This summer, social media seems to be flooded with viral videos depicting overt acts of racism in the U.S. — from immigrants being openly disparaged to an alarming number of posts showing Americans calling fellow citizens the N word. Viewers can’t help but wonder if this is because Americans have cameras in their pocket at nearly all times, or an actual rising tide of hate unleashed by these divisive political times.
This month, a woman was harassed in an Illinois park by a man for wearing a shirt he deemed “un-American” because it featured the Puerto Rican flag. Just last week, an Ohio business owner apologized for calling a black man the N word several times while confronting him after he thought he was cut off while driving — after footage of the encounter went viral. These are just two of the multitude of incidents captured on video that have dominated social media this summer.
But is it a rising trend? The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of America’s largest civil rights organizations, released a statement regarding a new study showing a rise in hate crimes last year, conducted by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. According to new data, “hate crime totals for the 10 largest cities rose for four straight years to the highest level in a decade.”
The NAACP says there is a direct correlation between the rise in reported hate crimes and those seen on social media, and President Trump’s at times divisive rhetoric and policies.
Lecia Brooks, outreach director of the Southern Poverty Law Center — a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation that monitors hate incidents and hate crimes — says this is a trend that grew after the 2016 presidential election.
“It really started with the presidential campaign and [Trump’s] vilification and dehumanization of Mexicans, and making fun of people with disabilities, and vilifying Muslims as terrorists. And then he won. … It’s encouraging this type of behavior,” she said.
“This has been a general, overall emboldenment on the part of people to express bias, bigotry and racism in ways that we haven’t seen since the 1950’s,” she added.
Brooks says one of the reasons Americans are seeing more overtly racist encounters on social media is because people want to cast light on these incidents.
“As we continue to move more to the digital age, people are recording it more,” said Brooks. “People are paying attention to that more, and wanting to document these things in an attempt to stop them — so that’s what we’re seeing.”