Cyber-racism: Manifestations of hidden ignorance

Racism is alive and well, especially when our faces aren’t exposed.
Let’s call it…Cyber-racism. We often hide behind our ignorant comments on facebook, twitter, or other social media/blog sites. Our generation is famous for making big claims and not showing our face.

And we’ve all experienced that wasteful hour we spend when we give in to a “rabbit trail” and end up reading horribly racist, sexist, and purely ignorant Facebook, YouTube, or NPR blog comments from people who would most certainly get throat-punched or drop-kicked if they said these things aloud in a room full of half decent people.

Before I say more, let me say connect this to our class.  I watched this amazing video on what black men have to say about who they are. (Please watch before proceeding).

Their demands are simple. To not be thought of as simply an athlete, a rapper, a thief, or as lazy and absent, but instead as an intelligent, individual, compassionate and multifaceted. I understand that the stereotypes discussed in this video do not necessarily pervade every single moment of every single day of a typical black man. Most people understand that, including the men who made this video. As revealed in the video, a black man’s awareness of these stereotypes are particularly prevalent in specific contexts (i.e. when the police are around, or passing a white woman on the street, hanging around culturally insensitive white folk, etc.). Yet, the fact that these are encounters that I think most black men, and black people, can identify with, is what makes this video so moving and pertinent, and is why Buzzfeed authors felt inspired to create it. What is clear is that black men are aware of their “double-identity”, meaning the fact that what other people think of them often vastly differs from what they think of themselves. And the difficulty in navigating other peoples projections of identity is what this video seeks to highlight, an everyday aspect of a life while black.

And then, your finger grazes the mouse pad and you accidentally scroll down, only to be thrown into a fantastical world of ignorance, like a high school food fight but… this time, the food is words. lol I find it relevant to share some comments that particularly interested me, because they reflect some of the racial attitudes that we discuss in class. I just picked the first four that interested me (Selection bias).

Comment 1: Want to switch places with me? I’m a disabled white woman with a learning disability who can’t drive. I would love to be a non-disabled black person even it is only for a day.

Similar to what we talked about in class, this is a perfect example of how whites of lower socio-economic class, or other types of disadvantage, often place blame on blacks because of this idea that there isn’t enough “American dream” for them. The situation of this commentator, unfortunate as it may be, has no need to be racialized nor take place within a conversation about racial injustice. Yet, here we find this comment, just as we find comments about education and academic opportunity, job opportunity, housing opportunities, etc.. Those topics too are often racialized in conversations between poor whites and blacks. I find it especially interesting that she chose to make known her “victimized” place in society in a video specifically discussing “black manhood” in America. Why? Unnecessary, woman.

Comment 2: I just hate ghetto hoodrats, which is not limited to black people (119 likes)

It is interesting that this person felt it appropriate to make a comment about “ghetto hoodrats” on a video that is directly linked to stereotypes about black men, only to insinuate that they are not being racist because they are not limiting this derogatory term to only black people. I think this is common in many of our conversations about race, when people make obvious connections between race and personality attributes, and then claim to be completely innocent in terms of racial bias. Eliminating these nuances is a key component in overcoming what these black men are discussing in this video. Personally, I think that just as institutional racism has been re-stylized and coded to associate “blackness” with “criminal”, in more social contexts, the appropriate measure of racism is where, in conversation, “blackness” equals “hood-rat” and “ghetto”. It’s simply racism with a different name.

Comment 3: Obviously not all black men fit under these stereo types, but when 85% of all crimes in the U.S are committed by African American males then people are going to be inclined to pre judge. (With 219 likes)

Another common response we hear in conversation, but especially online– this notion that black men, black people, have earned their reputation through the way that they act. For an example of why these statistics are skewed by racial profiling, we can examine drug related crimes that contribute to that supposed “85%”.  Racial disparity in marijuana arrests of blacks alone account for 3x more arrests than whites, even when between 2001-2010 accounting for ages 18-25, white usage of marijuana is higher. This is just one obvious example of how these statistics that reflect an epidemic of “crazy black crime” and this “85%” is absolutely skewed by racial profiling in arrests.This is not to excuse actual crime committed by black people, but people of all races commit crimes and some are more likely to get arrested and thus put on file as criminals.

Comment 4: Things white people are tired of hearing…

1.)   You are a racist if you point out the epidemic of black violence in America.2.)   Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown were innocent children who were gunned down just for being black. 3.)  All whites are “privileged” just based on our skin color. 4.)   Black people can’t be racist because they don’t have power 5.)  White people are the main problem in failing black communities. 6.)  The way the media portrays when a white person kills a black person, as if it’s the real epidemic.  When in fact, it’s the other way around. 7.)  Hash-tags like #blacklivesmatter  when a white person kills a black person, even though the majority of interracial violent crime is black on white. 8.)  White people can’t be the victim of an interracial hate crime. 9.)  We need to bow down to black people because of the racism our ancestors inflicted upon their ancestors.
(with 107 likes)

I could go on forever in response to these claims. I’ll just touch the first and maybe y’all will dibby up the rest for further conversation. First, talking about the epidemic of black violence does not make you a racist. I am a firm believer in looking at problems raw and head first. However, there is always a causal root to any “epidemic”, and it is clear that this commentor does not seek to solve this problem, rather seeks to point the fingers. Claiming that as a white man, you and yours have innocent hands in the reality of violence within black communities is an injustice and a reflection of the very white privileged you neglect in your further points. Following slavery (yes, I read point #9), blacks were thrown into a reality of freedom much like throwing a young child onto a adult bike without training wheels. White Americans has the privilege of going through economic progressions with educational advantages, while the end of slavery only marked the beginning of attaining institutional justice for black and brown people. Fast forward, blacks obtain industrial jobs, those are taken away as rich, white owned companies outsource for the sake of even cheaper labor, and urban communities are left in utter economic and social dispair. Enter joblessness, enter drugs, enter cyclical poverty and enter violence and gang activity. To eradicate the problem of violence, we have to address the problem of non-opportunity, unequal balance of power, and white hegemonic forces. So are you racist for pointing of violence in black communities? No, but you are racist for insinuating that black on black violence is simply a “black” problem. When a white person goes crazy and shoots a bunch of kindergardeners, or college students, it isn’t a “white” problem. It’s a “human” problem, and people of all races care and wonder, how could this happen in our world? I’m sure that Lopez, author of “white by law”, and other critical race scholars would agree that people of all races need to examine violence in black and brown communities and consider it a “human” and a “structural” problem, and not a “black” problem, like we do when white people commit senseless acts of violence.

In conclusion, It’d be nice to think about these Youtube comments as isolated incidents of racially unaware citizens, however I find that these comments reflect a lot of what I hear in actual conversations about race. It is intriguing to me, though, that the bluntness and “absoluteness” that commentors have about their statements are especially apparent online. When Trayvon Martin’s trial was going on, I was utterly surprised to see the overtly racist  facebook statuses that were defending zimmerman and the “white population” posted online by some of my closest friends. Some of this technology is great, being apart of a generation that has access to so much information all at once, and is able to easily post and respond to social issues right from our smart phones. But on the other end, I feel that this ability to hide behind a computer screen and make such racially charged statements is partially why we are able to avoid having serious, face-to-face conversations about racist nuances in our language and thinking.

Thoughts?

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6 thoughts on “Cyber-racism: Manifestations of hidden ignorance

  1. Wow, Candace! That was AWESOME. What a fantastic video, and what utterly disheartening responses. I just want to think out loud for a minute about your question: what is it about the space of social media that lets (white) people think it’s OK to say things they would never say to a person of color in person? That’s a great question, and it’s an important one as we all spend oodles of time on line these days.

    It could be a kind of social media “Bradley Effect” (see the Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_effect), where we seek social desirability when actually talking to someone but then do things that differ from what we say when we’re not anonymous. In some ways, you could think of this as a racial “Ring of Gyges” problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_of_Gyges): what racist things would people do if they could do so without be observed? The fear – and one that seems completely reasonable given those comments – is that many white people, if they could do so unobserved, would utterly disregard injustice toward people of color.

    The other thing I find really fascinating is the first comment you reported, AKA ‘the oppression olympics.’ We all play this game at some point – while I may have privilege X, I am oppressed in ways A, B, and C. That woman has clearly been dealt a hard hand in life, and I can imagine that if I was disabled and had those obstacles, I would feel somewhat defensive/upset when those who do not experience my everyday life complain. That is reasonable. But one might also argue it’s unjust and unemphathetic. Ideally, both this woman and these men can live in a world where all can live up to their potential and be secure in their dignity. Just because she has been denied that on the basis of her disabilities doesn’t change the fact that these men have been denied that on the basis of their race and gender. So her comment is an effort to sort of shame them into feeling sorry for her on axis X when they are trying to bring light to axis G and H. She wins on X, but does that mean they lose on G and H? No, of course not. But this is SUCH a popular tactic amongst people who don’t want to talk about race.

    Final point – I love how Alexander (and lots of other writers such as John Stuart Mill, W. E. B. Du Bois, and James Baldwin) points out that unearned privilege harms those in positions of privilege, too. Mill calls it the “reward of unearned merit” in his discussion of how the family is a site of tyranny where boys are instructed in domination and women in subordination. We can imagine a similar dynamic playing out amongst whites: while they may never be rich, at least they aren’t black, and that feels like a kind of reward that is, of course, entirely unearned and unjust. The point is that whites are taught to expect deference and privilege and success, and when it doesn’t work out that way (as Guinier points out), blacks are clearly to blame. I think that a LOT of what we see online in comments like you point out comes from this last point.

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    1. Thank you! I love everything you said about the oppression olympics and unearned privilege. So true.

      I think this notion of social media racism is especially prevalent when discussing race relations in America contemporarily. Just as there was backlash from media representations of Till from the white community, vicious aims at protecting “whiteness” and the culture of the South, we see that today as event upon event comes out in the media depicting police brutality in the lives of young black and brown men. And then videos like this one comes out, and that same conversation is being played out right before our eyes like de ja vu…an attempt to preserve white identity and culture by claiming that such stereotypes are false, or worse yet, justified!

      I’d hope to think that what we see playing out in these conversations are more of a “bradley effect” as you’ve suggested than a “RIng of Gyges”. I feel that in a typical white person, black person conversation about race, at least in my experiences, there is this understanding of…” Oh, well not YOU, Candise…you’re a respectable black person” and thus these cyber-racists would never say the kind of things they post on the internet to my face because I am a clear representation of a black person who isn’t ungrateful, impoverished, thug-like, anti-patriotic (fill in blank) in their circle of friends. In conversations that I, and many of my other minority friends have had, we have been the “exception” per say, and thus making claims against an entire people group would be considered false to the cyber-racist…because of our respectability. To say that what happens in cases of cyber-racism is purely a “ring of gyges” type occurrence might be true for (hopefully) a small minority of white supremacists, but even the more “reasonable white people” posting such comments on social media, it’s probably more of a bradley effect. But then again, I just don’t know. Maybe it’s just my hope in humanity making this claim. haha!

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  2. This video is extremely powerful. The mere fact that these men can name so many stereotypes is astounding for so many reasons: (1) That they can so easily identify these stereotypes (2) The vast number of stereotypes (3) The negative connotation attached to each stereotype and (4) That I wasn’t surprised when I heard these stereotypes precisely because I had heard them all before. My fourth reason is the most disheartening because I cannot point out the exact moment when I first heard ANY of these stereotypes. I do not remember learning about how black men are “basket players” or “violent” or “thugs.” I do not have one specific moment when I first heard these stereotypes and that is horrifying to me. Thus, while I grew more horrified after reading the comments left online, I wasn’t surprised about them–which is a problem in itself. Racism has become so engrained in this culture, even if it isn’t accepted, that it is difficult to find the head to chop off, so to speak. Therefore, I think videos like this are a great step in combating racism. Merely by pointing out the stereotypes, it makes people become aware, and I think becoming aware is a very important step in this process. Also, I think technology, yes, can be dangerous. However, it also demonstrates racism so bluntly that it allows us to SEE it. Thus, when we can see it, we can combat it.

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    1. You make such a good point Allison. We all know these stereotypes, just because we live in America. The worst part is, even as a brown woman, I know and behave along the lines of these stereotypes very often, just as you probably do. How interesting would it be to trace back these cognitive processes to where it all began, and get in our child-like brain to see what our innocent reaction was like when first making these derogatory distinctions either in reflection of our skin color or another’s!

      I think it’s interesting too, that you say, you weren’t surprised by the comments online as you skimmed them after the video, but your final statement was that this dangerous technology helps us to see very “bluntly” how racism operates in our society. You bring up a good point. In some respects, just as I am INFURIATED about many of the racially charged and derogatory statements and memes online currently about black protesting/rioting in Baltimore, I’m thankful for the MESS of racially charged and ignorant opinions so fully displayed on all of social media to see. Why? Because it’s clear. You always have the Mother Teresa of Facebook claiming that “God doesn’t see color” and that “we all need to move past this and treat people with respect”, but therein lies the problem with this fabricated solution that America and our history books have fed us for so long about being blind to race! Colorblindness will not solve the issue of racism, and if social media displays of racism have shown us anything, it’s that this nation is definitely not mature enough, and will never be developed enough, and probably wasn’t designed by God cognitively, to be COLORBLIND. I wonder if there will be significant change in our generation, a tipping point of sorts, that will cause our Facebook timelines to look different and more civil when an injustice is committed against a black or brown person.

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  3. As Martin Luther King Junior said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” To me, this is what makes spaces like social media so very hard: to engage in the kind of honest and frank calling out of ridiculous behavior and comments actually requires time and effort and emotional investment and pain. So much pain. Many – including me, for the most part – thus err by ignoring the flamingly racist comments rather than get enraged in a space that will probably not lead to any actual change.

    The question, then, is what we do outside of the weird space of social media – the hard part, as Candase pointed out, is that most whites see ‘good blacks’ as honorary whites (Lopez’s points on this are soooo good). Thus, the ‘honorary whites’ when they hear stuff like this are in an almost impossible situation: challenge the person who has recognized them as an equal and granted them a kind of equal personhood and risk losing that honorary whiteness (thus harming themselves), or else remain silent and leave that person’s assumptions unchallenged (thus harming themselves and other members of their race or group). The difficulty is that the ‘honorary white’ loses on both counts. Which is why – to me at least – it’s so incredibly important that whites who care about racial justice DON’T leave that work to the ‘exceptional’ minorities, but engage in that work as allies.

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