OPED: Youth, social media no excuse for racist tweet

Rochelle Riley
Tribune News Service

I don't know why the tweet bothered me so much.

Well, yes, I do. It appeared to be one more plea to not take seriously the racism of "teenagers who grew up on social media" as if they should not be held responsible for their insensitive, racist or hateful behavior.

As if youth is an excuse for insensitive, racist or hateful behavior.

As if social media is an excuse for insensitive, racist or hateful behavior.

As if being dumb in public should get you a pass.

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This latest "boys-will-be-boys" moment came from an athlete — and you know we're always excusing athletes, whether they're raping women or robbing people, and whether they're black or white.

This athlete was a top NFL draft pick.

His name is Josh Allen.

And when he was in high school, he posted some racist stuff on Twitter because, well that's what some people expect you to do when you're in high school.

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The tweets have since been deleted, but Yahoo Sports, unlike numerous other media outlets that have written about Allen's tweets, published them:

Here's Josh Allen, in public, nearly six years ago:

"i dont think you n ... ggas want a troubled son!" — June 14, 2012

"N ... ggas Trying To Get At Me" — February 12, 2013

"Bout to show up these N ... ggas at pong" — February 26, 2012

"If it ain't white, it ain't right" — June 25, 2013

If it ain't white, it ain't right Yeah, that's just innocent fun, right?

Except it's not.

And no one knows whether the Wyoming quarterback who apologized last week for those tweets did so because they hurt or because he no longer believes them or because he knew they might affect his future NFL paycheck. He was chosen seventh overall Thursday by the Buffalo Bills.

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Josh Allen could be a junior member of the Ku Klux Klan 2.0 of America, and we wouldn't know because of the rush to defend him, to protect him, to tolerate his dumbness because he was young and grew up in a digital age, so what's the harm?

Here's the harm.

Racism persists when we keep excusing it instead of tamping down on it.

You don't have to be an adult to learn from right from wrong. Children do it every day. Millions of high school students are on Twitter and don't post the garbage Josh Allen did.

Josh Allen was old enough to know right from wrong when he posted those blasphemous tweets. He was smart enough to delete them, which means he knew they were wrong.

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But the reason this kind of behavior should not be ignored, or tolerated, or "understood" is because doing any of those things continues to make it OK for the next kid who can later say he was dumb to spew racist filth or post himself standing with a sign saying "If I was black, I'd be picking cotton, but I'm white, so I'm picking u 4 prom." Yep, Noah Crowley, an 18-year-old at Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., did that.

And like Allen, he'll be defended by those who think that hateful kids should be forgiven because, a-w-w-w, they didn't mean any harm. And they're used to saying anything on social media.

Why should we be understanding of insensitive and racist young adults? They will never be accountable until we hold them accountable.

And how do they learn accountability? I'm not suggesting beheading. But there should be more than a "Gee, I'm sorry."

Josh Allen owes more than an apology. He owes those who gave him a pass a chance to see how he's grown. He could show other high school and college students a different way to be.

He should consider, on his own, doing a little community service or writing an essay for a national magazine — anything that can serve to show others that such behavior will not be tolerated or excused.

Until then, racism will continue to be no big deal, something worth our "understanding" — oh, and it's all Twitter's fault.

— Rochelle Riley wrote this for the Detroit Free Press.