There is a dynamic that is so prevalent among white men online that I think it might be helpful to post a field guide to the phenomenon.
- A woman or a person of color posts a fact or analysis of a situation. She is reporting from her own experience and often from the perspective of professional expertise. If her writing is critical of behavior she has observed in men throughout her lifetime, other men (ususally white) will show up to engage in sea-lioning. This cartoon by David Malki appeared in his comic Wondermark in September of 2014 [click to enlarge]:
- The sea lion will take a solicitious tone that purports to express openness and curiosity, but the content of his inquiry is grounded in the assumption that everyone involved in the conversation must assuage his doubts about the veracity or fairness of the claims before moving on with their day.
- The sea lion is extremely concerned with fairness. However, close attention to his remarks reveal that his commitment to fairness is almost exclusively oriented toward protecting the reputation and respect he unconsciously assumes is due other (almost always white) men.*
- When called out for his sense of entitlement to the original poster’s time, energy and research efforts, the sea lion will plead innocence and draw other posters (mostly white men — and women with a low threshold for discomfort) to his defense. The sea lion is an expert at drawing a group’s focus away from his own insulting interrogations and toward the woman or women, queer person, or person of color who is being “unreasonable” or “confrontational” with him, the innocent querent. In this way, he relies on other participants in the conversation to reinforce white male supremacy.
- If the sea lion fails to get the attention and answers that will satisfy his own personal sense of justice, fairness and worldview, he will make a sombre observation about the unraveling of democracy, civility, general decency, and free speech before leaving in a huff of wounded male ego and white fragility. Enablers will run after him to make sure his feelings aren’t hurt as opposed to assuming that he is a grown adult who can take care of himself in the new world order.
Please don’t feed sea lions. They can be found among all social, economic, religious and geographic groups, including Unitarian Universalists and other progressives.
- If the men aren’t white, they’re celebrities in the field of entertainment, political figures that the sea lion personally admires or famous athletes.