Ahmed Areff

Why we will keep exposing social media racists

2017-01-20 08:24

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A quantum physicist will tell you that reality is really just a big game of chance, while a neurologist will say that all we perceive as reality is just electrical signals in our brains.

A semiotician will say that reality is an incomprehensible concept and that all we can ever really know about it are the symbols that describe things for us.

As journalists we aim to tell you the truth about the world and give you our best attempt of describing reality. Even if in this world of President Donald Trump, it's starting to look like truth doesn't really matter anymore.

Despite this, we still try.

My subjective truth is that there are still people in this country who feel that their race is better than others'.

When I make a decision that we should write a story about someone who posts a racist comment on social media, I want to expose a person who decided to openly display hate - in the same way that I want to expose a politician who benefitted from a dodgy tender.

Whenever we come across incidents like these, we investigate it, speak to the person who made the comments, and write a story - like we do with every other story we do. We also sometimes debate about why we have to write these types of stories.

Once this debate spills on to our Facebook page and other platforms, readers accuse us of "dividing the nation", condemn us for "promoting hate" and spoiling people's "happiness".

We are a divided nation.

Years of institutionalised racism, and colonialism before that, is not going to disappear because a document signed in Sharpeville says we all must be equal. We have to believe it.

We can't just say that apartheid is over and South Africans need to get over it when we still have people who can't make a decent enough living because Bantu education didn't equip them with the same skills as schools for other races.

Until we come to terms with this, it's ignorant to go on pretending that the racist things people say or do doesn't matter.

Whatever you believe, or don't believe, there is this fundamental idea that needs to still permeate our skulls - that we all deserve to be treated equally, or as the Golden Rule puts it - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

During one of our debates in the newsroom, someone commented that these racist comments are just a reflection of the comments some people in South Africa make around their supper tables.

This is exactly why we need to continue to expose these people. This is not what our discourses with our families should be like. Even if you feel the ANC government has been plagued by corruption, it doesn't have to be a race issue. If you were robbed in your home the race of those robbers shouldn't be a factor in your anger. Neither should the colour of the skin of a group of people on a beach on New Year's Day.

I am not saying we must be colourblind as a nation. That's disingenuous because one race did suffer worse than others and that needs to be acknowledged. The cultures of different people need to be acknowledged and accommodated as well.

By exposing people who are racists, I feel that we are pointing out the wounds our country still has. I don't believe that we are giving racists a platform. I believe that we are trying to show our readers how some people still think so that we can work to change it, not ignore it and hope it will eventually go away.

In the end, this all adds up to how we describe each other. I think that language is almost as powerful a weapon as an AK47.

Our history as a civilisation is full of examples of how language has been used to dehumanise people: Black people are called niggers or kaffirs, Arabs are called sandniggers and terrorists, and Jews were compared to rats and poisonous mushrooms and still face a lot more derogatory names.

In Rwanda, Hutus called Tutsi's cockroaches.

This is the exact same word used by one of the racists we exposed.

Here language is used to make a group of people the "other"; to make them different from yourselves. This makes it easier for you to discriminate against them because you think they are lesser than you, or because their life means less than yours, and easier for you to kill them or stand by and watch them be killed.

With the advent of social media there's been a groundswell of people saying traditional news media is going extinct because anyone with a smartphone can be a journalist and spread news or a simple message to millions of people online.

So if the citizenry has that power, shouldn't we hold people with that power accountable?

Even if it's the person sitting behind a shop counter, the person fixing your plumbing, or the person selling you a home - if they can speak their mind to the same number of people in one message that a politician can reach in a speech, shouldn't they face the same sort of scrutiny than a politician?

You have to be responsible for what you broadcast to people.

I will continue to make sure we write stories about corruption, crime, scientific discoveries, the weather and the puppy that was rescued from a storm drain by a passerby.

But to make believe that everything in the country is alright, and continue to tolerate those that shout out racist slurs, either from a car window or from their Twitter account, is something that I will not accept as the norm. 

- Ahmed Areff is national news editor at News24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    racism  |  social media
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