racial slurs via twitter: freedom of speech, a sign of the times, or totally unacceptable?

While doing my nightly routine of perusing of tweets last night, a particularly crass tweet caught my eye. It stood out to me because it contained the “N” word. The mere usage of the word was not necessarily the offensive part, though I was definitely surprised by it. Rather, it was the context in which it was used in, and while meant to be a joke, I didn’t laugh.

Say what?

I did a few double takes and thought is this for real?

So there is a twitter handle for Racist Jokes, fine, whatever. There is a twitter handle for everything these days so that’s not surprising nor upsetting. The alarming part is that someone, a “comedian” as she states in her bio, felt that this “joke,” was funny enough to promote and perpetuate.

If I had been feeling feisty, or ballsy, or anything other than exhausted, I would’ve replied back to this self-proclaimed “comedian” and asked her if she had just dined with Stacey Koon and Don Imus. But instead, I decided to write about it.

I flashed back to my early twenties, to a time when I was a liberal sociology major and carried the weight of civil rights and race relations on my shoulders. I took every African American Studies class offered at UCSB. I happened to be dating a black guy at the time, but I would’ve been taking those classes regardless. I was extremely passionate about this issue.

During the three years of dating D, he and I both experienced prejudices from family, friends and strangers alike. I was frustrated and infuriated that racism was still so prevalent in our society.

Last night, when I saw that tweet, all the stories of segregation and rampant discrimination from our county’s history came flooding back. Has nothing changed? Has no one learned a damn thing about how to treat one another? Or how our choices, even down to simple word selection, are so important and full of impact?

I don’t want to start a Twitter pissing contest with this woman about why she thought it was appropriate to retweet this tasteless tweet, so I simply unfollowed her and called it a day. I’ve blurred out her name from this tweet because I’d rather not give her any attention, traffic or fanfare from this. It’s her prerogative to be offensive and debase, and it’s mine to unfollow her, and then talk about her behind her back (though if she was to question me about it, I’d gladly meet her in the quad after 3rd period, kick her ass and then wish her luck on a stand-up career based on Kramer comedy).

But in all seriousness, freedom of speech allows this woman to tweet whatever she wants to, so, am I overreacting?

What would you think if you saw that tweet come through your screen? Would you laugh? Shrug it off? Unfollow her? Call her out?

I couldn’t tell her ethnicity from her profile pic, though, she didn’t appear to be black. But  would her ethnicity really matter? The tweet is still offensive to me either way.

It all just makes me wonder where we are with race relations in this country. Despite the fact that our own President is black, I still don’t think we are where we should be when it comes to equality and suitable race relations. I also don’t think we are at a place where perpetuating degrading racial slurs is acceptable. Not sure we ever will be.





  1. 1

    That is crazy. I am all for freedom of speech but I have to say, I would probably unfollow.

  2. 2
    gigi says:

    I can one up you on this story. When Obama was elected President, several people in my Texas neighborhood started circulating jokes via email about how Obama would surely now make all the “whites” work in cotton fields and other such ridiculously offensive and tasteless statements. These are highly educated people who are business leaders in the community. It made me absolutely sick to think that people still think that’s okay. It made me more sick to think that they’re passing that down to their children.

  3. 3
    Chelsea says:

    I would unfollow :( Personally, I wouldn’t want to read that stuff. Makes me feel icky.

  4. 4

    I must say that nothing much surprises. We live in a world of brokeness, ignorance and confusion. My jaw did however drop at the above comment. I am not sure if it was necessary for you to repost it in you blog.

    I think calling her on her bad behavior would have been fair and right. You can not control her behavior, but you can use your voice to speak truth.

  5. 5
    Laura says:

    That is extremely offensive, but not even mildly surprising. I had no idea exactly how bad racism was or the forms it could take, many of them unexpected to me (e.g., “positive racial stereotyping”), until I had my children. I lived in a bubble of white privilege and lacked an understanding of the pervasiveness of racism. In fact, it wasn’t until I had my kids and finally started speaking up that I realized how a few people *around me* felt — but, of course, those feelings didn’t apply to my kids “because they’re different.” (I’m a few friends/family members lighter these days…)

    I probably would have called her out THEN immediately unfollowed and blocked. So I totally would have one upped your talking behind her back. :)

    I’m glad you posted this, Mary. White people don’t always like to talk about racism in this way and while we don’t always right or completely understand it, talking about it is good. When I posted about talking to kids about racism, I was surprised by how many people said they hadn’t considered discussing it with their kids. I was so grateful for the people who commented and spoke up b/c it’s not easy to say that.

    I could keep going, but I’ll stop. In conclusion, that’s an ugly tweet.

    • Mary says:

      Thank for the comment, Laura! I would love to talk to you more about how you talk to your kids about it (or plan on talking about it) as that has crossed my mind too.
      In regards to the offensive retweeter, I have thought about sending her a DM just saying that her tweet was out of line, but then there is a part of me that thinks nothing I say will make her see my point so why even enter into a losing battle. But then again, she should know that it was an ugly tweet.

  6. 6
    Laura Lohr | My Beautiful Life says:

    That is completely disgusting. I would have unfollowed her too. Hashtagged or not, I don’t want to be associated with that. I agree, not funny.

  7. 7
    Danielle says:

    I would most definitely unfollow. Retweeting something as offensive as this is uncalled for. These types of jokes have no place in my world nor do I want to have to explain them to my children once they are old enough to read. It’s disgusting and I applaud you for unfollowing (and bringing this subject to others attention).

  8. 8
    Jamie says:

    Man, that’s pretty awful. I think you did the right thing by unfollowing this person. The question of whether to challenge and engage a person when they send out a message like that is a tough one…people get all mean and crazy on the interwebs sometimes, so even if you intend to have a constructive conversation about the state of race relations and civil discourse, odds are good that it would degenerate into something ugly, that’s my experience, anyway. You’re better off doing exactly what you did…using your platform to frame some interesting questions and share your own thoughts.

  9. 9

    Disgusting. I’m over people hiding behind the Freedom of Speech shield so they have a license to act ignorant.

    I would’ve done exactly what you did. There is no reason to promote someone that is looking to seek attention based on really bad pathetic humor.

    Tolerance begins at home. And my daughter will never learn those words from my husband or I. In fact, I couldn’t be more proud because when my daughter tells me about her friends I never know what color or nationality they are until I meet them. I pray she stays colorblind to this for as long as possible. And I’m going to be PISSED at the person who opens her eyes to it.

  10. 10

    i must admit that that is probably one of the harshest racist “jokes” i have come across in a long long time. i would definitely unfriend. i have acquaintances in every spectrum. And and i will admit that all sides have their degree of making fun of themselves first and nothing is said of other colors, jokingly or not. on a different note, the reality is that there is BET where the comedians on there throw jokes like these all the time, but if there was ever to be a WET in formation, would it even come to fruition? would that be racist? and based on who?

  11. 11
    Hanan says:

    I learned a very good lesson before. People who talk trash and make fun of others, are simply unhappy with themselves in some way.

    There are a lot of unhappy people in this world.

  12. 12

    Oh, HELL NO! I’d have sent a message privately even… I guess if she was following me. I really dislike getting into social media arguments – it gives the offender more exposure, so I like that you didn’t share her handle so no one who is utterly curious can go and see what she’s all about ; )

    I think our country has a long way to go. Electing a black president doesn’t mean we have overcome racism in this country.

    Perhaps we could make a pact to find the “I Have a Dream” and play it for our children to discuss how we are all people and all deserve dignity. Words make an impact. In my Womens Studies class we discussed how joking is a way to perpetuate a behavior and treatment of people. It has no place in our society – Freedom of Speech – that just allows us to point out the ignorance in people.

  13. 13

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  14. 14

    I would unfollow too. Probably not call them out on Twitter. I find “twitter fights” tastelss also. Much better to handle it in a classy manner like you have. By writing an intelligent, thoughtful, thought provoking blog response and not sinking to her level.

  15. 15
    aaryn b. says:

    “Despite the fact that our own President is black, I still don’t think we are where we should be when it comes to equality and suitable race relations.”

    Oh, we are so, so very far from being where we should be. Terrifically, dangerously, heart-breakingly far. What we are NOT far from is Jim Crow.

    Personally, I would have called her out and written about it using her first and last name. But that’s how I roll.

    • Mary says:

      I’m sure you have plenty of stories to make my eyes pop out of my head with raising Ruby. I should’ve passed this one onto you to call her out. I would love to have read it.

    • Mary says:

      I’m sure you have plenty of stories to make my eyes pop out of my head with raising Ruby. I should’ve passed this one onto you to call her out. I would love to have read it.

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