Oh, Racism…you are so pervasive.

This week, I’ve been thinking that this situation at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign , with students tweeting racist and sexist comments about their Chancellor, was a real hot mess. But at least, I thought, it reminds us that racism and sexism are alive and well in this country. We can see this clearly when someone is targeted on the basis of her race and sex for a decision having nothing at all even remotely related to those characteristics.

And then I read UIUC alum Greg Dehorst’s response in the HuffPost, entitled: Monetizing Racism and What the University of Illinois Really Taught Me. Now, Greg is displeased with the nature of these comments that were made, which he called “extremely insensitive”. But Greg also wants to assure us that this is not what UIUC is all about. Sure there are a few bad seeds, but that’s not how it really is there. And, of course, the reason this all got blown so out of proportion is that Buzzfeed manufactured the popularity of the story on the internet (and is making money off of those clicks).

I really disagree with this response. No, Buzzfeed is not manufacturing make-believe racism and sexism. Buzzfeed NOTICED the racism and sexism that is pervasive in our society. I’m not sure how the author is conceptualizing the “monetizing”of racism, but I’m pretty sure that racism is already making money… for white people…because that’s how racism works. These students didn’t make “insensitive” comments. They made hateful and biased comments, attacking someone based on her targeted identities for no good reason at all. If someone started a #fuckgreg hashtag about the author, compared him to people widely regarded as tyrants, including Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Un, or said that he could “shove the weather up {his} wide set vagina”, would he find it “insensitive”?

Wanting to justify this situation and explain away this racist and sexist behavior is completely indicative of the author’s own privilege. Yes, I believe that he  learned things, helped people, and did generally good stuff while at his alma mater. I did a crap load of really good stuff at UMaine. I love UMaine. But that doesn’t make it less a part of the racist, sexist, heteronormative dominant culture. And it doesn’t make me less white, straight, middle class, or educated.

Does “rebroadcasting” these racist comments feel good or happy or comfortable? No. Does it make us all want to sing kumbaya together and talk it out about how we can overcome these societal ills? Not really. But saying that racism and sexism shouldn’t be dragged out into the public eye and showcased for what they are and how they exist is telling marginalized people that their pain doesn’t matter and telling privileged and bigoted voices that they will not be held accountable or made to feel bad about intentionally demeaning others. These tweets are acts of intentional, active racism and sexism.

No one deserves to feel comfortable about dehumanizing and demoralizing others. That’s exactly what privilege is. And when we suggest that instead of calling out that oppressive behavior, we should gently ease it into the joy and love of diverse relationships, we are missing the point. We are giving more privilege to the oppressors than they already have. We are putting the burden on the marginalized groups to play nice, teach their oppressors, and not be angry about being called #bitch or #cunt (or everything else). Here’s a newsflash (speaking from my woman identity): If someone calls me those words, I AM NOT HOLDING YOUR HAND AND TELLING YOU IT’S OKAY. IT’S NOT OKAY. Privilege, privilege, privilege!

I am not suggesting that we intentionally cause physical harm to people who post things like that, but I think that a good dose of emotional and cognitive dissonance is necessary. And when you submit your racist and sexist comments into the public sphere on the internet, you become part of the public sphere. So you’re about to get back what you dish out.  Oppression doesn’t deserve to have its hand held on the first day of school. Oppression can get thrown into the cold, hard, world and cry it out. No kumbaya and s’mores for racism and sexism here.

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