I’ve been pretty shocked about the racist comments on Twitter about the re-election of Obama, not because I don’t think racism exists, but because of the age of the people doing it. Jezebel looked into it and many of these idiots are high school students or young college students. I think back to my time in high school, and mind you, I’m from Canada, but the n-word was extremely taboo. People heard it in rap songs, maybe occasionally mumbled it along with the lyrics, but it really wasn’t used. Not to say there wasn’t racism (I grew up in a very white province), but it wasn’t encountered widely. At that point (or at any point) in my life, if someone I knew at school put the n-word on the internet, they would be hearing from me. Loudly, and in their face.
I also came of age in the 90s, the Clinton era, the era of after school specials, and sitcoms with “messages”. If we didn’t know the n-word was bad (and we did), the point would be reiterated on one of those “heavy” episodes of Fresh Prince.
I also think back to the kids who tormented the bus monitor so horribly. They were so young, and yet so awful. Now, I don’t want to be one of those “back in my day” kind of people, and yet, I have to say it: When I was in school, children abusing an elderly woman would not happen. Other kids, definitely. But not an elderly woman.
So what is happening with these kids? Where is this hate coming from? Why are they such sociopaths?
Pop culture is a part of it. I think about the TV I watched as an 7-14 year old. It was shows like Fresh Prince (about a wealthy black family), Family Matters (about a middle-class black family), Full House (about a white family, but still heavy on the messages of tolerance), etc. I think about TV in its current form. Where are the shows about families and people of colour, other than on BET? There aren’t any. And meanwhile, while there is some diversity on Disney channel shows, and maybe even a message of tolerance too, kids (boys especially) probably age out of those shows young. And what sitcoms or general entertainment is there to fill the gap? MTV? Sixteen and Pregnant? Jersey Shore? The phrase “post-racial America” got thrown around a lot after Obama’s first win. This idea of a post-racial country leads Hollywood to believe that maybe we don’t need shows with a message about race. Throw in a few characters of colour and everything will be fine. Obviously, kids aren’t learning the message enough. I know having racist parents can have a huge effect on this, but pop culture matters.
I can think of two network sitcoms that talk about race in an astute and clever way, Community and 30 Rock. Both of these shows have diverse casts, small audiences and are hilarious. And yet they are too clever for the kind of mass consumption of a show like Fresh Prince.
Race still needs to be talked about, and talked about openly and clearly in entertainment for young people. It isn’t happening. Maybe the racist tweets from high schoolers can be tied to that.