Excitement spiraled across the globe just a couple of weeks ago as the 2014 Olympics whirled around in Sochi, Russia. With opening ceremonies starting up on February 6, millions tuned in worldwide to watch the highly anticipated “Parade of Nations”, art program, and torch relay. What a wonderful cultural immersion to recognize the talents of nations near and far- sounds like a lot of fun and games, right? But there has always got to be a little trouble.
Meet Irina Rodina. For starters, she was born in Moscow, Russia on September 12, 1949. In addition to being known as a legendary Soviet figure skater and three-time gold medal winner, she was a torch lighter at this year’s opening ceremony, serves as a member of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party and is the mother of one teenaged daughter. Seems fine, right?
Well maybe we should be a little weary that on December 17 2012, Rodina supported legislation in Russian Parliament calling for a ban on the adoption of Russian children by American citizens. Could one argue that she is anti-American? Maybe, but maybe she has some rationale. If you do not find this to be a little shady, maybe her Twitter account will prove you otherwise.
From left to right: Rodnina’s racist twitter post, Rodnina herself pictured at the Russian Federation in 2010.
Just take a moment to analyze this September 2013 picture above. Some familiar faces, right? There is the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his lovely first lady, Michelle. It definitely was not a posed picture and we can safely assume he was being caught off guard as he appears to be chewing and has his mouth full… oh right, and then there’s a banana. Wait, WHAT? The delightful Rodina can be given photo credits for that gem. But no, really, what could have possibly been going through her mind to deem that as socially acceptable for a public internet forum? According to a New Republic blog posting, Rodina would easily answer that question with “freedom of speech”. But my questions to you are at what expense, and to what extent.
Even though the photo was posted five months prior, come on now, we all know that nothing deleted from the internet is every “truly” deleted. And with this woman in front of the world just a couple of weeks ago, OF COURSE the tweet she assumed was done haunting her was brought back to life and resurfaced to eyes across the globe, thanks to its re-posting by an ABC reporter. Sorry Rodina… too little too late. And coming from a government representative, I may argue this is just oh so unprofessional and lacking highly in taste.
Lack of professionality aside, I’d ideally like to focus on her attempt at justification. She argues this post was freedom of speech, and while this may be so, I’d like to argue that it is an attempt at the minimization of racism. According to Bonilla-Silva, this particular frame of color blind racism enables white people to “shrug off” racism or put them in such a mindset to argue there is not substantial enough evidence to make a reasonable claim over. This casual happy-go-lucky mindset is what allows the racism to continue. It is not only with racism but sexism, anti-semitism, and more. When you allow a “joke” to slide so many times, it is no longer a joke and becomes an acceptable rationale slowly but surely building a stigma towards groups within the society in which we live.
Professional readings aside, I am also in a position to give my standpoint from personal experience. Growing up as a Jewish woman in what I soon learned to be a not very Jewish world, life was interesting. My home town was very populous among this group of people therefore stereotypes is not something I encountered too much up until I entered my level of higher education at the university. As quick as a snap, I went from the majority to the minority in my direct environment which really did not bother me at all. But when I realized I was the only Jewish person on my dorm floor of fifty residents, some jokes began. Now well I love my friends and know they are not speaking with ill intent as Rodina was, the point is the stigma of the joke continues. When I am called cheap, rich, or greedy, I can shake my head and shrug that off… but does that actually make it acceptable for people to use such claims? Or when I asked a neighborhood friend if she wanted to come over and she responded by letting me know she does “not mix with Jews”, is this acceptable because even though the anti-semisism exists, it is “minimized” compared to other points in time? If even casual jokes like these lay around, has the hostility of the holocaust not entirely ended?
Turning back to Bonilla-Silva, he explains that a majority of white survey respondents would agree that racism is no longer a significant issue because it no longer affects status and opportunity the workforce and general society. However, I do not quite understand what a racist tweet would have to do with your stance in society; Barack Obama created a pivotal turning point in society when officially elected our first black president- racist tweets and discrimination aside, he will still stand our president. But just because he is our president, does that mean there is no stigma towards him? That all is just peachy keen? He’s high up there in the world, therefore discrimination does not exist towards him, or if it is there we should ignore it because he is successful? These are the mythical conceptions racists use in order to defend their distasteful actions.
More racism occurs through the internet than we can even imagine– while some are more open about their views, others who are a little bit more discreet choose to keep their settings anonymous just allowing a select circle of viewers to experience their thoughts. In a sense, such anonymity and privacy rights allow users to “protect” their racism.
The Digital Divide theory best explained by Monroe allows us to examine whether minority groups really have much an ability to fight back due to lack of computer and internet access– ACCESS is key here. While Rodnina’s situation became very public very fast due to her appearance at a highly-anticpated international event, not all situations go this viral and provide equal means for discussion on both ends. Is it truly fair for once voice to be heard simply because the other voice was limited to minimal resources and thus prevented from providing a new viewpoint? Monroe powerfully quotes an old graduate professor, “whoever controls the terms of the debate controls the debate”.
Rodnina did not post the first racist tweet, and she did not post the last. You just simply cannot expect to post on this medium, even with something you intended to be your idea of a “joke” and not expect it to elicit controversy. Online communities have time and time again proven to be a forum that facilitates and produces racism. There is no doubt that this very blog posting you are reading right now will receive a lot of negativity for being so very against Rodnina’s actions and receive just as much justification for her freedom of speech. However, it may also receive just as much positive commentary and discussion in regards to breaking the barriers as society and seeing each other as equal for once.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. The Central Frames of Color Blind Racism. Racism Without the Racists: 3. 2010.
Graham, Watson. Russian Irina Rodnina, Who lit the Olympic cauldron, Blames Racist Tweet on Hacked Account. Yahoo Sports. 10 February. 2014.
Hayne, Michael. Look: Irina Rodnina,Ex-Olympian And Torch Lighter, Tweeted Racist Obama Pic. Addicting Info. 9 February. 2014.
Ioffe, Julia. Russian Olympian Irina Rodnina Blames Racist Obama Tweet On a Hacker. New Republic. 10 February. 2014.
McGraw, Glenn. Olympic torch lighter Irina Rodnina tweeted a racist picture of the Obamas. GAMEDAYR. 7 February. 2014.
No name, no title, 2014. Mail ONLINE. U.K. Amazon. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article2554341/Former-Russian-figure-skater-lit-Olympic-flame-posted-racist-photo-Obamas.html Web. Access 2 March, 2014.
No name, Irina Rodnina Cropped, 2010. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Irina_Rodnina_cropped.jpg. Web Access. 3 March. 2014