Racist Texting: Examples of Backstage Racism

The other day I was at lunch with my best friend. As we were laughing at the minuscule things childhood friends find amusing, we were interrupted by his beeping cell phone. He had received a forward text from a friend. After reading, he sighed and said, “Take a look at this crap,” as he quickly handed me his smart phone. The message read, “What would you get if Sammy Davis Jr mated with Bo Derek? Answer: A 10 of spades.” His phone suddenly beeped again notifying him of an additional message. Another person attached to the original text then forwarded the list of friends another joke. It read, “A Mexican and a nigger are riding in car . . Who’s driving? A cop!” After my immediate reaction of anger, I asked him if this was the first time he has received racist text forwards. He noted that, “These groups of guys send stuff like this all the time. I just delete them.” The interesting fact is that I knew his other Midwestern small town White friends since I was in high school. They always seemed to go out of their way to greet and talk to me whenever I saw them in public. I sensed they were not the most enlightened fellows, but my Black “spidey senses” never went into overdrive when I was in their presence.

What few people know is that this type of behavior is worldwide. For example, a UK Councillor was recommended for “equality and diversity training” for forwarding racist jokes on his cell in June 2010. In July 2005, four policemen in the UK were fired for exchanging and sharing racist text messages. Also in the UK, it was first reported in 2008 that a service called 118-118 Joke Service, sent out daily jokes that included racist jokes to its subscribers. A Muslim student, Kameron Abbas, then 21, received the following:

1. What’s the difference between ET and an Asian? ET got the message and went home.
2. How do you save a drowning Pakistani? Take your foot off his head.

With little research, I ran across several websites that one could draw from in order to send very racist jokes to friends . The most ridiculous and asinine comment made on one page asserted “Please note that these nigger jokes are only for information purpose. These are not meant for any sort of controversy or to hurt anybody’s feelings. A joke is a joke. If you are easily offended, we suggest you not to read these jokes.” The use of texting and forwarding offensive racist jokes is simply an example of the 21st century “Backstage Racism”. With the political circus that is evolving, racist evidence has been shown on Facebook and Tweeting. People such as Sarah Palin and Republican Minnesota State Senate candidate Mike Parry. Just last week, the national news reported the homophobic Facebook rants from an Arkansas Public School Board memberthat advised that “It pisses [him] off though that we make special purple fag day for them. I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other AIDS and die.”

Leslie Picca and Joe Feagin explain and discuss how racial attitudes and behaviors demonstrated by Whites in private settings are more freely expressed with racially like peers. The fact that everyone attached to my best friends forwarded text were White, exemplifies this line of thinking. Moreover, this example illustrates that the white racist framehas indeed added new mannerisms and techniques that facilitate century-old White ideologies toward marginalized populations in a period of time many blindly called “post-racial.” (On the dramatic expansion of racist activity to cyberspace, see Jessie’s pathbreaking Cyber Racism book.)

Sadly, we who are conscious and familiar of the many faces of racism and oppression cannot simply take the road of “deleting” as my best friend has traveled. We must confront these people and simply state, No. No, we will not be a part of this frame. No, I will not allow the marginalization of any people. Even if we upset those were speaking to, we must take a stand. To me, if I lose a so-called friend, it is simply one less person I would have to account for on my Christmas list. More money…more money. But I digress, in regards to my personal story, instead of wasting my breath of explaining racism, the white racial frame and its impact, marginalization, conflict theories, and matrix of domination to these leptons. I decided to send them a text of my own from my phone to the so called leader in the forwards. It read, “How do you get a racist to laugh on Sunday? Tell them the joke on Friday.”


  1. Seattle in Texas

    Thank you for addressing this Dr. Fitzgerald. I am truly amazed at the various levels of presentation of self people have in the different social settings and how they manage their own impression management. I’m even more astonished at how people in varying social circles uphold it collectively at the varying social levels and/or social layers.

    For example, folks I know who sent racist texts have a different presentation of self on Facebook than apparently what they have with the private text messaging they’ve got going on. They wouldn’t have displayed those messages on Facebook for example–I know this because they, as extended family from my partner’s side, were on my friends list for a while. They had no idea I knew about the texts. They have friends of color on their pages and often put up bubbly things like cute animals that make your heart flutter or what have you, spark up conversations about sports, lots of positive Christan things, etc. Then in person they have the full fake front put up. Disingenuous and not people I would personally ask any favors from or place my trust in.

    I think confronting this when it does come to light is necessary. Maybe some will think about it, but I assume many will be quick to go on the defense and into denial for the sake of upholding the positive image they may have of themselves and wish everybody else to reinforce…. It will at least affirm to others that you will not be a part of that white racial framing and it’s not something you will passively condone or reinforce through merely being silent.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      I assume many will be quick to go on the defense and into denial for the sake of upholding the positive image they may have of themselves and wish everybody else to reinforce

      That’s what I understand the least. Not the part about putting up a front. I get that. What I don’t get is the indignant denial when they’re called out. Plus, the denial that we live in a racist society or that racism is a serious problem. I don’t get that. It’s like denying that the sun rises in the east.

      And I’ve had the “I’m a good Christian” line tossed at me before. I’ve always been tempted to respond with, “And?”

      • Seattle in Texas

        First Blaque Swan, most awesome name. I like it.

        Second I agree. I think when people try to save face or go into denial, they are trying to repair the image they had in their own mind of what they thought you had of them, if that makes sense. And too often I think religion, regarding these types of circumstances, is the primary mechanism used to reinforce their, at the moment, sincere claims. I think Christianity/religion among many whites is inherently connected to their conceptions of white virtue, no matter how racist that may be. And nevermind religious segregation–just use general words, like, Christianity, Jesus, church, etc., without going into detail on what these things mean or may look like (as well as the histories), and miraculously we’re all the same. One big happy family. (I’m not Christian…just speaking from what I have observed of Christians) Wait though, most white churches don’t back up the black churches when they call out for equality, and liberty and justice for all. Where was white Christian society during the civil rights? Most white church members fear Reverend Wright, etc. If the majority of white Christian society today is so antiracist as they so claim, why has American society swung far to the right? Why is it picking up so much momentum? Why are distortions, lies, and bigotry not only tolerated, but rewarded? While I think this is problematic at all levels, what’s going on in the white psyche at the personal levels? What is causing this inability to genuinely connect with their fellow and madam brethren? And think clearly? I’m not going to write further on that because there are answers throughout this blog, in readings, etc. I just think religion is abused in this society and used by many whites to try to assure others they really aren’t racist because they are religious while failing to understand how their own religion perpetuates their own racism, as well as racism at all levels. I think it’s abused because it’s also used to instill irrational fears about “others” as well.

        Denial is frustrating because when people go into denial and on the defense, walls are put up and all potential for any serious and critical dialogue quickly disintegrates–then all their time and energy is wasted on inflating their own positive image. It just is what it is….

  2. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    Seattle in Texas…you are correct we must take a stand. I attempted to advise my friend on this process, but he was fearful how they would react. The work continues…

      • Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

        He was afraid that they would not have the ability to understand they were wrong. Some people I have learned are on a slower track to fighting oppression…even when they know it is wrong.

    • Seattle in Texas

      That’s sad. If they were real friends it would seem, he wouldn’t have to worry about how they would react. My friends and I call each other out if we say something offensive or hurtful. Usually it’s with something like, “what did you just say?” “what?” “repeat what you just said” “what did I just say?” “you said something to the effect of …” “so?” “don’t you know that means…” “omg, seriously?” and on and on and on. So I guess when I think about my own friends, that’s just the way it is and many others simply keep me out of their backstage through social exclusion–things and places I’d rather not be a part of and can’t and won’t relate to anyway. Such people I would not call my friend.

      I think the closest to something like that I have in terms of serious friends, and the only one, that I struggle with is a republican. We occasionally do work together with the poor, work together, and get together for other things as well. We have our early bird breakfasts every so often and have wonderful conversations…just keep them away from politics. We both disagree on these issues and I always call out the racism. We are in agreement on the Tea Party, however–she doesn’t like it either. We are in agreement that racism and poverty is a horrible thing and it destroys people and families. But she honestly believes it’s class issues and not racism (afterall, we are living in a post-racial society) and has a very strong libertarian ethic–if only people would just work a bit harder and pay their bills, etc. She’s a bit older than I, but she’s lived here in Texas and throughout the south during segregation. She’s from a different generation. She has described her experiences in great detail–for her and from her standpoint, much progress has been made on racism in the U.S. She cannot see how systemic racism has resulted in the racist and classist stratified society we live in today, especially the realization there has been little progress with regard to dismantling racism in U.S. society, no matter how it is explained, it seems. She just can’t. She’s blessed my heart on many occasions and I’ve blessed her too. But I guess my point is I know where she stands (and why, without the “why” I couldn’t have her as friend) and she knows where I stand. So while we avoid politics especially, when we do have conversations on race and racism that are productive and meaningful in a strange way–she shares her lived experiences of spending her life in the South. I share mine on growing up during de-segregation, etc. We come from completely different worlds and I think, while we don’t agree with each other on things, we do understand and respect each other. For her, great strides have been made for both women and communities of color. She has seen “progress” and from her stories, it seems that she really has in many ways. Anyway, while she’s not a childhood friend, through her I can understand a little bit the frustration of your friend…though I think it would take a huge load off if he did address them in his own time. And while likely they would no longer include him in their racist backstage they’ve got going on and simply assume he shares their views–he would feel so much better.

  3. StreetPhilosopher

    I’m just going to leave a simple response here: “tell them a joke on Friday…” absolutely hilarious.

    Tim Wise spoke about an experience with a white kid at a college he was speaking at. The white kid didn’t know who he was, and said a racist joke to the group. Interesting story short, Time Wise ended saying something along the lines of, “why do you think so little of your own people?” It’s a great question to ask someone, why would they assume that some nasty racist joke would be okay just because the others around you look like you? Why would you assume that other people would be as wholly bought in to perpetuating stereotypical ideologies about other people? Why would you think that just because other folks look like you, they will be as ignorant and angry as you seem to be?

    Cheers to the anti-racist fight.

  4. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    I feel this question is too complex to answer in the blog. I would recommend that you read the book I mentioned in my blog. It does an excellent job at explaining the issue at hand.


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