Cyber Racism, Part I

The University of Connecticut lost a student athlete last week.  Jasper Howard, a junior cornerback, was fatally stabbed to death on the Storrs campus on October 18th.  His suspected murderer (John William Lomax) is now being held on bond for $2 million; two other young men (Hakim Muhammad and Jamal Todd) who were present at the stabbing were also arrested.  There are various sources (Associated Press, ESPN, the Courant, and many more, I’m sure, if you use the Google search engine) that cover the tragic event in detail, offering updates as they become available.  As unfortunate as this senseless murder is, all the racism that is being spewed after the fact makes the entire tragedy all the more devastating.

Racism that is spewed online via message boards and/or comment sections of websites, or even freely on independently operated websites, is called cyber racism.  Racist words and thoughts that are freely spoken on the internet fall under the category of cyber racism.  Individuals spitting hateful, racist words while hiding behind the comfort of their computer screens are avidly contributing to cyber racism.  Cyber racism is one of the biggest things to have come out of Howard’s untimely and unfortunate murder.

When I browsed my various favorite blogs and news sources in the past few days, up until today, I noticed a number of them reporting the story of Jasper Howard.  After reading the story on each site, I proceeded to browse the comments sections following the story.  I was appalled, but sadly, unsurprised, at the huge amounts of cyber racism I encountered.  Racism directed at both the perpetrators of the crime and at the victim was posted by all sorts of seemingly ordinary people typing hate-filled words and thoughts, while sitting safely hidden behind a computer screen.  Racist words claiming “now my taxpayer dollars will provide these criminals with free housing and 3 meals a day”, “these thugs have it better in jail than in the ghetto because now they can live and eat for free while smuggling their drugs in for free”, and “affirmative action allows thugs to get into college” were common on the comments sections I encountered.  Now I am no statistician, but I am confident to say that a large percentage — I would say the majority — of the comments left by “anonymous” individuals were of the racist sort.

My question amidst all this tragedy and hatred is: what is about cyber racism that makes it so appealing to racists to perpetuate?  It could be the fact that very little is done to reprimand those who participate in acts of cyber racism, or that there is too little regulation on what an individual or organization is allowed to say online.  It could be the fact that too many cyber racists overemphasize the “right to free speech” to justify their hatred and racism, not understanding that there are boundaries to that right, especially when that right infringes on someone else’s right to freedom [to live a stressfree life, to live without fear, etc etc].  It could be the fact that it is not an easy task to track down exactly who is saying what behind the screen names that appear on these website message boards and comments sections.  I don’t exactly know what it is that is making cyber racism so appealing and easy to perpetuate, but I do know that it must stop.  There should not be a ‘free pass’ to those who are “tolerant of all races” in public, but go home and unleash their “inner racist” in the cyber world.  We should not tolerate this. 

There is no excuse as to why this cyber racist behavior is acceptable anywhere.  There is no excuse as to why, following the tragic murder of a young, ambitious student athlete, there are racists hiding behind computer screens who blame the victim.

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