Yesterday, Boston.com’s Charlotte Wilder, writing against the backdrop of severe controversy and unrest over the deaths of black men in police custody (especially current events in Baltimore), claimed that Facebook is the best medium for identifying one’s racist friends and family members. Here’s a snippet of how Wilder (a white female, if anyone is curious) started:
Facebook is the best tool for sniffing out racists among your friends and family.
It’s like the metal detector of who’s a total jerk. . . .
The recent uprising in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody—as well as the national protests over the police killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner last year—showed that a lot of the kids who sat behind you in high school are actually kind of terrible.
The piece goes on to describe the kinds of posted comments that Wilder finds racist and offensive.
I could’ve predicted what the online responses would sound like. You know when you read something on the computer, and you’re thinking, uh oh, this is not going to go well. If you scroll through the comments, you’ll see that I was not disappointed. A heartfelt but somewhat snarky column predictably is yielding a lot of sharp and angry responses.
Sadly, we’ve become used to that level of uncivil online dialogue. That’s bad enough, but the comments that really give me the creeps are those that validate Wilder’s bigger concerns about race and difference, such as this one posted in response to her piece:
Whoa! And get the person’s nom-de-Net, which I’m guessing has been inspired by Germany of the late 1930s. (Nice “picture” too…)
And that, folks, is what we’re too often dealing with in our online world.
Personally, I find these deaths of black men involving police officers deeply disturbing. These situations, plus the widely differing public reactions, prove to me once again how claims that we have become a so-called “post-racial society” are way off the mark. The topic of race remains one of America’s biggest challenges. That said, I won’t attempt to stuff all the dynamics of something so difficult and complex into a few hundred words here. There’s too much that I don’t know.
I have yet to unfriend anyone on my Facebook account for what they’ve said about these deaths and the subsequent protests and destruction, and I hope that no one has done so for me. But when feelings run this hot, and social media platforms allow us to instantaneously share them (often anonymously), the loaded, hostile tones of exchange are not surprising.