The problems with discussing controversy from behind a keyboard

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(Kaitlin Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

(Kaitlin Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

On Nov, 9, 2015, University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe resigned as a result of student protesting aimed at his handling, or lack thereof, of numerous instances of racially motivated crimes that kept occurring on campus. Fast-forward three months and grumbling against racial inequality is now being heard right here at DePaul.

Last week, students made multiple posts on the DePaul Class of 2017 and Class of 2019 Facebook pages regarding the way that race is treated on campus.More specifically, the posts argued that when non-black students use the n-word, they are continuing the cultural appropriation of African-Americans both at the university and in general.

The comment sections of these posts were teeming with responses, from students agreeing to students disagreeing to the inevitable appearances of Internet trolls. These posts, many of which were eventually removed for use of the n-word, have continued the dialogue among students at DePaul that was not there before: a discussion on race and the role it plays in the lives of the student body.

The post, in part, talked about the fact that “white people lost the right to use that word when they created it to reinforce oppression. You believing that you can take back the word reinforces the idea of white privilege that many still fail to acknowledge exists.”

Another talked about the micro-aggressions and overt racism that black people — as well as other minorities — deal with every day.

Though both posts dealt with privilege, the meaning and manifestations of that privilege are radically different depending on race. Though a black person may grow up in a “nice” area and may have majority white friends, they are still not on an equal playing field with white people who come from similar backgrounds.

The issue of white privilege, which has been challenged recently due to social movements and debates on social media, was challenged in the comments of the post and deserves to continue to be challenged as we continue to have a dialogue on campus and society about race.

Though this is an important discussion to be had, it’s also poignant to discuss the medium by which this dialogue was opened: Facebook.

Talking about these ideas on Facebook invites lively discussion, even though the content matter and some responses did not consider appropriation or the racist history of the U.S. and how racism is still present today.

Twitter, another common medium for social debates, has also seen many similar discussions since the Black Lives Matter movement began.

Sentiments regarding whether or not serious debates, such as the one that occurred in DePaul’s Facebook groups, are often very different. Many users approach social media as a means by which they can connect with those close to them while others approach social media as a means to reach masses of people without much trouble.

This was seen with the posts on DePaul’s pages as they garnered the attention of hundreds of students without having to use much effort. This reaction not only displays the power of language and open dialogue, but the power that being able to reach thousands of people at the click of a button truly holds.

It is also important to question the true openness of the dialogue that can occur on social media and in Facebook posts and comment sections. In the aforementioned posts, many people truly put time into expressing their notions and thoughts whereas many simply left sarcastic or inflammatory comments for their mere amusement.

Such is the nature of the Internet, and though it is important to preserve the freedom to express oneself, in the case of serious posts such as these it can greatly hinder and obstruct the discussion being had. Varying opinions are not necessarily a bad thing because they make for a good discussion. Regardless of these kinds of comments, however, social media remains an important platform to skewer and discuss serious issues such as racism.

The reality is, social media offers the only means by which people can reach thousands of other users without any expansive use of resources. Social media is by no means a perfect medium for these discussions, but it is the only real option for the majority of people. In the case of the DePaul student body, their respective class groups are the only means by which another student can reach them as a whole. Within a few hours, hundreds of students were involved in a debate that could not exist anywhere else. If the students that made these initial posts simply organized meetings with the student body, many students would not bother showing up or getting involved.

Social media also gives people who may not be as vocal or forthright in a person-to-person dialogue the opportunity to speak up. Though this results in a lot of people “trolling,” it also expands the discussion beyond the people that are already outspoken. With all of this considered, it’s important to question whether or not Facebook was right in ultimately deleting the Facebook posts that created this sensation and opened this dialogue. Is the use of the n-word in a non-hateful way truly a reason to stifle the voices of those in the student body?

Though society still has a long way to go in regards to creating a society that is conscious of racism and how it effects minorities, these Facebook discussions, as well as discussions on other social media outlets show us that there is still a long way to go.