This is a guest post for swpd by A. Smith, who writes of herself, "I write a blog that is hard to explain except to say I write what's on my mind. In the real world, I'm a recent college graduate who's had enough of DC and it's politics and is ready to go back to school, for a different, albeit familiar, kind of politics. I'm also a black woman with 22-almost-23 years of experience in this race thing..."
On some blogs, my favorite part is the comments. I like to see how many people had thoughts similar to mine after reading a blog post. I think people are honest on the internet in ways they would never be in a face-to-face conversation. In fact, people probably say things on blogs, in comments, on Twitter and even on Facebook (which is ironic) that you couldn't pay them to say to a close friend. They leave these thoughts and ideas out there for people to read -- people they will never, ever meet -- and they can be painfully honest. One thing I’ve noticed is that when apparently white people leave vile, racist comments, other white people who don’t feel that way almost never jump in to counter the vile racism.
One blog I love reading the comments for is Unsuck DC Metro (UDCM), a website dedicated to Washington, DC's transit system. Compared to, say, NYC's transit system, ours sucks. Majorly. So it's kind of comforting to know there are other people who ride DC Metro and have some of the same complaints I do.
I stumbled upon an old UDCM post that invited comments on the "Most Annoying Metro Behaviors." I was sorta excited to read through all 200 comments, because I know most metro veterans have some of the same annoyances: people who talk too loudly on their cell phones; folks who don't know that we walk left, stand right; tourists who are incapable of moving out of the way before they decide to shove their nose in a map, etc. I wasn't surprised by anything I read. It was what I didn't read that I took note of.
It doesn't matter what city you live in, whether you use public transportation or not, you can identify with this: annoying teenagers. We all know them, we cringe when we see (or hear) them coming. They're loud, obnoxious, aloof and bothersome. Typically, I remind myself that I was 15 once, and I and my friends probably liked being obnoxious, too. All teenagers think that they're cool because they're loud (or so it seems).
Here in DC, many metro riders will tell you that right before school and right after school, you can't help but be annoyed by the already overcrowded train cars filling up with teenage students who are rambunctious, loud and obnoxious. They play their music way too loud, use inappropriate language and act rude. Other riders agree that these behaviors are obnoxious, so it was no surprise that a lot of the commenters on UDCM's post did too. However, what the comments also revealed was that almost everyone seems to think it's only black teenagers who do this. What was even more striking is how they were referenced. There isn't any reference to "black kids." Instead, they’re all derogatory terms -- the rude, ignorant and racist kind.
One commenter referred to them as "Ghetto-ass bebe's kids," others called them the "Ghetto Fabulous Street Urchins," "section-8 welfare street urchins," and even "sewer ghetto rats." My favorite was probably from commenter Grrrrrr, who referred to them as "ghetto sewer rats with no upbringing or future." I won't lie, I laughed at the sheer ignorance of that comment. It wasn't enough to call them "ghetto sewer rats"; they also have no upbringing or future. I didn't know this, but apparently you can figure out everything about a person after less than 5 minutes of sharing the same space.
But like I said, it wasn't the comments that got me; rather it was that no one had anything to the contrary to say. No one came to the rescue of this maligned group to say, "hey, is there a reason you only refer to them with these racist terms? Is there a reason you don't reference white teenagers? They can be just as obnoxious."
The closest attempt to rescue this group was a comment from one person who pointed out that these obnoxious teens could have come from anywhere in DC, not just S.E. (Southeast is a predominantly black and poor area of D.C., though it is also being gentrified, so almost anyone could live there). But even that person didn't point out the extensive use of derogatory, hateful terms or the lack of anger pointed towards white teenagers.
All of this is in strong contrast to the treatment of other maligned groups, like the disabled. For example, plenty of commenters complained about people who "look normal," but make use of facilities that are supposed to be for the disabled. Many other commenters came to the rescue, stating that no one should be quick to think that a person who looks able-bodied can’t be disabled. Multiple commenters also came to the rescue of "men" who are often attacked for not giving up their seats.
No one, not one person, took issue with all of the hateful descriptions of loud and obnoxious black teenagers. No one said, for instance, that we should be careful about assuming who these teenagers are and where they're from. No one pointed out that many teens want to look like they're from the poorer and rougher parts of town, even though they’re actually from the more affluent parts, and furthermore, that this is a universal trait -- some black teens do it, just like some white teens do it.
There’s also the fact that most of these commenters probably don't ride the train to the parts of town where they seem to think these "street urchins" go -- so how would they know anything about where they're from and what they know? These are simple and basic corrections that anyone ought to be able to make, but no one did. Wondering why we would assume that only the truly disabled "look" disabled, and why we would be so quick to malign all men for the actions of a few, though, were corrections deemed plenty worth making.
I'd like to be clear: I’m not really taking issue with the obviously ignorant and racist commenters (in the sense that I know these people exist, and I personally don't waste a whole lot of breath or time on them). Rather, I take issue with the people who read the racist comments and didn't think enough to question their legitimacy or factuality. I take issue with the people who read those comments, knew better, but didn't think they should say so. Probably because, truth be told, they felt the same way.
Why is this? Why would people read these comments and not think enough of the absurdity to correct the original poster in the same way disparaging comments about the disabled, or women, or men are often corrected?
Even the commenter who pointed out that we can't assume all these kids are from poor neighborhoods didn't dare touch the horrible titles used to refer to them. I'm going to make a large assumption that I can't prove (but feel is true) that Unsuck DC Metro is frequented mostly by white people. If so, that would mean that white commenters feel a sense of security in expressing inflammatory views that I, as a black woman, might disagree with, but that another white person might readily agree with.
How white people speak to each other about minority groups when there are no minorities present is something I would never be privy to in "real life," but I have heard a lot about it. In an all-white environment, there’s an implicit assumption that because everyone looks the same, they have the same opinion about the "others." And so, it’s okay to spew vile racism about the “others.”
Not only was this assumption clearly made in this post’s comments, but no one refuted it. The simple failure to correct racist comments suggests that every person who read the comments agreed with the assertion that only Section-8 kids have no future or upbringing, and that they are street urchins, undeserving of the simple respect of at least being referenced as if they are human.
Of course, the other problem here is how all the obnoxious white teens get overlooked. No one mentions them, in either a derogatory or a straightforward manner. I guess they don't bother anyone when they run around train stations (like their black counterparts), act loud (like their black counterparts) and obnoxious (like their black counterparts), and generally make commuting just that much more annoying (like their black counterparts). Or, perhaps, it's actually that when they do these things they’re seen as normal, rambunctious teenagers, but when their black counterparts do it, it's seen as almost criminal...
I'm more interested in what the readers of this blog (swpd) think explains why white people do this, rather than affirmation that they do it. Is it because they don't think maligned minorities need someone to stand up for them, especially in their absence? Do they not think that's their job?
What about the commenter who wanted us to remember that these black teen subway riders could be from anywhere, but apparently didn't take issue with how they were referenced? Is there a fear that if they stand up for them, they will in turn be attacked?
One of my close friends was the first person to "hip" me to what happens in a room full of white people (read: the first person to make me consider what actually happens). She told me she's been attacked when she's tried to disagree, and that she always notices the difference in how she’s treated or spoken to after the fact (I told her that though I know it's hard, it's people like her who can make a real difference -- but that's another post for another day).
Is there, then, some fear that standing up to racism from other white people will make you less white?
I guess in the end I'm not so disturbed by what these teenagers were called because this is America in a supposedly post-racial society. However, it's the passive agreement in situations like these that furthers these ignorant and absurd ideas. These people are just like the police officer who forwarded that ignorant e-mail to his co-workers after the Dr. Gates' incident. He'd probably sent similar e-mails to a certain group and no one ever stood up to him. Or how about the TN state lawmaker's aid who did something similar? How many of us receive offensive e-mails everyday? Maybe it's not offensive to us, but it is to others, and yet we say nothing?
That passive agreement furthers the assumption people make that everyone who looks like them thinks like them. It's important to nip that thought process in the bud, even at the risk of losing some of your "whiteness." It's ironic, but I believe that if we're ever going to truly realize the post-racial society people seem to so want, it'll be white people who push us over the edge. That's why it's important to include them on topics of race, and that's also why it’s especially important to expect them to speak up.