Internet racism

Internet racism is nothing new.   At one time, many internet users subscribed to the notion that faceless interaction would lead to a decline in racism.  It was said that on the internet everybody is equal.  Since we can’t see each other’s faces, the only way we can judge others is by the content of their character.

It was just another version of colorblindness.  And you can see from Dr. Tynes’ research the colorblind ideology is linked to racism.

My first experience with colorblind racism was on a gardening forum, of all places.  And what I tended to notice was that white people didn’t assume other folks at the keyboard were a multi-hued group, all of whom were equal.  They tended instead to assume everybody on the other end was white.  And they posted accordingly.

Now you wouldn’t think that a gardening forum would be a hotbed of racism, would you?  But what I found was that there were so many subtle and not-so-subtle racist remarks towards people of color.   (Not to mention all those other  -isms.)

What happened if you (I) mentioned anything?  What’s the matter, you can’t take a joke? You’re the real racist, injecting racism where it doesn’t exist!  It’s not racist, you just don’t understand …

And then you know who the bad guy is.  It’s the person who points out the racism.  No matter how kindly or sensitively it’s done.  No matter how thoughtfully difficult issues are explained.  Because everybody else was just having fun.  Except for you.

Yeah, it was the beginning of We heard it before.

For the most part, I previously thought about internet racism as being fueled by anonymity.  Take a look at the comments sections of news sites.  Even when there is a little blip that reads something like Blah blah blah we value freedom of speech and reasoned discourse blah blah blah no racist or sexist or any other kind of ist will be tolerated. And then directly following that is usually a bunch of -ist comments.

Sometimes it’s because free speech is privileged above preventing racist harm. But sometimes it’s because the racism isn’t even recognized.

But then came the popularity of social media sites like myspace and Facebook and twitter.  Which blows my “anonymity” theory right out of the water.  There’s been a lot of racist tweeting going on, from politicians to has-been celebrities to sportswriters.  Facebook is a known site for college racists.

They don’t even bother to be subtle about it.  Here’s a recent exchange among two white college students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth about an African American student:

Chelsie Palbicki ewww a obabacare is in the room, i feel dirty, and unsafe. keep a eye on all of your valuables and dont make direct eye contact….

i just threw up in my mouth right now….
20 minutes ago · Comment · Like · See Wall-to-Wall
Anna Langevin likes this.

Chelsie Palbicki obamacare*
20 minutes ago

Anna Langevin omg im crying right now…..HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAAHAH
20 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki my eyes are burning i need to put my glasses back on
19 minutes ago

Anna Langevin omg im going to kill you…..this bitch is gonna come over here and cut me cuz im laughing so hard
19 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki dude dont draw anymore attention that we already draw… were two white girls.. she already has her “nigga” instinct to kill us and use us to her pleasure… seriously we will put some trees in here and make her feel at home so the tensions kind of eases off..
17 minutes ago

Anna Langevin you are going to hell.
16 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki no im not :) but you know im right no only is she black but she looks super dykie, take a look at her rooster hair do shes got goin on over there… YUCK…
13 minutes ago

Anna Langevin HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…i looked and almost lost it….
12 minutes ago

Anna Langevin ..why the fuck am i acting like i give a fuck about that obamacare?
12 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki I KNOW! we dont stick up for them kinds….
10 minutes ago

Anna Langevin hahahah THEM KINDS…
10 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki MMMMMM ( insert word here)
9 minutes ago

Anna Langevin hahahahahahahahahahha i cant take this shit
9 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki me either it smells like shit in here….. and chicken…
4 minutes ago

Anna Langevin and monkeys
4 minutes ago

Chelsie Palbicki more like monkey shit…
April 15 at 6:12pm

Just like in the “Compton Cookout” and the subsequent noose incident, the press has been careful not to name any names. Because we wouldn’t want any retaliation from scary angry people of color, would we?

But if the racist perpetrator attached his or her name to racism, what does that mean? Does it mean that they didn’t care about it? Or that they didn’t think about it? Or that they knew that within their circle everybody else would agree?  Or maybe even that they were proud of it?

In the aftermath of the “Compton Cookout,” one particularly stupid college student chose not only to dismiss the concerns of many other people, but additionally chose to pile on racism of his own. He even chose to go on television about it.  At least the original party planners had the sense to run from the news cameras afterwards.

Sometimes I wonder about the constant reinforcement of racist ideology through the internet.  It can permeate your brain through the constant white framing of the media.  It can attack you when you’re least aware, like when you are happily reading something interesting only to be slapped by a sudden burst of surprise racism.

It can be vicarious racism.  It can trigger.  I worry about this sometimes when writing the blog.  Honestly, I think sometimes I should put a trigger warning on the whole damn thing.  Sometimes I don’t write about a topic, not because I didn’t see it or because I don’t care about it, but because I just don’t have the energy.  Sometimes I need to keep my brain in a clean and sanitary place.

And it can be direct, vicious racism.  Like Chelsie Palbicki and Anna Langevin.  One of the two was reported to have more than 700 “friends” on Facebook.  How many people saw the exchange and never said a word?

The University has been trying to address the situation, although administrators there are leaning towards addressing the “offensiveness” as opposed to addressing the racism.  So they announced they’re trying to care for the victim and other black people who might be “offended.”  (There are 130 African American students on campus out of 11,000+ total.)  Dr. Tynes’ comment on internet racism should be noted by the UMD folks:

“We need to teach people about structural racism, about the ways that race still shapes people’s life chances and how the media informs our attitudes toward race.”

Maybe the open racism on the internet is a wake-up call to all of us.  We thought it was about those trolls who hid in dark places.  But instead we find out it’s everybody.

20 thoughts on “Internet racism

  1. I agree. I love the last few lines.

    But if the racist perpetrator attached his or her name to racism, what does that mean? Does it mean that they didn’t care about it? Or that they didn’t think about it? Or that they knew that within their circle everybody else would agree? Or maybe even that they were proud of it?

    Since racist perpetrators believe that everyone on the Internet is white, they act as they would act when there are no people of colour around.

  2. This of course is not surprising. But it isn’t universal.

    I am one of the founders of a web forum that is about a decade old. We have something around 17,000 members, millions of posts, threads, etc. We have events scattered around the US and members from around the planet. Virtually every single occupied continent.

    The vast majority of the people are white men. Straight white American men.

    And yes, there are problems related to race, politics, religion, etc. But the level of racism depicted above has never been tolerated. Nor is the same towards gays or lesbians. We are quite brutal about it. It isn’t a group of “nice” people by any stretch, but mostly risk takers and often a bit too much bravado.

    I have found myself greatly disappointed in some of them over the years, but more often than that they make me proud. At the physical events where we fly across the country to rent a race track and spend time together, it is more diverse than it is online. That’s an odd thing actually.

    I’d say the best advice I’ve gotten on raising my sons has come from the Asian friends I have met there. They noticed my humility over my fatherhood and dove right in to support me. Very strange to see a group of rough men cry.

    Anyway, I say there is hope. At least for the future.

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  4. Like the New Yorker cartoon says “on the Internet, no one knows you are a dog.” I have a hard time reading anonymous comments on news stories because of the racism, sexism, and homophobia that gets published. It saddens me that they feel no respect for others and choose to show their hatred in this way.

    This is a brilliant post on a blog that is on my required reading list every day. It’s made me understand why I need to stick my neck out and name things for what they are.

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  7. Too true. My circle of acquaintances are mostly progressives, mostly white, fairly active those some of us are more politically oriented than others. I was born and for the most part raised in the SF Bay Area, and I know very few conservatives, very few people outside of my little microcosm.

    Yet even within my group, which voted 100% for President Obama, I come across a fairly garden-variety denial of white privilege and the more subtly racist attitudes that comes with that. Everyone is horrified by SB1070, but some still absolutely believe the myth that they achieved success through nothing but their own hard work and determination, and assume that if you haven’t had the same success, it’s your personal failure. And they have been very resistant to any consideration of the concept of white privilege because it just doesn’t jive with their image of themselves. They figure if they don’t hate anyone except the Tea Partiers, they in no way contribute to the perpetuation of racism.

    In a way, having to

  8. What is even worse, are the anonymous posters/trolls who actively seek out ‘non-white’ sites, boards and blogs to post their racist vitriol. I have visited a site , ‘Black Voices’, and you would not believe the vile and sickening posts and horrifically racist pictures that are placed there. In these posts, ‘intent’ is clear.

  9. I’m currently a freshman at UMD and I’ve met one of the girls before. First of all, when I read the conversation I was APPALLED, SHOCKED, DISGUSTED… but also very confused. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how they could actually live in 2010 and think that making fun of someone for being black is funny. Honestly, I don’t think they know how royally they fucked up in doing so. Anyway, the girl I knew definitely didn’t strike me as a white supremacist – she must have had the University fooled as well.
    Please take note of the word FOOLED.
    I happened upon this page by googling their names to see just how much hype this e-public hate speech has gotten since April 15. Turns out I was right, they’ll be lucky to ever find a job offering higher than minimum wage. Deserved? If you ask me it doesn’t really matter, they might as well have asked for it by being damn near boastful of their racism on facebook.
    But unfortunately, the perpetrators of the harassment aren’t the only ones facing scrutiny.

    The University of Minnesota-Duluth has been shaken to the core by this event. Diversity, tolerance, and acceptance are crucial values that UMD has stressed to it’s students. This act of hate has unfortunately led to assumptions that everyone at UMD is racist, UMD supports racism, UMD rarely accepts African Americans, etc. This is simply NOT TRUE.

    I had to comment on this post to defend my University. I absolutely love my school. Thus far I’ve met students from Japan, Italy, and India. I’ve been involved in a class discussion with a guest speaker from UMD that specializes in (and as a black male, has plenty of experience with) diversity education, enlightening ignorance, and redefining stereotypes. I feel fully equipped with resources like professors, offices in the school (Multicultural Center, etc), websites, clubs, and workshops that the University offers regularly to stress the importance of acceptance.
    So… Basically – the two bad seeds that were students at UMD, where the event happened, have tarnished UMD’s reputation and embarrassed us in unmeasurable ways. Those girls are to blame, NOT the University; This has been widely publicized on campus and all students have received multiple emails regarding details on the situation – the RACIST FACEBOOK CONVERSATION – not the “offensive” event.

    ( Sorry about the caps (: )

    This has gotten too long, just so much to say I guess! The point of this comment was to correct any misconceptions about the school I am proud to attend: People like those girls are very hard to find at UMD. I’ve yet to meet someone so uneducated and prejudiced. I don’t want my peers, as students at UMD, to be generalized as a racist bunch. It’s simply NOT true. I couldn’t even believe what I was reading when I saw their conversation because I just was shocked they ACTUALLY thought all of those things. Wow.

    People these days…

  10. Oyan, your last comment really stands out for me. These individuals take great pleasure in identifying sites that have nothing to do with them to terrorize users with their sickness. I recently read M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie,” and though it was steeped in Christian belief, I do believe his assessment, through some of his patients, was spot-on about the willful, destructive, and unempathetic ignorance some people possess. They are not “crazy” by any means. I try not to become discouraged, mostly because there are so many forces of “good” at work, but sometimes the bad is so overwhelming. I visit this blog and others, read, talk with friends, try to educate (even when clueless questions get on my last nerve), give… but sometimes I wonder how much shouting from the rooftops it will take to reach this element. They are, in my opinion, a different breed altogether. This isn’t my effort to strip them of their humanity per se, as they so easily do with the targets of their vitriol, but I find myself really wanting them to feel the pain. Really. Like today, like everyday, until they understand exactly how it feels to be hated and berated, harrassed and disrespected. But that would make me like them, no? It’s not the mere pain of having hurt feelings, like a child who scrapes their knee on the playground; it’s the soul-wearying realization that someone thinks you’re an easy target and has no problem putting you in the crosshairs.

  11. Duluth, a 93 percent white community. UMD, a 90 percent white school. White facebookers with hundreds of friends–did anyone “defriend” them?

    Read this blog. It’s all about racism. Often perpetuated by educated people.

  12. “People like those girls are very hard to find at UMD.”

    Sure! Because most people at UMD, like most white people in the States in general, have the wit to keep it better hidden than those two did.

  13. The sad thing is that none of this is surprising. Then the scary part is that you never know which people you interact with in real life harbors these racist thoughts.

  14. “People like those girls are very hard to find at UMD.”

    I would think that’s because most of the students might not find anything wrong or offensive about what’s transpired. Sad. Pathetic.

    You know, I love this blog because I have learned so much here. I’ve read things I’ve felt and known but could never put down so succinctly and powerfully. I enjoy and glean so much from the discussions.

    I find comfort here.

    Because sometimes I am just wrung. Exhausted. Furious! I am so tired of the shit because racism is so, so stupid. I mean stupid. It makes absolutely no sense. I feel I could go mad.

    So when I read, see, experience racism (in other words- every single day of my life) and my stomach is roiling and I feel like crying or hating back, I come here and feel a little hope, feel like there are people on my side.

    Thank you. I don’t know why I said all that here. I just needed to.

  15. Okay I also attend UMD an I am the one who found an reported what was said…now I have to say I was not shocked when I seen it because students of color at UMD have heard way WORST, its just this time we had evidence….Now im not saying UMD is the worst school every because its not all im saying is they have had a problem like this for years an because of the publicity this one incident is getting they have decided to do something about it…

  16. “Because sometimes I am just wrung. Exhausted. Furious! I am so tired of the shit because racism is so, so stupid. I mean stupid. It makes absolutely no sense. I feel I could go mad.”

    c, I feel exactly the same way, about how you feel and about how comforting it is to come to blogs like this and feel like there’s a safe space for all POC. An incident occurred today that made me want to scream and punch the racist person spewing her hate and ignorance. The racist (who is White) and I are in the same organization, one that she is a veteran of and well-connected to the other members. This organization means belonging to a members-only online message board where racist “jokes” are occasionally posted (by a different White member), but where all members know and see each other in the ‘real world’, thus allowing us to connect the member to the racist “joke”.

    My fear of speaking out against the racist member’s ridiculous rant is due to the fact that I know it will mean shedding light on those in the organization who are a) indifferent to and/or b) in agreement with the racist. As I get to know more of the members, hopefully I can reach out to the other WOC members in solidarity. I’m a fairly new member myself. I’m afraid reaching out too quickly will make some people believe I am “making waves” or “being too sensitive”. And for now, I don’t want to possibly find out that other fellow WOC are okay with the racism that goes on.

    All I wanted to do was join this fun organization created especially to empower women, an org that is not affiliated with religion or politics, but how naive was I to forget the fact that race impacts **everything**.

  17. a bunch of insensitive guys in my Facebook friend list are making fun of a photograph of some African kids studying in a class room, i was really outraged and thought you guys might be able to do something about it… it’s really absurd that they have placed that photograph in an album named funny pictures.. the comments they are posting are just outraging…

    one guy bhaskar posted that “they all look burnt” , another said ” it seems like they have eaten burning charcoal” ,
    these people who think they are grown ups don’t have one bit sense…

  18. Talk about Internet racism, when’s the last time anyone could go on YouTube and not see a racist remark? YouTube seems to encourage it. It’s getting to the point where I really don’t even want to use YouTube anymore. It’s a breeding ground for racists.

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