Over the past week, Facebook has played host to an abundance of outcry and opinion responding to the events unfolding in Ferguson.
Mary Engelbreit can attest to the platform’s role – and not without frustration.
A St. Louis illustrator whose subjects typically take the form of Santa Claus delivering toys and rosy-cheeked children at the beach, Engelbreit chose a different angle this week when she created a print called “In The USA.” The print features an African-American mother and child reading a newspaper with the headline “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot.”
Floating text above the pair reads, “No One Should Have To Teach Their Children This In The USA.”
Engelbreit posted an image of the print on her Facebook page Tuesday. She also wrote: “These events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country, shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way.”
The image has caused quite a stir on Facebook. As of this writing, Engelbreit’s post had 16,588 “Likes” – but the comments tell a different story. One Facebook user responded with a reference to “thug culture” as the culprit for what happened in Ferguson. Wrote another, “I think this was premature until all of us have heard or seen the proof...too many unanswered questions for a print like this to be put up...makes me sad really.”
Engelbreit wrote on her page that she had posted a follow-up message on Facebook that was deemed “offensive” by the social media platform and was removed. She then posted an image of the removed message on her Facebook timeline and wrote, “To be clear, I did this drawing as an illustration of the ugly, hard truth that racial profiling is still happening in this country. The drawing did not address the Michael Brown case specifically, nor did I claim to know any of the facts about what actually happened.”
According to St. Louis Public Radio, Engelbreit said she has since heard from a Facebook representative who apologized and reinstated the post.
But wait a minute—how is it possible that enough Facebook users flagged the illustration as “offensive” that it got removed? Especially when the author had agreed to leave her comments section open, knowing that she’d endure plenty of backlash and criticism?
If Facebook users are going to use comment sections as an open marketplace for ideas and discussion, shouldn’t they respect the author’s post that generated such a free exchange of ideas?
That the print comes at a moment when “The Talk” that many African American mothers describe having with their sons – an education on how to talk to police officers so that they can prevent getting in trouble, or worse – only underscores the curiosity of Facebook users’ judgment.
The author also wrote that she decided to donate the proceeds from the sale of the print, which is being sold for $49.99, to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial fund because she was “so heartbroken that he was left lying in the middle of the street for 4 hours.” She ended the post by saying that she will only delete anyone’s comments that contain “derogatory words.”
“We can only hope that all the people who said they were going to unfollow me have done so, and maybe today we can have a more civilized stream of comments,” Engelbreit wrote.