A black man undercover in the alt-right | Theo E.J. Wilson | TEDxMileHigh

A black man undercover in the alt-right | Theo E.J. Wilson | TEDxMileHigh

Translator: Milena Tomol
Reviewer: Claire Ghyselen I took a cell phone
and accidentally made myself famous. (Laughter) I was just talking
about the things I cared about, but with a click of a button
and an incendiary viral video, I propelled myself into overnight stardom. When I say overnight, I mean
I literally woke up the next morning with so many notifications on my phone, I thought I slept through
a national tragedy. (Laughter) It was the craziest thing,
but when it came to my influence, to my exposure,
I literally took a quantum leap. So, I made more videos. And the subject matter of my videos was often the most divisive subject
in American life. But it is the way that I articulated race that made me somewhat
of a digital lightening rod. Being a survivor myself
of police brutality, having lost a childhood friend,
Alonzo Ashley, at the hands of the police, I had a little something to say
about the topic. You see, this was at the height
of Black Lives Matter furor, and people seemed to be turning
to me to articulate their view points. Honestly, it was sort of overwhelming
because nothing trips you out like being a political star
on the Internet. There is no class to teach you how to deal with people treating you
like a messianic figure, a prophet, a new school charismatic leader
for the digital age. Folks treating you like T’Challa, the Black Panther
from the Marvel Universe, is flattering … (Laughter) at first. But down the road,
it gets a little troublesome. You see, the Internet
has its interesting quality: in one way, totally brought
the world together. I remember being a kid,
and all this Utopian propaganda was being dumped on us
about how the World Wide Web was going to span the reaches
of people across the globe. But, as it turns out, people are people, (Laughter) and this magical superhighway
also took the demons of our nature and gave them Ferraris. (Laughter) You see, technology is a lot like money: it brings out what was already
inside you and amplifies it. So, I soon became familiar
with the phenomenon of an Internet troll. (Laughter) These guys seem to live
beneath the bridges of said superhighway. (Laughter) They also missed the memo about
the enlightenment of the Internet age. I remember being called
highly colorful racial slurs by those who use the anonymity
of the Internet as a Klan hood. Some people were
pretty creative, actually, but others were pretty wounding, especially navigating the post-traumatic
world of a police brutality survivor at the height of Black Lives Matter, with all of these people
being killed on my timeline. To these trolls, I was not a human.
I was an idea, an object, a caricature. I admit, this race stuff
can be kind of divisive. You see, I am an innately curious person. And as I drew my sword to engage
in epic battles in the comments section, (Laughter) I also began to notice that a few
of my trolls actually had brains, which made me even more curious
and want to understand them even further. Although the supposed morons engaged
in what appeared to be original thought, I said to myself,
“These guys are highly misinformed, at least according to my knowledge.” Where are these guys
getting their arguments from? Was there some kind of alternative
universe with alternative facts? (Laughter) (Applause) Was history and gravity optional there?
I don’t know. (Laughter) But I needed to know.
I wanted to know. It turns out, I had no idea
about digital echo chambers, that same target marketing algorithm that feeds you more
of the products you like to buy, also feeds you more
the news that you like to hear. I had been living in an online universe
that reflected my world view back to me. My timeline was pretty liberal: I had no Breitbart,
or InfoWars, or Fox News. No, I was all MSNBC and the Daily Show,
CNN and theGrio, right? But these trolls were hopping
the dimensional doorway, and I needed to figure out how. (Laughter) So, what I decided to do
was to trick the Facebook algorithm into feeding me more news
that I didn’t necessarily agree with. And it worked fine for a while,
but it was not enough, because my online footprint
had already established the patterns that I like to hear. So, with the anonymity
of the Internet I went undercover! (Laughter) I set up this ghost profile
and went crazy. On a practical level, it was very simple, but on an emotional level,
it was kind of daunting, especially with the racist vitriol
that I had experienced. But what I did not realize
is that my trolls were inoculating me, thickening my skin, making me immune to view points
that I did not necessarily agree with. So, I did not react to the same things
as I would have several months prior. So, I pressed on. Noticing that this stuff
also worked on YouTube, I became Lucious25,
white supremacist lurker. (Laughter) Digitally I began to infiltrate
the infamous alt-right movement. My doppelganger was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter character, (Laughter) a sci-fi hero, who was once
a confederate soldier. And think: years ago,
I would have needed acting training, and makeup, and a fake ID, now I can just lurk. (Laughter) I started with a little InfoWars,
went on into some American Renaissance, National Vanguard Alliance. I started to comment on all videos: talking bad about Al Sharpton
and Black Lives Matter. I started bemoaning race-baiters
like Eric Holder and Barack Obama, just mirroring the anti-black sentiment
that was thrown at me. And to be honest,
it was kind of exhilarating. (Laughter) I would literally spend days,
clicking through my new racist profile. (Laughter) Goofing off at work in Aryan land,
it was something else. (Laughter) I then started visiting
some of the pages of my former trolls. A lot of these guys were
just regular Joes: a lot of outdoors-men, hunters, computer nerds, some of them
family guys with videos of their families. For all I know, some of them could be
in this room right now, right? (Whispers) Not here! Not here! Not here! (Laughter) But when I went undercover,
I found a lovely plethora of characters, luminaries like Milo Yiannopoulos,
Richard Spencer and David Duke. All of these guys were
thought leaders in their own right, but over time the alt-right movement
ended up using their information to fuel their momentum. And I am going to tell you what else
lead to the momentum of the alt-right: the left wing’s wholesale demonization
of everything white and male. If you are a pale-skin-penis-haver,
you are in league with Satan! (Laughter) Would you believe
that some people find it offensive. (Laughter) The fact is the millennials get
a life time of diet brand history. I mean, America seems to be hellbent on filling its text books
with CliffNotes versions of its dark past. This severely decontextualizes race
and the anger associated with it. And that is a fertile ground
for alt-facts to grow. Add in the wild landscape of the Internet, and it is easy to sell
re-branded Mein Kampf ideas to a generation who has been
failed by public schools. A lot of these ideas are easily debunked.
Alt-facts have that quality. However, one thing kept screaming at me
to the subtext of these arguments. That was: “Why should I be hated
for who I cannot help but be?” Now, as a black man in America,
that resonated with me. I’ve spent so much time defending myself
against attempts to demonize me and make me apologize for who I am,
trying to portray me as something that I am not, some kind
of thug or gangster, menace to society. Unexpected compassion. Wow! Now listen, the historical source
of demonization of black males and white males is highly different. And where you fall on this argument,
sadly, tends to be an accident of birth. You are probably surprised
by this perspective. And so was I. Never in a billion years did I think
that I could have some kind of compassion for people who hated my guts. Mind you, not enough compassion
like, “I want to be friends.” I don’t have infinite olive branches
to extend to people who would not want to see me
on this planet, right? But just enough compassion to understand
how they got to where they are. And to be honest, there were
a couple of fair points. One of them is how Liberals have
this wide acceptance for everybody, except for those with honestly held
conservative viewpoints. (Laughter) Heaven forbid, you love God,
this country and mean it, right? And another thing that they talked about
was this fear that they had of something that they labeled
as white genocide, that diversity would be the force
to wipe them out. Now listen, I know what it is to fear
for the fate of your people. Between crack, AIDS, gang violence,
mass incarceration, gentrification, police shootings, black people have more than enough
reasons to stay up at night. But if nature is into diversity,
and you are not, you are going to lose that fight, buddy. (Laughter) (Applause) You see, nature does not care
about your race – that’s man-made. Nature just cares about healthy organisms, and your precious ethnic features
are expendable to that end. So, the moment that you let go
of that racist identity and re-latch onto humanity,
all your problems go away. (Applause) I am going to tell you what race
ain’t about to die out – the human race. Join the party. The water is great … (Laughter) until the water gets too hot,
but that’s another TED talk. (Laughter) To get to this point of understanding,
you have to let go of your fear and embrace your curiosity. And, sadly, too many people
would not take this journey to see the world from the other side. Let’s be honest,
that does not just go for progressives, but also to the right wing
and conservatives. As fair as some of their points were,
they were still trapped in their own echo chambers,
recycling old outdated points of view, never getting a diversity in perspective, not making them well-rounded
in their world view. So, they are not hearing certain
anti-racist and political voices, voices like Tim Wise
and Michelle Alexander, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Boyce Watkins, Tariq Nasheed. All of these voices have the answers
to the questions that they want, but unfortunately, they will not hear them
due to the power of these echo chambers. We have got to break out
of these digital divides because as our technology advances, the consequences of our tribalism
become more dangerous. This whole experience taught me something:
our gadgets ain’t gonna to save us. All these technological devices are
only mastery of the universe out there, not the one in here. And so, that’s all IQ, not EQ.
That’s a dangerous imbalance. Where do you get
the emotional intelligence, the character development,
the virtues of patience, forbearance, compassion, you know, the things that make
sure that these devices, however advanced, become a blessing, not a curse? Seems to me that humanity itself
needs an upgrade. (Applause) That is a big task, understandably. I don’t believe in any kind
of unbeatable monster. There was no giant out there
without, perhaps, a simple Achilles heel. What if I told you, that one
of the best ways to overcome this is to have courageous conversations
with difficult people, people, who do not see the world
the same way you see the world. Oh, yes, folks, conversations may be
indeed the key to that upgrade because remember, language was
the first form of virtual reality. It is literally a symbolic representation
of the physical world, and trough this device,
we change the physical world. Keep in mind, conversations stop violence;
conversations start countries; they build bridges,
and, when the chips are down, conversations are the last tool
that humans use before they pick up the guns. And I ain’t talking about
online safe conversations from the security of your laptop. No! I am talking about in-your-face
conversations with real breathing people. And for me, this looks like running
a community forum called Shop Talk Live. In Shop Talk Live, we have
the conversations that change lives. We meet the community
right where they are. We’ve done everything from diverting
gang violence in real time, to helping people find jobs,
to mentoring homeless youth. And we needed to do this
because there was a severe lack of trust in the black community
due to the violence of the crack era. We ended up taking agency into our
own hands, solving our own problems, not waiting for anybody else. The truth is, from the mayor to the felon, you can find them in that barbershop. What we did was just organize
what was already going on. What I started doing was
mining these alternative viewpoints from these alternative digital universes,
dissecting them, breaking them down into controversial talking points. Then, with my cell phone,
I flipped the Internet against itself and began to broadcast
these live conversations to my online followers. This made them want to leave
the safety of their laptops and meet us in person
to have real conversations with real people in real life. And we did this. Thank you. (Applause) We built bridges to so many communities:
from the LGBTQ community to the Arab immigrant community,
and even sat down with somebody with a confederate
flag on their head, and talked about the things
that actually matter. For it’s time we stop trying to hack
our way around the human experience. There is no way out of each other.
Stop trying to find one. We have to understand something:
human beings all want the same things, and we all have to go through each other
to get these things. These courageous conversations
are the way these bridges are built. It is time we start
seeing people as people, and not simply the ideas
we project onto them or react to. Human beings are not the barriers, but the gateways
to the very things that we want. This is a collective
and conscious evolution. My journey began with a terribly popular
cell phone video and a fallen friend. Your journey begins right about now. Join the renaissance in human connection.
It is going to happen with or without you. My suggestion: pick a topic and start
a community dialogue in your neck of the woods,
meet folks back in real life. And I am going to tell you, when you trick
the algorithm of your existence, you will get some diversified experiences. It is time to grow, people. And when we do this, not if, it will be
clear that the key to this upgrade was always our inner world,
not some device that we create, and the doorway to this experience is now,
and we will forever be each other. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “A black man undercover in the alt-right | Theo E.J. Wilson | TEDxMileHigh

  1. That was BEAUTIFUL- I love it. We're in the human race together. It's not like we're all different species- we're different like how a "tree grows in the cold mountains" is different to a "tree that grows in humidity" – the earth changes our appearance, but we're the same on the inside. We all just want to eat and sleep and laugh, not be alone, love people, and not die soon haha. Courageous conversation with difficult people, yes yes. Evolution boi!

  2. White people complain about blue eyes and blonde hair "disappearing" but then there's those people in Sweden, Germany, England and all over Europe. Even here in the USA. Your features are not disappearing -_-

  3. Wait he went undercover in the [YouTube comment section] alt-right but still thinks race is a social construct!?! BWAHAHA

  4. Not bad Theo. I appreciate how you gave a perspective from both sides, which is good journalism. You also called out how naratives are co-opted and how whole groups are villified to serve a narative. The quest for self knowledge is what is most important. BZ, subscribed.

  5. I’m a white guy. I’m a friend. Love everyone until the day you die. Cause that’s the only sure thing is death. Be nice until it happens and you can’t be wrong. ❤️

  6. What happened to the lit video of Mr. Wilson & Watkins? That was way more real than Theo talking on Ted Talks! They watered it down for the fragile ones … LOL

  7. No one will ever truly be free until we all are free. That will only happen when we all take responsibility for the freedom of others.

  8. People live in bubbles now. Bubbles don't have patience, manners, shame, embassment, guilt, real friends, real lives. Bubbles contains themselves.

  9. Its amazing how many people focus and condemn this guy for making in their opinion one simple mistake. It doesn't appear they understood the importance of the message and only looked for an excuse to hang the messenger.

  10. Why'd he go undercover? Echo chamber? They talk to people on all sides. Jared Taylor and Tareeq Nasheed have talked for starters and that's just one example. This guy sounds like a boomer who just discovered the internet.

  11. The reason why we go to the right first of all our ancestors fought for this country fought the first people to ever fight to free slaves number two we fought to free the Jews and today we're being persecuted look at the crime statistics blacks are 13% of the population are responsible for 70 to 80% of the violent crimes that occur in the United States get that and check first and we could talk

  12. Everyone talking about tariq nasheed and completely ignoring the other 99% of the video. The stupidity of youtube is mind boggling 😂

  13. I still do not understand why the right and left wing are both obsessed with race? Surely, if you love country and god, it shouldn’t matter what pigmentation you possess? Same way, if you are for any liberal programs and/or addressing the uncomfortable past we all share, it shouldn’t matter if you’re straight, white and Christian?…

  14. Why bother caring what people think of you? If I hate you, I hate you and you can't change that. So why care? Walk away. Men don't fret over things they can't change.

  15. Man probably just isn’t too good with politics but he had very valid points in the beginning and that was most likely the part he gave the most thought to as its in the beginning of the Ted talk. Probably more focused on bigotry and racism rather alt right. My guess is he needed to drag out a few extra minutes lol

  16. Soo, he lost his friend to the hands of the police, either his friend did something bad or the cops were terrible humans

  17. hmmm alternative realitie indeed but the right there realiteit is what we are actually living in….

    why don't the left know that they are the ones who fought to protect slavery???
    every human right comes from the right, or are you already forgotten Hilary Clinton her opinion on gay's???

  18. Well, you have the white supremacists, then you have the Republicans and conservatives, there’s a distinct difference between the two, which, mind you, both have their separate “echo chambers”

  19. Tariq Nasheed did this guy just actually tell us Tariq Nasheed is a voice of reason a positive influence on race relations?! Bro I don't think you have a wide perspective of positive influences amongst race relations if you are including that man! I was with you up until you said that but then I started to wonder who you really are and how you really perceive the world around you and it led me to doubt you!

  20. I farted and it smelled really bad. Why did it smell bad? How good are our noses? Can a fart be deadly? Silently deadly? Give me a Ted talk.

  21. Funny he is talking about the white men, but wears a white men SUIT, if you really hate white people so much stop wearing there culture!

  22. Good talk. love reading the google prefered comments that are on the top. Leftist at google cannot tolerate an open mind

  23. @12:50 Tim Wise? Michelle Alexander? These are race-baiters who've built their identities on a mountain of false facts.

  24. I don't agree with everything he's said but I love this man for his heart! We need more realness and truth like this

  25. His friend who was killed by police, said he was a LION and attacked and beat a guard at Denver zoo. The cops tazered him and he died. So yeah…..reeeecism!! 🤡

  26. maybe hes trying to say you arent gonna like everyone and everything people think and gotta focus on the similarities.
    like yoda says 😉 "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

  27. Uhhhh to answer your question about how man gets this so called “upgrade”; there’s this book called The Bible… maybe read it, even if you don’t believe in God… I mean whatever but yea there’s something for that already. It was here long before the internet.

  28. America needs to cut to the heart of the matter: Blacks need to be given their own place to live. Whites CAN'T live with them. ALL other discussion is stupidity.

  29. "an alternate universe where history and gravity don't apply", eh. FBI stats that blacks are dozens of times more likely to commit crimes, be in shootings, mug people and rob stores is Lord of the Rings fantasy is it. This isn't a "TED talk", it's propaganda.

  30. Lol did this guy just name drop Tariq Nasheed as a positive figure? YIKERZ lol…. It was going to so well to lol…

  31. He bypasses fact Jewish supremacists whom proudly admit hatred of white people like Tim Wise only advocate for flooding white places with non-whites until they breed out all white populations. Will virulent Jewish racists like Tim Wise advocate for "diversity" in Israel, India and Africa? Pro-diversity is code for white-genocide. The King has no clothes.

  32. What is the alt-right movement? I haven't heard a damn thing about whites attacking blacks. But the Left loves to attack everyone.

  33. Lol, he's talking about trolls hahaha. OMG I love it. The definition of a troll is to say something to get a reaction hahahah. Must be white supremacists at work here boys. Lolololololololololol

  34. If the figureheads of your point of view are Tim Wise and Tariq Nasheed, your point of view isn't worth listening to. The radical leftism they push is to be laughed at with the same breath you use for the alt right.

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