FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK: Racism in the comment section


Across the internet, many comment sections have become, in the words of a colleague, “venomous dens that have caused many members of minority and immigrant communities to simply stop reading.”  We try hard to prevent that from happening on TC Daily Planet.

Some people believe that denouncing “cultures” is different from making racist attacks. Max Sparber recently did a particularly fine job of dissecting and calling out this strategy in a MinnPost article, On culture and race — and double standards.

Race goes underdiscussed in American society, even though it is still one of our fault lines, and easily exploited in the way that social animosity is always exploited. But the discussion of race has started to become coded … And it’s hard to talk about race when the people who raise the subject refuse to admit that race is an issue at all — no, they’re talking about culture, and we should be able to criticize culture, shouldn’t we?

As Sparber discusses at length, many racist comments are not explicit in passing negative judgments, hiding behind the label of “culture.” While some racist comments focus on the black community, their more frequent target in our comment sections is immigrant communities. Anonymous commenters play a cat-and-mouse game, trying to formulate comments that attack immigrants without sounding overtly racist. One recent (deleted) comment complained that immigrants from a certain group “do not assimilate, integrate well like other groups do, they whine and demand special treatment …”

That sounds a lot like another complaint about immigrants, this one from much farther back in history, which said the group in question “will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.” The latter comment is, perhaps, more overtly racist. It was made by Benjamin Franklin in 1751, referring to the despised German immigrants to Pennsylvania.

The “Ask a Somali” column has been the target of many objectionable comments since it began — some personal attacks, some racist comments about “Somali culture.” Some of the comments are distasteful, but publishable, and others cross the admittedly subjective line set by editorial judgment.

One anonymous commenter has been particularly persistent. We have published some of his/her comments, and deleted others. This anonymous person has suggested that he (or she) should be given a column titled “Ask a Minnesotan who has some reservations regarding the Somali immigration.”

Well – that’s not going to happen. We are also not going to publish columns titled, “Ask a white person why they have problems with black people,” or “Ask a Christian what’s wrong with Muslims (or Jews).” 

This individual will surely continue making comments—and we’ll get others, from other individuals, under various identities. Some of these comments will be distasteful, but publishable. Others will cross the line.  We will continue to publish all comments that meet the standards we have set to encourage and promote civil conversation.

We post almost every legit comment that we receive. By “legit,” I mean comments that are not spam or advertising/self promotion. The very few that we refuse to post are:

1) probably libelous (e.g., “he’s a crook”);

2) incivility and personal attacks (e.g., “you moron,” “what a load of horseshit”)

3) overtly racist, sexist or homophobic (e.g., “If you whining bunch of women can’t get your PMS under control …”); 

4) completely off-topic (“This link has a lot of interesting views on how to interpret the bible”);

5) obviously inaccurate statements (e.g., misstatement of political candidate’s job history).

We print comments we agree with and comments we disagree with. We also delete comments that we agree with and comments that we disagree with, if they violate the standards above.

Also worth noting — we get lots of terrific comments. See, for example, this one and the contentious but interesting comment thread on this article. We appreciate the thoughtful comments, whether they agree or disagree with us, and also the short “good job!” or “nice photo!” comments that let writers know their work is appreciated.

As of last week, we have a new comment feature — if you are a registered user, and you sign in before commenting, you’ll get a notice of comments subsequent to or in response to your comment. We hope that helps to make comments more of a conversation than a series of disconnected monologues, and to build community among our readers and writers.