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Social Studies

Cover of Darkness

By Vincent Williams | Posted 7/22/2009

There have been two recent news stories that have really gotten under my skin. The first involves some of the winners at the conservative site freerepublic.com engaging in the insightful political commentary of critiquing Malia Obama's T-shirt, leading to posters such as "patriot08" offering vitriolic slurs like, "Looks like a bunch of ghetto thugs. A stain on America." The other has to do with a new lawsuit brought against the unofficial police/firefighter site domelights.com where, allegedly, white policemen have posted racially insensitive comments for years, including this gem describing the black children who were turned away from a swim club as "a bunch of ghetto monkey faces." I say the posters are "allegedly" white policemen and firefighters because, after poking around the site a little bit, for every policeman or firefighter who posts under his name there are a hundred who use pseudonyms like "YosmiteSam" or "Kickingteeth." And I would bet the mortgage that Mr. "ghetto monkey face" was one of the ones that used a fake name. Both of these stories highlight what anyone who roams around online intimately knows: The nature of the internet promotes anonymity and anonymity promotes some cowardly shit.

And then there's also a matter of how seriously you should be taken. Look, I'm a comic/science-fiction/music nerd, so I know my way around some of the seamy corridors of the interwebs and nothing fills me with the existential horror of how pitiful life can really be in all of the sad parents' basements of the world than seeing someone calling himself "romthespaceknight93" railing against, well, anything because, dude, really? "Romthespaceknight93"? And that distracts me from taking the comparison of Revolver and Let It Bleed by "yellowsubmareen4" seriously, as well as any defense of Han Solo shooting first, if the argument is coming from "hanshootsfirst59."

Are there uses for internet anonymity? Sure, why not. One kerfuffle that stirred up a little dust a few weeks ago was National Review blogger Ed Whelan's outing of the identity of previously anonymous blogger, Publius. This resulted in a pretty fascinating back and forth on the merits and ethics of being anonymous on the blogosphere and, y'know, again, if you think there can be employment repercussions or you fear stalkers or whatever because of your views, eh, OK. And certainly we can agree on anonymity's value when you see brave citizens tweeting from Iran over the past few weeks. Fine. If your life is in danger because you're voicing truth to power in an oppressive theocratic regime, then, by all means, protect your identity. And I'm going to let that workplace pressure thing slide, too, because, well, the last conversation I had with my boss was about eMusic adding major labels to its catalog and the merits of Fallout 3 on the Xbox, so I acknowledge that my perspective on employer/employee dynamics might be a little skewed.

Still, I just keep finding myself thinking about Larnell Custis Butler. Butler, a self-described Roman Catholic Afrocentric feminist, regularly writes City Paper and, occasionally, comments on this column and, gentle reader, as the old folks say, she has called me everything but a child of God. Sometimes, I read the letters Butler writes and I wonder if she's even read my column before she rattles off something. I don't think my "intelligence is delusional and it is feeding on the bitter fruit of white supremacy," so I think she must be reading something else, but, you know what? I do read her letters and I have the utmost respect for Larnell Custis Butler, because she is woman enough to sign her name to anything she writes. I know the feeling of vulnerability you have when you put your stuff out there with your name attached to it. I've been doing this for 15 years and I still get a little flutter in my stomach sometimes when I see my byline, so I got to give anyone else who does it dap regardless of what I think about what they've written.

And, since my name is on it, I also conduct myself accordingly. It really just comes back to the old internet canard; generally, people say shit online that they would never say to a person's face. If the real world reflected the sheer amount of smack-talking that happens online, people would be fighting in the streets, but, as we all know, there's nothing like the threat of a bloody nose to help maintain a level of civility. When you take away even the little bit of accountability that comes with at least signing your name, you get, well, you get patriot08 referring to a 12-year-old girl as a "ghetto thug." That reflects the vast majority who prefer to scurry and operate under anonymity's darkness away from the light. And, in my experience, the only creatures that run away when you switch a light on are cockroaches.

vincentwilliams.wordpress.com

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