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,
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.