Racism and the Readers of the GR Press
For a long time, I’ve complained to friends about letters to the editor in the printed copy of the Grand Rapids Press. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed the bigotry, the lack of compassion, and the deep scorn for social justice issues displayed in them.
Not long ago, a friend said, “You know what? The comments posted by readers on the MLive site are even worse.” This sparked an idea. I decided to set a time frame (10 days), start commenting about multiple articles on the Grand Rapids Press part of MLive, and record both reactions to my posts and comments from the threads as a whole.
My friend was right. The only thing worse than those letters in the Press is when the letters talk back to you.
My comments drew a lot of fire. I decided to alternate between reasonable fact-based posts and ones that were provocative, although I was never openly hostile as many of the readers were. My user name indicated I’m a woman (I’d estimate that about 80 percent of the regular commentators are men), which made me a target. And I clearly came across as someone who was not, let’s say, a member of the Tea Party. Within a couple of days, I was being tackled every time I posted, and called “a liberal piece of shit,” “a radical bitch,” and “a Marxist whore” on a regular basis.
But that was nothing compared to the level of anger and outrage I found on the site in general. And it appeared to be 100 percent White rage. The kind of rage that Bob Grant, an early radio host in the 1970s, used to gin up to increase his listener base, a style Rush Limbaugh copied on his own show on Fox. In fact, it seemed that a lot of the comments posted were nothing more than Fox News sound bites. If you tried to get the authors to elaborate, or produce facts to back up their statements, they usually couldn’t. But they were united in one idea: it was all the fault of the “liberals”…the minorities…the “illegal immigrants” … the U.N.
This us-versus-them mentality came across clearly in all discussions. Here are some comments from various threads:
When discussing unemployment figures, many readers felt the high rate was the fault of immigrants. As one reader said:
Let’s see, 20 MILLION illegal alien scum, you know – “doing the lobs Americans just won’t do”? Remember them? Hmmmmm, I wonder…What if we rounded them all up like the infectious cancer on our society they are, beat them into submission, then dumped their broken bodies back HOME in me-hee-co, maybe, just maybe, there would be – oh I don’t know , MILLIONS of jobs available?
Other comments on this topic included:
•“…they are breaking into our country and TAKING jobs, health care, welfare, and NOT paying taxes.”
•“Minority this, minority that! You get special treatment if your not WHITE!”
•“Path to citizenship? How about a path to Mexico? We don’t need them here. They are CRIMINALS! They might be future Democrats…..but THEY ARE CRIMINALS.”
An article about a high school student that was shot and then run down by a car in Kentwood while attempting to save his brother from being killed found no sympathy with the Grand Rapids Press crowd. One man wrote:
I am getting so sick of hearing about the blacks shooting each other. Ok, the article doesn’t state the color of anyone involved but I’d bet my next paycheck I am correct. This crap is getting too close to where I live, time to get out of the area and let them ‘take over’ another nice area of town.
•A side discussion about how affirmative action was somehow responsible for this violence caused me to object about calling affirmative action “racist.” A reader responded: “Calling affirmative action racist is repulsive to you? That’s all you needed to say. I mean, what’s the problem with telling minorities they can’t perform at the same level as white people?”
•A third follow-up article, about the dead boy’s family and brother, netted this comment: “If I pay for their health care, welfare, why not throw in a couple bucks for the funeral. The American Dream-From the womb to the tomb without ever working.”
•Chillingly, this statement capped one thread about the shooting: “Its called thinning out the Herd.”
During the time I was posting, two article related to the GLBT community appeared in the news. One was about a GVSU group of GLBT students who were attempting to get the dorm rules changed so that they could choose the gender and orientation of their roommates, rather than endure random assignments. The men of the posting community were universally disgusted by the idea. Some of the comments included:
•“SICK SOCIETY. Take it to the Truck Stops.”
•“What a cesspool.”
•“Back to mambi-pambi land for these freaks. I am so sick of kowtowing this crap. I am considering sending my girl to GVSU next year…. BUT…. not if this sickos get to rule the roost…..”
•One reader noted that the students’ spokesperson would just have to go back to “stalking” across town since the dorms would be off-limits to him as a resource.
The second article was about the proposed repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. The regular commentators were universally against this. The level of “jokes”—and accompanying sexual tension—over this topic was noticeable. Some of the comments included:
•“Homosexuality is a mental disorder.”
•“Testosterone + 5.56 mm rounds + gays = big trouble for all.”
•“youwhoo youwhoo oh youwhoo, attention.”
•“…if a gay couple (male) are married and serving together in Afghanistan, who wears the burka?”
Interestingly, the “jokes” came to an abrupt end when male readers who were or had been in the military made it known that they were nearly 100 percent in favor of the policy’s repeal.
A lot of this seemed familiar from the printed paper’s editorial page. But one topic that generated perhaps the most anger caught me by surprise, and that was a hatred of the unemployed.
The majority opinion among the Grand Rapids Press readers posting on MLive seemed to be that the unemployed were leeches draining our economy of any lifeblood it had left. They were accused of wanting “handouts” and deliberately not looking for work in order to spin out their unemployment benefits longer. One reader wrote:
FIGURE IT OUT! You popped that family out without giving a thought on what could happen if that job you were barely making ends meet with went away, so now its our responsibility to make a game plan for you?
Other comments included:
•I know a few people who have never worked & just because they are a “minority” they were able to get on welfare and are still on it – and there ain’t a damn’d thing wrong with them.
•The U.S. has babied too many freeloaders for too long.
•In one thread on the extension vote, a number of people who were unemployed related their experiences of sending out hundreds of resumes, never getting chances at job interviews, losing their homes, or being barely able to feed their children. One woman asked, “What do you expect us to do without the unemployment extension?” and a regular reader replied, “FU. You sick perverted Biatch!!!”
•Another man said he thought the stalling on the extension was “just the beginning” of discrimination against those who could not find work, and a reader replied, “You damn right, skippy…this is just the start. We will break you.”
MLive’s user agreement states: You agree not to use any obscene, indecent, or offensive language or to provide to or post on or through the Website any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material that is defamatory, abusive, bullying, harassing, racist, hateful, or violent. You agree to refrain from ethnic slurs, religious intolerance, homophobia, and personal attacks when using the Website.
It appears that each newspaper is responsible for policing its own articles for these violations. But Editor Paul Keep routinely brags about how many comments there are for Grand Rapids Press’s articles, and has made it clear that the Website is the foundation of the Press’s future.