Apparently the FIFA World Cup final between Japan and USA broke the record for the number of tweets per second (peaking at over 7,000), eclipsing the royal wedding and death of Bin Laden. Breaking news reports are focusing on the quality of the women's game, the significance of Japan's victory for the 'healing of the nation', and the fact that Team USA 'crumbled under pressure', yet have been 'graceful in defeat'. Very few reports have mentioned the content of the twittering. Since studying the aftermath of the Vancouver riots (following the NHL finals), I have become interested in the nature of public response to sporting events. So, while watching the FIFA final yesterday, I was monitoring the trending hashtags on Twitter and attempting to document some of the tweets by compiling a list of derogatory comments. I won't divulge too many of the vile comments, but here is one example of the offensive content on display "USA concedes world cup win to japan, calling it the equaliser for those two cities we nuked earlier". Sadly, the conflation of sporting and military battles still dominates the psyche of many so-called sports 'fans'. Disturbing to say the least.
Needless to say, the documentation of this racist diatribe became increasingly difficult as the game gathered momentum and the drama built to a climax that had us on the edge of our seats. The frequency of tweets increased and it soon became apparent that the main trending topic #worldcupfinal was being bombarded with tweets from ignorant, hateful Americans who were using the public forum as a stage to vent their racist (and sexist) attitudes, some couched in the guise of being humorous, most being unabashed overt vilification. This prompted responses from civil minded Americans, who asserted 'we are better than this' and demanded that their compatriots 'stop the hate'. For the most part, this took effect, with many 'haters' leaving this particular hashtag and scurrying into their dark corners to form their own communities of prejudice, under titles like #jap and #pearlharbour, and posting racist status updates on facebook: "Well the American Women gave the Womens World Cup to the Japanese. Well Japan, I think we owed you that. We're even now, you got Pearl Harbor and the Womens World Cup....We got Nagaski and Hiroshima".
And so it goes. Behaviour in the social media world reflects the real world, with like minded bigots seeking each other out and finding a gathering place to excrete their prejudiced, venomous slime. The irony of this twittering trend lies in the anti-racism message which this World Cup was promoting. Prior to each game, the competing teams stood united behind a banner, signalling their rejection of racism. Seen through an optimistic lens, perhaps such advertising sets a tone that prompts those more 'tolerant' Americans to challenge the haters. I used to believe in the power of positive awareness-raising campaigns, but since realizing the contradictory force of social media, I am starting to have doubts. I still believe one solution lies in education, but even here I have concerns about the capacity of many teachers to impact minds that are already firmly entrenched in racist, sexist and homophobic ideology. Such dogma runs too deep and is supported and encouraged by populist propaganda and discriminatory values espoused by conservative right-wing politicians. Nevertheless, I won't give up the fight. At the moment, my approach consists of this:
1. Draw attention to the insidious and pervasive nature of the problem through what I post on my blog and present in my classroom.
2. Continue to model acceptance and promotion of diversity and inclusive practice in my work and life.
3. Challenge instances of racist, sexist and homophobic behaviour.
4. Empower and encourage others to do the same.
I'm open to more suggestions and I want to know, what are YOU doing about it?
A positive footnote: The final itself was a wonderful and fitting end to a terrific FIFA World Cup, a great advertisement for the women’s game. Congratulations to all teams for the skill, strength and spirit on display.
Causes Cindy Sullivan Supports
Plan: 'Because I'm a Girl'
Fred Hollows Foundation