One of the stories on yesterday’s docket was about alleged racism in the U.S. Army – where one day is set aside for soldiers to be as racist as they want toward each other. Before that, we talked about the University of Oklahoma fraternity that was kicked off campus when a video surfaced of the fraternity brothers doing a racist chant. And now in the news – 4 Florida cops got fired on Friday due to racist texts and just horrifying videos that showed a white Ku Klux Klan hood, and verbal assaults against minorities.
The common denominator in all of these stories is racism of course – and beyond that – they are examples of the absolute WORST of humanity. Judging someone by the color of their skin – their ethnicity – their gender – their sexual preference… and then taking it to the level of hate speech. Threats. Assaults. This is a disease. Looking at someone from the outside, and having a hateful thought show up inside your head.
Is this the best we can do as human beings? Can’t we do better? Can’t we BE better? Or is this it? Is this the end of the road, as far as what we’re capable of? Or is it actually a disease? A mental disorder? And if so, will awareness and education actually cure it?
Personally, I’m an optimist. I like to think we can do better – and be better – as human beings. And even though I gave him some flack recently – maybe this is what Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was trying to do, by having his employees write Race Together on coffee cups.
But maybe he missed the mark. Maybe the most EFFECTIVE conversations we will have with each other will not be forced – or contrived – or media driven. Maybe the conversations that will create the most change – will be the real ones that we have with each other. One on one. With the people we know. Maybe it will be the PERSONAL not PUBLIC conversations that really matter in the long run.
Speaking of those personal conversations… I received an email recently from a friend who is African American. She is an educated, lovely, well-spoken, successful woman who is also a very talented author writing a novel. And when I read her email – I will be honest with you – I got angry. I got really upset. Let me read it to you now.
"I feel like I want to share this. It's ironic that you've been talking about online bullying and Twitter trolls on your radio show lately, because guess what? I was attacked this week on Twitter. A black lady that I follow tweeted a very positive quote with the hash tag "You're gonna be amazing" This is a saying that her mother always told her. I re-tweeted her post and responded to her. Some person I do not know saw our conversation and tweeted back to both of us "a n-word aint sh**" (except, they spelled both words out) I was hurt, but mostly angry. I thought about responding, but didn't for two reasons. First, sometimes silence is the best policy, especially when you are angry. Second, I thought about how that baseball player, Curt Schilling, found out who bullied his daughter. If he can find that out, it can be reversed and someone can find information about me too. So, I let it wash off my back. At first, I wanted it deleted off my notifications page, then I thought, no, I'm glad it's there because whenever I look at it, I feel more ambitious and confident because I know it's a lie."
Wow. That is powerful isn’t it?
Isn’t this what Starbucks was trying to do? Start a real conversation about racism? I think about how that ignorant, anonymous Twitter troll – hiding behind that cloak of anonymity – took one look at my friend and without knowing a thing about her, made a hate judgment about her – just because of the color of her skin.
And suddenly all the stories I’ve been talking about here on the show about racism, hatred, and bullying – in person and online – hit home for me. The fraternity brothers chanting racist rants about African Americans. Suddenly they are chanting at my friend. The Army soldiers choosing one day of the week to hate people of other races. They’re hating my friend – and not just one day of the week – every day. The cops in Florida texting hateful things about people of color to each other. They’re talking about my friend.
This is real for me now. And as optimistic as I am, I can’t get the thought out of my head – what if this IS a disease? Is social media making it worse? All the real time access we have to other people – and they have to us. Have we created something that was meant to be social, but actually gives us the power to destroy each other?
But then I think of what my friend said… how she has chosen to leave the tweet on her page. How it reminds her of how ambitious and confident she is. This reminds me that we are stronger than our enemies. If racism and hate are a disease, I believe they only poison a very small percentage of us. I believe that overall, we are good. And yes, I believe we can be better – or as my friend’s original hashtag said – You’re gonna be amazing! We all are.
What do you think? Is social media and technology in general, making racism and hatred worse? Or does it actually give us an open forum for having REAL conversations? The kind that Starbucks was trying to start by scribbling on coffee cups.