What is the moral take-away from English High cheerleading coach Stephanie Cuevas’ social media faux pas in which an 11-second sound bite on Snapchat of her pumping her fist in the air and shouting “white power” ended up going viral?
There are several, the degrees of which differ. The obvious one is that social media is an insidious presence in our lives. If you pop off on the wrong site, or on the wrong person’s Facebook page, you stand a good chance of ruining everything you’ve done in your life in about five seconds. You’re lulled into thinking these sites are closed circuits and that there is a degree of privacy that allows you to let your hair down and say things you wouldn’t otherwise say in polite company. It is no exaggeration to say that is a false assumption.
Every day someone’s tweet goes public. Facebook posts make the rounds and spread like wildfire. They get into the hands of prospective employers (or current ones). And it’s like some kind of “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game. Sooner or later, that post that you thought no one was going to see ends up on the evening news.
But of course, this goes deeper than a simple social media slip up. The whole idea of white supremacy and the fear among many in the country that those who believe in it are becoming increasingly visible and aggressive has been a most unwelcome backdrop in the U.S. We all have our theories as to why that is. But nobody can deny it’s there.
Adding to this perfect storm is the fact that it was a year ago at this time that the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., resulted in one death when a protester drove his car into a cluster of people demonstrating against the rally. This issue is fresh on the minds of many as we go through the first anniversary of this particularly shameful day.
I doubt that the sociological ramifications of any of this was on Cuevas’ mind. And I can only hope she was doing nothing more than trying to get a few laughs out of her friends by doing something totally off the wall.
The only problem is no one’s laughing. They might have laughed — albeit uncomfortably at times — when Carroll O’Connor, as “Archie Bunker,” spouted racist-tinged diatribes on “All in the Family,” but that was a different time. You got a pretty good sense that O’Connor, and the show’s creator (Norman Lear) were trying to deliver a message through the comedy — in much the same manner that Mel Brooks, who is Jewish, has always said that the most direct way to deal with the hardship of Nazism was through humor that ridiculed the Nazis. You knew instinctively that “Springtime for Hitler” was written through many tears and as the result of many heartaches.
That was then. But times have certainly changed. There is a deeper sensitivity toward racially-charged rhetoric now. It’s not as easy to tell whether Norman Lear-type satire is behind it, or whether there really is the type of hostility or, worse, a sense of empowerment, that would allow someone to talk of “white power” with such impunity.
Remember, too, that people whose history includes systematic oppression see things differently than those whose lives have been free of it — and that is certainly their prerogative. If you’re not Jewish, and your history does not include an attempt at genocide on your people, then your perception of what is or isn’t anti-Semitic will surely differ from the viewpoint of those who suffered through it, as well as their progeny.
If we’re not people of color, with all of the unpleasant history that goes along with it, do we really have a right to tell those who are that the fallout from Cuevas’ Snapchat post is an over-reaction?
School Superintendent Patrick Tutwiler is right in one respect: this can be a teachable moment in so many ways. It’s still a good idea to count to 10 before you speak, and it’s not simply for fear of who’s listening. These wounds run deep. All the troubling escalation of racially-charged language does is reopen them, and make the same people who had to suffer them before go through it again.