Yesterday morning, activist, creator and co-founder of Safety Pin Box Leslie Mac found her Facebook account temporarily suspended after writing the following post:
The post appears to be related to the Adam Saleh/Delta Airlines controversy. Mac took to Twitter to express her frustration, explaining to her followers that the post was likely flagged after actor Matt McGorry shared it on his profile–which apparently offended many of his white followers.
Her tweets were widely shared—over 1600 retweets—and shortly after, Facebook issued this apology:
It seems like a simple mistake, however this seems to be a common occurrence for activists who share their thoughts on Facebook, particularly those of color.
In September, New York Daily News writer Shaun King was blocked from accessing his account after posting a screenshot of a racist email sent to him. Facebook called that a ‘mistake’ too. Earlier in the year, Facebook deactivated Korryn Gaines’ profile upon request from the Baltimore Police Department—right before they shot and killed her.
All the while, posts containing racist language (and some threats) are routinely ignored by Facebook’s seemingly overzealous ‘community standards’ monitor. It would be quick and easy to place this blame solely on Zuckerberg et al (although they should start taking responsibility.)
However, all of these incidents are reflective of a much bigger problem: a cultural norm in which speech censorship targets people of color while protecting the speech that antagonizes them. Two decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled speech laws aimed at banning racial antagonism, like, for example burning crosses, unconstitutional in the landmark case R.A.V. vs. City of St. Paul.
And who can forget COINTELPRO, a covert program run by the FBI that tracked Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and Black Panther Party members like Huey Newton?
Even now, more and more Black Americans are finding themselves behind bars after being charged with “contempt of cop”—Ferguson PD’s way of punishing those who talk back to them during traffic stops, or record their encounters with smartphones.
American society only tolerates speech expressed by people of color so long as it does not upset the status quo, which is ironic, since the whole notion behind the passing of the First Amendment revolves around was to ensure that individuals who wanted to speak out against injustices could do so without fear of government persecution.
What happened to the likes of Mac, King and Gaines is terribly frustrating, but it is as American as apple pie, and highly likely to continue occurring.