Monday, January 7, 2013

On internet racism and comments threads

It is not unique to the internet, it has been alive and well since before someone ever imagined a computer: racism. But now, the internet has become a haven for the racist who feel it is of the utmost importance to express themselves in writing. What is even more surprising is that racist speech is no longer just available through some obscure online sites dedicated to spreading racism, but more commonly it is becoming accessible in our comment threads that are open to the internet public. A reader of any "news" website can tell you exactly what I mean, (unless they happen to be the racist commentators, of course).

Take, for example, the latest comments on a post by Ruben Navarrette on regarding the DREAM Act, in which Navarrette himself borders on the racist undertones of U.S. nationalism which privilege the human rights of citizens over non-citizens. In this comment thread we have the following commentary regarding the DREAMers, who are the undocumented immigrants fighting for their right to higher education in the United States:

"Isn't this exactly why they tell you not to feed bears in the national parks? Because they come to expect it and when they don't get it, they get mean. These kids have not earned anything yet and are trying to make rules? Is this really about citizenship? Or taking power?"
"Imagine what they would want when they become citizens. They will want you to serve them coffee in the morning."
"A mojado by any other the way shove your hyphenated American rhetoric. Take a stand, either be a Mexican, or be an American."
"Cro tch grabbing, me xican flag waving gang bangers."
Somehow, seems to be able to filter obscenity if it means a "bad word" or a pornographic image or link to an image that is deemed obscene, but never a racist comment.

Even though it is quite obvious that articles of this nature--which take as a point of departure a racial divide or a statement of citizenship--will enact feelings of every nature by everyone, pro and con, it is unfortunate that our open networks allow for this type of racist expression to be commonplace. I don't argue the constitutionality of free speech, but "hate speech" can and should be avoided on the internet in the same fashion as other "obscenities".

The biggest problem lies in the fact that a large majority of American citizens are overwhelmingly undereducated in regards to racism in America. While some of us would consider some of these statements above as "racist", others see it as "normal" and downright "patriotic". (Patriarchy in itself is another issue, but let's stick to racism and hate speech). So, how can it be regulated?

According to Webster's New World Law Dictionary, hate speech is legally defined under U.S. Law as the
"Speech not protected by the First Amendment, because it is intended to foster hatred against individuals or groups based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, place of national origin, or other improper classification."
By this definition the statements about the DREAMers are racist. However, this same definition was invoked in recent debates favoring laws in Arizona intended to target Latina/o immigrants and citizens, as well as the instruction of "RAZA studies" and "Chicana/o Studies" in public schools. Their argument was that RAZA studies was a means of fostering hate against white Americans, that it was teaching a type of separatism. While some of us can recognize the difference between the pride of being brown and the hate of whiteness, or between the de-colonial imaginary and the history written by the victors, it may very well be the case that those who control the interpretation of the legal definition of "hate speech" don't.

There are issues to be worked on.

In the meantime, however, hate speech on the internet--especially in professional "news" and public sites--may be having the effect of "normalizing" this type of public reaction or confrontation. While some of us dread getting to the end of the article, others can't wait to jump right in after (sometimes incorrectly) reading just the headline to start typing away and on that sense of sharing, the need for audience, the therapeutic likes and +1s.

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