Every once in a while, my research leads me to take a stroll in the cesspool of the Internet, aka the anonymous imageboard site 4chan. While working on a piece about the attempts by white supremacists to use Massively Multiplayer Online games like Fortnite and Minecraft to recruit young people, I stumbled across an “operation” (their term, not mine) in coordinated meme-making centered around the term “People of Light.”
According to these posters, “People of Light” is supposed to sound like a new politically correct term for white people modeled after people first language like “People of Color” or “People with Disabilities.” In reality, it is an attempt to confuse people interested in talking about race and identity online. In other words, it is a troll. It is also a call-out to the 4-chan /pol/ board for “politics,” a gathering place for neo-Nazis and anti-Semites online.
Here are some examples of the meme out in the wild. Don’t fall for it! It is an attempt to derail whatever conversation it is that you are already having and distract you by getting you to argue about this supposed new term.
What I find interesting about this particular meme is that it lays bare the doublethink at the heart of most fascist propaganda. If you take the channers at their word, it seems as though they believe that political correctness is a silly waste of time, a petty form of censorship that is designed simply to make white people (or men or cis people or straight people or able-bodied people or whoever) feel bad for being who they are and to give sensitive snowflakes something to be offended about.
And yet, at the same time, the planning and thought that goes into an operation like this demonstrates that these folks also believe in the power of language to organize (or, in their case, divide) a community. Their admittedly insincere use of renaming and reclaiming practices is an attempt to refocus our attention away from issues that need discussing (say: the holding of children in concentration camps or the possibility that a foreign power subverted our most recent election). It is also an admission that it matters how a political discussion is framed.
I don’t know if this particular campaign will be successful. There have been others like it before, some of which caught on and fooled people and some of which did not. Be on the lookout and, if you have the energy, call it out as a fake meme when you can. And feel free to link folks here if they ask for proof. I will hold on to the receipts.