Does the Right To Privacy Include the Right To Be Racist?

There is a belief—a hope, really–that racism is so uncool and we’re all too hip to waste time hating someone based on something as silly as skin color.

Reality has a bad habit of shredding belief and hope. A few weeks ago, America messed around and reelected a Black guy as President. This historical event was not marked with universal acclaim.

That is when young White kids went to Twitter and Facebook to show how proud they were of their red necks.

“Since when did we allow monkeys to be President?”

“If Obama wins, I’m gonna buy a coon hound and hunt the nigger down”

“All you blackies only want Obama bec he is black. Bet you know nothing about him. Learn some shit. Then decide who you want. Not by color.”


“Obama’s a nigger. That’s why he shouldn’t live in the WHITE house.”

‘Romney’s campaign filed a lawsuit today claiming the election was “nigger rigged” ‘

“If I were invited to the White House I’d go to spit in the presdent’s face. NIGGER.”

“We were doin just fine with white presidents…leave it to a nigger to mess stuff up”

“Good news niggers. Four more years of living. Off the white man”

“I hope the White House burns down and Obama and his family are in there…and the whole democratic party for that matter”

These tweets and posts were compiled on a Tumbir page called Hellothereracists. The creator of the page went further than simply reproducing the racist messages. He also included their names, pictures, towns and even the high schools and occupations as well.

This has created a tug-of-war between two core principles. The right of citizens to express themselves even in the most hateful terms against their expectation of privacy. A girl in Methuen, Massachusetts might not really gob in President Obama’s face if she should meet him in the White House, but as bigoted and ignorant as she may be, she is not a public figure.

Does it make anyone less racist if they are outed on the Internet for tweeting something racist?

In this week’s bout of Internet shaming, a Tumblr called Hello There, Racists! is collecting the sentiments of bigoted Obama haters. Many are teenagers, and their tweets and Facebook posts appear with their pictures and the names of the cities they live in and the schools they go to. Scrolling through this collection, I’m so grossed out by the tweets that it’s hard to remember why I think this Tumblr is such a bad idea. OK, right: As my colleague Laura Anderson reminded me in an email thread, “I don’t think strangers should be posting minors’ contact information on the Internet, period.” Internet vigilante-ism at the expense of kids is just a terrible idea, given their youth and the evidence that their brains aren’t fully developed, especially in the impulse-control regions.

I also doubt the public shaming will push these kids to reconsider their views—more like give them more reason for indignation. If you come under attack for something you thought you said privately, however wrong you were about that, wouldn’t you feel anger more than remorse?

I’m not a big believer in the purifying effect of public shaming, but I’m even less so when you’re throwing the dumb things kids say back in their faces. Many adults have learned to their sorrow how that post bitching about the boss and his stank breath ended up on their next performance review. Future employers and college admission boards might not look favorably on choosing someone who publicly called the president a nigger and hopes he and his family die in a fire.

Racism isn’t cool. Most of us already reached that conclusion without having our noses rubbed in vulgar descriptors of Black people. Your mama’s assertion of the threat level posed by sticks and stones compared to stupid words is still correct. Maybe if left to their own devices some of these dumb kids will eventually smarten up.

We don’t let kids get a driver’s license or vote until they turn 18. They can’t drink (legally) before 21. They can’t sign certain legal documents or join the military things until their voices deepen and their balls drop. There are many reasons why kids can’t do a lot of things, but the best reason is they aren’t mature enough to be responsible.

It’s a bad to hold teenagers responsible for every stupid things they say and do when they are teenagers. George Zimmerman’s lawyers want to see records of Trayvon Martin’s Tweets. Set aside how ghoulish it is to go rifling through the spontaneous thoughts of a dead kid and ask why the attorneys want that access. They are looking for expressions by Martin of anger, violent tendencies and dangerous beliefs. Just enough smoke to cast doubt in a juror’s mind that Martin might have been a criminal in waiting and Zimmerman was right in blowing out his flame.

From the perspective of someone who has no patience for racism, causing a little embarrassment to these kids at a point in their intellectual development they might still understand how wrong they are, isn’t entirely all bad.

As someone who neither believes in censorship or heavy-handed political correctness, the black and white response by the Hello there, Racists creator is in its own way just as brash and misguided as the crude bigotry of those he holds up to ridicule.   The spontaneous reactions of kids being dickish in a Facebook post should not include their names and faces, what school they attend or jobs they work. Calling the president a “coon” and a “nigger” and hoping he and his family die in a fire in the White House is vile stuff. In some cases may justify a Secret Service inquiry.

Publicly humiliating Johnny and Sally in a modern version of the pillory and stocks may knock the hate out of them as others are encouraged to throw rotten vegetables at them in cyberspace. Or it may compel them to double down instead.

We can grow up and out of our misguided beliefs. Instead of scrawling them in a secret diary some of our uglier, anti-social thoughts get expressed in social media. That is an opportunity to show a young, impressionable mind where they got it wrong. Scorn and hatred returned to them may only serve to validate their expressions of ignorance.