Unequal before the internet

Words by Markos, 28 VIC Content Warning | WhyNot | Blog

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I know personally how painful it is to be the victim of crime. My childhood home was broken into five times while I was growing up.

I’ll never forget the feeling of walking into my bedroom and seeing my Ronald McDonald wallet lying, empty, on my bed. Those experiences left me with an urge to assist in the anti-crime effort, even in a tiny way.

In 2020, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, something interesting caught my eye. It was a job ad from a Crime Stoppers-like page, they were seeking a moderator. The role involved monitoring all the comments on their posts and deleting any which violated the page’s rules.

The opportunity immediately appealed to me, not only because it would allow me to improve my online skills and relieve my pandemic-induced boredom, but it would allow me to play my little part in the anti-crime effort.

I knew it would be a sobering and often disheartening experience – the whole page dealt with crime cases, after all! But there was one aspect of my moderating experience that was totally unexpected, and the most disheartening of all: the racist comments.

Crimes that were committed by people of African or Asian appearance received a torrent of angry (and often vile) comments from the majority-white followers of the page. Crimes committed by white people did not.

It was very common to see comments which stated that “all” African/Asian people should be deported. I was stunned that such words were coming from Australians, citizens of the ‘Fair Go’ country. Declaring people guilty without evidence, based solely on the fact that they ‘look like’ people who have committed a crime. It doesn’t get less fair than that.

Study after study after study has shown that racial biases can distort a person’s perception of reality, this was frequently demonstrated by the commenters on the page. For instance, even if there was an entire day of posts about crimes committed by white people and only one post about a crime committed by someone non-white, that one post would receive comments like “typical” and “it’s always them”. Simply scrolling a few inches up or down the page would reveal that it’s certainly not “always them” and yet the commenters were seemingly blind to that reality.

There was one day in which the exact same crime (shoplifting) was committed by both a white person and a person of African appearance. Yet the post about the latter received around 50 enraged and hate-filled comments while the former got a handful of ‘angry face’ reactions at most.

All crimes are unacceptable and those who commit them should be condemned and (hopefully) caught. But there’s clearly this widespread sentiment among many white Australians that crimes committed by “us” are somehow more tolerable than crimes committed by “them” and so “they” are condemned in the public arena much more harshly. White privilege even applies to criminals.

This sentiment has been present in Australia for hundreds of years. During the Gold Rush, undesirable acts such as gambling and consuming opium were common amongst all types of people but it was the Chinese immigrants who endured the wrath for doing them. Not only were they intensely vilified in the media, but laws were put in place to restrict Chinese immigration to Australia. Nothing has changed except this racist double-standardism has shifted from the mainstream media and law books onto the internet. Sure, we can delete those racist Facebook comments and ban the people who posted them but that just hides the problem, it doesn’t solve it.

It’s uncertain whether Australia can ever solve a problem that has been embedded within our population for centuries. But one thing is certain:

If we lack the ability to judge all humans equally, there can be no hope for true progress or justice.

I don’t know the race of any of the five people who’d robbed my childhood home and I never will. I can only judge them blindly, based on their actions. As we all should.

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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