Coffee House Discussions: Talking about Race on Social Media

The Community Coalition on Race hosted its second Coffee House for 2018 at The Baird in South Orange on Wednesday evening for 40 attendees. The topic was developed in response to a number of controversial exchanges that took place on local social media groups. The goals were to discuss what it means to be a responsible online poster and to share productive ways to address personal attacks, micro-aggressions, and direct racism in our social media exchanges. People joined small group discussions that were led by trained facilitators and addressed the following discussion starters:

  • How do we foster constructive dialogue about race online?
  • How do we address the impact of negative exchanges on individuals and our community?
  • How does one deal with trolls, personal attacks, and racial invective online?

At the end of the group discussions, the tables shared some of their ideas about the challenges of social media, what to do in the future when racist remarks are made, and how to have productive exchanges when there is heated disagreement.

  • Report inappropriate comments to moderators
  • Groups should have clear rules and codes of conduct
  • Posters should understand and follow the rules of the group
  • Take a break to thoughtfully respond
  • Be willing to disagree
  • Offer links to resources that provide well-written explanations of your position
  • Consider that nuance and context can be lost in social media: tone and clarity matter
  • Ask moderators to initiate a ‘cool off’ period for heated or controversial exchanges
  • Shaming or accusing shuts down conversation
  • Ask questions to deepen understanding
  • Private message someone to handle misunderstandings, attacks, or to apologize

People also shared issues that they have encountered that are specific to race and that they hope will help others be sensitive to social media as yet another potentially unwelcoming, and sometimes dangerous space, for people of color:

  • Coded language is used regularly
  • White people demonstrate fragility when the issue of race is raised
  • When people of color or allies call out racist language, white people are defensive
  • When people of color share experiences of racism, there is often denial
  • White people minimize incidents of racism or racist language with phrases like ‘you’re too sensitive’ or ‘playing the race card’

In our efforts to be a racially integrated community, we have to remember that social media groups are community spaces deserving of the same intentionality when it comes to being truly inclusive. Thanks to the attendees for candidly sharing their experiences and ideas and to the Coffee House Discussion team for planning this event: David Harris, Dagmar Hobson, Lee Boswell May, and Audrey Rowe.



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