Because I’ve wearied of both trying to shorten this post and get it right, I’m going to do what I often do: put it out there and let anyone who finds anything of value read it. Others will snipe it, and perhaps rightly so.
I have a smiling friend from high school on social media who posts only clever anecdotes and innocent life commentaries on his own social media… Behind the curtain, though, I see his handiwork of prejudice and harm. Most of the time, he’s subtle, cleverly ensuring his remarks don’t go wide. The time I spent learning to follow the breadcrumbs with FOIA requests and ancestry leads me to the clues he’s left behind. Although he’s clever, he’s not patient. His impatience and intolerance draw him into diatribes he might otherwise avoid. I don’t actively follow his lashings. The news tends to draw him out, especially as tempers flare. It’s a sceanario I’ve seen play out a dozen times this past year.
Especially over the last year, I’ve had friends get caught in the crosshairs by “Robert,” as I’ll call him. They’ll struggle to understand why he’s turned on them or chosen them to blast, all the while keeping his own page clean of controversy. If they attempt commentary on his social media, he immediately lashes out at them for being childish or failing to understand the etiquette of social media. Robert is not the only one – there have been many. Once I explain to my friends that Robert’s goal is simple intimidation and to delete his comments, ignore him, or adopt his tactics back at him, most trollish behavior fades and they move along to new victims to intimidate. Weirdly enough, almost all of these people are white males and members of what I term the “Black Sock Mafia.”
Robert keeps his own space free of controversy and lashes out at anyone who brings up anything controversial, even if he first introduces an implied bit of hate. He visits other people’s spaces, though, and lectures all of them about how wrong they are, their ignorance, and how as a rich white man things have become really tough for him in this modern climate of minority over-sensitivity. Because his ego and identity are secret and invested in something he can’t easily admit in public, he faithfully learns the code and lingo of those who possess intellect and free time afforded by a privileged life. His words become his dagger and he jabs frequently, assuming no one is following his trail. He’s wrong. He’ll drop the veneer if he’s talking to people one-on-one and assumes they share his closeted prejudices. He will take a moment sometimes to bash those who use social media to discuss controversial topics; yet, paradoxically, he will visit other pages and relentlessly hammer the person on their personal space. He’s also one of those who visit news sites and groups to spew his fervent brand of prejudice.
Most such people who comment angrily on their friend’s social media invariably do the same on fringe new sites or groups. They need an outlet, especially one in which like-minded people can slap one another on the back and egg on their imaginary quest to make the world look like the faces they see in the mirror. If you are methodical, you can find the crumbs of their visits and tally them up for an accounting.
Robert and I share a friend I’ve known most of my life. Our mutual friend is oblivious to the racism in the heart of my high school social media friend. It seemed like the prejudice would be obvious to anyone observant but I’ve found this to be untrue for many social media users. One of these days, Robert will be in one of those instances like the tiki marchers in Charlottesville; it’s inevitable as he seethes in discomfort at being told “you’re wrong” by those around him, even if many don’t know or pretend to not know how deep his hatred goes.
So I wait, knowing that the backlash against racists and ignorance has him fuming. As many of us know, most racists have convinced themselves of their own practical prejudice; their prejudice is rooted in reality, or so they believe. Their fervor will eventually boil over.
I take note of instance after instance of those times when he simply cannot resist the temptation to insist that racism isn’t real and that minorities are their own worst enemy. He circumspectly runs across the line implying that other religions are somehow the center of a monetary conspiracy. Innuendo is his most frequent ammunition. It’s rare to find a case wherein a racist holds no beliefs regarding the other usual suspects in the minds of prejudice.
He would never pick up a tiki torch and march with those who proudly identify themselves as known racists. His brand is more insidious. He won’t hire minorities unless he must and he subtly steers claims of such prejudice back toward those questioning his increasingly visible motives. Any opportunity he can seize to belittle anyone of color is his for the taking.
The next-to-last paragraph was added after Charlottesville. The rest was a post I’ve rewritten a few times. I was right. Once the events of the weekned subsided, I saw that Robert couldn’t help himself. His anger became a fire that he insisted on unleashing. His racist brethren, albeit of a lesser intellectual stripe, had been revealed as debased human beings and his wrath became unleashed. But his own social media? Only rainbows, talks of wife and family, and details of his life, all presented in a new row of deceit.
Over the last year as Trump’s ascendency became pronounced, I’ve outed many racists to mutual social media users. They display the symptoms of being gaslighted – but once I let them in on the secret of the person accosting them, they are thankful and can sometimes even laught about it.
Knowing a person is racist is different than suspecting such a thing to be true. The label, once proven, grants us power over the racist. I almost always tell people of my discoveries privately because it’s no use starting a word war that will only escalate. People learn at their own pace if they ever learn at all. A very intelligent racist tends to have a long memory for grudges, too. I usually start by asking my friends if they generally trust their instincts about people. (Each of us sometimes speaks lazily or crosses a line – these instances don’t count as evidence of prejudice if they are singular or negligent in tenor.)
After observing people like Robert punch at a social media friend, I reach out and subtly point out that they are being gaslighted or treated like a lesser person. I use the list of logic defects to specify how they are being mistreated. Finally, I point out issues of common courtesy and respect. Most people get the message after a few such encounters and up their deamnds for the closet racist to go away if he can’t behave. There’s a ball of fire and smoke before people like Robert walk away. They need people to know that they have been wronged. Despite their constant nagging about victim behavior, they’ll play all the cards before finally shutting up.
If you have social media friends who do this to you, don’t ignore your instincts. You’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. We let these things pass out of courtesy, usually avoiding the reality that our collective pass at calling them out is only worsening the soundtrack of prejudice in their head.