How Social Media Has Perpetuated Racism

In it together

In it together

Years ago I was married to a real loser, and I told him so. I told him early and I told him often. And guess what? He left the conversation to marry another woman.

It takes two to have a conversation. And it takes some skill to have the difficult conversations.

These days people have one-sided conversations by tapping into their cellphones and onto social media. The act of listening is disappearing. The art of conversation is being replaced by shouting.

This is what I hear: “You are a racist. You suck. White people are the problem. Nothing you have done has made any difference whatsoever. You might be a good person, but you are actually a very bad person because you are white.”

I even read this, and you know I can’t make this stuff up: “Not one white person has ever come to the defense of a person of color.” And all I can think is this well-intentioned person has never heard of Abraham Lincoln.

Anyone can be an “activist,” and so, our media is filled with a steady diet of shouting justified racial outrage. But it takes two to have a conversation, and a lot of very good white people have left this one.

Amherst and other universities are reporting that their alumni donations are lower than ever before in history. Alumna say this: “Today’s students say I’m nothing but an old racist, so I’ll keep my money.”

They have left the conversation.

There is a basket of “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton have called the people who vote for Trump because of his racist rhetoric. They have left the conversation.

My social media news feed (admittedly mostly my white-ish friends) is fairly silent after these horrendous, unjustified and unbearable shootings of black men. Why? We are told when we express our personal outrage that we are white and we have no right to this sorrow.

I am trying very hard not to leave this conversation.

The other thing that happens is you find yourself on the defensive. I am sure my ex-husband felt defensive after being picked on in our marriage. I felt justified. After all, he spent years unemployed, unfaithful and generally unproductive. I was hurt as hell.

But being on the defensive creates really bad conversation. You find yourself saying things you don’t mean. My ex would say, “I never loved you.”

In today’s parlance, I find myself in the awkward position of trying to defend that I’m not a racist just because of the color of my skin. When I’m told that no white person has ever done anything on behalf of a person of color, I find I am on the defensive. I list the instances in which I have tried to overcome my racial advantage by working in civil rights years ago. I list the things that white society have done over the century to repair the injustices starting with reparations (remember that from your history lesson?) to affirmative action.

But here’s the thing: Not only does that sound racist, it sounds indifferent to today’s racial climate. And that is certainly not what I mean. Then, “activists” take my comments out of context and share them to show, “Yes, she’s really a racist. She thinks 40 acres and a mule make up for all of this.”

I do not think that any act can make up for what is happening today.

We, society, Americans and Europeans, all of us have been raised on a steady diet of one person being better than another. Whether it was native people, or black people, or old people, or fat people, or poor people, or homosexual people, or Jewish people, we have been fed a cultural diet that one type is inherently more advantaged than another.

True activism exists to create change. Today, anyone with a cellphone can shout out blame and shame. That is not activism. That is “react”-ivism. They are not having a conversation at all. They are shouting blame to get likes on social media. They are causing many to leave the conversation. In anger and injury, some white people say, “Well, if I’m just an old racist, I’ll vote for one too. And I’ll leave this conversation because no one is listening to me or hearing my pain. I’m just being attacked.”

This is how social media will elect Donald Trump. This is how today’s “activists” have perpetuated racism. The change they are creating is that many no longer care to be in this conversation.

Thank you for reading to the end. It shows that you too, are willing to stay in the discussion on race even if it is difficult. We want to do the right thing. We want to learn about our inherited prejudices. We want to contribute to real change, no matter the chaos on social media.

Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. She is also white, and is trying very hard to overcome her inherited racism.

9 Comments

  1. Julie on September 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Wow Michelle, I rarely post comments on blogs for the very reasons you stated above, but this is brilliant! Thank you for articulating this complex subject in a way that’s clear and non-judgemental. I’m sharing it!

  2. Jade on September 27, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Hey Michelle, I’m an activist myself (as in one who campaigns and lobbies and things), and you’re spot on. It’s a laughable notion, considering many of the ones supporting the cause are “white folks”.

    We’re actually trying to generate a “walking together” movement to tackle that division, because personally I think it’s a joke that we as a society often take aim at the non-demographic supporters who, in my experience, often haves the most passion and drive for the various causes. The good news is, I tend not to see it in the professional theatre; this seems to be a phenomenon largely associated with social media.
    At the end of the day, valuation needs to come from within rather than externally. Keyboard warriors will call you anything they can muster to erode your credibility, but it’s a reflection of their own lack of ability to address the points raised. It does hit dangerous levels when people like Trump are given a viable platform to spread division, hatred and mistrust, but that in itself also achieves two things:
    1. It shocks the educated out of their inherent complacency and into activism, leading to proper movements.
    2. It highlights genuine public concerns in the divide between the elite and the ‘layman’. In this case, Trump has exposed a genuine public concern with the state of politics in your country. Again, this means that the highlighted deficiencies may be genuinely addressed in time, rather than promoting the status quo of perpetuating gains for one at the expense of another.

    Trump being as close as he is to the White House is a very real concern, but it’s up to the people who ‘know better’ to manage that.
    But, I digress. To those who would dismiss an asset to the cause based on the colour of their skin are only hurting their own momentum. Keep doing what you’re doing, and pay no attention to those who are not ready to see it. Don’t leave the conversation. 🙂

    • Michelle Marchildon on September 28, 2016 at 8:05 am

      It’s comments like this that keep me in the conversation. Thank you.

  3. Ryan Jaqua on September 28, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Thank you yogi muse!

  4. Karla on September 28, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Thank you, Michelle. Thank you, Julie and Jade. This helps me stay in the conversation, too.

  5. Kelley Seriano on September 30, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Yes! Bingo – you nailed it.

  6. Kim Knebel on September 30, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Appreciate what you have written and what Jade has written. Social media could be a valuable tool but it can be used in very detrimental ways and it seems the latter is more the case. I am so tired of the whole conglomerate of special interest groups crying about their disadvantages and how someone else is always to blame. In some cases, that is true. I look at the insanity going on with the proposed pipeline and the protests there. That is not solely a race issue though it often comes out as such. The corporate interests, largely made up of we the white folk, but not exclusively, are what’s to “blame”. But the “blame” is larger than that, it is, to some extent, all of us and our lust for power be it the power gained from fossil fuels, coal, nukes or what have you. I so digress.

    I am truly at a loss for the “how to fix it” answer. Communism didn’t work so well, though the idea of making everything/everyone equal was the thought behind it. People are people and corruption exists and has existed from day one. There are always those who will grab for power.

    I am so tire of the rudeness that has become the norm. I am guilty. I say things that are not kind. At times I call someone an asshole or some other offensive name. Maybe that’s a small place we can start….with our own conversation. Mindfulness at work. Monitor our thoughts and our internal dialogue. That person that just sped by us on the right and cut in front of us really close, only to arrive at the same stop light…did we just call them some kind of nasty name in our heads? What about the person who just threw the cigarette butt out the window. What did we think about that, about them? the person who didn’t bring a bag to “scoop the poop” and whose dog left a nice pile of poo in your driveway?

    You’re right on about reparations can’t make up for the past and the past can’t be changed. All we have to work with is what is happening now. While there is some truth to not forgetting some of the past atrocities, it is also true that to keep dragging them out and waving them around only serves to not allow the wound to heal and as you have pointed out, serves to alienate many of the white tribe, causing some more separation and fostering more disharmony.

    Well, not sure if anything I’ve said is worth the time to have written it but thank you for letting me air some of that.

    • Michelle Marchildon on October 1, 2016 at 8:29 am

      You are welcomee. It is frustrating and insane and I don’t know how to fix it either. But I do know that eliminating half the people from the solution is probably not going to do it.

  7. Dorian M. on September 30, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    From someone who finds it increasingly difficult to engage in most conversations relevant to the topics of highest interest in social media these days (race/politics/war/crises the world over) I appreciate your effort to keep yourself on the front line in the discussion and, by proxy, your readers as well.

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