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Twitter Teaches a Lesson?

October 5, 2009

Any of you who have followed my Twitter account for a while knows I like to live-tweet the hell out of TV shows, especially big events and reality TV (#bachelorettespam anyone?).  One of my favorite shows is “Survivor.”  I have watched every season (yes, I admitted that).  I never thought the combination of Twitter and “Survivor” would provide any teachable moments, but I daresay it has.

The current season of “Survivor” is proving to be one of the most incendiary.  Two weeks ago, one of the contestants, Yasmin, got sent to the opposing camp and took the liberty of confronting her opponent, Ben, about his behavior at the previous challenge.  Yasmin is an outspoken, assertive woman.  A black woman.  Ben is an aggressive player and does not shy away from an argument.  Ben is white.  Yasmin confronted Ben about his physicality against her during the challenge based upon the fact that she is a woman and he is a stronger, bigger man.  Ben protested that all’s fair in a “Survivor” challenge.  Yasmin continued to argue with Ben and Ben eventually devolved into calling Yasmin “ghetto trash” and saying that if he was a “girl” he would slap her.  He went on to say that Yasmin was smelly and ignorant.  In my eyes, there was a racial undertone to the sum total of Ben’s comments.

Some of my white Twitter friends also tweeting the show echoed Ben’s comments, saying Yasmin was clearly from the ghetto, calling her a prostitute and asking where her pimp was.  At the time of the show I told my husband that I was disturbed by these tweets.  These were coming from people with whom I had heretofore had a great time trading amusing commentary.  I wondered if I should I should say anything but decided against it.  Who was I to scold these people who were only having fun?  It was also a case of me doubting my own instincts: many people-of-color do indeed see racism as the motive for all bad behavior, but I tend to err on the other side (I am biracial to those of you who don’t know:  black + white).  I resent it when people “play the race card” when there is little evidence to suggest race is a factor because it devalues the existence of true racism in our society.  I didn’t want to come off as overly sensitive and patronizing, so I held my tongue (or in this case, my fingertips).

But then last week’s episode aired and the tweets kept coming.  One of Ben’s teammates, Jaison, who is a black man, felt that there was a clear element of racism in Ben’s comments towards Yasmin and said as much to his teammates and Ben.  These same Twitter friends who had been calling on Yasmin’s pimp last week were now calling out Jaison for his sentiments.  They protested that there was no racism in the term “ghetto trash.”  That may be arguable (one made the point that it is a reference to socio-economic status and not race.  Possibly, but then why do we  use the separate term “white trash?”  What race disproportionately makes up the poor and ghetto populations?), but in the context of Ben’s overall behavior towards Yasmin it was pretty clear how he meant it (even if Ben was not conscious of his meaning at the time), or, at a minimum, how it was perceived by Jaison and other members of his team.  This time, I decided to say something about it.

I picked out the one Twitter friend I had established the best rapport with and sent him a direct message telling him that I liked him a lot and wasn’t trying to accuse him of anything, but I had been offended by his “ghetto trash” and “pimp” tweets.  I said that I didn’t feel comfortable saying anything two weeks ago but this time I needed to speak up.  This was pretty late at night and he didn’t reply right away.  I went to bed thinking that I had alienated one of my Twitter friends.  The next morning I was worried to check my DMs, seriously nervous about it (why I would be so shaken up about a person I didn’t even know in real life is another blog post).  I thought he would have just ignored me and blocked me or told me to lighten the eff up and keep my comments to myself.  When I finally did check my messages I was surprisingly relieved.  My Twitter friend profusely apologized for offending me and said that his pimp tweets were inappropriate and he had not taken into account how Ben said what he had said.  He thanked me for my point of view and for sharing it, and said that is how we all learn and grow.  I told him how nervous I had been and that I didn’t want to be the “word police,” but I felt his comments had been stereotyping.  He expressed his appreciation for me contacting him about it and not just writing him off instead.  He said that he would be more sensitive in the future.

I was so gratified by our exchange.  I don’t pretend to imagine that I was so edifying to this Twitter friend but I am proud of myself for speaking up even at the risk of alienating him.  And I am proud of him for being receptive to my opinion and open to reconsidering his views (and even giving me permission to write about this experience).  Perhaps it was a teachable moment for him but I know for certain it was for me.  With Twitter, as in real life, I have learned anew that it is okay for me to trust my instincts and to speak up when I see something wrong.

Have you ever hesitated to say something to a friend?  Have you ever learned a new perspective in an unexpected place?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. tekee812 permalink
    October 6, 2009 5:20 am

    Nice post! Well handled situation too. In my opinion, the solutions to many of life’s conflicts lie in conversation. I feel in my case, that my engagement on twitter has made me a better listener as well as a better speaker. More importantly though I am finding myself looking at people of any race in the eyes a lot more than I ever did my whole life. Looking past the skin and right to the eyes, wondering “what makes this person tick, what are they all about?” Not trying to toot my own horn as the only person without prejudices, I think we all have some degree of that within us, It just makes me happy to know that I am changing for the better!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      October 6, 2009 5:25 pm

      You are so right, Ted. I like what you have to say here and am impressed how Twitter has made you a better listener. We all can and should always keep ourselves open to changing for the better so well done you!

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