By far the most interesting panel I attended at SXSWi this week was one called, “Can Social Media End Racism?” It featured Kety Esquivel of the National Council of La Raza, Phil Yu of Angry Asian Man, Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine, and was moderated by Latoya Peterson of Racialicious.com. I haven’t had time to really think about everything I heard and come up with something to intelligent to say, but I did take a bunch of notes. So I thought I’d sahre those here in raw form. If you find my notes half as interesting as I found the actual panel, then I think they’ll be worth taking the time to read. Apologies in advance for any typos or inaccuracies — I was typing fast to keep up and haven’t edited these.
e = kety esquival
s = jay smooth
y = phil yu
p = latoya peterson
“general experiences with racism online. favorite example?”
e: stopthehate.org … gotten a lot of hate mails, had death threats, etc. … recently sean hannity made an accusation against nclr that was completely made up and a lie, to us it was really exciting because we had over 20 bloggers come together and really attack [hannity’s] statement… exciting to see bloggers who weren’t in the latino community come out to support us. favorite case of racism because it showed how we were able to come together to combat this negativity.
s: no favorite racist moment, each is like a snowflake [laughter]. showing YouTube video: “how to tell people they sound racist” — let’s check out the comments — it’s a 15 month old video, 2 hours ago someone took the time to come and write, “I hate spicks”
y: a lot of people perceive asians in america as very passive … the name “angry asian man” is a provocative title. “never seen such anger in an asian man” … my attitude toward comments is “fuck comments” … when you give people a voice anonymously, it empowers them to spread hate (total paraphrase) … don’t want to bother with that.
s: [on not allowing comments] you should run your space in social media however that makes it safe for you.
e: pros and cons to opening blog up to comments … pros, we want to create engaged community, cons, have lots of antis and crazies coming after us in pretty horrific way … once got attacked personally and called spin doctor. at first I didn’t know how to respond since it was such a personal and nasty attack. peers said, hey you’re doing good work. if people are spending so much time to come after you, it means you’re doing good work getting truth out there. wear it as a badge of honor.
“can social media end racism?”
y: no. social media itself will not end racism, but using it together across communities will help work toward ending racism.
p: social media is a tool, but there is no end racism app or we’d have pressed that button a long time ago. no one tool that will stop this system that’s been going on since the dawn of humanity. but we can use social media to reach out and find each other and change minds and hearts.
s: obviously, the answer is no. it’s the wrong question, though. we will always be imperfect as human beings and will always lean toward being prejudice at times. trying to counteract racism is like brushing your teeth, there will never be a point where you’ve done enough brushing your teeth and you’re finished with it. social media will be a great tool, but no finish line.
e: the other perspective is that this is a new space. there is a legacy and history that we can’t ignore, we can’t negate centuries of past history, but we can acknowledge the opportunity before us right now and say how can we use this new platform for engagement, and community. we need to take this space and make it different. if there is one thing I could leave this group with today, it is that we must really be aware so we can take it to the next level. I don’t think we can erase racism, but we can make massive strides. I think we have, but the answer can’t be no.
s: all of us are saying that we might not be able to be perfect, but we can do better. it’s a hopeful message.
“what social media can do to help end racism: spread knowledge, create refuge, mobilize base”
… spread knowledge …
y: I’m trying to convince my own community that racism exists. largely my community is about getting people to realize that things are happening. “this movie is whack, this guy on the radio said this, etc.” [the racism is] largely unchecked, and it shouldn’t be. much of the negative comments I have experienced in my community come from other asians saying, “hey, don’t rock the boat.” I’m not trying to say, “this gets my racist stamp of approval,” rather, I want to punctuate the point to make sure people get it.
s: one of the best things about social media is that every conversation creates a document. so there’s always a history you can go back and refer to. someone who’s new to the scene can go get that background education by seeing what’s been said before.
… creating refuge …
p: great to create a smaller space of people who are already anti-racist, so that’s one thing that we can take off the table. can’t take some of the conversations we have in our smaller spaces in the mainstream because there you get taken down the racism 101 level (“does racism still exist?”). small spaces = refuge for conversation.
… mobilizing base …
e: [shared example of her org. getting obama and mccain campaign to respond on record about latino issues during campaign by talking about it so much in local blogosphere it got attention of CNN and then caught attention of campaigns] we were able to do that by getting message out to base and having them keep carrying the torch and keep conversation going.
p: one of the best examples we’ve seen of mobilizing our base was the Jena 6… through blogs, sticking with it, documenting discrepancies, we covered it 9 months before it broke into the mainstream media and caught attention of more prominent activists. also, re: the Avatar movie, all asian main characters were cast with white actors… so lots of asian american communities have been keeping that kept conversation going… eventually they finally added an asian actor — as villain (“we’re always hustling backwards”)
s: [example about HOT 97 in NY playing racist song about tsunami victims, getting word out through grassroots networks on Internet, caused major response in blogosphere, so by next morning it got a half-hearted apology from radio station]
y: I live in LA, so never have a chance to listen to HOT 97 in NY. heard about it very shortly after it happened via web community. the movement went from local to national very quickly because of the Internet.
s: the web can take something local to global. easiest to get people to react to something with a compelling piece of media, but we need to find way to mobilize around substantive issues that are beyond just reacting to something racist someone said in the media.
audience question: “as we try to move discussion of public policy online, there will inevitably be racist comments … would you recommend that we try to moderate that?” (question is about tax payer funded site)
p: first question is, how diverse are you moderators? how you shape the conversation influences the image you project and what you get back. focus on outreach and make sure that people of color know about your forum. that will help with self policing.
audience question: “how do you get people talking when they are cross culture and don’t know the history of everyone in the room?”
s: no easy answer. defining the terms you use is a good first step. questions like “what is racism?” and “what is race?” have totally different meanings to different people.
y: it’s impossible to be all on the same page about any one issue. that is a whole other panel.
audience question: “definition of racism?”
s: beyond just what we feel, sentiment, it is important to realize there is the reality of centuries of institutional racism.
audience question: “what are the practices we use to encourage anti-racism? how do you promote the creation of a cadre?”
p: in terms of encouraging and creating best practices … trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon, all have our teaspoons saying, what do I do, what do I do.
e: the strategy that we have at nclr is to engage bloggers — both latino bloggers and pro-migrant bloggers — by sending them all the material we’re producing, and holding regular blogger conference calls. giving access and information to bloggers is important. can’t just be one voice.