As the 21st century gains momentum, progressives all over the world are using modern technology and social media to unite in a manner that transcends the divisions resulting from race, regionalism, gender, sexuality, and place of national origin. Yet even as people connect and share through these social forums in a manner that breaks superficial barriers, many individuals are using online message boards and other conduits for communication to purport racism. Interestingly, Twitter seems to be one of the primary mediums through which these prejudicial paradigms are being published and promoted.
That people use twitter to make racist statements is plain. During Obama’s speech regarding the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, several young tweeters expressed their racialized outrage over the fact that the President’s commentary pre-empted their observation of the scheduled Sunday night football game by referring to him with the ‘n’ word. In taking note of this depravity, NewsOne For Black America reported that University of North Alabama football player Bradley Patterson was taken off the team after sending a tweet in which he referred to Obama with the ugly epithet. In explaining this decision, the UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder stated that the inappropriate tweet could not be condoned.
In reviewing the recent recidivistic developments that unveil how online forms of social media are being used to advance racist rhetoric, I am led to consider my own interpretations of potentially bigoted and biased comments that are expressed through Twitter. Although I am a Democrat, I have a personal commitment to listening to and analyzing the commentary of Republican leaders so that I can gain a balanced and multifaceted understanding of political events as they unfold in America. It is for this reason that I took particular interest in hearing Sarah Palin’s response to the fact that radio host Laura Schlessinger repeatedly employed the ‘n’ word on her show in a manner many people found derogatory. After the uproar regarding her use of the epithet, talk of Schlessinger leaving the air led to Palin responding thus: “Dr. Laura: don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2 activists trying 2silence “isn’t American, not fair”). While many may argue that this statement does not constitute a racist tweet, I cannot agree. Although upholding our 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech is an important and perhaps patriotic thing to do, I have personally concluded that the underlying principle behind Palin’s response was the defense of a race-based and racist comment.
In light of the progress that many progressives have made in dismantling the racist paradigms that make sociocultural and economic inequality between blacks and whites a salient signifier of the country’s value system, I think it is important for individuals committed to principles of diversity and inclusion to maintain awareness of the way social media forums like Twitter are now being used as conduits for racist rhetoric. Perhaps analyzing this sort of derisive and divisive commentary will result in a deeper awareness of why people think and feel the way they do about historical realities rife with contemporary import.