After years of reading his Facebook posts, I slowly and painfully discovered that my White friend was a racist. Initially I tried to ignore it but as an African American man I could no longer stomach his increasingly toxic, race fueled comments that were initially veiled as just boisterous, conservative rhetoric. After debating him online for years over politics, race and social topics I finally had an epiphany. I could no longer excuse “Adam” by brushing him off as being a hyper-conservative republican. His truth was undeniable. However, I chose not to confront Adam about it, instead I quietly un-friended him on Facebook.
Weeks later he confronted me and unloaded a barrage of online insults accusing me of being the actual racist and a “radical” for calling out discrimination, something I’ve aggressively done for years on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and on my personal blog/website. Initially I blamed Facebook and the bold frontier of social media, a place where like-minded individuals are able to find strength in numbers in pack like mentality as the source of Adam’s racism.
But after deeper reflection I believe it is the rising public influence of social media combined with an unconscious internal racial/class angst within Adam and many other White Americans that has now spewed to the surface with the election and re-election of the nation’s first Black President.
Adam and I are about two years or so apart in age, both from the state of Alabama, and both attended The University of Alabama although we didn’t know each other in college. Four years later we bumped into each other in Atlanta where we both worked for the same company. We vaguely recognized each other, discovered our mutual roots and college friends and quickly bonded as friends ourselves. Oddly, our racial differences didn’t seem to matter especially since we both hailed from a state richly steeped in a tradition of hatred, slavery, Jim Crow segregation and racial discrimination.
Our twenties quickly turned into our thirties as we both chased our careers—crisscrossing the nation with eight moves and five cities between us—but we always stayed in touch. I remember once when I was going through financial challenges in Los Angeles, Adam gave me a financial gift to keep me going. So we weren’t just causal buddies, we were genuine friends.
It was President Obama's election that was the initial trigger. Adam’s criticism of the President, the economy and its sluggish growth, and his criticism of Obamacare is what blew open the divide between us. Although these online conflicts are common between social media users and their “friends,” our conflict was much different and far deeper. We weren’t just men hiding behind computer screens and mouse pads. We were real life friends who shared secrets, hosted each other in our homes, supported, advised and even prayed for one another. Now we were at odds with each other via social media and it was about to get much worse.