Yes, you're racist: The casual comments permeating Twitter

Starting with "I'm not racist, but..." doesn't make all following comments acceptable

Share

When the United States finally elected its first African-American president in 2008, some pundits declared that America had become a post-racial society - that all our racial tensions somehow evaporated as soon as a black guy managed to become president.

Bolstered by polling data showing an increase in racial tolerance among younger generations, these primarily-caucasian opinionators told us Barack Obama’s victory meant race simply didn’t matter anymore.

Of course, anyone who followed the race-baiting campaigns of 2010 and 2012 knows that this rose-tinted look at American politics and culture couldn’t be further from reality. That’s why, at the height of President Obama’s reelection campaign this fall, I created the Twitter account @YesYoureRacist to disabuse people of the myth of a post-racial society one tweet at a time.

For the past three months, I’ve been searching for tweets that begin “I’m not racist, but...”, and the results aren’t pretty. More often than not, the person goes on to say (without any trace of irony) something apparently racist – or at least, that’s what it looks like to me - as if the “not racist” disclaimer somehow excuses whatever they’re about to say.

“Im not racist but a black man as the president is just not smart,” tweeted @JakeBlevins24 shortly after President Obama was reelected.

“Im not racist but asians are most definetly [sic] my least favorite of all the races," tweeted @eassyyj, who apparently made a list ranking their favorite races.

After over 1,000 “not racist but” retweets since the beginning of October, some interesting trends have emerged. For example, people of every race seem to believe people of every other race smell terrible, and that nobody can drive - especially blacks and Asians, according to some. Of course, this isn’t just an American phenomenon; there’s also a significant number of “not racist but” tweets from the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. Many of the British tweets simply refer to non-specific “foreigners,” though there’s also a great deal of racism directed at Pakistanis.

More depressing is the widely-held view that, to quote a phrase I’ve retweeted dozens of times since starting @YesYoureRacist, “there’s a difference between black people and ni**ers.” The sentiment was popularized by Chris Rock’s 1996 HBO special Bring the Pain, but is now used primarily by white people who want to justify their use of the N-word. “There's a civil war going on with black people, and there's two sides,” Rock said in his routine. “There's black people, and there's ni**as. And ni**as have got to go." The point of Rock’s controversial routine was that people who fulfill negative stereotypes of African-Americans bring down the entire race. Unfortunately, it has somehow morphed into a popular opinion that the N-word only refers to people who fulfill those stereotypes.

Now I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on race relations, but it stands to reason that while such a nuanced use of that word may be appropriate for a race-focused African-American comedian like Chris Rock, the same cannot be said for a 16-year-old white kid living in the suburbs. In fact, Rock said he retired his “Ni**as vs. black people” routine specifically because it gave white people the impression that it was okay to use the N-word.

The most disturbing thing about @YesYoureRacist isn’t the racism itself. It’s that the people I retweet - the vast majority of which appear to be teenagers - genuinely don’t understand whether they’re being racist. It’s a generation that never had to grow up during the times of Jim Crow, civil rights marches or apartheid, and has never been confronted by the institutional racism that older generations saw on a daily basis. As a result, many teens seem to think racism simply means active hatred of another race, and not the apparent prejudices and stereotypes displayed by the people I retweet.

Occasionally, someone retweeted by @YesYoureRacist will protest that the backlash provoked by their tweet somehow infringes upon their freedom of speech. They’re only sharing an opinion, they say. But just as they don’t seem to see whether they’re being racist, they also don’t understand that freedom of speech doesn’t apply to the societal consequences that speech may provoke. Until those lessons are learned (and by the looks of things, that might take a while) @YesYoureRacist will continue to expose the comments permeating social media - one tweet at a time.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee