Like many Americans, I spent Sunday evening watching the Super Bowl. This entailed tasty snacks, a comfy couch, and lots of head shaking because, well, the Denver Broncos. It also involved Facebook and Twitter. The day of, day before, and day after were full of commentary, predictions, snarkiness, and declarations of various sorts. Indeed, Sunday’s Super Bowl, like all media events, incorporated multiple media. One item, within one piece of this media ecology, keenly sparked my interest: The Twitter feed of @YesYoureRacist.
The Super Bowl commercials are as much a part of the spectacle as the game itself. Two ads in particular garnered a lot of attention on social media. One was Coca-Cola’s multi-lingual rendering of “America the Beautiful.” Another was the second in a series of Cheerios commercials featuring an interracial family.
Naturally, people responded to these advertisements in racist ways. And Logan Smith, who operates the Twitter handle @YesYoureRacist collected and shared all of the transgressions he could find. For example:
The logic behind @YesYoureRacist is a simple shaming ritual. It takes individual racist locutions, highlights them, and publicly heckles to speaker. To be sure, the things these people say are racist. In fact, the things these people say are downright asshole-ish. But I don’t believe that personal, public shaming is the most effective antiracist strategy. First, though well intentioned, the practice is a little asshole-ish in its own right. Second, and more importantly, the strategy of public shaming may be counterproductive to the larger project of fostering race consciousness.
Racism is a systemic problem, which manifests in the ignorant words and actions of culturally embedded Americans. But also, it manifests in disproportionate incarceration rates, disproportionate wealth distributions, disproportionate educational attainment, and disproportionate access to health care.
Publicly shaming those who espouse overtly racist statements is useful in reminding the collective “us” that race-based judgments are still prevalent, and that whites are still the privileged class. However, it also firmly locates racism in the safe ideological space of individualism, perpetuating the false belief that racism can be eradicated, if only we could educate those un-evolved, uneducated, backward thinking, racist individuals.
In the meanwhile, “we” can use these ignorant racists as an alter against which to define ourselves. Slowly shaking our heads, wearing our most concerned expressions, wondering (always out loud) how such antiquated thinking can still exist in 2014.
Bonilla-Silva famously writes about racism without racists. He shows how racism persists alongside colorblind rhetorics. This racism without racists facilitates personal disidentification with racial realities and affords racist citizens the liberty to divorce themselves from complicity within a racially unjust system. This hinges on individualist conceptions of race relations.
The kind of individualist framing inherent in shaming endeavors, though it certainly highlights the existence of deeply racist people, simultaneously hides the ways that racism is a key structural component of American culture, infiltrating its institutions, organizations, and citizens. This is detrimental to the larger antiracist project.
Follow Jenny Davis on Twitter: @Jenny_L_Davis