The Joel Ward tweets are not about racism.
For those of you who don’t follow hockey (or sports in general), let me set the story up. In a playoff game on April 25th, the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime, ending the Bruins’ postseason. Joel Ward, a black player (also Canadian, if that matters), scored the winning goal for the Capitals. Bruins fans reacted like any fans who have had their championship dreams dashed–by raging all over Twitter. However, since the “villain” who slayed their team just happened to be a black guy, the Twitter rage involved very liberal usage of the word “nigger”.
On the surface, it’s the perfect story for sensationalist media to latch on to. We got us an internet hate crime, look at all those cowards and their “keyboard courage,” aren’t they just despicable. Most people got disgusted with humanity. Others simply rationalized the event as a prime example of the famous Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Still, while everyone is focused on the heinous pseudo-racism directed towards Ward, the more pressing issue won’t even be mentioned.
Yes, I said “pseudo-racism”. I hope no one really thinks all Boston Bruins fans are just Ku Klux Klan members in disguise. Whereas forty years ago the word “nigger” would only be used with the sole purpose of reminding black people that they were less than human, today it’s more akin to a grown man having a very inappropriate temper tantrum. I’m not excusing the angry tweets by any means, just postulating that they’re not racially motivated. This is easier to believe if you’ve done any online gaming recently, particularly on any popular first-person shooter. It won’t take long before you hear (over voice chat) or see (over in-game text chat) people calling each other a bunch of fucking niggers every two minutes… and none of them are black.
So what’s that more pressing issue I mentioned earlier? Thanks to the internet, we’ve forgotten how to treat each other. Common courtesy is a lost art. It’s easy to blame everything on anonymity, just like the G.I.F.T. says; there are no consequences when hiding behind a keyboard. Then you go and check out a website that has Facebook commenting enabled, like the Huffington Post, and you notice that the keyboard courage phenomenon exists even when there is no anonymity. Seriously, if a person makes an assholish comment while logged into Facebook, you’re about three clicks away from seeing their family portraits, current employer, and possibly even home phone number. And yet, they don’t seem to be deterred.
We have a new generation of people growing up with the internet as a part of their daily lives, observing this behavior. If it continues without any societal intervention, this lack of common courtesy won’t be contained to just the internet. While most of us have a little switch in our brains that makes us think before we speak face-to-face even while being a dickwad online, an alarmingly increasing number of people aren’t able or willing to make that distinction. What are we going to do then?
I shudder to imagine what would happen when future hockey fans start a “Nigger!” chant right in the arena after losing a playoff game instead of the relative safety of Twitter.