AP asks me about racist comments on blogs: Do they indicate rise in racism?
I can't remember the first time someone posted an out-and-out racist comment on one of my blog posts. But I would bet it wasn't long after I started, five years ago.
Which means, when the Associated Press called me a few weeks ago to ask about the impact of racist comments on my blog, I had lots of unfortunate experience. Back when I first started blogging, someone even started a different blog that was supposed to be some sort of satire of my work, featuring cartoonish slang and an unflattering photo of me yanked from my own platform (many thanks to Times Director of Photography Boyzell Hosey, who took this picture at right, making me look much cooler than i actually am).
Such comments are always difficult -- jarring reminders of the depths of some people's ignorance and the lengths they will go to hurt someone else. They are also evidence of the false courage which comes when users don't have to attach their specific identities to what they do online (it's telling, for instance, that I have almost never had to deal with something similar on Facebook, where identities of commenters are attached to their words).
As I told the Associated Press, it seems blog posts about race draw the worst reactions, as people flock to those topics to do battle. It is a wearying experience, sorting through the personal attacks to figure out what crosses the line from inconsiderate opposition to useless insult. But I don't think they are indicative of a rising tide so much as a steady undercurrent of prejudice we will always struggle to manage.
I decided long ago I work too hard on this blog to let it become a vehicle for comments that do nothing but insult me. But I want to let people have their say, even when they disagree with me. Unfortunately, that often creates an environment where the comments section is just a toxic swamp of insults and negativity. No wonder some sites shut down comment altogether on some stories; though the same malcontents are often responsible for the worst comments, the subjects of some stories don't realize that when they see something awful written about their circumstances.
As much as some cybersurfers have tried to sell the anonymity in comments as some sort of new, freeing aesthetic, I have come to believe it is no advantage at all. And I find it telling that the most racist comments come from those who never use their actual names.
Because it takes no courage at all to say something outrageous on a website when no one knows its coming from you. And the misguided comfort that racism provides -- giving easy, if totally wrong-headed explanations for some of society's most complex problems -- is its own form of cowardice.
Check out Jesse Washington's well done story here.