‘Your Comment Here’: Racism in Online Comments

I’ve written here (and elsewhere) about various forms of cyber racism, including what I’ve called ‘Facebook racism,’ at the popular social networking site.  Now, there’s another form of racism online that’s worth noting: the racism that pours forth in the comments section of many news sources.  Read a news story that in some way, either directly or very indirectly, touches on an issue related to ‘race,’ and then read the comments section.   Almost without exception, the comments sections will be filled with overtly racist remarks from readers.

There’s a recent example of this at the Boston Globe. In a letter to the editor, a reader Heidi Pihl-Buckley, writes in to object to the racist comments posted on the Boston Globe site after an article about the murder of a college student.  She writes:

AFTER READING an article on the fatal stabbing of Jasper Howard, the University of Connecticut football player, I clicked on the online section of readers’ comments. I was so saddened by the hatred and racism that clearly was behind the words people wrote. Talk about blaming the victim.

I am certain that most of the people writing these comments know nothing about this young man. They feel free to write such hateful words as “this is what happens when you take all these undeserving thugs and try to make the world a better place by filling our colleges with them’’ and “colleges are experiencing more diverse problems today.’’ Anyone reading these will see how apparent it is that race is still a huge issue for so many in this country. Another person wrote “get rid of affirmative action,’’ as if that was the cause of this tragic situation.

The story here is the human suffering that this murder has brought to the family and friends as well as every teammate of Jasper Howard. This young man and his team were on top of the world last Saturday evening after celebrating their win. A short time later, lives were forever changed by a senseless crime. If Howard were a white youth from Weston, would there have been the same comments?

Then, adding ironic insult to the original racist comments, the comments following Pihl-Buckley’s letter generate a similar kind of animosity.   The anonymity offered by online spaces provides a kind of anonymity that allows whites to share the ‘backstage’ racism that Feagin & Picca point out in their book, Two-Faced Racism.