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What Does Internet Policing of Racist Remarks Really Accomplish? What Does Internet Policing of Racist Remarks Really Accomplish?

What Does Internet Policing of Racist Remarks Really Accomplish?

by Rebecca Carroll
November 23, 2012

I’ve kind of had it with Slate and its internet policing of another site’s internet policing on the subject of race and racism. There have been not one, not two, but three recent posts indicting Jezebel for its decision to publish a roundup of the hate-filled racist tweets issued by teenagers following the president’s reelection.
 
In a follow-up post, Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey disclosed that the site editors had reached out to the tweeters’ schools in hopes to persuade the teachers and administrators to do something about their students’ behavior. Slate took issue with this, claiming the site had gone too far. In her November 9 post, Slate’s Katy Waldman said that even if the Jezebel roundup had made her more aware that such racism exists, she was quick to then point out that “a difference exists between raising readers’ consciousness and being a rat.”
 
What made matters worse for Waldman was that the tweeters were minors, and that “for a major media outlet to write a self-congratulatory, self-righteous post after playing the informant on a bunch of teenagers looks petty and vindictive, not to mention opportunistic.”
 
What is more self-congratulatory, self-righteous and opportunistic (opportunistic means traffic-mongering) than reposting the same alleged self-congratulatory, self-righteous and opportunistic piece and pretending it is something else? 
 
Waldman, and her colleague Amanda Hess, who penned the third and most recent post, both felt it necessary to quote the “dumb racist things” that were tweeted. How is that different from posting them in the first place? What’s more, did anyone at Slate (and one does wonder if they have any black staff editors) consider that reposting this hate-filled rhetoric in several different ways might have a similar sort of impact as the constant flood of negative stereotypes we have seen (pretty much forever, though some decades more than others) of black folks on TV and in movies?
 
Racism can operate without racial animus. It is a social construct that does not need any sort of fuel or fodder—not GOP code-switching, not Donald Trump, not the racist tweets of teenagers—in order to thrive. Posting racist tweets, and this goes for Jezebel too, will not stop racism. Nor will trying to shame people into not saying racist things. Although, I do think that Jezebel is more culturally conscientious, and does in fact have a black staff editor. 
 
As to the notion of publicly shaming minors, Waldman writes: “Teenagers do stupid things, say stupid things, think stupid things, and are wrong all the time. If Jezebel was really concerned about, say, the safety of the president, they should call the police.” To which I will say, stupid is jet skiing on the East River during a hurricane. Using racist rhetoric to refer to the president of the United States is, well, racist. Stupid and racist are not the same thing. And, I’m sorry, but call the police? Imagine how that might go down: “Hi, police? There are some kids tweeting racist things about the president, and I fear for his safety.” Police: “OK, hold on, let me just get this cat out of this tree and then I’ll get right over to the White House.” What?
 
These kids are racists. They may be stupid too, but primarily they are racists who are living in an all-access, social media-driven world where tweets are aplenty and a self-entitled life is the new Best Life Ever. Although, as Hess notes in her piece, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that “higher-income parents are more likely than low-income parents to help their kids set up privacy settings on social network sites.” Which means, Hess concludes: “The children of highly educated, high-income parents aren’t necessarily less racist than their peers. But they are more equipped to hide their worst thoughts from college admissions counselors and pesky journalists—meaning that they’re more likely to secure the employment and education opportunities that could help them change their tune.” 
 
And this is what polite white moderates and liberals have been doing for decades: blame the “poor white trash” for instigating racism, and leave us—those who are savvy with our public words—to drink our lattes. But please remember, white people at far-reaching media outlets: You have much more power to change the racial status quo than a roundup of teenage tweeters.

But even as I do sometimes feel very Toni Morrison about it all, in summary: Racism is white people's problem. Handle your business and leave me out of it. I more strongly feel that the way to a solution is through unselfconscious, genuinely curious and engaged dialogue with a broad range of people as often as humanly possibly, and that is, actually, not specifically centered around race and racism. Be interested in the lives of others. Host a dinner party with six people who have entirely different perspectives and experiences and racial backgrounds from yours. If you can't round up six people who are different from you, try harder. Often the reason people are so shocked when they hear that racism still exists is because they've never spent any length of time talking with someone who has experienced it. It won't work, though, if you don't genuinely want to broaden your cultural scope—then it's just affirmative action in your personal life. You have to mean it to make change.
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