Doing Antiracism Wrong, Ctd.

Emily Bazelon is also uneasy about the outing of racist teenage tweeters:

Scrolling through this collection, I’m so grossed out by the tweets that it’s hard to remember why I think this Tumblr is such a bad idea. OK, right: As my colleague Laura Anderson reminded me in an email thread, “I don’t think strangers should be posting minors’ contact information on the Internet, period.” Internet vigilante-ism at the expense of kids is just a terrible idea, given their youth and the evidence that their brains aren’t fully developed, especially in the impulse-control regions.

I also doubt the public shaming will push these kids to reconsider their views—more like give them more reason for indignation. If you come under attack for something you thought you said privately, however wrong you were about that, wouldn’t you feel anger more than remorse?

The argument about the educational value of blowing up these kids spots has always struck me as unrealistic. Very few adults are capable of sincere contrition when they come under attack; a teenager capable of it after being put on blast by one of the most influential sites on the Internet would have to possess superhuman graciousness. (And, uh, that kid probably wouldn’t be calling the president nigger on the Internet in the first place.)

There’s no reason that all the people who say racist stuff on Twitter and Facebook should be shielded from the consequences of voicing their stupid opinions. If they post horribly racist stuff on Twitter and that stuff happens to  come up in a Google search while they’re applying to colleges, oh well. My heart bleeds.

But if folks are going to argue that Gawker Media should be calling kids’ schools to report them for saying horrible things on Twitter, it would be great if they also dropped the pretense that this is about some larger social good — a “teachable moment” about racism or whatever — and not about schadenfreude and wanting to see a bunch of ignorant kids suffer for their assholishness. There’s no way Gawker Media can follow up to determine whether said bigot kids actually got the “enlightenment” it claims they should be getting, and there’s no way Gawker Media — with its sterling record on race and workplace diversity, AMIRITE? — is even remotely qualified to be the arbiter of whether that happens.  This underscores the point I was trying to make before about positioning racists as evil. If you’re calling for this response, you’re basically saying that racist tweeting is such an unconscionable sin that the ignorant kids who engage in it do not deserve the journalistic caution around minors that news organizations usually extend even to felons.

And Jezebel was sloppy. It turns out that one of the photos they ran in the post header belongs to a teenage girl whose picture has been commandeered and used as a meme among trolls. She didn’t actually say anything racist:

Also, here’s a response from a commenter on Racialicious about my earlier post:

But every time people want to claim casual racism is a thing of the past or a rare occurrence left to old, backwards, rednecks and an avalanche of fools get on Twitter or Facebook and start writing the most blatantly racist drivel since David Duke, I love that we can show otherwise.

Not sure who is claiming “casual racism is a thing of the past,” but it’s worth contextualizing this supposed “avalanche” of racist tweeting. Some number-crunchers at Floating Sheep wanted to find out which regions produced the most racist tweets about President Obama on or around Election Day, and they used Jezebel’s search terms (“nigger + Obama,” “monkey + Obama.”) During a period in which millions of tweets were sent, their searches yielded 395 that met that criteria.

This is a serious question: if a bigot yells “nigger!” in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

(h/t Two Men Enter and Rachel Kuo)



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Hi G.D.,

    I’m interested in your argument that “Shame has serious drawbacks as a tool for curbing racism because so much of the way racism works isn’t “personal.” ” I think I agree with your argument. But can you explain it more? As a pretty privileged white social studies teacher in a very privileged mostly white school district, I fall back on shaming pretty often. I think I hear you acknowledging that people who say racist things don’t, you know, “mean it.” They truly believe they’re being good people, and they do have good intentions, yet meanwhile their perspectives on education and achievement and opportunity and “hard work” and crime and politics and the social safety net and whatever else are racist. So what do we do? You’re saying it’s structural and societal, I think. Can you talk more about that, and maybe give advice on how to say it? If I can do better than shaming I’d like to. Any help appreciated.


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