Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ugly Racial Stereotpying Disguised as Satire Begets Beauty?

Last year, many of us in what everyone is calling the Web 2.0 world knew what that Feldman guy was up to. With his TechNi**a series, he thought he was being clever and funny, and a bunch of other people thought so, too. In a time when I was paying more attention to my blogs and online participation, this guy asked, and in a patronizing and demeaning way, where the black tech bloggers were. My first thoughts were, "I'm right here, you hypocritical* bigot, and while I'm not much, there are other, more dedicated bloggers like Darla Mack, etc." Feldman's hints that people of my skin tone couldn't speak eschewed standard English, drug-free lives and technology-centered writing drove me to look around and find more bloggers of color that I didn't know about. I kept pretty quiet, though; while pretty sure I was too far under the yelling one's radar, I didn't want his particular brand of vitriol -- or that of his fans -- directed at me.

Fast forward to, oh, now, and we find that the work of which Feldman was so proud caused him to lose a lucrative deal with Verizon. Suddenly, more than bloggers and Web 2.0 folks knew of Feldman's shame (or, actually, his unfortunate lack of the aforementioned quality); the work in which he took such pride became known to those who read the Washington Post or listened to NPR. At this point, the Web 2.0 debate raged anew, and with apparently greater force. This time, it's more than just yelling man's supporters screaming "It's edgy satire," while the offended ones scream "It's racisim!"

Feldman's efforts have served to get people talking about how we hurt each other, whether we intend to, whether we pretend we don't intend to, or whether the harm was truly accidental. There are a lot of people out there who have discovered that racism and stereotypes aren't dead or harmless. This is true even of social media, where we'd assume that the most enlightened hang out, and where it's difficult to know what people look like before you learn that they just might think like you. Just a few hours ago, two of the bloggers Feldman didn't know about, or at least pretended not to know about, held a discussion on Yahoo! Live about the Verizon situation and black bloggers, and some childish chatters kept up a running commentary full of epithets. Having had my initial shock in the early 90's on UseNet, then experiencing more on IRC, MUDs, online RPGs, IMDB, and all over the web (that means you, too, YouTube!), it took me a while to remember how this unpleasantness could affect those who hadn't seen it until now and thought it was rare. As disappointing as it is, I couldn't help but be heartened by the outrage I saw others expressing and their determination to do what they can to eliminate the stupidity of racism. So many people are writing about it, and they are letting others know that, no matter what their skin color, they won't condone or overlook such behavior. As loath as I am to think positively of a man who has little positive to say, I can't help but realize that I am seeing the beauty of the Web 2.0 community, largely because he (and, to some degree, others) acted so extremely ugly.

I'm mostly done, but I have one more thing. I find the N-word to be offensive coming from any mouth. Now, may I have everyone's permission to be pissed?

*some of you might have seen the tirade Feldman launched against Guy Kawasaki after Kawasaki allegedly made a statement that alluded to a Jewish stereotype