The attack on Tyler Clementi

Tyler Clementi looked at Dharun Ravi’s twitter feed about him — 38 times in the hours before he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. We’ve had the chance to absorb this sad fact repeatedly, in coverage of Ravi’s trial and conviction of all the things Ravi did leading up to that twitter feed, including holding Clementi up to ridicule, contempt and revilement because he was gay.

Somehow most mentions of Clementi’s repeated returns to Ravi’s twitter feed bypass the obvious question of what Clementi found there, and why he continued to look at it again and again, even as his pain became unbearable. The great exception is this New Yorker piece, which everyone in college, raising children, voting for gay baiting political candidates, should read. Because it’s an obvious question. It wasn’t Ravi’s words that were changing, adding harm or hope of relief, as Clementi returned to the feed, it was the responses Ravi’s followers posted, including “ewww,” and sympathizing with Ravi that continued to add up. The difference between considering that, and leaving the impression that it was Ravi’s behavior alone that made the world an unfriendly place to Clementi in the hours leading up to his death is a critical one. Not because it places blame on one cruel, insecure, thoughtless and immature teenager, but because it removes it from everyone else who participated in the attack. It ignores the role Ravi’s fellow tweeters played in giving Clementi the notion that life as a gay man would be a painful and lonely one. It ignores the good that might have come if one of those times Clementi checked the feed he had seen someone castigate Ravi for spying on him, for his homophobic remarks, for harming someone who hadn’t harmed him. It ignores how all of those who responded as they did, and not as they should have were raised, what morality they were exposed to, what made them think there was more wrong with being gay than with being cruel. It ignores the role of churches, schools and politicians — even those with excruciatingly slowly “evolving” views, like our President’s. It ignores the role we all play in making this a cruel world.

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