Racist Comments in the Public Eye and How We Deal with Them

There are moments when a comedian goes from funny to offensive, or an ordinary college student goes from innocent and ordinary to an ignorant offender of a racist action. These are pivotal moments, because the way the world and those involved choose to respond can make all the difference of how the racial discourse continues on.

Melissa Villaseñor was recently announced as the first Latina cast member of Saturday Night Live, and will start her first season on the show this fall. This was a great step forward for the show, adding some diversity and representing people of more racial backgrounds than before. However, this excitement over the new Latina cast member was a bit overshadowed by some disturbing tweets found by a twitter-user. This person noticed that Villaseñor had just deleted over 2,000 tweets from her account, and since nothing on the internet is ever really gone, many offensive and racist tweets were exposed. For example, Villaseñor wrote, “Coworker at Forever 21 dates black guys and she said she would set me up on a blind date for valentine’s, I said yes but I’m scared” and “I hate those Mexicans on bikes, they threw something at my car. The world doesn’t need them.”

Melissa VillaseñorAlthough Villaseñor did tweet them several years ago, I think it was a good idea for her to delete them. However, since these offensive tweets have been pointed out and largely popularized by the media, both Melissa Villaseñor and SNL have refused to comment. They could have made this exposure of the tweets into something good with a statement that included some sort of remorse, apology, or acknowledgement that the tweets were wrong and problematic. However, their silence on this matter is just another place in which the race conversation is silenced and brushed under the rug. Without having a direct conversation involving the person responsible for the tweets, there is no step forward from this. Even if she herself has learned from her mistakes, if she were to speak out about them now, it could help others who may also make comments or “jokes” like these. Even if no one had any crazy revelations, it could plant a seed in their brain and give them a bit more awareness surrounding this kind of racism. Even more than that, Villaseñor giving a statement could also slightly ease the minds of those who were directly offended if she were to apologize and admit her wrongs.

In another instance of publicized racism, Paige Shoemaker, a student from Kansas State University sent a Snapchat with her and a friend wearing a mud mask with the caption “Feels good to finally be a n*****.” This photo was spread around online, eventually going viral. As a result, the girl, Shoemaker got kicked out of school and numerous strangers tweeted at her pretty viciously. While there is no doubt about it that what she did was wrong and inexcusable and appalling, the way that the situation was dealt with was not the best either. While it is very angering and hurtful that these girls made this kind of post on social media, the brash way that people responded and cyberbullied her was not productive or helpful to the issue. Fighting hate with hate is not a solution. With such large numbers of hate towards this girl, it was probably not very informative for her. What she really needed was someone telling her with reason that what she did was wrong, calmly explaining why.

The way that both Shoemaker’s and Villaseñor’s situations were dealt with both problematic in different ways. It is important, when racist comments make their way into the public eye, to acknowledge them so that not only the offender can learn from them, but also so that others who may have the same attitude can learn from them. But it is also important to note that when acknowledging something racist, to not go overboard on the attack, but to use words that will be insightful to the person and others. Overall this can be a tricky topic. People often say too much too forcefully, or not enough, and for some this can be hard to know where the line is drawn. In these situations, how could the offenders and the public have responded differently? If in the future, people do respond to these kinds of situations in a more productive way, could it help society in general to use their words wisely even if just a little bit, or are people too set in their ways to change now?

1 thought on “Racist Comments in the Public Eye and How We Deal with Them”

  1. I completely agree with you in how our reactions to racial issues need to be more moderated. I think these occurrences tend to spark extreme emotional reactions from people – probably because we’ve conflated race to be such a sensitive and taboo subject. On the one hand, people tend to shut down and ignore these conversations because it makes them uncomfortable as we’re so used to colorblind rhetoric. On the other side, I think many people feel the need to react strongly to racial incidents like the one you described with Shoemaker because they want to make a strong statement – but in the end, did Shoemaker learn a lesson? Or has her reputation now just been ruined? I believe it’s important to both find that balance between being kind and firm with someone who has done wrong like you have described, but also make sure you are doing justice for those that have been offended. Too often are the feelings of people of color discredited, while the feelings of white people (specifically women) are coddled and cared for, as if they’re somehow more important.

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