When we left off at the end of Part 8 of our interview, Yogesh and I were discussing some of the feedback he’d received after his Jeopardy! run…
YR: Yeah, but in this context, I started to see these comments pop up, sometimes from strangers, but often from people who didn’t know me personally, but people who are within the quizzing community. People who “diagnose” me with bitterness and talk about how the problem is my being embittered and resentful, which is an interesting thing to say.
As someone who has gone through experiences that would make a very rational person extremely angry, and who has also then watched the people who engaged in that unethical abuse of power face zero consequences and continue to be patronised by a quizzing community that repeatedly pats itself on the back for supposedly being anti-racist and “full of integrity” and so on, there are all kinds of reasons – very legitimate reasons – to be angry, right? And it’s not just me saying so. I’ve seen multiple therapists who 100% agree with me that I am justified in being angry and that, if anything, the root of my problems is that I’m in a context where I’m punished for expressing anger and shamed for expressing anger… whereas I should be validated for it because it’s a very valid anger to have.
Back in Las Cruces, when I first made complaints about the discrimination I was facing, one of the top officials at a major national pub quiz company said, “Well, we’re not going to do anything because there’s too much rancour on both sides.”
Now, I think many people would say that the rancour felt by people who harm someone because of their skin colour and the rancour felt by a person who is harmed because of his skin colour are two different forms. And that it is very much a false equivalence to insist that they’re equal and therefore both sides are at fault and so there’s no need to intervene.
SH: It’s as ridiculous as that time when Trump said “There were some very fine people on both sides”. The people being discriminated against AND the neo-Nazis? “Very fine people on both sides?” Um, no – wrong.
YR: Right. And something else I studied as a social psychologist was accountability. People are not going to be unbiased unless they’re made accountable in some way, right? And the people who run these companies, they’re not accountable; they don’t have to justify their treatment of me as being fair, they just have to say stuff and then cut things off and go back to their position of power. No one’s going to hold them accountable for being fundamentally discriminatory. But the dance you do as a person of colour is that there is no “proper” amount of anger. If you display no anger, then there’s no problem, and you only have yourself to blame for not advocating for yourself. But if you display anger, then your anger is the problem and you need to learn to “let it go.” And people have told me that my therapist will agree with them that I need to let it go.. and then my therapist will say, “No, that is absolutely not what I believe!”
SH: So where does that leave you, then?
YR: Well, that’s the thing, right? It leaves me in a place where I have to shrug off the narrative of “Yogesh Raut, master of useless information”, and say, “No. I’m Yogesh Raut, master of understanding what racism looks like”. Right? You think that if you don’t vote for Trump, if you don’t support Trump, if you denounce Trump loudly everywhere you go, you’re somehow magically not a racist. But these things that look like they’re not racist – these things of saying, “I feel so sorry for him, he just needs to learn to let go of bitterness and resentment” – yes, they are racist, because they involve making authoritative statements about a situation where you’ve made no effort to learn the reality of the situation.
Thinking you can go in and arbitrate who is deserving of accountability and who isn’t, and that somehow you’re better qualified than a professional therapist to tell a victim of racism how they should just accept that they’re not going to get accountability – It’s racist, and it’s hypocritical as well, because these same people will repeatedly say, in broad strokes, “we definitely need accountability. Racism and sexism are systemic and we need accountability for it.” But when you actually try and advocate for it in their own community, against institutions that they like or are invested in, suddenly your anger is the problem and you just need to learn to “let it go.” But I think what offends me the most about it is that it is passing itself off as compassion. It’s this person publicly saying, “Look, I really feel for this person and I want what’s best for them. Which is why I think they need to learn to let it go and let people who’ve committed misconduct just continue to flourish with no accountability… for their own good.”
SH: It’s patronising and it’s dismissive, and as you say, it’s mock compassion. They don’t have to do anything; “By saying this, I’ve done all I need to do. See ya!”
YR: Right, exactly. It’s insisting it’s an individual problem rather than a systemic one, because if it were systemic, A) they would be complicit in it, and B) they would bear some responsibility for dismantling it, if they actually are the non-racist or anti-racist they claim to be.
SH: Rather than just paying it lip service, which is what this is.
YR: Yeah. In one of my posts, I paraphrased the movie Brassed Off, and I said, “The truth is I thought it mattered. I thought Quizzing mattered. Does it bollocks! Not compared to how people matter.”
YR: People have spent my whole life telling me that what I do is “trivia”. And on some level, I just want to say, “Okay, you know what? If it really is trivia, then that makes it all the less acceptable to treat people like second-class citizens based on their skin colour or for any other reason in the name of it.” It isn’t my job to promote the trivia ecosystem and overall structure the way it exists now. It’s my job as a human being to try and make it better for other human beings: the people who are involved in it now, and the next generation of people who will be involved in it. And if that makes people want to hunt down my home address and send me hate mail… Well, that’s unfortunate, but that isn’t my choice.
SH: Of course not, of course not. That’s terrible. That’s really terrible. This post-Jeopardy stuff, has that died down and gone away now? Or do you still get some of that material coming at you?
YR: After the first few days, once I realised it was escalating, I basically shut down my social media and ignored whatever outlets people have. I stopped looking at Reddit, and I stopped looking at J-board. I think with the wild card tournament, it will flare up again. People will not listen to me. And it’s frustrating – because of how much effort and emotional labour I put into saying what needs to be said – to watch it all be swept away and replaced with a fake narrative, putting fake words in my mouth and fake things, fake opinions I never expressed, and fake patterns of behaviour that don’t reflect my actual behaviour.
SH: You care about these things, and they’re just turning it into fodder for the 24 hours news cycle.
YR: Yeah, I care about things, I care about people. Like I said, one of the things that other game show did was it isolated the contestants and didn’t let them interact, which is almost inhumane. Especially because you don’t have a phone or anything with you. But part of what makes these shows fun is that you meet people who share your passion and you get to interact. And Jeopardy at least allows you to do that to some extent. It doesn’t actively segregate you or break up conversations as they are happening. Other than Troy Meyer and Michael Cavaliere, I didn’t know any of the people in my taping groups. And by the end, I had become friends with some of them, and some of them even agreed to come on my podcast.
YR: Yeah. At the end of the day, I wasn’t there to show off what a nice and friendly person I am. But still, I saw another contestant who had really had a very bad game, and at the end of the day, she was leaving the studio. She was very depressed. She needed someone to listen to her, and – there were no cameras around, I didn’t care about the fact there were no cameras around – I saw someone suffering. I walked with her out to outside the studio gates, and I listened to her, and I made it clear that she had my sympathy. And I don’t think that makes me a hero at all. I didn’t do it to look like a hero, and I don’t think it does. I used to think it made me a normal human being. Now that I’ve seen what normal human beings are like with regard to empathy and compassion for others, I think maybe I overestimated what counts as normal in that regard.
SH: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
YR: But the thing is that I didn’t behave friendly to these people so that they would go out and defend me or advocate for me. I didn’t do it so I could wave that in people’s faces and say, “See, I’m not a terrible person, and I wasn’t mean and cruel to all these other people”. That was not the reason I did it. I don’t want to be rewarded for any of these things that are what a normal human being should do in those circumstances. But I also don’t want everything that I am (and that I did naturally, without thinking) to be swept aside, just because some people who don’t know me decide that it feels better for them to paint me as a mean, aggressive villain.
SH: Yeah. I often think if were taught empathy and compassion as subjects in school, and it was compulsory, as they graduated from school and moved out into the world, we wouldn’t recognise the place. It would be such a change for good. Such a change for better. Where empathy and compassion are the norm and not exceptions to the rule, I think it wouldn’t recognise the place.
YR: Yeah. And you asked about positive reactions. So I’ll read one thing that I got from an acquaintance, a Facebook friend. They wrote, “Hey, I just wanted to say thank you. I’m a white woman who has taken up space in quizzing on and off. I’ve never been particularly good at it, but that’s okay. The quizzing community – save for a few quiz bowl folks – has ruined it for me. I want to say more than anything that every time you speak up, it makes me happy. Every witty retort, every time you reaffirm the racism you experience, every time you point out the flaws. I only know that lens from being trans and disabled – the difficulty that comes from speaking again and again, almost as if you’re screaming into a void while people claw at your feet and clothes and try to drag you down to “where you belong”. So I know, in my own way, how hard and exhausting it is, and you’re doing it anyway and have never, to my knowledge, hesitated to do so. I guess I kind of look up to you, not just because you’re an amazing quizzer with an endless thirst for knowledge and pride in himself, but because you try your best in this unfair world to let people realize the fuckery that’s going on. And every time someone – anyone – speaks up for what’s right, I feel a little more happy being on this Earth.”
SH: What a great way to go out. That’s wonderful. That’s a keeper! You’ve got to print that out and put it on your wall. That’s a keeper. That’s worth a thousand of the negative ones. That’s brilliant. Thank you for sharing that.
YR: Thank you for listening and giving me this opportunity.
SH: Oh, of course. Wow. I think that’s a lovely way to finish. Do you?
YR: Sure. Yeah.
SH: Thank you. And messages like that are reasons to keep fighting the good fight.
YR: I’d like to think so, yeah.
SH: For sure. Right. Good. Thank you!
YR: Right. I did try and tell you in advance that this may not be like your typical interviews…
SH: No, it hasn’t been! (LAUGHS) It’s been fascinating, though, and very personal, and you’ve really opened up. I really appreciate that Yogesh, and it’s been wonderful. So much more than I expected, so thank you very much.
I’d like to thank Yogesh Raut so much again for his time, his openness and his unflinching honesty. It just remains for me to close with a final reminder that you can find Yogesh’s blog The Wronger Box right HERE, and his podcast Recreational Thinking is right HERE.
See you next time