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Censorship masks racism reality

This column reflects the views solely of the author, not the Daily Lobo editorial board.

Who are the offensive, anonymous commenters, and why delete comments?
The standard answers are they’re a-holes, and the comments are unnecessarily offensive.
Aside from being dismissive, the standard answers are superficial and uninteresting. Offensive, anonymous commenters can bring a fresh perspective to our society, albeit a nasty one. They offer a critique of just how tolerant and progressive the world has become and why censorship falls short of solving the problem.

The standard view is that anonymous message boards bring out the worst in people. The lack of consequences and risks give people free reign on the Internet. Critics say the anonymous nature of the Internet escalates “offensive language” to the point of hyperbole, where no one can tell if a commenter is a truly racist or just a kid wanting to get a rise out of people.
That is the dilemma.

You can’t understand offensive, anonymous commenters unless you are one of them. These people usually go unseen, like ghost orchids or the clitoris. They are the Internet’s shadowy figures, smoking cigarettes in the bottom floors of parking garages. And even if we could find these individuals lurking in the bowels of the Web, our examination of them would be tainted. Once the anonymous commenter is found, he ceases to be anonymous and therefore not as truthful. To find one is to lose one.

The only first-hand testimony of offensive, anonymous commenters is the few lines at the end of columns like these, tagged with
unwitty signatures. The only way to get a glimpse of one is below the story. You have to meet them on their turf. 
Without an interview, we have to speculate. To examine them, we must explore their two most probable motives.
1. Racist comments are made by racist individuals.

2. Racist comments are made by individuals who, left without consequences or risks, just want to rustle a few feathers.
The quick and painless answer ascribes these comments to the latter category. Chalk it up to sophomoric kids starting a fire just to watch it burn. Without consequences, people do crazy things. But that is the easy answer. It’s a way to skirt around the issue.

To find the real answer, we have to explore the idea of anonymity. The standard view is that it is a mask that turns people into monsters.
That is a misconception. Anonymity does not cover up; it reveals. Instead of looking at anonymity as a mask that turns people into exaggerated bottom dwellers, we should look at our everyday persona as the mask of political correctness and fear of ridicule.

Paradoxically, anonymity is an act of unmasking, a look at the true identity of individuals. While the unmasking may exaggerate, it highlights only what is there, a kernel of truth at peoples’ core.

So this brings us back to motivation No. 1: Racist comments are made by racist individuals.
Critics will say that doesn’t change anything, and it doesn’t matter what motivates the hateful comments. They should be removed, regulated and never allowed to be posted.

Incorrect. If I am right, and racist comments are made by racist individuals, there is something to be learned from them.
When I think of racism, or any kind of hate, I think of it in the institutional sense. You see institutional racism in the disproportionately high incarceration rate of black people. You see institutional sexism in the discrepancy in pay between men and women. You see institutional homophobia in the fact that same-sex couples can’t marry each other in New Mexico.

But old-school hate — yelling racial slurs at someone — seems to have tailed off. It is surprising when something like that happens in face-to-face interaction and requires a double-take. We would like to think that it is because people are more tolerant. And, as a general rule, that is probably true. But another reason that face-to-face racism has diminished is because of the public haranguing a person receives if one announces to the world one is a racist. Since racism is no longer socially acceptable, people do not express their views for fear of being pariahs.

But the anonymous message board has become the well in which these suppressed ideas collect, reminding us they never really left. So what is the answer to eradicating this new hate? A quick solution would be to suppress it again. Things work better when my Daily Lobo reading isn’t filled with offensive junk. The quick answer, not always the best, has become the standard one. The new Daily Lobo policy is to remove unnecessarily offensive comments.

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Fine. Go ahead. Things will probably run smoothly. But when the Daily Lobo removes comments it deems unnecessarily offensive, we should remember why it’s happening. It is not a whole-hearted attempt to quash racism. Instead, the comments are removed because it is easier and more convenient to push it on down the line — until a new well emerges, filled with the suppressed, offensive ideas we thought had passed away ages ago.

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