Zoom: A New Platform For Bored Racists

I’ve seen a lot in my 48 years. I’ve seen the n-word scrawled in bathroom stalls and spray painted on walls. I’ve seen swastikas carved into desks and drawn on doors. I’ve seen comment sections littered with all sorts of vile thoughts and lengthy rants that left me wondering how those authors and I could possibly be living on the same planet. I’ve also seen racial hate mail and death threats, which is an all too sobering reminder that yes, we do live on the same planet, and perhaps in the same town, so backs must be watched.

The sad part about all of this is when you’ve seen so much, you’re not all that surprised when you see the next thing. So as word began to spreadwidely on social media and news outlets that Zoom sessions were being raided by outsiders posting racist and disturbing content, I paused, shook my head in disgust, and scrolled to the next story.

Zoom obviously can’t move on. Now, in the middle of a pandemic when Zoom is keeping academia remotely connected and businesses globally conferencing, we need them to devote time and resources to adding security layers to fight racism (among others things; turns out Zoom had/has a bunch of work to do but I will let the tech heads go in on that). Really? This is what we’re doing? Yep, this is what we’re doing. Because racists enjoy playing petty (and not-so petty) games.

A month ago I was planning for in-person classes with my students. Three weeks ago I was trying to convert everything to virtual. Zoom entered my life and I appreciated the simplicity of being able to share a quick and easy link. Now I can’t even do that without worrying about some extra person popping in and doing something stupid.

Childish is one word that comes to mind. I prefer racist. Not because I enjoy “playing the race card” (which — rather than being an actual thing — saying “the race card” is simply another way to not talk about racism) but because it’s actually racist. Someone, or some group of people, sat at home and decided to log into someone else’s Zoom session and use the n-word. Why the n-word? There are literally an estimated million other words at your disposal. And there are certainly over a million other things to do outside of disrupting other peoples’ Zoom gatherings. So why are you doing this?

When I ask “why are you doing this” that’s an actual question, not rhetorical. I genuinely wonder if people really know why they have committed to this project, and if they could explain it in a way that others can understand.

“I just don’t like Black people” is not an answer. Why don’t you like Black people? What does it even mean to say “I just don’t like Black people”?

For every horrible stereotype you can list and begin to attribute to Black people or “Black culture” we can easily deflect and cite numerous other examples and patterns in every non-Black shade. (And, to be honest, what’s the point of doing that? Exactly. None). For every Black crime statistic you (inaccurately) cite — anecdotally or documented — there exists a comprehensive counter narrative detailing the disproportionate policing practices impacting Black and Latinx peopleunder incarcerating of White people for the same (or worse) crimes, jury biasfalse accusations and decades of life lostlack of trust, not to mention the criminalization of Blackness itself in different forms throughout American history, as well as White and corporate crime that may or may not be viewed as crime. For every blanket “Black people have ruined America” statement there are tomes worth of irony and untold / forgotten history. It’d make for a wonderful dinner conversation.

Or a Zoom webinar.

I was under the impression* that we’d all get through this pandemic in harmony, you know, like the ebony and ivory keys. It would certainly be in our better interest, since we all have other stuff on our minds right now. But since it looks like we’ll be moving forward business as usual on the racism front, here are some quick closing recommendations:

  1. Before you catch a hate crime case, ask yourself, is it really worth the embarrassment. Do you really want to be known for the rest of your life as the kid who posted the n-word multiple times in a Zoom chat box?
  2. Before you get kicked out of school and/or fired from your job, really make certain — like beyond the shadow of a doubt — that you don’t like Black people. (I know we already covered this in the article, but I have a feeling that you probably skipped over the part where I asked why you don’t like Black people. I just think you should be absolutely clear on your answer here. And understand that you can’t like LeBron and not like all of the other Blacks. It doesn’t work that way.)
  3. Before your parents go on national TV news trying to defend your character (because we all know, “you’re not that kind of person”) do some critical reflecting and click on some of the links I’ve shared and ask yourself what kind of person are you. I don’t think a lot of potential racists take the time to do this sort of deep soul-searching. I also think many are woefully misinformed about the way America actually came to be. Now, instead of shoring up your cloaking protocols for the next Zoombomb, or sending me a lengthy reply about how I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m just a stupid n-word with three Ivy League degrees, why not do some you work. If I can do it, I’m sure you can too.

* I actually wasn’t. I’ve seen too many things.

Dr. Peterson’s blog was originally published on Medium.

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Brian Peterson

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