According to a survey from the Pew Research Center, nearly half (48%) of the country believes that it lives in a post-racial society. Yet the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, the nine victims in Charleston, and countless others beg to differ.
To see just how alive and well racism is, one needs only look online.
Case in point, a Texas woman claimed that three African-American men had brutally assaulted her outside of a Wal-Mart, and posted a picture of her “injuries” to Facebook. Her whole story, as it turned out, was untrue. And her injuries? Entirely faked with makeup.
In the post, which has since been deleted, Ashley Casey Martin claimed she “Just got jumped by 3 African Americans ourside of the as Walmart they are in a white ford 150 extended cab. Arkansas tags. They hit me inside Walmart and were cussing. I was very polite and asked them to lower their voices and the cuss words in front of my 3 year old daughter and this is the outcome. What has the world come to…”
The picture attached to the post that showed Martin’s “injuries” — a pair of exaggerated black eyes, and a bloody nose — looked more Michael-Keaton-in-Beetlejuice than an assault victim.
When people started calling Martin out on her obviously fake injuries, the Texarkana Police Department issued — and later deleted — a statement, which said they “believe the post to be fake” and “the injuries… are highly questionable,” according to The Daily Dot.
When following up on the story, police told The Daily Dot that “We were informed that she is emotionally disturbed and that they are attempting to get her the assistance that she needs. We have removed the post to avoid contributing to her difficult struggle.”
As bizarre as Martin’s story is, it’s a fascinating example of how racism lives online. According to Business Insider, group polarization, sensationalism, and anonymity fuel the hate. Racist groups preach to racist followers, and opinions become more entrenched as a result. The comments and articles that get the most attention are the most inflammatory ones, fueling the fire even more. And most obviously, the anonymity afforded by the Internet allows people to get away with whatever it is they want to say. There are no consequences for their comments.
These racists don’t only live on obscure message boards and social media, either. Sure, there’s the explicitly white supremacist Stormfront, or the hipster-racist Taki’s Magazine, but of all the approximate 4.49 billion webpages in the world, a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center says Reddit, of all places, is the most unapologetically hateful place on the web.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to combat racism when it’s encountered. According to Mic, white Americans should listen when people of color discuss racism, challenge the way others think about racism, direct peers towards the perspective of people of color, and call out instances of white privilege.
Taking these steps won’t quickly end racism, but the thousand mile journey does begin with a single step.