Saturday, August 31, 2019

My Experience With Racism On Twitter

I blocked out this person's username to protect their privacy.

A few days ago I witnessed firsthand just how racist this country can be. To give you the short version, this is how things went down: I replied to a Tweet written by UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich advocating for the removal of the Electoral College. In my reply I agreed with Professor Reich, noting how the Electoral College works to the advantage of states with populations that lean towards a conservative political perspective. I also compared the Electoral College to the 3/5ths Compromise, in that the Electoral College serves to empower states with conservative views much to the same extent that the 3/5ths Compromise empowered slave states in the lead-up to the Civil War.

For about twelve hours nothing came of it besides a few likes and comments supporting what I said. Then it happened. A tidal wave of conservatives descended on my Tweet, and all of the sudden my notifications were flooded with people saying things like "you don't know the constitution, boy," or some variant of that. Other people made the ironic choice to laud the Electoral College as a symbol of freedom while simultaneously defending the 3/5ths Compromise and downplaying its effect on slave state's political power.

Perhaps the most racist reply I received is the one screenshotted above. In it the person does a few things. They first mock my intelligence by implying that I should know better as a "history phd candidate." They then claim that I said the Electoral College is racist, which I never did. Next they pat my head and tell me that, because I am of the "Philippines population" I must not comprehend "American" politics (implying Filipinos can't be true Americans). Then they question my legality, assuming that because I'm brown, Filipino, and have the last name Garcia, I must be undocumented, and thus, lesser than them.

You can see how their thought process developed throughout their tweet—initially they try to attack my ideas, but when that fails them, they quickly pivot to relying on racist rhetoric to get the job done. Then, in a moment of apparent clarity and self-awareness, they try to make it seem like their racism was merely part of some hypothetical based entirely on what I had said, not their own bigoted ideology.

While I don't think it's worth responding to their comments point by point, I do think that they're indicative of how people on the extreme right go about trying to argue their points. It wasn't so much what I said that was the issue, it was that I, a person of color, had the gall to say anything in the first place. This despite them being wrong about all of their points (though it shouldn't matter, I will state for the record that both sides of my family, Filipino and Italian, have been in this country since the 1910s, and that both sides have a long history of military service, something you would think these people would respect).

What disturbed me most about all of this was that this person wasn't the only one who sent me racist messages. They're simply the worst of the bunch. I tried to reply to a few of the more sane ones, who initially debated me more about the substance of what I said rather than the fact that I was the one who said it, but even those exchanges devolved into the use of racist rhetoric over time. After sending only about ten total replies, I called it quits. It was clear that I wasn't getting anywhere.

Which, if you think about it, is quite sad. If you try to encapsulate this incident, it sounds more like something you'd expect to happen in the 1960s rather than the 2010s. A person of color attempted to interject themselves into a political conversation by drawing on their historical knowledge. Then, instead of being debated on the points he made, he was brigaded by racists who were more insulted by the idea of being taught something about history from someone with brown skin than they were about the substance of what he said.

This is an experience that is unfortunately unique to people of color. I've noticed how white scholars on Twitter can be much more combative than I was and yet receive less criticism from conservatives on Twitter. At the end of the day, skin color still seems to represent a dividing line to some people. And that is pretty depressing.

On the plus side, this story does have a somewhat happy ending. Right after all of this went down, I tweeted about everything that happened. The amount of support I received from fellow scholars and other Twitter users was amazing, and encouraged me to keep going. Among other things, they made me aware of useful tools like "Twitter Block Chain," which allows you to quickly block thousands of problematic Twitter users with the press of a button. After I used it to block around 20,000 accounts, the torrent of racist notifications and messages flooding my inbox ceased.

In some ways the amount of accounts I had to block is disconcerting. Part of me had hoped that the people who were especially vile to me were fake accounts, bots or otherwise, designed to troll people with left-leaning political views. But when I inspected these people's accounts more closely, the truth turned out to be far more horrific. These are real people, with hundreds of followers, each with profile descriptions having some combination of "white and proud" or "MAGA" or "God Fearing." While my faith in humanity prevents me from saying that all of these people are inherently evil, I can't think of many things more evil than despising someone based only on skin color.

In the end, this incident taught me a valuable lesson about how dire the situation in this country is. We have to do everything we can to end hatred. Be sure to vote in 2020, if not for your sake, then for mine.

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About The Author

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Nicholas Garcia (M.A.) is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Davis. He is also a Co-Founder of the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies. Previously, he contributed to and the Davis Humanities Institute.