Yesterday’s Brow Beat post about kids whose ostensibly racist tweets were featured on a Tumblr called Hunger Games Tweets has drawn a couple hundred comments from across the opinion spectrum. Some people chastised Preston and Zoee, the two teenage tweeters I interviewed for the post, for their reading-comprehension failure; others acknowledged and debated the common tendency to assume that characters in fiction are white unless explicitly stated otherwise. A few said my post further shamed Zoee and Preston; many in particular came to Zoee’s defense, citing her nationality. (“A girl from Singapore misunderstood and thought the character was blonde. Let it go,” wrote a commenter named badkitty). On the other side of the aisle, a couple of people accused me of “coddling” the tweeters, and many supported the methods of the Tumblr. (“Public shaming when used properly, is effective and appropriate for racist behavior,” wrote carelevelslow.)
As thoughtful as the debate in the comments section generally was, the best response I received was from the anonymous creator of Hunger Games Tweets himself, who got in touch with me on Twitter after the piece was published. (He also posted a short response on his Tumblr.) He responded to the idea that teenagers shouldn’t be held to the same standards of anti-racism to which we hold adults. His reply, lightly edited, is below:
I don't necessarily think that teenagers should be publicly crucified for saying dumb things. There are SOME things, however, that do require a lesson in consequences. Especially with the use of social media. There's a big lesson to be learned here.
For example, there were those girls who went to YouTube a few months ago to make videos expressing their hatred towards the Mexican and/or black students at their high schools. Immature and impulsive. They published their very questionable opinions on a public website viewed by MILLIONS of people on an hourly basis and received the wrath of thousands of people who watched their videos, and even more people after the media got a hold of it. …
The current generation is definitely a "me" generation. What do "I" think? How do "I" feel? Many comments being made on Facebook and Twitter by this generation seem to lack the simple courtesy of, "How would this comment/tweet make someone ELSE feel if they were to come across it?" And without that courtesy in mind, many of today's kids are finding themselves in some pretty awkward situations because of the things that they're throwing out there on the web ... and without the cloak of anonymity even!
Clearly, I'm aware of the fact that a lot of the people that I featured on my site were chastised and threatened in some pretty bad ways, and I feel pretty bad about much of it and do feel somewhat responsible. I really have to say that I had no idea the site would get the attention that it did. Yes, I wanted to shed light on all of the subjects that have recently been discussed in the past two weeks (Race, Media, White-Washing, Stereotypes, Diversity, Social Attitudes, Innocence, etc.) but thought it would all have been contained within a small community of Tumblr users who also felt a deep concern about these things.
It may not appear that way now, but the original objective of the site was two-pronged. On one hand, I wanted to reveal the underlying racism that often goes ignored in our society. This was done through revealing the overtly racist tweets. On the other hand, I wanted to poke fun at people who I accused of having poor reading comprehension but didn't necessarily feel were being racist in their comments.
This is where Zoee and Preston are differentiated.
Preston's tweet was not racist. If he and I were friends and he made the comment to me about thinking that Rue would look like Dakota Fanning, I would have laughed at him and told him to read the book again (followed by giving him a troll face of some kind). His tweet represented something to me that I just couldn't wrap my head around: the fact that people missed the multiple references Suzanne Collins provided regarding Rue's appearance. Also, the misinterpretation of what it means to be "reminded" of someone in terms of size and demeanor.
Zoee's tweet spoke for itself. The element of race was incorporated into her tweet and her “sigh” expressed disappointment in that observation. I've seen individuals in the comment section of the article try to explain it away with plausible excuses, but I'm still not convinced.
Zoee would not have said what she tweeted in the presence of a black person, whereas Preston likely wouldn't have had any reason to pause.
If I had a chance to speak to either of them, I honestly wouldn't have much to say to Preston other than to apologize for any negative attention that he may have received as a result of being on the site. I don't mean that in a mean way, I just don't think that he's deserving of a lecture or anything.
As for Zoee, I would want her to do a bit of a role reversal.
There's a new character named Johanna Mason to be introduced in the next installment of the Hunger Games franchise (Catching Fire). All we know about her from the book is that she has brown hair and brown eyes. From what I've seen so far, fans around the world are hoping to see Kristen Bell cast in the role (yes, Kristen Bell who is blonde with blue eyes). Now let's say that an Asian actress (e.g., Jamie Chung) is cast as Johanna Mason. It will be like the Rue situation all over again because I'm SURE that everyone has read Johanna Mason as being Caucasian. (The difference here being that Rue's description provided a skin color whereas Johanna's, like Cinna, does not.)
My comment to Zoee is this: Being an Asian female, how would it make her feel to see and hear an uproar everywhere over the fact that an Asian female has been cast as a FAVORITE character in the movie?