How the internet deals with racism and why we need a change

This is Vice.com’s interview with three “Babes of the BNP” as Vice has chosen to style these teens and young women. The fact that Vice is showing the BNP’s unbelievable ignorance and race hatred to all of us here in the UK is a good thing. It’s a great thing. But the undertones of sexism and elitism – not so much.

The fact that Vice illustrated an article on politics and race issues with photos of one of the interviewees nude and posing provocatively seems to have an undercurrent of body shaming or sex negativity. It seems to be drawing attention to the interviewee’s gender – as does the title “Babes of the BNP” and the sentence “girls can get in on race hatred too.” Why is the article solely concerned with young women anyway? There’s nothing wrong with running articles solely focused on one gender, class or race – but here the interviewees’ gender was used against them.

A lot of the comments are misogynistic – “I would hatefuck all these women” as well as slut shamming remarks and teen pregnancy shaming. Not to mention comments which stigmatise them for being unemployed.

Do these young women deserve to be shamed? I’d say yes, of course they do. They’re racist (they support sterilising immigrants and see no problem with using other races as a servant class) and incredibly ignorant (one claimed she “doesn’t remember” WW1 and WW2 and a comment was made that immigrants should work and also stop taking our jobs – which is obviously impossible).

But the mocking tone of the interview is elitist; it’s snickering at those who are more ignorant – just because they are more ignorant. I won’t say it’s classist because most working class people aren’t ignorant and so I don’t see a class dynamic at work here so much as a knowledge or social skills dynamic. And going back to do the same thing all over again to one of the girls was a bit much.

Do I think it’s hilarious? Yes. Am I glad Gavin Haynes created the articles? OH YES. Do I feel bad for the women? Nope – because they weren’t tricked into saying anything. Everything they said is actually what they believe. They appear to have willingly allowed their identities and photos to be published.

But there are great and not so great ways to publicise how wrong some ideas are. Reading the article reminds me of my own interviews two weeks ago with Richard Lucas and Rhoda Grant MSP. Like Haynes, I tried to show Britain how harmful the sex purchase Bill is and how morals are influencing the politics. But I don’t think my article would have been improved if I’d mocked Lucas and Grant throughout. It doesn’t help. The fact that readers claimed that the interviewees didn’t get a fair hearing (it’s clear to me that they did and that Haynes wasn’t playing hardball. I’d have asked more questions about the eugenics) is proof that mocking the enemy only gains them sympathy.

But in fairness to Vice, this is how the internet deals with racism: shock, outrage and pursuit of lone – often young or teen – individuals. Teens being arrested over racist tweets. A 17 year old youth police officer being forced to resign over homophobic, racist and drug-referencing tweets when she was 14. And Jezebel’s stunned “outing” of teens for racist tweets after the election.

When middle class adults go after racist teens, it doesn’t stop racism. It might just make these young people more bitter and racist. Those tweets weren’t shocking to me because as a coloured woman I’ve heard all that since I went to primary school. As a toddler I was attacked by six year olds for the colour of my skin and had bricks thrown at me. And the attacks continued all through high school and in my neighbourhoods. Only white people could be really shocked by this language, just as I might be shocked by homophobic comments that LGBTQ people have to deal with on an almost daily basis. Because I’m not gay I tend to think of homophobia as largely dead – but the LGBTQ community knows different. Similarly, white people might think of racism as largely dead or as something that only the EDL and BNP subscribe to. But I know different.

All this outrage and arrests of relatively powerless, harmless teens is just paying lip service to the real problem of racism as a pervasive force in our country’s powerful institutions and politics. I do still receive racist abuse occasionally but it doesn’t bother me; I’ve long since got used to it, as have most other non-white people I know. What I fear isn’t teens yelling at me as I walk by – it’s the racist attitudes I’ve encountered from teachers, police, civil servants and politicians. They don’t shout the N word at me but they have much more real power over me than the local louts.

Racism doesn’t live in words. Shouting the N word isn’t the worst thing a racist can do. The worst thing they can do is take away your rights, turn a blind eye to racist bullying or discriminate against you when you need their help – and all in a way which you can’t prove is racist.

We need a change in how the internet deals with racism. Don’t go for the easy pickings; pursuing teens doesn’t change things. If you want to do something against racists, call out discrepancies in how the police, local authorities or politicians treat different ethnic groups. Challenge racist politicians or pursue people on Nazi or white supremacist sites. And, most importantly, try to change attitudes in wider society. Teens are only racist because their families, friends or wider society tells thhem it’s okay to be racist. The issue doesn’t lie with them, which is why it won’t be eradicated by arresting or outing them. The issue lies with all of society.

 

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One thought on “How the internet deals with racism and why we need a change

  1. […] One last thing, though: arresting teens for racist tweets is pointless and is often a classist act. Blowing a powerless young individual’s act out of proportion by latching onto the one unlucky guy who happens to get caught is unfair and it just pays lip service to the problem of racism in institutions and government. Like the Daily Mail reporting that Edinburgh University students wore blackface. The Mail feeds millions of people anti-immigration lies. It does way more insidious, unchallegeable harm than the very overt, very call-out-able actions of the four young friends. I wrote about this issue here. […]

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