. I wish I did. But internet literacy goes out the window the second you hear something you want to hear, and there’s absolutely no way that’s going to go away.

What I’ve been up to: I wrote a little bit about the game Spiritfarer, which is a charming management game about death. I quite enjoy it!

The main problem with management games for many people is that they give you an endless sandbox to play in, then provide no real sense of story or direction. (For a very famous example, consider The Sims or SimCity.) To be clear: I love management games. Most of the games I play are management games. But there are only so many times I can play through the popular farming game Stardew Valley before I start to grow tired of just how limited its boundaries seem to be, by how thoroughly I know every corner of its world.

Spiritfarer is different. It is, quite deliberately, a game about how the structures that you build aren’t supposed to last forever. You’re not going to be able to reload this game and keep tinkering away at it forever. At a certain point, your boat will reach the other side, the spirits will get off, and the little space you’ve spent time building will feel much lonelier for not having them alongside you.


Read me: Two great pieces by some of my favorite culture writers are well worth reading. First, Soraya Nadia McDonald (one of those critics I learn something from every time I read her) on the struggles she has had with the film Antebellum and the TV show Lovecraft Country (I have similarly struggled with the latter, though I am several weeks behind on it, too):

Lately, I’ve been struggling with how to evaluate ambitious films and television shows that see themselves advancing radical racial politics, namely Lovecraft Country, the HBO drama that premiered this summer, and Antebellum, a horror-thriller starring Janelle Monáe, that is available via video on demand on Friday.


Their high-budget production values provide the visual trappings of prestige, but few of the narrative ones. Both, to varying degrees, are gorgeous empty suits. To understand why, let’s take a step back and think about eggs — specifically, the way eggs are used in another ambitious show that looks at racism and its effects: Watchmen.


And then Angelica Jade Bastien wrote a piece I disagree with in a lot of ways but one that’s really smart about the ways that white woman villains in film and TV are given a complexity that isn’t always borne out by white woman villains in our reality.

Blanchett is a lucid performer able to render minute gestures with great meaning. But in doing so, the show visually makes an argument that Phyllis’s emotional life, that her feelings of oppression on the basis of sex, are meaningful to the story its telling. Throughout Mrs. America, it’s hard to get a full understanding of what informs Phyllis’s belief system, leaving us with the emotional portrait to understand who the “real” Phyllis is.

Watching the series, I was unable to ignore one central question: Why should we give a damn about the emotional life of a racist, sexist white woman?


Watch me: The YouTube series “13 Week Theatre” — about TV shows that were canceled in the midst of their initial 13-episode order — is extremely my shit. I particularly recommend this installment on SUPERTRAIN, one of those shows that should have been a lot more awesome than it was.

And another thing… This recipe for a vegan farro salad is amazing. And you could probably swap in just about any other hearty grain for the farro (though I adore farro). Try it out!

This week’s reading music: “World Destruction” by Time Zone, featuring John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa.

Episodes is published once per week and is about whatever I feel like that particular week. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter