Saturday, January 21, 2012

Facebook Sedition

I have mixed feelings about social media like Facebook. I’ve used it to get back in touch with some high school friends, to stay in touch with distant family and friends, and to keep up with the accomplishments of other writers that I know. But there are definite negatives. People think communicating in short sentences and clicking a “like” button is enough to stay in touch with people. Face-to-face contact and phone calls are starting to feel like rare occurrences and I often end up feeling isolated after a foray out on my news feed. All that writing hasn’t improved upon posters’ grammar and spelling skills and, probably, they’ve degraded even more by the use of symbols, abbreviations, and gibberish. Worse than all of the above is that social media seems to promote and give people permission to behave badly and to type things they would not say in person.
The following comments showed up in my Facebook news feed this week. They aren’t from people I know. Maybe they are friends of someone I’m friends with. But this I know: the comments made me sad. They astounded and disappointed. They are filled with lies, hatred and racism.
I commented as follows after I read them and readily admit that I stayed away from direct accusations:

It's amazing how racist we still are as a country. It stymies me.

I’m reprinting the comments below since they were already made public on Facebook, and, obviously, these Facebook members have no qualms about launching into an anonymous tirade. Here they are (both in response to and prior to my comment) with no editing:

Dianne, what do you define as racist in this thread? I dont see any. Also know that My congressman is Allen West and I am very pleased w his performance so far in congress. I am very displeased w my presidents attitude, performance, actions, etc.... and it has nothing to do w race. I do feel the folks pulling the race card/issue are desperate to make it an issue and further devide us the American people.

I do not begrudge BO a vacation, in fact I wish him a permanent one in Kenya. Hawaii, Illinois, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan and other places are also "Home States" of Obama. You are right on the wealth of the Bush's and the Clinton's, however, they were spending their money or using their own property bought with their own money, that they earned elsewhere and not simply by siphoning off the American Taxpayer. The Obamas's are living large...their best ever....and at excess...all off the sweat of Taxpayers. This is not spreading crazy stuff, its the truth,....the reality of it! Taking back the Whitehouse is the first order of business. Actually it was the flowers in the $4 m lei that caught my eye.

OK, $15,000,000,000,000 !!!! get it ! OB is destroying the US.. period!!! he is a communist, socialist, Muslim. He is destroying America financially and militarily weakening us. I consider him no less than a traitor and should be tried and executed for treason !!!

Jeff not to mention the war,he has thrown trillions into it. Gave the go ahead to attack Osama Bin Laden who was allegedly killed but his body was buried at sea rather than capturing him alive and tried as a war criminal and a criminal against humanity,nobody but special ops and the authorised people on the ship saw his body,a little too suspicious for me. I personally would have preferred that. Another thing is because he threw away so much money on other things and is bleeding Social Security dry the new retirement age for my generation is 67 and early retirement is 65 rather than my parents generation could retire at 65 or retire early at 62. And by the way his birth certificate is still in question,because a) there is no official seal and b) the name of the hospital he allegedly was born in had a different name when he was born then it is named now but they used the current name on his birth certificate.

Where do I begin in battling the lies and vitriol spewed in these messages? How did I know years ago that my full Social Security benefits would begin at age 66.5? How can anyone blame the cost of the wars on President Obama, turn the story of bin Laden’s assassination into a negative (after we pursued him for so many years at the cost of trillions!), claim the President is spending our tax payers’ money on leis and vacations and living large, and question his birthright as an American? How can one deny being racist by claiming to support the first black representative from Florida since the end of Reconstruction – a tea partier? How many times have I heard over the years, “I’m not racist, I had a black friend once” or “I’m not racist, but they don’t want to associate with us” or other variations on the same theme. How many times have I heard whites blame blacks for racism, not realizing that the meaning of racism is not just prejudice but is based on oppression that prohibits economic and social equality? It still exists, and blaming the victim is one way to perpetuate it.
I remember a white woman I worked with in the late 1980s. She had been in a terrible car accident, suffered severe injuries, and was hospitalized for some time afterwards. The man that hit her was a black man, and in an unimaginable circumstance, he had hit her when he lost control of the car as his passenger stabbed him to death. It happened just blocks from where Ronald and I lived, and the man who was driving and was murdered had gone to high school with Ronald. I felt great sympathy for what the woman experienced by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and unwillingly dragged into a horribly wrong murder/car accident.
But what she said next confounded me. She said she knew I would understand what she was about to say since I was married to a black man. Then she explained that she was terrified of blacks, terrified of working and living in the city, and her new husband had promised to move her out to Skaneateles where there were very few blacks and she could live without fear. “He hit me,” she said of the murdered man. “You’ve got to understand why I feel the way I do.”
But I didn’t. I wondered and asked her if she would be afraid of white people if a white man had hit her.
“Of course not,” she said, perhaps thinking I was the crazy one.
I know now she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but her fear of black men had already been planted in her mind long before the car accident that validated her fear.
Having a black man serve as president validates many white peoples’ fear of black people, particularly black men. They’ve shown how they feel through their words and actions. They want to take back America because they feel it was taken away with desegregation and Civil Rights law.
The comment that offended me most was the charge that President Obama has other “homes” like Kenya that he should go to. President Obama is an American. He was born here. He had a black father who was from Kenya and a white mother who was American. He happens to be Christian, but even if he weren’t, that would not preclude him from serving in the highest office in a land that is based on religious freedom.
It is racist to assume that if you are not white, you do not belong in this country. Nor should you share in its rich resources, make a successful life for you and your family, or lead the country from the highest elected post.
So if one of your parents was not American, you should return to the country of your ancestry. I should return to Australia since my mother was a war bride from World War II. Or maybe, even though my father was born here, perhaps it doesn’t count because his parents were born in Italy, so I should go back to Italy. But how can I go back to a country that I wasn’t from in the first place? Why would anyone make the charge that having a foreign born parent negates your American status? Have they read and understood the Constitution? Do they understand our history and how Euro-ethnic people came to power in America in the first place?
Having ancestors who were brought here against their will and enslaved negates your status as an American, too, apparently. In our history there was a Back-to-Africa movement that began well before the Civil War and gained popularity well into the 20th century. Some blacks thought they wanted to go back to Africa after they were freed because it was their ancestral land. Many slave owners feared having free blacks roaming the country, so they supported it, too. White northerners supported the movement during the great black migration north. They feared blacks would take their factory jobs from them. As lynching became more pervasive, the movement became popular with blacks again as they realized that freedom from slavery was not total freedom or equality. Then blacks became disillusioned with the movement because there were scams and they also realized Africa was a continent as foreign to them as it was to white Americans.
What do people mean when they say “take back the White House” or “take back America” if not that they mean to take it away from those they consider undeserving? It means that lots of Americans believe usurpers have taken away a life in which they felt comfortable, safe, and shielded, a life in which homogeneity was the norm and people of color were inferior and held subservient positions. It’s what my colleague believed she would get back when she moved to Skaneateles, away from the black people she feared. What else could it mean?
I didn’t respond to the question from the Facebook poster who asked me what I defined as racist in the thread. I wanted to at first. I could feel my fingers itching on the keyboard, and my anger bubbling under my skin. I wanted to type, “Your ignorance is only surpassed by your arrogance.” But what would that have changed? It would only validate what they already believe: that I just pulled the race card because I am desperate and want to further divide people. Besides, why use Facebook to type things I wouldn’t say otherwise?
People are so disappointing sometimes.


  1. An editorial in the times union(by Rex Smith) this week discussed a study done in Illinois that basically proved that the more wrong someone is, the more aggressively they defend their opinion...and despite being given evidence that proves them wrong. It also addressed the idea that most people surround themselves with people who believe exactly the same things and obviously validate their opinion...
    I think the best solution is to keep speaking up and to keep mixing it up...

  2. Thomasa, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful response. I think Rex Smith is on to something and so are you. It's okay to view the world through one's unique lens -- it's all we've got, but we all have to learn to be more open to the idea that there are many lenses through which to view the world and also to be open to the fact that other views provide additional information and may change or sharpen our own lens. In the end, it makes for clearer vision and more respectful interactions. Sometimes I think it's important to ask ourselves why we feel so strongly about something that we'd be willing to take it so far. The answer each of us comes to may be surprising and eye-opening.