Words, not skin, matter

As we move into the latter half of Black History Month, there have been some great events to celebrate the history and current existence of a proud people. President Obama was part of the breaking ground ceremony for the future National Black History Museum, which will bring African-American culture and history into the forefront of a Smithsonian institution. Our own Black Student Union has organized many successful events across campus in a show of solidarity. In this time when we celebrate the steps we have made toward a racially unified nation, it is even more incredibly saddening to see the recent incidences of teenage girls videotaping their own racially biased and derogatory speeches and posting them on the Internet.

Two teenage girls from Gainesville, Fla. posted a video of themselves responding to a post one of the girls made about food stamps, reading the comments others made on the video aloud and responding to them. When they were called ignorant and racist, they only laughed and responded with even more ignorance and racism. One of the girls argued that African-American vernacular English speakers were unintelligible, while unable to use the right words herself. (Legible instead of understandable?) They even tried to tell the commenters they were the wrong ones. After their video circulated the Internet, they were kicked out of school and issued death threats, causing one girl to give an apology and the other girl’s mother to issue a public statement asking for forgiveness.

Two other girls attending another Florida high school claimed that once you stepped into their school you started turning black yourself, and black people only wash their hair every three months. One girl in the second pair ‘flaunted’ her long hair, falsely lamenting how black people can’t do the same – like they don’t have hair that is enviable? She laughed at the idea of large behinds and thrust forward her own breasts toward the camera, saying white people have the good ones. Only white people are sexy, then? Only white people are human? They even ended their rant with, “Peace and love!”

Oh no, it’s not as if anyone is actually going to see this video, which was posted on a public site.

In a day where kids are saying anything and everything they want on the Internet, you would think these were some anonymous blog posts or forum comments, but they aren’t. These are girls who think it’s okay to broadcast to the world their thoughts on race and their ignorant ideas about people. These girls pull their black peers down to the stomping ground, trampling the pride and self-value their own families and communities try so hard to build up. The second set of girls even had the audacity to say, “Don’t post this on Facebook, all our friends are black.” If all of your friends are black, young white girl, then why are you criticizing them so rudely?

This sort of thing is one of many ugly remnants of Jim Crow thinking. I speak how people are supposed to speak; your speech is different, therefore you don’t speak like a person. I have the best hair, the best mannerisms, the best everything: You don’t. You’re inferior. As a defense, the first two girls insisted that when they talked about black people, they weren’t talking about all black people. It was just a generalization, they meant nothing personal, but even this lame excuse doesn’t contradict what they were saying. In their apology they’re just restating what they were saying to begin with.

Many stereotypes are being perpetuated here, from what the girls say about black people and how they themselves act like the entitled white elite who are the opposition to African-American equality. This sort of behavior is all that equality is struggling against, but every day we seem to still make a little headway. In her apology, one of the girls choked out multiple sobs as she explained that she isn’t racist and she was never brought up to judge based on skin color, and cries that nobody will ever believe her now. We can only hope that there is still a chance of redemption for her as she grows, and for us as a society as well.