Philadelphia Metropolis


Race Hatred 2.0

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By Nita Jalivay.

Like many teachers, I enjoy using technology as a tool to boost my students' level of understanding and engagement in class. I admit I am not the most computer savvy instructor, but I navigate just fine through the myriad websites that offer teachers portals to other worlds, ones through which we voyage with our students.  The internet has enabled my kids - many of whom have rarely had the opportunity to leave Philadelphia - to trek with me through the jungles of the Amazon; to hike the Australian outback; and to climb Table Mountain in South Africa.  We have a beautiful time learning and exploring together, with YouTube documentaries serving as our global passports.  The images beaming back at us from faraway, exotic locales reinforce the connectedness of our humanity to that of our fellow world citizens.

Sometimes, though, I am loath to search my favorite sites for certain types of content-specific material.  For instance, when I recently showed my summer school class some YouTube footage on American slavery (the film having been written, directed andkid-learning-computer-pictures.jpg produced by a black artist), at the bottom of this very intelligent story were the sickest, most racist comments that one could conjure up.  Line after line, my students - all of them minorities and between the ages of 12 and 15 - were subjected to repeated assertions that blacks are "niggers", "apes", "animals", and "savage criminals".  The posters argued that slavery was justified to keep blacks under control, to force them into roles of subservience and submission to white people.  (Just the information I need to build the character and confidence of a room full of young black minds!)

One could argue that abusive YouTube comments don't represent the populace at large, and are instead the work of immature young people with too much time on their hands and no significant goals.  I thought that at first, too, until I started checking a variety of other clips on the site, ones I assumed would draw the interest of intelligent, introspective people.  I clicked on footage of the black expatriate writer, James Baldwin, and scrolled down.  Sure enough, the "comment barbarians" - as I have come to think of them - were posting in full force, denouncing Baldwin with the ugliest of racist and homophobic slurs on account of his blackness and his homosexuality.  Footage of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Billie Holiday was also stained with the smears of supremacist insanity.   

Tragically, like a quickly mutating virus, a hardcore strain of racism still thrives in our so-called "post-racial" society.  Whenever I read local news at, I am taken aback at the number of comments from everyday Philadelphians who malign the black community for seemingly every societal ill there is.  The statements range from offensive to flat-out destructive.  I have read calls for blacks "to go back to Africa", to "abort their babies", and "get the death penalty for selling crack."  (Who ever heard of calling for the death penalty for a white meth cooker from Scranton?)  These remarks, which one would think only existed on supremacist websites like Stormfront, are actually coming from ordinary Philadelphians who read the papers.  They aren't an illiterate, uneducated lot; as an English teacher, I notice a great many racist comments that are grammatically correct and well-written, despite their stomach-churning vitriol. 

Many of my friends, also educators, point out that the behind-the-scenes internet hatred in Philadelphia, while staggering, is also frightening.  How many of these passive-aggressive pundits - swaddled in the anonymity of their screen names - emerge in the real world as powerful and influential people?  How many of them are physicians, police officers, administrators, teachers, journalists and politicians?  How many have the ability to hire and fire, or otherwise make decisions that impact the quality of life of the same people that they denigrate in private?

The expressions on my students' faces as they read internet comments are enough to rock any sentient person's soul.  First the kids emit nervous giggles, a defense mechanism.  Then, as all children are wont to do, when the gravity of the words set in, their features crash down like an avalanche, their joy and youthful innocence imploding at the idea of people depicting them and their communities as "animals".  "Racial stuff like that was only supposed to take place in history," they tell me, drawing from our discussions of civil rights activism in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.  "And why are there so many comments?" they want to know.   The kids read them and feel unloved, abused by some colossal force that they can't identify or define.  Their eyes search mine, seeking a balm for their hurt and rejection.  I remind them that they are beautiful, and that the real savages are the people who engage in racial schadenfreude, pleasuring themselves with the humiliation of others.  I can only hope my words soothe the kids enough to take the sting out of their self-esteem.  But at the rate the comments keep coming, I'm not so sure.   

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