On Exposing Racism Among Teens, Organized or Otherwise

Benjamin Smith

By April Callen

After the reelection of Barack Obama a number of alternative online news and culture sites published dozens of tweets and Facebook posts from high school and college-aged young people spewing a cocktail of racist and vitriolic language against the President.

The posts ranged from attempts at logic—“It’s called the ‘White House’ for a reason”—to the tried and true anti-Black racial slur that lets everyone know where one stands—“Good to know our president once again was elected only because he’s a n–ger.”

In perhaps a unique act of resistance or transformative justice, someone started “Hello There, Racists!,” calling into question rights to privacy and freedom of speech through the Internet. The blog does not simply repost offensive-racist, and in some cases, anti-Semitic Facebook posts and tweets, but it also publishes where the offending party attends high school or their place of employment, with encouragement to contact their principal or employer. After reports that many of the subjects had received various threats, the blog has been “taken down,” but not deleted, as the original entries remain.

As a positive, public shaming can lead to awareness, action, reformation, and in some cases, justice. However, it also runs the risk of inciting violence, vigilante justice, and pushing the exposed individual further towards behaviors and actions that caused them to be shamed in the first place.

Another potentially dangerous negative to publicly shaming young people for language that they most likely picked up from the adult figures in their lives, is that it exposes them to white nationalism or other hate movements. On the surface, blogs like “Hello There, Racist!” do a certain bit of good by, hopefully, pushing people to think a little deeper about their politics and how they broadcast them, but it could also serve as the perfect recruitment center for factions advocating for a white nationalist or white supremacist agenda.

Those Facebook posts and tweets reveal a particular disgruntlement among certain populations of white American youth. Whether they are parroting their parents’ language or expressing a self-determined belief system, letting the Internet community take care of them, so to speak, is somewhat irresponsible when considering white nationalist groups use that perceived disenfranchisement to their benefit.

“The Rhett Guard”: Hunter Wallace (far-left) and Matthew Heimbach (kneeling, holding banner) with fellow proud-whites

History of this happening leads to Benjamin Smith (pictured above), a student of Matt Hale, who went on a killing spree in the late 90s. And presently, there is Matt Heimbach (pictured left), founder of the (unsupported) White Student Union at Towson University, who espouses views like, “You need a certain number of whites even to maintain basic civilization.”

Often interpreting racial equality and social progress as somehow anti-white, white nationalist groups and individuals can use these instances of exposing racist teens (or teens who use racist language) to reiterate their points that free speech and white America are in danger.

A more productive way for journalists and bloggers to challenge teens publishing racist language on social media sites would be to properly educate them on the history of racism in the United States. Before exposing young people and hoping for a productive outcome, a great amount of attention needs to be given to the miserable state of the American educational system. Throughout the country, students learn very little about U.S. history as it relates to the Native American experience, slavery and its effects on racial politics still witnessed today, Japanese interment camps, and a host of other atrocities against people of color.

When those histories are not taught, but instead substituted with mass media and politicians’ narrative that the country is post-racial and all people are on an equal playing field – and then coupled with extremists, far right think tanks, and radio and television hosts hysterically arguing that the United States is in decline because of Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, and all others who do not exhibit qualities of a “traditional” (read: white) America – what results are those social media posts.

Admittedly, there is a certain, albeit strange, comfort in a community of anonymous individuals coming together to witness the horrors of teenagers who would greatly benefit from watching the entire “Eyes on the Prize” series. However, revealing these young millennials and their hate speech to the vast Internet without encouraging them to develop a more evolved political or racial awareness could be fostering a hotbed of more self-proclaimed disenfranchised angry whites – who will actually be able to vote next election cycle.