Can Social Media End Racism?

One of the preoccupations of this blog is thinking and writing about anti-racism and effective strategies for dismantling systems of racial inequality (image from here).    So, I was especially interested to learn about a panel just the other day at SXSWi in Austin, called ‘Can Social Media End Racism?’

The panelists were: Kety Esquivel, New Media Mgr, National Council of La Raza and CrossLeft; Jay Smooth, Ill Doctrine; Phil Yu,  Angry Asian Man; Latoya Peterson

I couldn’t attend but thanks to the interwebs, and some fast typing, there’s a partial transcript of the session up at Liz Henry’s blog, Composite.    The lively panel discussion to transcript translation can sometimes leave you wondering what happened, but this one is very good and gives a sense of what went on.   Parts of the transcript made me reflect a bit on our corner of the blogosphere.  Here are a few of the relevant bits:

Latoya: This discussion is intermediate level, not Racism101 We don’t want to talk about whether racism exists. not interested in that. It’s about our experiences with social media.

So, Latoya starts out saying that this is not a “Racism101” discussion, that is, debating whether racism exists or not.    More emphasis on experiences with social media.  Fair enough.

Then, the Kety offers that the project bloggers working against racism are engaged in involves these elements: 1) spreading knowledge 2) creating refuge 3) mobilizing to action.  And, one of the interesting examples of mobilizing using the web is NCLR’s Stop the Hate campaign.

Several times, the discussion returns to the theme of racist (even violently racist) comments at these various online spaces.     And then, danah boyd asks what I think is one of the key questions, which is (paraphrased): given the history of racism online, [and given that] racism has different roots in different countries… how you get people talking, [when] they don’t know the history?

Indeed, how do you get people talking?     I see that as a struggle that gets played out here, at this blog, all the time.  I know that (possibly) conservative commentors who come by here, such as Robby – who asked recently about my reaction to Heather McDonald’s writing – see me (and others here) as engaging in “the same ol’ agit prop BS couched in impenetrable race jargon,” when what I thought I was doing was making a earnest effort to respond to what I thought was a sincere query.    And, the level of name-calling here, even by people who are supposedly supporters of anti-racism, sometimes makes me sigh.    And, that’s just among the people that bother to drop a comment.  Blogs notoriously suffer from “participation inequality” in which 90% of readers remain “lurkers” and never post a comment.   This blog is no different in that regard. So, how do you get people talking seems to me to be the central question.

I wonder about the space between #1 and #2 and #3 in Kety’s list (above) and about what we’re doing, those of us who blog against racism.   Is it possible to “spread knowledge” and “create refuge” at the same time?  And, can you do both those things while you’re “mobilizing for action”?   I don’t know, but it seems to me that a lot of what we do — here at least —  is not so much “spread” knowledge as engage in a politically-contested struggle over knowledge about race and racism.    And, if we’re “creating refuge” are we just talking to ourselves and people who agree with us?

To my mind,  talking about the basics of racism (e.g., “Racism 101”) and the empirical research that demonstrably shows that racism persists, both individually and institutionally, is necessary, if not sufficient, first step.


  1. Joe

    jwbe, that is of course the bottom line question…. Good one.

    Over 44 years now, I have seen many students change to some degree, and dozens change to a great degree, in their lives, goals, efforts in regard to making this country a better place in regard to racism issues.

  2. jwbe

    For me at the moment my question (to me) is: How much patience do I have to have when talking or writing with whites.

    and dozens change to a great degree, in their lives, goals, efforts in regard to making this country a better place in regard to racism issues.

    can you please elaborate? What was the impact why they changed their lives and in which way?
    I admit, I think I lack the skill to “change people’s minds”, I think I have influenced some of those (whites) who have already been somehow towards this direction (ending white supremacy, not just racism)

    In addition, there is much talk about “creating safe spaces for whites” to talk about racism and probably their own guilt or so. What exactly should this “safe space” be? What is a “safe dialogue” about race and racism supposed to be?
    Why is somebody with greater knowledge or whatever supposed to offer such a “safe space” and to show understanding or so for problematic or racist thoughts?

  3. Seattle in Texas

    Well, up here, first, I am probably the one who has brought sighs at times. In real life, things pertaining to hate directed at myself due to my own lineage, and loved ones, have brought me much more than sighs. Let me stop on that note. My point is real life brings more than sighs.

    But not just life, conversations beyond the civilized and intelligent safe world of academia, too often do not carry out so nicely for those who are not fortunate, or privileged, enough to even enter into a college or university setting. And I believe strongly those who have never stepped foot in the world of academia, are just as important as anybody else, their voices are just as relevant, and can teach just as effectively as the greatest teachers. When I don’t like or disagree with what I see regardless of who it is from or how educated the source may be, I make that known. I expect the same in return. We all should.

    Thus, not to bring insult to anybody, as I do believe this is a wonderful blog and stand behind its purpose, I do believe by and large it is geared for the scholarly audience. Perhaps college students and faculty–that part of society. Perhaps more middle-classish. The scholarly audience and higher social classes, in general, has their own codes of conduct and communication styles. Then there is the hierarchy in place, that at times, I believe, undermines the knowledge and experiences of those who are oppressed, who yet, equally work to combat white supremacy in their own ways. There is one example in particular that comes to mind. That particular dialogue I was not engaged in–but found it disturbing in a couple of different ways. I’ve not seen either of those who were interacting on since. So, in this sense, combined with the scholarship and its language being confined to mainly the world of academia, etc., I think the antiracist work here, while worthwhile, is working towards achieving antiracism in the scholarly environment. Outside of here and who chooses to visit this site, the literature rarely gets outside the world either. I was recently asked why is it that nobody comes out into the field if they (scholars in general) care about racism so much. I just said, “A variety of reasons probably.”

    The good here, is that antiracism should be strived for everywhere. Prior to this blog, and even Texas, though, what has made me sour on the issue of antiracism in higher education and lose respect for the world of academia in general, is that I’ve seen racism and other forms of discrimination carried out by scholars, who are known and have published in related areas. Whether it be in the form of knowing about it and not saying anything in fear of losing their jobs and distancing themselves from the target of discrimination, to doing things in various ways to assist in the discrimination while flaunting their misleading achieved status. I have absolutely no respect for that—so I have become both cynical and suspect.

    In terms of antiracism in general, I think those who are working toward it, they are all working towards the same goals. I think further, that regardless if we agree with one another or not, we all need a philosophy and framework to operate out of.

    Can knowledge be created and safe refuge be achieved at the same time? Absolutely. If anyplace in the world has taught me this is possible, with out question, it is Texas. Won’t even go into it here.

    On a final note, when I come on this blog, I do not bring my roles. Just myself. And I am very kind compared to my two younger siblings and many of those I care about very much, when it comes to discussing these issues in general, addressing people who are not so nice, or who need to be made aware of their own ignorance, and so forth. One of my younger siblings came on at least once that I am aware of…put up a response that probably made many sigh with relation to the government raping its victims. My other, she’s genuinely the sweetest person you could ever meet, but if you offend her or one she cares about, well, she makes even me blush in public and I just let her do her thing. I’m very mild.

    So I hope that answers questions, and thank you to Joe and Jessie for the wonderful job they have been doing. And cheers to them, for allowing many different voices who represent many different walks of life, come on here and speak.

Leave a Reply