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Monday, July 30, 2012

The Best Way to Deal with Racist Facebook Comments

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 9:36 AM


Do good, liberal, white people have an obligation to express outrage at racist shit people from high school post on Facebook?

Dear Good, Liberal, White person,

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day of adopting shelter dogs, Occupying La Boulange, and reading Mother Jones magazine. Pop open a kombucha and let's chat. The short answer to your question is this: If by "good, liberal, white people" you mean all of humanity, then yes. We should all be a little better about speaking up when we see blatant racism, misogyny, homophobia, and anything that contributes to the staying power of Carly Rae Jepsen

While Facebook is probably not going to be the medium that reforms the world (My bets are on YouTube!), it's almost always a good thing to stand up for others if you have it in you. Not speaking up implies consent, regardless of how casual the setting. Remember that famous quote, "First they came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up ... then they came for the Oreos," and so on? Same basic principal. The more we tolerate, ignore, and sweep under the rug the instances of racism we encounter every day, the more it will continue unabated into forever. As Roxane Gay put it, in her Salon article about Daniel Tosh, "We are free to speak as we choose without fear of prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence."

I'm not saying you have to sucker punch the kid you sat next to in freshman Biology class a decade ago the next time he says something derogatory about our "Kenyan Muslim Socialist" president," but at least acknowledging that such comments make you uncomfortable is a first step.

It's particularly challenging to confront those who are attempting to pass off racism as humor. (If you haven't read it yet, Kate Conger has an excellent post on the recent slew of comedians couching assault and harassment as "jokes.") 

Adding further to the difficulties is the medium itself. The Internet can, at times, feel like a compendium solely made up of vitriol, porn, and cat memes. When it comes to political disagreements generally, it's fine to let a few subjects slide. Let your in-laws have their Reaganomics, for instance, but blatant disregard for the rights of human beings, I think, should never be casually dismissed. One friend offered that we, "keep emotion out of it. The most useful thing is to address precisely what they're posting in a well-reasoned, thoughtful, but polite argument."

If civility doesn't work, Carmen Van Kerckhove over at Racialicious suggests playing dumb can do the trick:

"Put on a bewildered expression, act as if you don't understand the joke, and ask your co-worker to explain it to you. He will not be able to explain why the joke is funny without evoking a racist stereotype. You can then question the veracity of this stereotype, thus pointing out the racism of the joke, without being confrontational and without humiliating your co-worker."

While this plan is easier to implement in person, it can also be done online. 

I'm also fond of the Jay Smooth approach to dealing with racism, which is to focus on what they did (the comment in question), and not who they are (racist douche canoes). The latter attacks a person's character, which is not productive (even if it may be true), but the former addresses their words and actions, i.e. behaviors that can be changed.
Racism isn't, if you'll excuse the pun, a strictly black or white phenomenon. Most people are willing to accept constructive criticism about their behavior if it's done in the right way. Don't take the lazy way out and simply defriend. Complacency is easy, standing up for those who have been silenced is not. 

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at 

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF or Facebook

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