Railing against the above graphic got me banned from yet another Facebook. I wasn't really commenting on the mild but overt racism of the image. What set me off was the fact that the poster couldn't understand the differences between the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jacqueline Gardner, or why Martin's story inspired so much media scrutiny. Hint: It had nothing to do with the race of the victim.
Martin was an unarmed teenager gunned down by a man police specifically told not to approach Martin who was then released without charges. Gardner was attacked in her home by three men who robbed her and were immediately pursued by police for their actions. Both deaths were tragic, both were killed by people not of their race, both were initially reported in the news and then forgotten, but the similarities end there.
The thing that turned Martin into a national story was a community that wouldn't leave the question of whether justice was being done on behalf of Martin alone, whereas in Gardner's case such a question is irrelevant because all three men are in custody on murder charges and will have their day in court.
Gardner's death was unfortunate, as was Martin's, but what a lot of people seem unable to grasp is that it's not a case of a white woman's death being swept under the rug while a black man's is plastered across the news media. The reason is, frankly, a lot of people have no idea that they're being racist. They simply have no clue. Which is why I've put together a five-step program to determine if you're being racist on the internet. Like the signs of alcoholism, exhibiting even one is not a good sign, so try to be honest with yourself.
1. Do people often call you racist? This is the simplest and easiest sign that you may have veered into Hatersville. Of course, there are always touchy people who will scream racism at any criticism of any minority, but we're not talking about those people. Do you regularly get called out for statements as being racist? Have you lost online friends and contacts over things you've posted?
Below each story at Houston Press is a handy section for comments, and like all writers I've had to learn to take them with a grain of absinthe. Occasionally, a consistent complaint comes through, such as speaking in first-person plural being elitist and creepy. So I stopped doing that. Look for trends in your interactions with people. If separate parties keep saying that you're being racist, there's a good chance you are.
2. Do people of the race you're talking about "like" comments arguing against you? A month or so back a Facebook friend went on a Caps Lock tirade against illegal immigrants taking all the jobs, including her husband's, because they were willing to work for beans and rice. My first thought was, "Awesome! I'm going to pay four of them to carry me around in a throne like Xerxes at that price!" but then I started pointing out the various holes in her theory.
This went on for a while, and it didn't take long before I realized that pretty much every comment I made was liked by three folks named Hernandez, Rios, and Perez and none of hers were. That's because some people don't fell comfortable wading into such an emotional argument, but are more than happy to cheer on someone doing it on their behalf. When your friends of one race all quietly side against you you should take stock of how the argument you're making might be being received.
3. Do you hate Snopes.com? Listen, the internet has pretty much all agreed that Barbara and David Mikkelson are the best people for determining the bullshit content of any online information. They're just freakishly good at it, and learning to use the site is one of the most important steps you take in teaching your parents and grandparents to navigate the online world.
Do people often comment on your posts with links to the site? It generally means that they're hoping a trusted and much lauded source will convince where just plain conversation won't. The best thing about Snopes isn't even their fact checking, it's how good they are at walking you through the logic of rumors and legends. It's this logic, which is often indisputable, that sells the information as legit. How often you find yourself on the wrong side of it is directly proportional to how backwards your logic is.
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4. Do you feel the need to hide behind the First Amendment? You and I have the right to say pretty much anything we want within a few very narrow and completely understandable restrictions. It's the first thing they put in the Bill of Rights for a reason. That being said, Freedom of Speech does not mean freedom from consequence.
You may feel that your right is being trampled upon when someone argues that what you said was racially insensitive, but it actually isn't. They are exercising the same rights you are, and repeatedly shouting that you have the right to express your opinion no matter what the "politically correct" crowd says is really just indicating that your thoughts get questioned so much you actually feel the need to lean on the Constitution's guarantee to express those thoughts just to keep expressing them. On some level, you know that you're holding onto a right to be wrong.
5. Would you feel comfortable saying what you're saying to the minority you're talking about? This is the final litmus test of any post or share. Would you feel comfortable expressing the opinion you are currently expressing in the group you are expressing it about? If you ask yourself no other question please ask this one.
Remember the picture on page one? If you agreed with the sentiment, would you turn a black man and ask them if they would? Would you say, "I think the Martin thing only blew up because a white Hispanic man shot a black kid?" Probably not... because it is a racist thing to say whether you realize it or not.