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Opinion: On Justine Sacco, Casual Racism, And Victimhood

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Following an offensive, racist tweet, Justine Sacco's narrative turned her into a victim. But why?

When did ex-PR exec Justine Sacco become the victim?

Justine Sacco fell on her own sword. With one tweet of casual racism she learned it’s never “just Twitter.”

Before a long, 11-hour international flight, the former InterActiveCorp Communications Director was inclined to tweet about her worries of traveling to Africa.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” she tweeted.

Aside from the tweet being ignorant, offensive and racist—jokingly or not—the ultimate fail is Justine Sacco should’ve known better as a top PR executive. And since she seemingly had a knack for offensive “jokes,” perhaps it would’ve been smart to omit her full name and employer from her Twitter bio.

Once Twitter got a hold of the tweet and realized she hadn’t apologized hours after the tweet was sent, #HasJustineLandedYet was birthed. Black Twitter made the topic trend and, as it’s happened in the past, mainstream media outlets picked up the story.

Her former employer released a statement disapproving of the egregious offense and swiftly fired her. Yet Mashable’s “Twitter Turns Ugly Over PR Person's Idiotic Tweet,” claimed “Sacco is nearly impossible to defend” and then basically defended her, likening those who participated in #HasJustineLandedYet to a “mob.”

Mashable writer Chris Taylor wrote, “Still, it was hard to ignore a disturbing feeling in the mob’s response, and something creepy in the trial by social media that was going on in her absence... Then you could also read the hateful comments recently placed all over her Instagram feed, including on pictures of her child. That's when you might realize this whole thing has gone too far.”

Whether or not the public verbal dragging went too far is arguable. It’s interesting to note that the crux of Taylor’s article on the Sacco debacle is that maybe the public’s backlash went too far. Because, of course, a defenseless white woman who made a racist tweet is the victim here.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution posed the question, “Was Justine Sacco’s Trial By Twitter Cyberbullying?” in a video posted on its site.

“Twitter was not in its finest form late Friday evening when a PR executive’s offensive tweet prompted ugly backlash across the social network,” the reporter began. He later added, “This circumstance seems to fit the bill” of cyberbullying.

Notice the narrative shift from Sacco’s blatant racism to her victimhood. In less than 48 hours, two white males in the media had put on their capes for poor Justine. Sure they noted her tweet was offensive, but they’ve carefully chosen not to call it racist. They’re also more interested in the actions of those combatting her racist remarks than her actual offense.

The casual racism spewed online is dauntingly common. The Justine Saccos or Paula Deens who’ve lost their jobs or endorsements for their racism is a rare case. It doesn’t compare to the slews of people who make racist comments on social media daily with zero consequences. Casual racism online is so fetch that a PR executive didn’t think anything could possibly happen to her job—because seldom does anything ever happen.

If it were not for Black Twitter using #HasJustineLandedYet as a way to shame Justine for the disgusting remarks, mainstream media wouldn’t have picked up the story. Let’s be very clear: It’s often blacks on Twitter who rally behind a racial issue before mainstream ever thinks, “Hey, maybe we should look into this.”

Justine becoming the victim was as predictable as a Tyler Perry film. Victimhood is only ever reserved for whites, especially if you’re blonde, decent-looking and female. The same media questioning whether she was cyber-bullied are the same ones who automatically gave her the benefit of the doubt of possibly being hacked.

As the narrative continues to shift in Justine’s favor, it’s important to remember the facts. A racist tweet led to the outcome of public shaming and losing her job. Being the subject of online criticism for being racist does not a victim make. The only victims in this scenario are all of the Africans suffering from the devastation of HIV/AIDS who had to read Justine’s racist tweet and continue to live with their circumstances. —Bené Viera (@blackgalfound)

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