Racism still exists. I hope this isn’t breaking news to anyone. If so, I apologize for the spoiler. This week in racism has to do with an article Jezebel ran exposing a number of Tweets from teenagers around the web on the eve of Obama’s re-election, Racist Teens Forced to Answer for Tweets About the ‘Nigger’ President. Unfortunately, teenagers embarrassing themselves on-line is as old as the Internet. For example, earlier this year two girls (pictured above) had to leave school and apologize after posting a racist filled video rant on YouTube. This video, placed on-line on purpose mind you, was meant to clear up how totally not racist they were after a previous post on Facebook came under fire. Some of you will remember our post on the racist rebuttals to the Hunger Games after the producers did something as outrageous as cast a black actor to play the part of a black character from the book of the same name. You may also remember a number of women yearning for the opportunity to have Chris Brown beat them. It seems the Internet has no shortage of idiots just longing for the opportunity to be exposed for their idiocy – even the King of Internet Trolls was exposed this year.
An excerpt from the Jezebel article:
There was an abundance of hate speech on Twitter after Obama’s reelection, with people hurling violent and racial epithets. Many of those tweeters were teenagers whose public Twitter accounts feature their real names and advertise their participation in the sports programs at their respective high schools. Calls were placed to the principals and superintendents of those schools to find out how calling the president—or any person of color, for that matter—a “nigger” and a “monkey” jibes with their student conduct code of ethics.
We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity. Or they could let them know that while the First Amendment protects their freedom of speech, it doesn’t protect them from the consequences that might result from expressing their opinions…read full article.
What does all this mean?
Some would simply dismiss this as, “same sh*t, different day.” Such is the way of the internet. The only difference between these people and the millions of others on the Internet is they got caught, right? There is just something about anonymity that draws ignorance to it, like a moth to a flame.
I looked to the Jezebel comments section to get an idea of what people were thinking – interestingly enough, the most vocal opinions were often provided by anonymous pseudonyms and ambiguous profile pictures. There seemed to be three distinct camps.
Camp #1: The kids got what they deserved.
People in this group felt that these kids shouldn’t have said what they said and the exposé was perfectly justified. It didn’t matter that some of the kids were under 18, they opted to provide their real name through social media and deserved whatever punishment that entailed in real life as well. This camp seemed made up of people that would agree with the following quote, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”
Camp #2: The kids got what they deserved but I feel sorry for them and perhaps this is too harsh a backlash.
People in this group felt that yes, what the kids did was wrong, but perhaps exposing the full names of the teenaged perpetrators and their associated schools was overkill. In their opinion, Jezebel had gone too far and might be pushing this story for selfish pursuits. In order to create a story that would receive a high number of page views (Jezebel published two stories on the matter, the original and the follow-up linked here today), they were potentially sacrificing these kids future. What if an employer, friend, or family member Google’d these kid’s name in the future? Was a 140 character mistake worthy of ruining their lives?
Camp #3: Who cares?
This final group of people didn’t seem to care one way or the other. By their estimate, these were just kids being kids and sometimes (most times?) kids are idiots. Who are we to judge these young kids/idiots when many of us were young kids/idiots once. They used examples from their own youth or rhetorically asked how many times had any of us made a less than intelligent remark on-line or off-line, but never received the type of backlash these teenagers were receiving? Is it fair that they should be punished for living in an environment where every dumb idea, thought, or remark has the potential to go viral simply because many of us – by luck they seem to believe – escaped the opinionated onslaught of our peers?
WIM’s thoughts: I don’t automatically assume everyone that uses the N-word is racist but I do think racist people are more likely to use the N-word – and yes, this includes black people. Whether or not every teenager captured in this story is racist is not really for me to judge nor is it of particular concern to me. The larger issue is, racist or not, should teenagers (or anyone) face off-line punishment for their on-line comments. Should every on-line comment, Tweet, Facebook status update or every action we perform on-line, public or anonymous, be subject to the same standard of scrutiny as those made off-line? Are we more genuine on-line than off-line? Most people would say, “No.”
However, even people who believe they’re the same person across all mediums are usually not going out of their way to share every move they make on-line with everyone they know and potentially a few million people they don’t know off-line. This is why many of us choose to exist on-line through some variation of anonymity, even if we have nothing to hide. Does this make us any different than those that get caught? Does existing on-line without ever making a racist, misogynist, sexist or any number of descriptions that end with “–ist” exempt us? I’m not saying it’s wrong to point fingers, but if our fingers are attached to anonymous hands, are we really in the best of positions to judge the perpetrators that happen to get caught, let alone cast stones at them?
As usual, I don’t have a straight answer, but if a presidential candidate for the United States of America can be afforded the opportunity to switch his positions like hands on a clock with little to no challenge from the powers that be, then surely I can be as equally ambiguous with my opinions as nothing more than a lowly citizen with an Internet connection and a platform.
I’m personally over the inequitable fake outrage we apply to the N-word. Either we’re going to get mad all of the time or none of the time or everyone can use it or no one can use it. I get confused what shade of the scale is allowed to use the N-word on any given day of the week, so I generally don’t bother getting upset when someone says it. I have better things to do with my day and other issues to get upset about that more or less influence my day-to-day life at a much higher relative rate than some idiot using the N-word, yet again, on-line or off-line.
To be clear, Caucasian readers, this is, of course, on a case-by-case basis. Please, don’t think we’re suddenly cool enough to call each other the N-word, even if that’s what you do in the comfort of your own home and/or social circle. It’s probably best that no one says it, but I don’t see that happening. Specific to the context of the Jezebel story, I will say it’s a bit troubling that the N-word was so effortlessly – by teenagers no less – used to describe the President of the United States. This tells me that it is likely they have a far lower bar for saying it to their peers or among their peers, which is the real issue of concern. It doesn’t surprise me that teenagers are idiots, but it does frighten me that idiot teenagers have the potential to grow up to become idiot parents who raise more idiot teenagers. That, my friends, is the viscous cycle of idiocy that keeps me up late at night. Knowing that right now, at this very instance, some idiot is breeding with another idiot and producing a family full of idiots. It’s quite vexing to the spirit when you think about it, which is why I try not to think about it. Ignorance is bliss, until it goes viral…
SBM family, what are your thoughts on this exposure or any other number of exposures that have happened due to people’s on-line activities? Do you think Jezebel did the right thing in exposing these teenagers? Which camp from above do you fall into? Do you hold people on-line to the same standards and expectations that you hold people to off-line? Why or why not?