Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Racist Comments in St. Louis Post-Dispatch Get National Attention

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote a post about how the racist comments regularly posted to and occasionally left unmoderated on the St. Louis Post Dispatch website are hurting St. Louis?

I wrote that post even before the Post-Dispatch featured an image of a bi-racial couple kissing on both the front page of the website and its weekend print entertainment magazine, Go, to promote an article titled "The 7 Best Places to Smooch," all about the best romantic places in the area for couples to visit for some inexpensive fun. The resident STLtoday race trolls responded with a veritable torrent of lovely, insightful comments like this one (from the locally infamous regular STLtoday comments section poster Taxpayer, who to me seems like the sort of person the ban feature was invented for, but hey, I don't work at the Post):
This doesn’t surprise me at all. Libs take every opportunity they can to shove miscegnation in our faces. Now that TV has to show blacks in every commercial, notice that they are always posed beside a blonde woman. Not a brunette, a blonde. Its done for shock value. Sickening that a once proud newspaper would resort ot this. Joe Pulitzer is turning over in his grave in shame.
(Apparently "Taxpayer" was born in or before 1905. That's the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for why he still uses antiquated terms like "miscegenation" in ordinary conversation without irony. That, or perhaps he lives a very lonely, isolated life in a cave.)

The flood of racist comments in response to the image prompted the Post-Dispatch to post about the reaction to the photo on their blog about racial issues, A Conversation About Race.

Several local bloggers have responded to the flap over the photo with criticism of the Post-Dispatch comment moderation policies. Shark-Fu of Shakesville and Angry Black Bitch has weighed in on the situation; Show Me Progress has also recently featured several posts on the subject.

ArchPundit has started a feature on Blog St. Louis called "Post-Dispatch Racist Comment of the Day" to highlight some of the most extreme and ridiculous violations of morality, common sense and good taste that appear on the site.

Post-Dispatch Director of Social Media Kurt Greenbaum has responded on his personal blog to local blogger reaction over the racist comments. In a post rather euphemistically titled,
"In further defense of uncomfortable comments," Greenbaum explains:
[Post-Dispatch] guidelines ask readers to be civil, to avoid personal attacks, profanity and racist language. We ask readers to be on topic. That leaves a lot of wiggle room. It also means that we have to make some hard decisions about whether a comment actually crosses the line. We don’t delete a comment just because we disagree with it. Or because it’s angry. Or even if it expresses a point of view that makes us uncomfortable. That means ideas that some might consider racist may be allowed.
I've a quibble with Greenbaums' phrase, "ideas that some might consider racist may be allowed." Some? May? I would argue that ideas that most people would consider racist have been and continue to be allowed on the site.

Unlike Greenbaum, who is a transplant to the region, I have lived in the St. Louis area my whole life; I grew up here; I've gone to different schools here, I've worked in many different neighborhoods here, and in the course of a lifetime, I've met many, many other St. Louisans from all walks of life. So I know a bit about what people around here are likely to think.

And as a life-long resident of the region, though I am aware that we have a serious, deep-rooted problem with race relations in this community, I am pretty certain that most (not some) people in the St. Louis region would find comments like Taxpayer's above-quoted treatise racist.

I'm pretty sure that many people here find such extreme comments not only racist, but offensive.

And I would wager that the vast majority of educated, thoughtful St. Louisans — those most likely to want to regularly read, or maybe even subscribe to, a newspaper — would consider comments like these inappropriate, distracting from intellectual conversation about real issues (including and especially issues related to race), and not worthy of being given a national platform on a newspaper website that, by virtue of its very name, represents our community to the country at large.

In fact, as I predicted in my previous post, the presence of so many over-the-top racist comments in the online version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch really is distorting our city's image on the national stage. The popular New-York-based gossip and news blog Gawker recently published a post titled "Five Arguments Against Interracial Dating, From Missouri Rednecks." And tagged the post "Too Easy." From Gawker:
What's this, the weekend magazine of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has pictured miscegenation in action, and the locals are outraged! Imagine this photo, where your kids could see.
Imagine, indeed. Imagine, a diverse, cosmopolitan, metropolitan area of more than two million people, caricatured in the national (new) media on the basis of the comments of a few racist internet trolls. Imagine, thousands upon thousands of people who have never even visited, let alone lived in, St. Louis forming their opinions of our community based on the comments of people like Taxpayer.

Imagine that.


Rebecca said...

I agree with your assessment whole heartedly. I first noticed after you first stated it a couple of weeks ago. As if a being a tax payer licenses one to say such things.

I've moved away from St. Louis. I do miss St. Louis, but not the issue of race.

I was reading the online paper the other day and saw one of your comments (I assume you're the only Jaelithe ;)). It was very well said. Thank you, I always enjoy your insight.

sugaredharpy said...

I'm so glad you write about this. I get all incoherent and pissed off, I can't even type straight.

I've had more than a few friends move away because of issues like this, be it because of race or for being a lesbian couple who just wants to hold her partner's hand in a damned grocery store for a second.


KP said...

Imagine, indeed. Imagine, a diverse, cosmopolitan, metropolitan area of more than two million people, caricatured in the national (new) media on the basis of the comments of a few racist internet trolls. Imagine, thousands upon thousands of people who have never even visited, let alone lived in, St. Louis forming their opinions of our community based on the comments of people like Taxpayer.That's exactly what I thought after I saw the Gawker article.

I, too, have lived in St. Louis my entire life, and while I entirely too aware of our problems with racism (as well as homophobia, as someone else mentioned), but Taxpayer's comment is absolutely not representative of St. Louis, or Missouri, for that matter. Maybe I've been stuck inside my liberal enclave for too long.

I take offense at Gawker's "Missouri rednecks" label, but geez, look what their given.

Kurt Greenbaum said...

Deleting comments because they express ideas that are distasteful, or because I disagree with them, is a slippery slope. The line isn't as easy to draw as you might think. I just ask you and your readers to consider that.

Jaelithe said...

Kurt, I absolutely understand that you have a very difficult job choosing what comments to delete. I referred to that in my previous post, and I've said it in other comments to you. Let me make it clear here and now that I am not trying to blame the Post-Dispatch, or you, for the behavior of crazy people.

I just find the whole comment situation on the site (and other newspaper sites, for that matter) very troubling; I also happen to disagree with the Post-Dispatch definitions of "racist language" and "offensive language."

I linked to both the P-D blog post about it and your post specifically because I want people to know your opinion and see your side of the story. I don't agree entirely with your argument, but I do acknowledge you and the Post have considered reasons for making the decisions you do.

ExtraordinaryMommy said...

Wow. You truly put my thoughts into words.

I am not from St. Louis. I do live here now and have for going on 10 years. I grew up on the 'notoriously Liberal Left Coast' - which defines not my political preference, but absolutely shaped my perception of race.

I was SHOCKED when I first moved here by the blatant racism I heard. It is clear to me that racism is a strong sentiment shared by many in this area.

How disgusting to see St. Louis singled out on a national stage for the comments of some.

I am disturbed not only by Taxpayer's (and other's just like him) comments, but by the idea that his comments 'MAY' be racist.

I do understand that the P-D is working in slipery territory. Of course they can't censor every comment they don't like - or find offensive. But if there is a policy that does address racist languauge, I'm concerned that Taxpayer's and other's language doesn't fit.

Also - please tell me how Taxpayer's comments have anything to do with 'smooching'. Can you imagine a newspaper, online or otherwise, printing an editorial comment from someone that says something like, "wow - that woman sure is ugly" when the story is about a woman winning a lottery ticket? Or a comment like, "obese children make me sick - what is wrong with this kid's parents?" when you show a picture of a heavy child playing in Forest Park.

Shouldn't the comments add some VALUE to the story?

Just a thought. Thanks for the forum to vent - and for being so truly articulate on this topic.

Lisa said...

I'm with Melissa.

And it makes me cringe that others may think the entire city shares in the viewpoint of Taxpayer.