The Bubble of Ignorance
We live a time when people can find validation and reinforcement with ease. We have more autonomy over what we see and hear than ever before. We can watch Game of Thrones or Ratchet Housewives of Wherever any time we want, instead of rearranging our schedules to get home by prime time. Our radio stations are streamed from the internet and are catered to our music genomes. We can become overnight sensations with little effort, just by uploading a video to YouTube. We can write articles for the world to see and share. Our sense of self-importance is only augmented by our photos on Facebook, our followers on Twitter, and our comments on Instagram.
The concept of Post-Racial America only exists in a world where people can filter the information they receive and exaggerate the value of their opinions. If you can change the channel or close a website every time racial tension appears, it’s much easier to claim that racism doesn’t exist. It’s even easier if your Facebook friends think the same way you do. We are constantly inundated with reiterations of our own positions, so much so, that many of us are shocked when we learn of different perspectives.
One example of this phenomenon could be observed around the time of the Troy Davis execution. Every time I opened up my laptop or checked my phone, I saw my friends sharing their feelings regarding the case. The general sense of betrayal and bewildernment that arose in response to lack of solid evidence needed to take a man’s life seemed to be mainstream. My friends were live-tweeting from protests and half of the statuses on my Facebook news feed said “I Am Troy Davis”. When I went to work and spoke with my White coworkers, I realized that the Troy Davis case hadn’t peaked their interest at any point. I was shocked to find out that some of my white peers at work hadn’t even heard of the Troy Davis case. So when Tayvon Martin was brutally shot in February, I wasn’t surprised when the topic didn’t hit the water cooler conversation until April.
When you’re unaware of social injustices, it’s easier to walk around in blissful ignorance. But ignorance isn’t reserved for specific demographics. Many Black people, especially those who are growing up in this “Post-Racial society” believe that blatant racism is a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, subtle racism has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years, but blatant racism is far from gone. There have been times when I thought the bold racism of decades passed had deminished, especially when my white friends had pictures tagged of them at Obama rallies, humanitarian efforts in Haiti and 2 Chainz concerts. But I am often awakened with a dose of reality in the form of public social network updates. Like when the blogosphere noticed the influx of “Happy Nigger Day” Facebook statuses on MLK day. Or when racist tweets flooded the internet after Joel Ward, a Black hockey player for the Washington Capitals, scored a game-winning goal against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup. Or when people began tweeting their outrage and disappointment at the fact that the adorable character, Rue from The Hunger Games movie, was Black instead of White, even though the author described Rue as Black in the book.
The scariest thing about these messages is that they are on social networks. The same validation and reinforcement I mentioned earlier applies to these tweets and updates. For every public profile on a social network, there’s 10 others that are private and just as bigoted. Blatant racism is everywhere, it just has #hashtags now. But unless you’re following racists on Twitter or joined the an Aryan Nation Facebook group, you probably wouldn’t see people being that boldly racist.
Let’s say you had racist Facebook friends, do you think they’d appear in your news feed? Most likely not. Sites like Facebook and Google use algorithms to guess what information is most important to the user. The problem is that, these algorithms are based on your past user-behavior. So if you’ve never shared a Fox News clip or “liked” photos of Rick Santorum, websites will “know” not to share Glen Beck’s new book with you. Basically, these algorithms filter the information you receive without your consent.
If a white man thinks that Black people are the main recipients of welfare and that they are simply lazy citizens looking for hand-outs, his online behavior will most likely reflect those sentiments. So when he Google searches “food stamps”, his search may return links from GlennBeck.com. My search, on the other hand, returns links for Mario Batali’s Food Stamp Challenge, in which average Americans attempt to feed their families on $31 per person to raise awareness about potential cuts to the food stamp program. So we end up in a Filter Bubble, where our opinions and perspectives are reinforced by information that we believe to be common knowledge or general consensus.
As an author for 40AC, I’ve had to do a lot of Google image searches for “Black man”. My search query used to return pictures of Black men chasing people for fried chicken, drooling over white women, smiling over slices of watermelon or wearing nothing but a banana-hammock (my eyesight hasn’t quite recovered yet). The majority of those images were created by white people poking fun at and stereotyping my ingroup. As Google’s algorithms started to kick in, my image searches began to return more pictures of Black men in business attire. By no means am I complaining. I appreciate Google’s personalized search results, but I know that I live in a filter bubble of my own. A filter bubble that wants me to believe that average Americans think that Black men are upstanding and productive citizens overall. The same filter bubble that suppresses the Facebook statuses of my racist football teammates from high school.
Website algorithms and other uber-catered technologies promote ignorance of conflicting perspectives. This can result in a decrease in intellectual debates and it can weaken our grasp on reality. Try to go outside of the bubble. Know the opinions of people outside of your timeline. Deliberate consciousness is the best way for us to address the social issues that we face in this facade that we call Post-Racial America.
Blinders fit easily on the narrow-minded.