Updated: Sep 22
Author: Dr. RL Booker
During the mid-1900s, Black people like Memphis Norman, Recy Taylor, John Lewis, and many others endured in-person physical assaults from White people who refused to see their full humanity and their cries for full and equal citizenship. Today, when Black people express their pain, frustration, and continued dehumanization on social media platforms, a different kind of assault regularly takes place: invalidation and verbal attack. These psychological assaults are almost always laced in uninformed opinions, followed by anger and then rage. They are also meant to inflict intimidation, intense humiliation, and denigration. While these assaults are not physical in nature, “the effects of emotional abuse are just as detrimental as the effects of physical abuse” (Karakurt & Silver, 2013, p.12).
In the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, I have noticed a significant uptick in Black and Brown people speaking out online about the pain and frustration they experience as a result of the color of their skin. I have also noticed a significant uptick in the mostly White responses that challenge and invalidate the lived experiences and realities that Black people face daily. Repudiations of systemic racism are more than just repudiations of data covering everything from bank loans to school suspensions; it is the unwillingness to listen to the experience of others and the presumption that people of color who are expressing their pain are somehow either lying about it, not strong enough to overcome it, or should just be happy that it used to be worse. According to Dr. Harry Edwards (2020):
What has pushed things to this level is that Black people have never been seen as credible witnesses and arbiters of their own circumstances and outcomes. This goes back to the time that slaves said, ‘we want to be free’ and the slave masters said, ‘my slaves are happy.’ (ESPN, 2020, 3:34).
Drake put it best when he stated, ”Trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers.” In 2020, overt racism has been replaced by rude, insensitive, and targeted online messages that wouldn’t dare be said to someone in person. This is what I call “social media courage” (similar to the liquor courage people get when they ingest a large amount of alcohol in order to approach, converse, or challenge people more freely). Psychologists have found that engaging in this kind of brazen, online activity may boost your self-esteem disproportionately which could lead to a lack of self-control (Bernstein, 2012). Two very distinct examples of this emerged from the comments responding to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot in the back 7 times by police officers, and Kyle Rittenhouse, a White man who shot 3 protesters (killing 2) with an AR-15 at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. While all the facts of both cases have not yet surfaced, we do have video footage in which we can make some very common sense estimations.
Jacob Blake Case: Comments during the Facebook live stream of the family’s press conference.
“Raise your kids to respect others or the law and this may not happen” - Richard from
“I'm sure he was up to no good! He was going for somethin!” - Fran
“The only one at fault was the punk that got shot” - Andy
“Stop being a thug and you wont get shot” - Fred
“Obey law enforcement. I’m sick of people making excuses for thugs” - Stephanie
Kyle Rittenhouse Case: Comments via the 40/29 News story on Facebook
“He is my hero.” -Michael from Texas
“Link to his GoFundMe page we need to get him out of jail” -Sean
“He should have shot some more of the sorry Piece of S**ts!!!” -Gary from Arkansas
“He should have taken out more trash” -Shannon from Arkansas
“More gonna die like this the silent majority will not be silent anymore” -Jeff from Texas
It is important to recognize that these types of comments are not new to people of color, specifically Black people. These are the same type of comments that were made during and after slavery, during the civil rights era, during Jim Crow segregation, during the war on drugs, during the years of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people, and live on today. I believe that these types of comments are hurtful and do as much psychological damage to people as the old-fashioned, in-your-face racism. Moreover, this “social media courage” could have serious detrimental effects on the minds of prospective perpetrators, leading to violence and death like it did with Kyle Rittenhouse and as suggested in the Facebook comments by Jeff, Shannon and Gary. “Trigger fingers turn to twitter fingers that enable trigger fingers.”
There is indeed anger, unrest, frustration, and division within our country. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that we can overcome this difficult chapter just like we overcame 245 years of slavery, 103 years of Jim Crow, and still striving to overcome systemic racism. I do not get discouraged by those who refuse to change as I understand the power of critical mass (the minimum amount, typically 30%, of something required to start or maintain a venture). For those that are curious and open to change, it begins with listening to others’ experiences and questioning our own assumptions and biases about others. Ask yourself, what do I know about this person and why do I think this about them? Also, before you post online, I would recommend that you use the technique of using SPACE to THINK. (Blewett, 2017).
S – Stop: Type it, but don’t post it.
P – Pause: Wait for at least an hour, preferably sleep on it.
A – Assess: THINK about what you’ve typed.
C – Confirm: Check with someone else to see what they THINK.
E – Execute: If it passed the test, click “send”. Otherwise, delete it.
T: Is it true?
H: Is it hurtful?
I: Is it illegal?
N: Is it necessary?
K: Is it kind?
40/29 News -- Fort Smith & Fayetteville. (2020, August 26). A video has surfaced that shows Tuesday night's deadly shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin. [News]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/4029news/posts/10158648964262206
40/29 News -- Fort Smith & Fayetteville. (2020, August 25). Lawyers and the family of Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. [News]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=781845382585716&ref=watch_permalink
Bernstein, E. (2012, October 2). Why We Are So Rude Online. The wall street journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444592404578030351784405148
Blewett, C. (2017, January 10). Angry social media posts are never a good idea. How to keep them in check. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/angry-social-media-posts-are-never-a-good-idea-how-to-keep-them-in-check-71016
ESPN First Take. (2020, August 27). Dr. Harry Edwards' advice to NBA players on next steps | First Take. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/ZzVpkKoNK5o?t=214
Graham, A. (2015, July 29). Drake: Back to back freestyle. [MP3]. Soundcloud. https://soundcloud.com/octobersveryown/drake-back-to-back-freestyle
Karakurt, G., & Silver, K.E. (2013). Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age. Violence Victim, 28(5), 804-821. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3876290/pdf/nihms419073.pdf
Urban Dictionary. (2020). Liquor courage. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=liquor%20courage