By: Ubah Ahmed
Content warning: this article contains a racial slur.
Wayne Welsh, an average American father of three, was an assistant police chief in his hometown of Estherwood Los Angelos, a small town where everyone knows everyone and news travels fast. Recently, Welsh liked and reposted a picture on Facebook of a mother drowning her daughter in the bathtub, captioned “When your daughter’s first crush is a little Negro boy.” To this, his response was, “It’s not against [the law] if you share stuff on Facebook. It’s [sic] social media. Internet.”
Welsh’s response is an example of an important conversation that is reigniting today: can hateful or discriminatory comments made on personal accounts be a considered an offense if it is still a means of free speech? The lines between personal and public are becoming inconsistent. With the rise of social media and the internet, it’s no longer enough to claim your opinions belong only to you when you are in constant contact with individuals who may be vulnerable to hurtful comments. You can’t make offensive comments directed at certain groups of people for the whole world to see and not expect repercussions because of free speech. Free speech doesn’t mean speech without consequence.
Spotted at Mac is an example of this. What started off as anonymous Facebook page used by the McMaster community to send communal positivity and support is now doing quite the opposite. A recent post on the page about a guy who was “spouting transphobic and misogynistic garbage in Thode… and then whining ‘poor me, I’m a nice guy’” is an example of the offence that can be caused by commenting freely in public.
The comments, some now deleted, were a mess. Between the people who took it as a joke, those who tried to rationally and logically explain why the student in Thode was correct and those who liked those comments, it became clear that a lot of people are not afraid and unapologetic to share their hate in a very public manner. This is not okay, and responsibility needs to be taken into account whether it is in public or not.
These individuals don’t leave their hateful, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic beliefs and views at home. When posting online, one must be considerate of those who may take offence to certain comments, and who should not have to be subject to hurtful commentary.
Spotted at Mac is an example of this. What started off as anonymous Facebook page used by the McMaster community to send communal positivity and support is now doing quite the opposite.
It’s not something they check at the door and then manage to treat individuals they inherently see as less than them with the respect they deserve. They’re rooted deep within and when the people tasked with your protection see you as nothing more than a stereotype, caricatures, you get a world where a cop, Greg Abbott, can tell a nervous white woman stopped for a traffic violation, “But you’re not black. Remember, we only shoot black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right?”
Estherwood Police Chief Ernest Villejoin’s response to Welsh was: “When I found out about it, I couldn’t believe I had to call him… I know Wayne didn’t do this on purpose. He didn’t do this [to] offend anybody.” It is a great privilege to be able to claim that one “didn’t do it on purpose” when referencing a grown man’s decision to repost an offensive and vile picture when that man himself sees no issue with it.
Just because something is on the internet, does not make it free from the standard we hold to all other human interaction. Scott Woods, an activist and psychologist, famously said “The problem is that people racism [and its manifestations] as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that.
Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not.”
Inequality is so ingrained in our society in its many different forms and manifestations that it will find its way into all your interactions until we begin to become more aware of its existence and actively work to rid our society of its iron grasp.