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. You scroll through your feed as you would wave a wand over the sand, but instead of beeps alerting you to the fact that you’ve hit gold, your eyes bulge out of your head alerting you to the fact that Joe Blow from high school hates people based on the color of their skin.
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.
People write things like, “You can’t justify riots and police shootings when a police officer shot your thug son. Maybe you should have been a better parent. Stupidity is a pandemic today and if you hate America then get the frick out. There’s plenty of room in other countries that won’t pay for your house and food and schooling you lazy pieces of trash.’’
As a white person, I have the privilege of not having to think about race. Since we don’t have to worry that we will be shot for the color of our skin and we don’t experience microaggressions every day, I and other white folks can chat for hours and not mention racial issues once if we don’t want to. Which means the odds are low of finding out the person I’m talking to has friendship-ruining levels of racism coursing through his or her veins.
But with Facebook, many racists don’t hide. It’s easier than ever to realize that Jim, the pimply kid from sixth grade science, or quiet Tanya who worked in accounting at your last job, think that #alllivesmatter and that rioters are ungrateful thugs. They’re more likely to say so on Facebook than they would be in person because they’re protected—by both a screen and presumably many miles—from people’s reactions.
If Jim had the gall to say something racist in school, he still ran the risk of getting a swirly in one of the gym toilets or being rejected by his prom date. On the internet, he doesn’t have to physically be in the same room with people who might disagree with him. If they do, he just has to read some argumentative comments rather than getting stuffed into a locker. The worst thing that happens is someone unfriends him. Most likely, he just watches as the likes roll in from people who share his mindset.
High school, work environments, and other group settings mean that people check each other. It’s not socially acceptable to spew hateful thoughts unless everyone around you is also racist, which is usually (hopefully) not the case (save certain areas of the country). In group settings, people learn from the herd’s reaction: If a comment is ill-received, a person is more likely to internalize what he or she said as unacceptable and hateful.
Malcolm X once said: “The white Southerner, you can say one thing—he is honest. He bears his teeth to the black man; he tells the black man, to his face, that Southern whites never will accept phony ‘integration.’’’
So it goes with the Facebook racists: The one thing you can say is that they’re honest. But what’s missing is the reaction of the group that comes with in-person interactions. We need an internet version of a swirly to help these people realize what they see as true is actually completely wrong.