Alexandra Wallace, the University of California at Los Angeles student who made national news for posting a racist YouTube attack against Asians, has surprisingly gained much sympathy for statements that threats have prompted her to leave the college. Predictably, attention has gone from Alexandra Wallace’s ignorant racism to the response she has received.
Somehow, this variety of racist victimhood seems like it’s happened before.
When there are outrages, people’s resistance to and rejection of national passivity has traditionally taken a diversity of forms. By and large, most protest is reasonable. Isolated incidents, played up online (“misogyny and death threats” piped one headline; “woman-hating violent responses” offered another), have since become a larger narrative that returns to an all-too-familiar conclusion: sweet white person makes boo-boo, please be nice.
The vague specter of threats has cast Alexandra Wallace as an innocent who made a mistake and has been driven out of school. Somehow the impact on the people of color targeted by her actions and the official intransigence to do anything about bigotry at UCLA is cast aside as people who should know better fret about Internet trolling (itself a small, though persistent part of the Internet since it began) and people who may say not nice things when they are mad.
If Internet trolling (that practice of saying outrageous things anonymously online) is suddenly a cause for often smart people to write about instead of Alexandra Wallace’s actions and those of UCLA, none — not a single one — have written about the parallel phenomenon of trolls defending Alexandra Wallace for being white.
Among the moronic posts commenting on Wallace’s breasts and such are those applauding Alexandra Wallace for “telling the truth” about Asians; those claiming she is being picked on because she’s white; and others remarking glowingly of her courage as a white woman saying what “all white people” think. Such trolling, depending on where you look, far outnumbers the sexist ignorance, but it is invisible to most people.
Problem is, white privilege trolling can’t and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed or ignored. As with virtually all behavior that seeks to validate actions that normalize whiteness, from said trolling to Wallace’s actions, complex motivations are reduced to faulty judgment and ignorance. People assume Internet postings defending Wallace based on her whiteness are the work of foolish white supremacists, Klan members and the like, who are far easier to dismiss. The truth is more troubling.
NewsOne points out how some newspapers’ websites, established places for the worst trolling, face the problem:
On some stories that are expected to provoke racism, the entire comments section is disabled beforehand, a practice shared by a growing number of newspapers.
On a single day recently, racially offensive online remarks were not hard to find:
In a comment on a Yahoo News story about a black civil rights era photographer revealed to be an FBI informant, someone called blacks farm animals who “were not and are not wanted in this society.”
Another commenter wrote, “We all know who MADE America what it is today, and we also know which group is receiving hefty tax dollar pay outs… so until the tables turn the only thing you should be saying is ‘thank you’ to all the hard working (whites) who gave you the life you now take for granted.”
Several sites, most notably Colorlines, posted again and again about the abuse Alexandra Wallace faced, while never offering similar coverage on racist white trolling on her behalf.
Not that trolling should even be a particular subject worth devoting time to distract people from Wallace’s actions. But if we’re actually basing social and political analysis on anonymous Internet posting, let’s at least cast the net wide.
As for the actual issue at hand, people should remember outbursts of disgust at racism are sometimes uncivil, but regularly get magnified to the level of the rest of the discussion, which is often principled. Indeed some reactions to yet another instance of racism are not pretty, nor are they the norm. Most of the reactions are in fact generally okay. One can certainly conclude mean-spirited remarks aimed at Wallace (and often anyone making derogatory comments online about people of color) are upgraded in importance — even if they outnumber considerate discourse five, 10 and 20 to one – merely to scare or divide people.
Does that understanding justify whatever threats to or sexist mocking of Alexandra Wallace has happened? No. But let’s not pretend such revelations are not aimed — as revelations of naughty behavior by some ‘bad’ people often are — at detracting from the issue of racism and institutional failures.
Moreover, if we are considering the words of a few ‘bad’ people possibly unfairly critical of Alexandra Wallace, what is lost is that some of these responses are undercut by a collective history in which obvious racism receives no sanction, official repudiation or penalty beyond a few days or weeks of embarrassment. Politicians who advocate the murder of people of color, support legislation targeting people of color, and/or who utter racist garbage keep their jobs. Police who murder Blacks and Latinos get paid vacations until they can be brought back on their jobs. Whites who express racism openly might experience some upset, but they’ll largely go on to have the careers and futures they were supposed to have.
Obviously, Alexandra Wallace is not a killer cop or bigoted lawmaker, but the privilege typified in her behavior is something many people of color have witnessed and feel angry about. What person of color does not remember the first time being called a racial slur or having some bigoted characterization thrown in her or his face, and the perpetrator getting away with it? What person of color has not experienced the sting of being called overly sensitive, reverse racist, mean and so on for saying something crossed the line? Such experiences are powerful parts of our consciousness, sometimes affecting our ability to stay in a career, neighborhood or community. Alexandra Wallace is an all too painful reminder that, although she faces shame now, she will have her well-to-do life back in six months, and we’ll still be subject to the prejudices she promoted for the rest of our lives.
Inevitably, some will attempt to assert themselves as mediators (e.g. encouraging people of color to not react badly or, in essence, be good). What must be brought out, if we are talking politically, is that when justice is denied, resistance to racism cannot be the means used, as it historically has, to divide us, obscure accepted racism and push oppressed people back in line.
And, for goodness sakes, quit trying to change the subject, or pretending whites defending whiteness don’t exist.