Don’t Read the (Facebook) Comments

I admit — I have a thing about going down foxholes I know I shouldn’t be going down. Just the other day I unleashed a gmail hack to my entire contact list because I just couldn’t help myself from opening an email that I knew, in the back of my head, was spam. I knew it was not going to turn out good for me. But my curiosity took over, and my good sense…who knows where it went.

In the same way, I cannot resist the comments section. When I see a controversial post or article, I generally rush through the words to get to the comments. I want to see what people are saying, even though I know that most of what I am going to get are what the crazies say. It’s an obsession of mine. I enjoy yelling to my husband, “Lemme tell you what some nut said on the New York Times!” It’s grown-up entertainment for a tired mother of three who watches too much Blue’s Clues.

Before today, I thought all comment sections were the same. Bad. But with newspaper comments sections, there is usually a line that isn’t crossed, a line that separates the run-of-the-mill crazy from the diabolical crazy. In my case, given the articles I tend to read, that line (typically called the moderator) separates the passive “don’t all lives matter?” crew from the “stupid dirty n-ggers who deserve to be shot” crew. Some sites even require “real” email addresses, which keeps a lot of the second group crazies away.

So today, when for the first time, I visited a few news sources’ Facebook pages, I was honestly — albeit naively — shocked at the comments I was reading.

If you think online newspapers’ comments sections are bad, you haven’t seen the comments sections for Facebook news stories.

On the side panel of my timeline, I noted that today, a black man was charged with capital murder in the death of a young white woman. I’m a lawyer and I am interested in criminal cases, especially when prosecutors have discretion in what charges to bring. I went to the Facebook pages of some of the news sites carrying the story.

I almost cried at the vitriolic racism in the comments, especially the pictures, which were reminiscent of post-Civil War racist propaganda. Such nastiness and evil is becoming more and more rare in the modern day; our racism has gotten pretty soft and subtle — except when it’s not. And while these comments (words) are nothing in comparison to bullets (sticks and stones), they illustrate the width and depth of overt racism. The overt racism still serves a purpose; its the evil against which covert racism — in the form of systemic oppression, white supremacy — can feel better about itself for not being like th “real” racists.

What shocked me the most, however, was how these people were being vile in their own names, amongst their own “friends.” There is little that is anonymous or private about Facebook and commenting. These are people who are not shy about their racism. If you have a racist friend, you probably know they are racist.

I don’t believe that racist people only have racist “friends.” I just don’t. I’m “friends” with about every black person who ever went to my university, whether I knew them or not. I don’t know what their political views are. I don’t know what they have in their hearts.

But I do know what comes across my timeline. Most of the racist comments I saw today are either “liked,” supported with another comment, or just hanging there. Not very many people pushing back, and almost no one calling it what it is – disgusting, vile, racism.

That is truly unacceptable. We can’t change the crazy racists. They will have to die a slow death on their own. But we can say that some shit is out of pocket, unacceptable, hateful and vile. We can flag it to the Facebook overseers — there is no first amendment right to free speech on Facebook. We can tell our “friend” — even if we know them from way back, grew up on the same block, and our mamas still speak — that their words and images are racist.

If you are not willing to do that, you cannot call yourself an ally in the fight for racial justice. You simply cannot.

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