Hashtagging: Increasing the Awareness of Racism

A person who thinks that racism is no longer prevalent in America is clearly mistaken, as evidenced by a tweet that was made recently by the GOP (Grand Ole Party), also known as the Republican party. The Republican party had made a Twitter post stating, “Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in ending racism,” which caused an uproar in the Twitter community. After tweeting, they realized they had made a mistake but not before a new hashtag was trending, #RacismEndedWhen.  This hashtag was started when a black feminist woman named Feminista Jones, also known by the Twitter world as #NotAllBlkFeminists, said “#RacismEndedWhen Arnold and Willis were adopted by Mr. Drummond.”

She later goes on to explain why she started the hashtag in an official statement which read, “I started #RacismEndedWhen as a satirical, subversive response to the GOP suggesting Rosa Park ended it”.  Her intent was to degrade the Republican party and to make fun of them for the statement that they had posted to Twitter. Even though the GOP stated that racism ended when Rosa Parks was on the bus, the organization actually further exemplified racism in our culture exhibited by the explosive use of the hashtag #RacismEndedWhen.

While the tweets focused on all types of racism, several of the tweets showed how ingrained racism is in our society. This type of racism is called systemic racism.  Systemic racism refers to the ways that racism is embedded in our institutions, organizations, and societal systems, such as schools, governments, businesses, legal systems, families, churches, etc. Systemic racism stems from our society being founded on slavery.  Because systemic racism is a part of our society, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish, which is why these tweets are important in recognizing systemic racism.

The first example comes from a tweet that was made about a little girl getting kicked out of school from wearing her hair in dreadlocks.   This little girl’s name is Tiana Parker and she was only seven years old at the time of the incident, which occurred on September 10th, 2013.  According to Ellie Hall, writer for  buzzfeed.com, Tiana Parker is a “straight A” student who went to Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Her school had a strict dress code that prohibited “fad” hairstyles such as mohawks, dreadlocks, and afros.  While it is no doubt that Tiana broke the rules and should have been punished, the issue of systemic racism comes into play while looking at the punishment itself.  According to Julianne Hing of Colorlines.com, “As early as preschool, black students are punished more frequently, and more harshly, for misbehaving than their white counterparts.”  The observations of these children lead to the distinguishing factor of their peers as being “good or bad,” based on the color of their skin.  A child associates the difference between “good or bad” with punishment.  This means that by punishing black students more harshly, a child may believe that a person of the African-American  race is “bad,” leading to a further developed systemically racist society.

Another example of systemic racism through the use of the hashtag #RacismEndedWhen comes from a posting by LOLGOP.  This twitter account tweeted a comment that brings attention to an article by Ari Berman entitled “Voter Suppression: The Confederacy Rises Again” from thenation.com, which brings awareness to eight states trying to pass legislation that would curve democratic votes.  The legislations were passed by states ran by the Republican Party.  The states are a “ticking time bomb for Republicans” according to Berman since the state’s demographics are changing over the next few years with an increase in black and Hispanic voters followed by a decrease in white voters. Berman argues the Republican states have been passing legislation to suppress voters. One of the legislations is  “laws mandating strict forms of government-issued identification to cast a ballot were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.   According to a 2005 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of U.S. citizens don’t have government-issued IDs, but the number is 25 percent among African-Americans.” Another example of the legislation is restrictions to registrations through drives enacted in Texas and Florida.  Data from the 2004 and 2008 elections in Florida show that “African-American and Hispanic citizens are about twice as likely to register to vote through drives as white voters,” according to Project Vote.  Because the legislation is a part of our society and the legislation will mainly prevent minorities from voting, the legislation is an example of systemic racism.  The fact the states involved were part of the confederacy during the Civil War further shows the effects slavery had on racism.  To add to the mess, the legislation would improve the chances the GOP had in staying in power in those states. In essence, the tweet is an attack against the GOP for claiming racism is dead, even though there are many individuals in the GOP that support racism through their actions in embracing legislation to suppress minorities from voting. It should be noted that many of these legislations have been overturned, but the fact the laws were turned into legislation supports the proof of systemic racism, and the usage of the hashtag #RacismEndedWhen to increase awareness to racism in the United States.

In further regards to the #RacismEndedWhen hashtag, there was an outrage concerning the winner of the 2014 Miss America Pageant.  According to Lakshmi Gandhi of The Aerogram, Nina Davuluri was born in Syracuse, New York in 1989. She has been in many beauty pageants before; and ever since the age of sixteen, she has found a way to win them. One of her biggest milestones was when she won Miss New York in 2013, at the time the biggest accomplishment of her career; then finally winning Miss America in 2014 by showing off not only her beauty, but her dance skills as well. Even though she was born in America, she had grown up learning Indian dances.

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As seen in the tweet above, people were outraged by her dancing because it was not seen as “American”; however, the Americans that were making these comments did not know that the dance she performed was choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan, the creator of the very popular television show called “So You Think You Can Dance.” Also, people on Twitter have been calling her a Muslim terrorist saying that she does not qualify for Miss America because she is from a country that we have been at war with for years. There have even been references to the attacks of September 11, 2001 as seen in the tweet below.  She is not even a Muslim or from the Middle East, but because she is of a different skin color, people assume these things about her. Racism like this happens all the time, yet many people deny it and do not agree that there is even racism in this country anymore. If this were the case, then how come an Indian American woman cannot represent the country in which she was born and raised?  The answer to this question is that Nina unfortunately lives in a systemically racist society.  She went to The University of Michigan and is now pursuing medicine and will soon be going to a medical school to become a doctor. Not to mention, according to Lakshmi Gandhi of The Aerogram, she is a true American who is beautiful, educated, influential, and loves Star Wars. Now America has to decide if Nina Davuluri is not supposed to be the representative of America, then who is?

Over a long period of time, America has painted the picture of beauty through magazines and media with tall, skinny, and most noticeably, white beautiful women. Many Americans believe that racism died when slavery was abolished; however, if this was the case, the systemic image of beauty in America would be a different picture. This systemic image is being changed because in the 2014 Miss America Pageant something happened that has never happened in America before. An Indian American woman named Nina Davuluri won the pageant, and it seemed now that America has a different view of beauty. From the outside, this win by an Indian American is seen as a victory in the fight against racism; however, this is not the case. After winning the Pageant, she has received many harsh treatments by “True Americans” on social media pages especially Twitter.  This is what Maureen is alluding to in her tweet above.

Additionally the #RacismEndedWhen hashtag was used in reference to an incident that happened with the Los Angeles Police Department.  On September 11 of this year, actress Daniele Watts was handcuffed after merely kissing her boyfriend in public.  Shortly after the incident, Daniele went straight to social media, posting a long synopsis of what had happened to her facebook page.  According to her Facebook post, Daniele was standing on a sidewalk talking to her father on the cell phone when she was approached by two cops and asked for her identification to which Watts refused, stating that she had done nothing wrong.  The cops were apparently responding to a call of “indecent exposure,” even though Daniele and her boyfriend were both fully clothed.

This incident brings up the issue of systemic racism and more specifically, the prison-industrial complex.  The prison industrial complex is a term used to explain the racial differences within our prison system.  According to the NAACP, the U.S. has an extremely high rate of incarceration for blacks and Latinos.  Systemic racism explains why the police were inclined to approach Daniele, a black woman, before approaching her boyfriend, a white man.

Systemic racism is not a new phenomenon and Daniele even alludes to this in her Facebook post when she says,” As I was sitting in the back of the police car, I remembered the countless times my father came home frustrated or humiliated by the cops when he had done nothing wrong.”  This country was built with a racist undertone; and even though there has been many efforts to distinguish the racism in our society, this quote shows that because of systemic racism, Daniele has to deal with the same harassment that she remembers her father going through many years ago.

Systemic racism is deeply embedded in our society and today it is at the point where a person may claim not to be racist or “see color,” but makes comments that further exemplify the racism in our culture.  This is the idea of racial colorblindness, a term coined by Bonilla-Silva.  Bonilla- Silva further divides colorblindness into four different frames.

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This colorblindness can be seen in some of the comments that people have made on Daniele’s post.  For example, in Stephen Szerlag’s post, he blames Daniele for the incident saying that she is pulling the race card and has a holier than thou attitude.  On the surface, these statements do not seem racist; however, this is a good example of cultural racism.  Cultural racism is a frame of colorblindness that refers to culturally based justifications for discrimination such as blaming the victim (Bonilla-Silva 39).

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Another example of colorblindness can be found in a comment made by Anja Lamberts in which she also blames Daniele and accuses her for “pulling the race card”; however, she also brings in the fact that she has a best friend who is black.  Her explanation of having a black best friend to back up her argument refers to a separate frame of colorblindness called naturalization.  Naturalization is used to explain why races naturally want to be surrounded by others of their own race.  Anja uses her going against naturalization as a way to justify her comment.  Naturalization could also be a reason why in many of the headlines concerning the incident, it is mentioned that Daniele is black while her boyfriend is white.  It is sad to see naturalization used to justify the opposition of interracial relationships in the year 2014.

In all, the GOP made a big mistake stating that racism had ended with Rosa Parks sitting on the bus; however, this blunder led to a social media hashtag that has done nothing but made people more aware of systemic racism in our society.  Through the analysis of examples concerning racism in schools, the right to vote, the idea of beauty, and encounters with the police, it can be seen that racism is deeply embedded in all aspects of society.  The continued use of the hashtag “#RacismEndedWhen” has shown one thing for sure, that racism has done everything but end.

Resources:

Berman, Ari. “Voter Suppression: The Confederacy Rises Again.” The Nation. N.p., 04 Sept. 2012. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. 3rd Ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. Print.

“Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Feminist, A$AP (FeministaJones). “#RacismEndedWhen Arnold and Willis were adopted by Mr. Drummond.” 1 Dec 2013, 9:59 a.m. Tweet.

Feminist, A$AP (FeministaJones). “So here’s my official statement: “I started #RacismEndedWhen as a satirical, subversive response to the GOP suggesting Rosa Park ended it.”” 1 Dec 2013, 10:17 a.m. Tweet.

Fischler, Jacob. “Republican Party Tweet About Racism Goes Horribly Wrong.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 01 Dec.   2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Fraser, Wendy (wnfraser). “@ABC2020 nice slap in the face to the people of 9-11 how pathetic  #missamerica.” 16 Sept 2013, 2:59 a.m. Tweet.

Gandhi, Lakshmi. “10 Things You Need to Know About Miss America Nina Davuluri.” The Aerogram. N.p.,  16 Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Hafiz, Yasmine. “Nina Davuluri’s Miss America 2014 Win Prompts Twitter Backlash Against Indians, Muslims.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 07 Oct. 2014.

Hall, Ellie. “7-Year Old Tulsa Girl Sent Home From School Because of Her Dreadlocks.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 04 Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Herold, Steph (StephHerold). “#RacismEndedWhen a seven year old got kicked out of school for having dreadlocks. http://www.buzzfeed.com/ellievhall/7-year-old-tulsa-girl-sent-home-from-school- because-of-her-d …”1 Dec 2013, 8:34 a.m. Tweet.

Hing, Julianne. “Federal School Discipline Guidelines: How to Stop Racial Discrimination In the Classroom – COLORLINES.” RSS. N.p., 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.

Jahmed, Maureen (maureenjahmed). “your Miss American was Indian and everyone responded positively. Oh Wait.” 1 Dec 2013, 12:06 p.m. Tweet.

Lamberts, Anja. “Well, well. TMZ now has the audio up and you’ve been exposed. How dare you pull the race card! How dare you lie! Your 15 minutes of fame you were desperately seeking is up. You were so disrespectful, rude and out of line. I commend the policeman for his professionalism. My best friend is black and if one day she really is mistreated by police no one might believe her, because of someone like you. Shame on you!” 15 Sep 2014 [8 Oct 2014 https://m.facebook.com/story.php/story_fbid=682727425137030&id=192986214111156&p=10%5D

LOLGOP (LOLGOP). “#RacismEndedWhen 3 of the 11 states from the Old Confederacy DIDN’T pass restrictions to stop minorities from voting. http://www.thenation.com/blog/169709/voter-suppression-confederacy-rises-again …”1 Dec 2013, 9:29 a.m. Tweet.

Margaret (Margaretherapy). “WT? #RacismEndedWhen  ActressDanieleWatts arrested for prostitution after kissing whitehusband http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/black-django-unchained-actress-detained-police-kissing-white-husband-article-1.1939111 …” 14 Sep 2014 6:06 p.m. Tweet

Szerlag, Stephen. ” Let’s see..pulled the race card…says daddy daddy sue them….says her stepmother is dying….uses the I’m an actor I have a publicist holier than thou crap…..anymore excuses? Let them do their job and leave…I noticed how your bf did not disagree or run his mouth at all….take a page from his book…idiot.” Facebook. 15 Sep 2014 [8 Oct 2014 https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=682727425137030&id=192986214111156&p=10%5D

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