Identity, “-Isms”, and Social Media

Technology has been the single most effective combatant and advocate for and against human divides next to human will. Imagine Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I have a Dream” speech without it resonating to millions with the use of television and radio. How would the Ku Klux Klan have boomed in the twenties without the cinematic influence of Birth of a Nation? Technology preserves voices that otherwise could only carry sound to the limits of breath, and lets them resonate around the globe. A powerful message, with the help of technology, can shake thousand year foundations. A brush of dust becomes a planet sweeping storm. In an age where racism, once the norm, has faded to shadows and lingering injustice, social media has risen to further unite us as a people. But is something like that possible?

There is an unspoken internal conflict between the desire to be accepted and the desire to stand out. Users want to be part of community, while maintaining individualism. Race, culture, gender, and ethnicity fall between the cracks of that tension. I find it fascinating how we can broadcast this through photos and updates-  “jambalaya with my mom!”, “going to my little sister’s quinceanera!” “good ol’ country bbq with the family!” and so on. (The exclamation points make it more interesting, silly.) I think it’s great. Do I have any interest in these kinds of updates? No. But it’s nice to know it’s there in case I ever become more interested in my friends’ daily lives. I’m just not as up to speed on social media laws. What can I say? I’ve always just had hex when it came to social media. I didn’t have a Facebook until I was twenty. I tried Farmville. All my crops died. Then I got audited. An odd claim considering how socially prevalent my fellow peers in my demographics are.

(http://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2013/10139/social-network-demographics-twitter-pinterest-instagram-facebook)

The idea of a Global Village, a single mindset of tolerance and unity, being formed through the possibilities of social networking is laughable in hindsight. Youtube comments for the popular video, “Dramatic Gopher,” outrageously ooze with anti-Semitism and homophobia. The darker side to having access to the world emerges in the form of anonymity. There are few accusations that can ruin a person’s reputation faster than being labeled a racist, especially if that person is white. We have a black president now, as Young Jeezy has reminded us a few times, and there is a clear divide on twitter and facebook over him. Needless to say, the word “racist” is a word being thrown at people quite frequently. It seems every video with 50 Cent has its comments disabled from being flooded with racist remarks. And what about those pesky memes?

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It’s brutal out there in the depths of cyberspace. But hey, I’d like to meet the person who has never laughed at something at least shallowly rooted in stereotypes. To me, the minority individuals who are willing to show their face and still maintain their ignorant views (the racists) are a better representation of lingering racism today, as opposed to the anonymous users who say the same things just for an attempt at a laugh (the trolls). Messages of hate are spread through the same wires and waves as messages of tolerance. Lisa Nakamura brings up an interesting point of things like race and gender being an “option” on the web, or at least refraining from acknowledging it. But is that something that can really be hidden? Should it have to be? We are all different. We all have different opinions, backgrounds, beliefs and classes. There are no sides to pick, if you don’t want there to be. There’s you and what you believe, and you have every right to believe it.

But as for me, I think it’s alright to laugh at ourselves once in a while. I do it and I’m comfortable with it because whatever joke is at the expense of generalizing me, my culture, my class, my race, or my political affiliation, I take it in as just that. Just a joke. It doesn’t linger in my mind any more than a “Yo Mama Joke” because I love my mama and the joke has no impact on who she is to me or how much I love her. But hey, I’m not one to shy away from speaking out if I feel something should be said, but that could mean 10 different things to 10 different people. So where do YOU draw the line?

 

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