Is it racist?

John Monday

On the Comedy Central television show Tosh.O,  there was once a segment called “Is it Racist?” in which comedian Daniel Tosh would show videos with questionably racist overtones and he would decide whether or not the video was racist.

This game seems to have carried over into everyday life now, with two developments involving sports stars. On social media everyone seems to now be playing the game with two now famous interviews from Jamies Winston and Richard Sherman, with people judging these athletes’ comments for their lack of eloquence and/or respect in post game interviews on the field. Twitter’s tweets were twittering with questionably racist comments coming from all corners of the internet.

Someone had better call in Daniel Tosh.

Jameis Winston and Richard Sherman are both big-time football players. Winston is the national champion quarterback for Florida State and Sherman is perhaps the greatest cornerback in the National Football League with the champion Seattle Seahawks. Both of these men were shot into a larger spotlight after their postgame interviews in their respective teams’ victories. The two were given more attention than the typical post-game interview because they both conducted the interviews in a unique way. After the national championship, Winston talked about his drive to win the big game and all the adversity he went through in the game. Because it showed his vulnerability and emotion with his own brand of speaking, that was not without its slang and accent, he was deemed an idiot by the majority of the people watching the interview. It was national news when Dee Dee McCarron, mother of AJ McCarron, star quarterback for Alabama, asked over twitter whether or not she was listening to English, referring to Winston’s interview.

The Richard Sherman fiasco was a bit different. He yelled and called out 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree and proclaimed himself the best corner in the league. Although he may have come off as unsportsmanlike and petty considering the Seahawks won the game, people on twitter referred to him as a “thug”, a name which obviously carries racism with it.

So in these two instances there are two athletes who are put out to pasture for being either too “dimwitted” or “thuggish” in the way they approached their interviews. There is an obvious racial component to both of these labels if one chooses to approach their comments in that way. Racism still exists in this country, no matter what the supreme court says. The N word has slipped in time and again in reaction to stories like this.

But racism is not the overarching problem in these instances. The bigger and more systemic problem is putting things and people into categories and boxes to make them easier to comprehend and then judge. The internet has made this a much easier practice. With the simple typing of a few letters, a coarse and hateful comment can be made without a second thought. It is instant gratification to have an opinion that crosses one’s mind to be then broadcast to friends and family for reaction (hopefully agreement and praise aka a “like” “favorite” or “retweet). There is a want and a need to consolidate information so we can get the quick superficial view of a world which in reality is more complicated and diverse than we can possibly fathom in 140 characters. Instead of looking at things in a worldly enlightened perspective, thoughts instead boil down to Winston is an idiot, Sherman is a thug, or in an even more grandiose and hateful sense, black people are idiots and thugs.

Everyone is guilty of putting things into categories because the human mind simply works that way, but the problem of simply casting people off into easily recognized and dispensable categories is getting worse. Buzzfeed works to get the internet and “comedy” into little lists that can easily be gobbled up. Entirely separate and simpler lives are lived on Twitter and Instagram. People today can hardly get through a conversation without pulling out their phones to revisit that virtual world in which every person, idea, and subject can literally fit in the palm of your hands.

The problem is more systemic than tweets about Jameis Winston or Richard Sherman, it is universal; universal in that people cannot handle emotion and truth. Truth comes from seeing the whole picture of a story and understanding why people do things, not just a vague understanding of something.

The fact that Richard Sherman is a Stanford graduate and had to work his way out from the streets to get where he is, and that professional athletes, especially professional football players, experience a lot of emotion through the course of a game, is a much harder thought to handle than “he is a thug.” Also the fact that Jameis Winston and his lack of eloquence might come from a college sports phenomena in which the student athletes are simply passed through the system so they can be stars, is ignored when casting a simple judgement.

So while racism can be at the core of a hasty comment, the bigger problem here seems to be ignorance and the simplicity in which to disseminate ignorance, not a few racists. The majority of people who judged Sherman and Winston were not fundamentally racist, but rather too quick to judge based on a medium and culture which caters to those snap decisions.

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. There is a great wealth of information and creativity on the internet.  One can only hope the world learns to use it with the right frame of mind and purpose, rather than abuse it.

 

P.S.  To stay to topic and defend Winston and Sherman more, to anyone who would criticize someone’s English prowess after his team just won a national championship or the NFC championship, there is something seriously wrong with you. There is simply an attitude and excitement that comes from victory. Sorry to all of the editors and English majors out there, I hope the poor ignant masses ne’r upset you agein!