Sunday, March 20, 2011

Again...tragedy + internet = outrage and nastiness.

A few days ago a UCLA student named Alexandra Wallace posted this charming racist rant about Asians in her university library:
If you're one of the few people in the country who hadn't seen that video previously, I'm sure you're edified to have had the privilege now.  And can probably guess the response, if I haven't given it away already-- yes, outrage and nastiness.  The "outrage" part is good-- it's certainly better than apathy or agreement.  But the nastiness is a different story.  Jorge Rivas at Colorlines reports:
Alexandra Wallace’s now famous rant against Asian students at UCLA has been seen more than five million times.* Countless more people have seen or read about the video in the New York Times, Gawker, the UK’s Daily Mail and elsewhere. And in all these places, the video prompted outraged commentary from readers and viewers who told Wallace about her racism—and, in the process, slung mounds of misogyny her way, too. (Not to mention posting her address and, reportedly, sending her death threats.) 
Even on and, which targets a largely progressive female readership, many of the comments posted in response to Wallace were loaded with sexist name-calling. “I’m sure her mom also taught her to make sure you wear a tight tank top that exposes your boobs when ranting about Asian students on video,” a commenter wrote on Jezebel. On our site, the word “bimbo” thrived. 
Caroline Heldman at Ms. Magazine’s blog reminded readers that oppression comes in many different forms. She offers a hypothetical for comparison: “Imagine if an African American man posted a sexist video and commenters responded with a steady stream of racial slurs.” 
The point isn’t to equate race and gender. Rather, Heldman’s question offers a good place to start a discussion. What if Alexandra Wallace was black or Latina and people called her racial epithets? Would people be OK with that? Probably not. But some of the most popular comedic web videos of people of color sounding off against Wallace include starkly misogynistic language and ideas. . . 
 The Daily Bruin reports that Wallace, who issued an apology for the video, contacted university police on Sunday evening after receiving hundreds of threats via e-mail and phone. She’s been advised to reschedule her finals because her address and school schedule have been posted online.

Channing Kennedy, also at Colorlines, summed it up well: "the Internet’s rebuttal to Wallace fought unexamined bigotry and hateful language with unexamined bigotry and hateful language."  And death threats, because you can't have footage of yourself doing or saying anything offensive on the internet anymore without death threats.  I'm sure that's partially due to the tragedy factor, but other recent examples that have nothing to do with the tragedy include the Australian bully in a recent video who got smacked down by his victim and a British woman who put a cat in a trash bin.  The internet is full of hateful, hypocritical people who apparently see themselves as the agents of karma.  I know this has been the case for a long time, but the fact is making itself especially salient to me now.  

On the brighter side, Kennedy writes
a must-read thread on Facebook digs deep into the intersectionality of race and gender in Wallace’s video and in the responses. You should read the whole thing, but by way of an excerpt, here’s Sulekha Gangopadhyay: 
I didn’t find the misogynistic responses calling her a “slut”, “bimbo” or “whore” particularly empowering for me as a woman of color; men of color who rely on compensatory sexism have generally not been my allies.
Two different readers, Helen Lopez and Phoenix Activists, pointed us toward this response video by spoken-word artist Beau Sia, written from Wallace’s perspective. Phoenix says “Here’s the only non-sexist and most thought-provoking video response I’ve seen; it really makes us think how people like Wallace have the sentiments they have to begin with.”
They're right. It really is an excellent video, and should be seen by everyone who has watched Ms. Wallace's:

ETA:  There is some talk about what action UCLA could take against Wallace, whether she should be punished for violating their speech code.  I don't know whether there are grounds or not, but also don't care-- I don't think universities should have speech codes to begin with.  The chancellor has already made a public comment condemning what she said, which is rather silly considering that no rational person would assume that the racist beliefs of a college student somehow reflect the views of the university he/she attends. But to the point, universities should absolutely not punish students for bigoted speech on Youtube-- and if they do, then they had better figure out whether all of those people who have made hateful videos about Wallace are bigots as well, and whether they're also UCLA students so as to determine whether a mass expulsion is in order.  

1 comment:

  1. Ethics, generally, and proportionality seem to be the first casualties of vengeance. I suppose an eye-for-an-eye was a progressive development. It placed limits on the nature and proportion of vengeance--a rather brutish limit--but still it was a limit.


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