#media  #society  #debate  
Issue 27
May 19, 2019
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One of the supposed virtues, ostensibly, of social media, is to forge dialogue and bridge divides between people. It is, however, increasingly doing the opposite. Online discussions are morphing into something more sinister where civic-minded individuals are lambasted for even constructive criticism of those flaunting rules. To boot, the First Amendment is rapidly becoming a victim of the political correctness movement.

Generally, despite highly publicized cases of hate crimes and anti-Semitism, America is more racially equal and harmonious now than it was generations ago. That said, there is no doubt that African Americans and certain other minorities still receive the short shrift in many areas of life. Those of us historically literate and socially aware, irrespective of our political leanings, are rational enough to acknowledge this. Furthermore, before the advent of body cameras, smart phones and other recording devices, the level of abuse that disproportionately affected people of color was materially higher. Technological advancements have prodded most members of our society to hold themselves to a higher standard. However, in this case of Natasha Tynes and The Washington, DC Mass Transit Authority (MTA), technology was a contributing factor in degrading all parties involved.

This recent “scandal” was precipitated by Jordanian American World Bank employee Natasha Tynes, who reported a black female employee of the Washington, DC MTA for eating while on the job, a violation of MTA rules. When Tynes singled out the MTA employee, she was effectively told to mind her own business, at which point she took a picture of the employee eating and posted it along with a complaint to the DC MTA, on Twitter. The ensuing backlash – against Ms Tynes, a minority in her own right – was as absurd and misguided as Tynes’ own overreaching action against a fellow citizen for a trivial violation. Ms. Tynes was accused of being a snitch, a racist, and compromising the employee’s livelihood.

More importantly and as equally unbelievable, Tynes’ spineless book publisher, California Coldblood, and its distributor Rare Bird, suspended working with the author on her new novel, They Called Me Wyatt. California Coldblood tweeted: "Natasha Tynes ...did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train this morning and drawing attention to her employer…Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies…we do not condone (Tynes') actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systematic racism the most and that we have to be allies, not oppressors." We disagree with their decision. Tynes did not deserve to lose her book deal. Even if her actions were motivated by racism – and we have no reason to believe they were - her publisher and distributor have no proof that race was a motivating factor in her action.

By way of background, Natasha Tynes runs her own media consultancy firm, writes for several prominent newspapers and her work at the World Bank - an institution focused on alleviating global poverty by providing financial and other assistance to countries in need - involves communications strategy. Her profile is unlikely to comport with that of someone who is a racist; more importantly neither was her action against the employee of the DC MTA.

One could make a compelling argument that it is not worth somebody’s time to go through the hassle of critiquing an MTA worker for eating on the job, taking a photo, positing it to Twitter and to alerting the DC MTA of the violation; we certainly would not have allocated the time required to do this. Nor would we have acted in a way that, by any reasonable standards, translates as petty and borderline malicious. To have not only reported her, but publicly posted a photo of the MTA employee committing a minor violation depicts not only the violation being committed, but also what a wretched woman and rigid moralist Tynes probably is. Did she deserve to lose a book deal? No. But might what have transpired in the aftermath of this unfortunate event be karmic comeuppance for what was likely years' worth of similar behavior? After all, the MTA employee was eating her lunch. Maybe it was her break, and she just could not or did not leave the train for whatever reason. Maybe she was really hungry. Either way, eating a sandwich hardly compromised anyone's safety. It would have been very unfortunate if the MTA employee had been fired. We are glad she was spared.

To be fair to Ms. Tynes, the fact is, whether the DC MTA employee was black, brown, white or purple, she was in breach of MTA rules. Public service workers are required to perform a satisfactory job and maintain a basic level of professionalism. Eating while operating a train is not allowed and unprofessional. While reporting an employee – regardless of their race or gender – for a trivial infraction probably is not the best use of one’s time, it is not inherently racist nor does it warrant the disproportionate backlash that ensued. Tynes was not in the wrong, technically - the MTA employee was. Moreover, that employee has a personal responsibility to adhere to the rules of her contract.

Ironically, the DC MTA not only thanked Ms. Tynes for her feedback, but also proceeded to request further details about the violation, which were readily provided. There was a reason for further inquiry and investigation. The DC MTA’s rules are clear and apply to both employees as well as passengers that no eating, drinking or playing music are permitted while using the mass transit system. In fact, this author was once told by a fellow passenger not to drink bottled water while riding the DC Metro, which happens to be one of the cleaner and better-maintained underground transport systems in the country.

Critics have lambasted Tynes for not supporting another woman, especially a minority. And that she potentially endangered the MTA employee by posting her picture online. We agree that it is ill-advised to "publicly" shame a person for infractions either real or perceived, but overall, we are losing our bearings. If rules are rules then they should not be bent on the basis of gender, race, religion or any other purportedly defining individual characteristic. It is worth noting that the employee in question has not been reprimanded; the MTA union asserts that she was within her rights to eat as it was a meal break and noted that employees have “an average of 20 minutes to consume a meal and get to their next access point to ensure all buses and trains are on time, safe, and ready to serve the riding public.” Yet in the same breath, the DC MTA confirmed that employees are not allowed to consume food or beverages while on a train or in a station. It seems that the union is couching its statements. The MTA has reaffirmed its rules.

As for Ms. Tynes, she apologized publicly and disabled her social media outlets, yet continues to be eviscerated for pointing out that rules had been broken. She also is being referred to as “Metro Molly.” This unflattering nickname places her squarely in the same pen as depraved racist individuals who harass minorities for being just that, in acts that include summoning the police to swimming pools frequented by black people or as awful, soliciting the help of law enforcement for people purchasing groceries with food stamps. There have been many such documented cases of blatant racism, but this case simply does not qualify. The people now trolling Tynes online, for outing an MTA employee for breaking the rules, are using social media in the same negative way for what they are angry at Tynes for.

Ms. Tynes reputation, livelihood and privacy have been damaged beyond repair. That is unfair. Imagine the irony then that an ostensibly liberal woman of Middle Eastern descent, a racially targeted group in this country post 9/11, reported a grievance only to be lambasted for a non-biased complaint. The MTA employee was in violation of MTA rules; there is nothing racist about that.

If we had a Twitter handle we would post the following @Tynes was wrong for causing a public fuss over a petty violation, The @DC MTA employee was wrong for committing a petty violation, the @public was wrong to lambast Tynes and label her a racist, and Tynes's @publisher was wrong for canceling her book deal.