Theorizing Race and Racism on the Web

From sociologist Jessie Daniels (CUNY Hunter), a presentation that focuses on race and racism in the digital sphere. In it, she traces a history of the web wherein individuals were at once hopeful about the web’s potential to become a deracialized space–one that could be truly color-blind. It would not take long for this optimism to be squashed. It was quickly realized that the web would serve as yet another platform for the production and reproduction of racial domination, as she provides several examples below.

  • Have you found examples of Internet hate speech online? Do the owners of these sites allow or disallow such discourse? What are some of the ways in which we can counter racist discourse online?
  • How does the continued (and disturbing) existence of racist discourse and action in the digital sphere counter claims that America is a “post-racial” society?

You can follow Dr. Daniels at her @jessienyc Twitter account.

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3 thoughts on “Theorizing Race and Racism on the Web

  1. I read a lot of articles and blogs about the NBA and I have seen a lot of racist remarks in the comments section at the bottom of these articles. Since the NBA is predominantly made up of black players, and the majority of the fan base is white, it is almost surprising that it doesn’t come up more often. I think the fact that readers of online NBA-related content are required to make up a username before they can comment on an article on any given site allows people to have less of a filter than they would if they were identifiable.
    The most recent NBA-race related issue has to do with Bryant Gumbel, host of HBO’s Real Sports, saying that NBA commissioner David Stern has “always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were his boys.” With the NBA embroiled in a lockout, in which the owners, all of whom are white with the exception of Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, are demanding huge financial concessions from a union of mostly black players, it is easy to see how the topic of racism would come up. Without commenting on Gumbel’s remark, I would like to share one comment I found on an article about the issue. The article was somewhat sympathetic to Gumbel’s stance.

    “The writer of this article is an idiot and probably black. Funny how it is ok for a black person to spew out such garbage but not ok for non-blacks. This country doesn’t owe blacks crap.”

    The above comment was made by someone identified only as “Art.”

    Even someone expressing the opposite opinion, that Stern is racist, felt compelled to make an antisemitic comment:

    “Stern is ARROGANT AND CONDECENDING TOWARD THE PLAYERS who mare his employees,He thinks he owns the nba, if i were dwayne wade i would have called him what he really is …….AN ARROGANT JEW @#$%, in ths disoute i’m on the players side 100%.”

    That comment was posted by Richard M. Even in criticizing Stern for being racist and arrogant, he employed a racial stereotype about Jewish people to make his point.

    Why should David Stern and Bryant Gumbel’s comments be scrutinized so intensely while Art and Richard M. are able to post these kinds of comments, which are visible to anyone who happens to be interested in the NBA?

    Some people take it even further than these two examples I have shown. Someone on Twitter with a username RyanOutrich tweeted directly at LeBron James: “@KingJames in continuation of my last tweet u r a big nosed big lipped bug eyed nigger. ur greedy, u try to hide ur ghettoness.” The impersonal quality and anonymity of online commenting emboldens people to say whatever they want and reveal their racism to the world without even the repercussions of having to look into the eyes of people around them. James retweeted that tweet, so many people know that it happened, but no one will ever know who RyanOutrich is, nor will he probably be held accountable for his comments or ever feel differently than he does now. I wonder if he would say those things to LeBron’s face.

  2. These are truly offensive. As you point out, ‘oh, the irony’ of calling someone out for being “racist” in the same breath as employing deeply troubling anti-Semitic remarks.

    How do claims of “racism” such as the ones directed toward Bryant Gumbel above lend support to the idea that somehow racism is “equal opportunity” today? If we think of racism as consisting of prejudice, discrimination, imagery, etc.–where do these comments fall along these categories?

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