March 14, 2011

Lessons from a Hateful Video: A UCLA Student's Racial Tirade

UCLA Authorities are up in arms about a "repugnant," racist video that went viral last Friday, and for good reason. The YouTube video is both embarrassing for the University and shameful to our generation; but far worse is this student's clear lack of insight, awareness, and empathy for her fellow classmates.

As a social worker, I am trained to look at this incident from multiple perspectives, including the perspective of Alexandra Wallace, the student who created this video. In no way am I defending her behavior, but I will say that generating a hateful discussion about this person is both counterproductive and dangerous. It is critical that we divert our energy and attention to the lessons we all can learn from this horrific YouTube posting:

1. Our actions have consequences
2. Racism is driven by hate, but it is also driven by ignorance
3. There is a difference between being politically incorrect and racist
4. Emoting on YouTube is passive-aggressive and childish
5. The term "American Manners" does not exist
6. Extended familial support is a beautiful thing
7. If you don't like your environment, feel free to change it
8. Attaching specific behaviors to ethnic, racial, or religious groups is stereotyping
9. Imitating another culture's language is rude, embarrassing, and downright repulsive
10. Racism can be subtle or obvious

Wallace will undoubtedly pay for her actions. She will most likely not be able to finish her degree at UCLA, show her face on campus without feeling immensely shameful, or find a respectable job if she graduates from college. While I believe it is important that we all take part in a communal discussion about the social implications of her video, I believe it is equally important to proceed with caution and limit our knee-jerk reactions. Contributing to the demise of an individual, even if it is through an anonymous posting online, is in some ways just as hateful.

I ask my fellow social workers to be cautious when discussing this video with others. Let's try to make it a productive conversation, rather than a hateful one.

Photo Credit: Peter Cade

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