The taglines on Twitter and Facebook read: “Breaking News, Donald Sterling Makes Racist Comments.” No one knew exactly the nature of those comments until the next tagline read, “Hear the Tape.” I was one of thousands who clicked on the TMZ link, listened, and shared among my online network. Like my fellow online users, my disdain for his racist and derogatory remarks reminded me that even the most primitive form of racism still exists. The unveiling of private, racial discourse made public through audiotapes spoke to the fact that not only is individual racism alive and well, but the “master-slave” paradigm still exists in a professional league where the players are largely African American, and the owners are not. While L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling is no stranger to this type of discriminatory behavior, the difference this time was that the revolution was digitized.
Within hours of this distasteful audiotape going viral, social media, blogs, and online journalism crowded the Internet with responses from other league owners, professional athletes, teachers, college students, homeboys, and homegirls – all strangers in person, but virtually united in one message: White racism is no longer acceptable, and it will be exposed. Within days, these online voices, complemented by the countless television interviews, led to the withdrawal of corporate sponsors, a silent powerful protest from players, and the revisiting of Sterling accolades by the local NAACP branch. Most importantly, this collective mobilization led to a lifetime ban of the franchise owner and a hefty fine for his behavior.
While these voices spoke to the power of social networks, the exposure of racists and hateful speech on the Internet is becoming all too common. From the tweet of a white, female advertising executive suggesting that she was immune to HIV because she wasn’t black, to the “in-your-face” Facebook photos of college students purposely costumed in black face, the Internet is increasingly becoming a large part of society’s shaming culture that aggregates public opinion and forces accountability.
In the sixties, the shaming of American racism took place as the brutal beatings of students and activists were televised. Today, the online outing of individuals whose beliefs reek of the parasitic nature of racism and privilege is the new reprimand. The next step is whether the online universe will advance a systematic paradigm shift in racial intolerance and economic injustice.
- Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D., Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee is Vice President and Chief Research and Policy Officer for the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC). Prior to joining MMTC, she served as President and CEO to NAMIC, a professional association representing diversity in the cable industry and as Vice President and Director of the Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.