Over the past few weeks, Xpress’ coverage of both the College of Ethnic Studies funding controversy and the viral dreadlocks video has drawn a particularly nasty breed of Internet denizen out of the woodwork and made it very clear that the type of education provided by the College is fundamental to racial discourse in the U.S.
The racist, misogynist vitriol employed by these commenters is frankly shocking.
This is a topic about which much has been written and much more could and should be, but a 500-word staff editorial is nowhere near enough space to begin addressing the far-reaching implications of white privilege, cultural appropriation and the socioeconomic rifts along racial lines in America. What we can do, however, is address the violent, personal, bigoted rhetoric that has inflamed the conversation.
However wrong student Bonita Tindle’s actions in the video appear to be, it is important to remember no one deserves to have their personal information exposed over a 45-second clip. The video begins at the end of Tindle and student Cory Goldstein’s interaction, and provides no context for their argument. Tindle, who deleted her social media accounts shortly after the video went viral, has not publicly commented or shared her side of the story.
Free speech is a fundamental belief in our country, and people have the right to express their opinions online. However, the majority of comments that have emerged in the wake of this video are angry, personal attacks aimed not only toward the people in the video, but to those who have any connection in the incident and its coverage.
The editor-in-chief of Xpress magazine has received several harassing Facebook messages in the wake of the Golden Gate Xpress newspaper’s articles about the viral video, despite having nothing to do with the coverage. Additionally, the Golden Gate Xpress reporter who interviewed Goldstein on camera was also personally targeted by numerous commenters on the Internet who used obscene and hurtful language to voice their complaints.
There are important racial issues surrounding this video, and resorting to intentionally hateful speech eliminates the possibility of a legitimate and meaningful conversation.
Comments have described College of Ethnic Studies classes as useless, but the bigotry and racial epithets these events have elicited are exactly the type of thing those courses are intended to prevent. Educating people about the systemic racism that still pervades this country, and the way it influences people’s actions on both sides of the aisle, is the only way to meaningfully engage in this debate.
If people express their opinions in a respectful manner, they would provide a more compelling argument for their own point of view and discourage others from immediately deploying personal attacks that are hugely damaging to the people in the line of fire. Time and time again, we have seen people’s lives ruined over their involvement in viral controversies.
We cannot begin to address the deep roots of this problem if we continue to converse with physical violence and verbal threats.