Racism: Alive and Well on Social Networks

Logan Smith reminds us, “Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to the societal consequences that speech may provoke.”

In a recent article posted on The Independent, Logan Smith discusses the openly racist comments that have permeated social media sites, specifically Twitter. Although America elected its first black president Barack Obama in 2008, and polling data seems to show an increase in racial tolerance among younger generations, Smith asserts that America has yet to reach what can be called a post-racial society. Smith says,

For the past three months, I’ve been searching for tweets that begin “I’m not racist, but…”, and the results aren’t pretty. More often than not, the person goes on to say (without any trace of irony) something apparently racist – or at least, that’s what it looks like to me – as if the “not racist” disclaimer somehow excuses whatever they’re about to say.

The most disturbing thing about @YesYoureRacist isn’t the racism itself. It’s that the people I retweet – the vast majority of which appear to be teenagers – genuinely don’t understand whether they’re being racist. It’s a generation that never had to grow up during the times of Jim Crow, civil rights marches or apartheid, and has never been confronted by the institutional racism that older generations saw on a daily basis. As a result, many teens seem to think racism simply means active hatred of another race, and not the apparent prejudices and stereotypes displayed by the people I retweet.

Sadly Mr. Smith is not exaggerating. Just a quick scan of the @YesYoureRacist Twitter page and it is quite obvious that people not only think the statement “I’m not racist but…” absolves them of any responsibility, but many of them think they are even amusing. Tweets such as,

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/YesYoureRacist/status/288446204759650305″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/YesYoureRacist/status/288368255968632832″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/YesYoureRacist/status/287680109731794946″]

These types of statements not only serve to perpetuate the vicious stereotypes so prevalent in our culture, but because they are posted on social networking sites they will exist in the public domain forever. Although the majority do seem to come from teenagers who, as Mr. Smith pointed out did not grow up with the widespread institutionalized racism and civil rights movements of the mid-twentieth century, the level of ease with which they throw around such blatantly bigoted comments makes one wonder if we have really come as far as we would like to believe toward a truly tolerant post-racial society.

I would like to point out though that the US did elect its first black president in 2008, and then reelected him in 2012. There is significantly more tolerance for interracial relationships and the gay rights movement has made great strides in the last several years, even gaining the right to same-sex marriage in several states after the last election cycle. Although it is happening slower than many would like, I would argue that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And with activists like Mr. Smith, who are not afraid to openly speak out about the racist statements being made on sites like Twitter, more and more people are becoming consciously aware of the racism that still exists within our society. Openly pointing out these racist remarks and stereotypes can also serve to open people’s eyes and foster growth and change within both individuals themselves and the world as a whole.

Photo:  jamieskinner00/Flickr

About Kathryn DeHoyos

Kathryn DeHoyos currently resides on the outskirts of Austin, TX. She has 2 beautiful children, and is very happily un-married to her life partner DJ.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mike L.
    Good point, although the 9-11 highjackers didn’t wear turbans, nor did the people busted in the UK planning to take down ten airliners with smuggled bomb components plan to wear turbans. In fact, they planned to bring their kids along for cover.
    I think what we see here is the immense fun of calling other people racist. It makes the caller feel morally superior.

  2. Overall, Logan Smith seems to be providing a positive service. I’m really disappointed with the amount of overt racism he seems to have uncovered, and it’s probably a good idea to point it out.

    But I have some reservations about his methods. A recurring theme among his retweets is calling someone a racist when they are honest about their fears. As an example, someone recently wrote “I’m afraid of people wearing turbans on airplanes,” and Logan merely responded with “You’re a racist!”

    Now, obviously there’s a problem with fearing an entire category of people, most of whom probably don’t even share the same religion as the 9/11 attackers. But should we really respond to an honestly shared fear, however inappropriate, with hat amounts to name calling?

    If someone tweets an ethnic slur (which seems to happen unfortunately often), then it’s probably appropriate to simply say “That’s racist.” but what shouldn’t we have more compassion for someone who is brave enough to tell us what they are afraid of, even where their fear is totally inappropriate?

    • Good question.

      With such a tweet as, “I’m afraid of people wearing turbans on airplanes,” rushing to call them racist might be ignoring the circumstances behind that fear. What if the person that tweeted that lost several friends/family in 9/11 or another attack?

      I ask this because it seems that the decision to call someone racist will sometimes consider such circumstances and sometimes will actively ignore them.

      Take for instance being men being fearful of women and women being fearful of men. I know for a fact that if a woman is fearful of men there is often no shortage of people that will come to her defense and declare that it’s not sexist. Even to the point of imposing possible explaninations for her fear. On the other hand a man saying he is fearful of women will pretty much illicit cries of sexism. Even to the point of actively denying given explanations for his fear.

      Now this isn’t to say that none of those folks are racist. Just pointing out that it seems these days the call on whether or not something is racist or not is being determined by the what, where, why, and how but solely by the who (as in flatly saying that anything that is said about white people no matter how bad is never racist but everything a white person says is under scrutiny for possible racism).

      What purpose do these distinctions hold? Well depending on the circumstances you could be looking at the difference between someone that had a bad experience and drew negative conclusions (that need to be corrected) and someone that truly does have no regard.

      And what Richard said below. Sometimes its just grandstanding (not too much different from that Nice Guys of OK Cupid site we were talking about around here a few days ago).

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    What is racism when expressed on social networks. Saying something about computers and karate may be racist, or at least stereotyping. But if you say Asian-Americans are so good in the hard sciences that the West Coast universities and the Ivies have use techniques a la “Gentlemen’s Agreement” to keep Asian-American enrollment down, it is true. Now what?

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