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Sorry Excuses for Status Updates: What does virtual racism look like?

While sitting down to enjoy my daily dose of social networking after a long day at school, I found (to my horror) the words, “Nigga make me a pizza,” in my news feed – a status update posted by a Mills student who shall remain unnamed. I was shocked, confused and saddened that this was the status of a Facebook “friend” of my own. I realized in that moment that Facebook statuses can reveal the good, bad and downright ugliness of people and can, like other forms of social media, participate in normalizing the use of racial slurs by presenting such comments as being somehow funny.

That word on my screen told me the world wasn’t as beautiful as I hoped. The word reminded me that my ancestors were slaves and the color of my skin matters. The “N-word” is so hurtful to me. I remember the first time I encountered the word in middle school. “You Nigga,” said a little boy across the neighboring fence of my childhood home. When I heard the word, I immediately became enraged and began to scream obscenities at the boy. I wanted to hurt him with words the way he had done to me.

I knew the intent of the status update wasn’t racist, but the impact was painful. The situation was uncomfortable and I knew I had to address it somehow. I left a comment in a non-argumentative way and told my “friend” her behavior was inappropriate.

As Mills students, we are concerned with creating social justice and doing anti-racist work is essential to achieving this. Mills students are open to a certain extent and most know that using the “N-word” in any context is wrong – but there are Mills students who aren’t African American that feel like using the racial slur is okay and acceptable. I am not one of these students.

I do not find this word acceptable under any circumstance or context. I would remind those students that this word carries a lot of pain. Usage of this word certainly happens around the country but we should realize that it also happens within virtual spaces. With social networks like Facebook, people use racial slurs amongst their friendship circles and believe it is completely okay – maybe it’s because Barack Obama is the President now, who knows.

In our “post-racial” society, is the “N-word” just part of pop culture? According to one of the Facebook commentors it is, and because you can hear it in YouTube videos, mainstream movies and rap songs. I disagree. Many Americans with white and other privileges blind themselves to everyday actions which perpetuate racism; sometimes this is called “color-blindness.” I would like to remind students that race does matter and shapes a person’s everyday experience and life.

I don’t care if you voted President Obama, bought an Obama T-shirt or attended his inauguration, listen to rap music, dated a black person or even watched a few rap music videos. Don’t use racial slurs – it can’t ever be justified.