Social networking sites are not only a place where people affirm identity and seek community. These sites are also a venue where racism regularly appears. Research by Brendesha Tynes, a professor of educational psychology and of African American studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Suzanne L. Markoe of the University of California, Los Angeles, is published in the March issue of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, explores how young people negotiate racism in SNS.
The study, which examined the relationship between responses to racial theme party images on social networking sites and a color-blind racial ideology, found that white students and those who rated highly in color-blind racial attitudes were more likely not to be offended by images from racially themed parties. In other words, the more “color-blind” someone was, the less likely they would be to find parties at which attendees dressed and acted as caricatures of racial stereotypes (e.g., photos of students dressed in blackface make-up attending a “gangsta party” to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day) offensive.
They look at associations between responses to online expressions of racism and color blind racial attitudes. Tynes and Markoe operationalize racism by using photos of racially themed parties (e.g., blackface or “ghetto” themes) and asking study participants to respond. They showed 217 African American and white college students images and prompted them to respond as if they were writing on a friend’s “wall” on Facebook or MySpace. The researchers also measured self-reported racial color blindness. Their findings indicate that those who scored lower in color blindness were more vocal in their opposition to the images and were more likely to say that they would “defriend” someone who engaged in the practice.
White participants and those who scored high in racial color blindness were more likely to be in the not bothered reaction group. Further, these students were more likely to condone and even encourage the racial theme party practice by laughing at the photos and afﬁrming the party goers. Although both studies use small samples, Grasmuck, Martin and Zhao’s work along with Tynes and Markoe’s research moves the field of race and Internet studies a step beyond which social networks people join and why to how race (and racism) shapes what they do once in those networks. (I wrote more about this important research back in April, 2010).
There’s still a lot missing from our understanding of race, racism and SNS. One area that I expect will yield a lot of interesting research has to do with race, racism and Twitter. Current estimates that approximately 8% of all people in the U.S. are using Twitter, a combination microblogging and social networking site where users post 140-character updates.
Twitter also appears to be more popular with blacks than with whites, There are interesting racial ‘eruptions’ here, such as the #browntwitterbird hashtag and with user handles like @whitegirlproblems. To date, there is nothing in the peer-reviewed literature about race, racism and Twitter and this will no doubt change soon.
For the next installment of this series, I’ll be back with a discussion about race and online dating.
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