Hate groups are spreading racist images and descriptions of President Barack Obama on Facebook and in other social media, according to a study from "The Journal of New Media and Culture." Since everyone uses social media these days, what should you do when these images show up in your office? Negative stereotypes destroy morale and productivity and harm your efforts to create an inclusive workplace. Here's what's happening and what you should do.
The repeated depictions of Obama as a monkey or hoodlum and other derogatory Black stereotypes are likely to occur more regularly as Election Day nears.
The stereotypes circulating on social media today frequently rely on historical representations of Blacks as "animalistic," "deviant" and "inferior," finds the report that analyzed the occurrence of "hate," "Barack Obama" and "Michelle Obama" on more than 20 Facebook groups and pages.
The images commonly depict Obama as a chimp or in blackface with inflated facial features, such as exaggerated lips, buckteeth and an oversized nose. Other stereotypical pictures feature the president donning a do-rag and gold teeth or smoking a joint. Another image superimposed his head onto the body of Golem from "Lord of the Rings."
Michelle Obama repeatedly is shown as an angry Black woman with masculine features and is referred to as "Moochelle," a direct attack on her campaign to end obesity. These slurs are similar to the hate speech that flooded Michelle Obama's Twitter page when it launched last January.
"Most photo captions do not attack the president and first lady's political views; instead, they attack them personally with racial slurs … The shocking nature of these pictures spurs numerous comments and likes," says study author Dr. Mia Moody, professor of journalism and media arts at Baylor University. "Photos are often more effective than words as one can look at a picture and almost instantly understand the views held by group members."
Comments on the Facebook images on the "I Hate Obama" page (18,189 likes), which frequently contain the N-word, include: "Frobama," "hahaha he looks like a monkey with large ears" and "I'm just ready for him to throw poop at me."
Is Racism & Hate Speech Allowed?
Although Facebook's policy states that users can't "post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic" and asks its users to help police content, many hate groups find ways to skirt the restrictions. If a slur is not in the page's official title, for example, the group can avoid being flagged as inappropriate. Also, pages that are indirectly "hateful," such as those with a celebrity or other famous icon's name, are less likely to be removed.
"The definition of hate on Facebook is further muddied because there are many groups that have the word 'hate' in the title but are not actually 'hate groups,'" explains Moody, such as "I hate to go to bed."
Twitter has less restrictive posting regulations. Upon joining Twitter, users agree that they may be exposed to content that "might be offensive, harmful, inaccurate or otherwise inappropriate, or in some cases, postings that have been mislabeled or are otherwise deceptive." Twitter renounces all liability in such cases.
Since Moody's report was released, the "I Hate Michelle Obama" group has been removed from Facebook, along with "Dear Lord, this year you took my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson. I just wanted to let you know that my favorite president is Barak Obama."
However, multiple pages are still active. The most popular is "I hate it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President," topping its reach at 787,574 likes. "Obama sucks" totaled 38,376 likes, while "Woah, Bob the Builder and Barack Obama have the same catchphrase!" has 25,663 likes and "I hate Barack Obama" has 7,356 likes.
Stereotypes Threaten Diversity in the Workplace
The prevalence of social media today poses a unique challenge for companies' diversity-and-inclusion efforts. A majority of corporate employees participate in some form of social-media exchange on sites including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest. This means that negative stereotypes and images can easily resurface in the office and be shared in coworkers' emails and water-cooler discussions. These communications, according to diversity experts, elicit negative repercussions on engagement and productivity.
At a DiversityInc event, Dr. Claude Steele spoke to the negative impact of stereotypes on workplaces. "Diversity in the workplace is about making a place comfortable enough to flourish" by removing the fear of judgment and discrimination, says the Stanford University School of Education dean and former provost of Columbia University.
He explained that this "stereotype threat" creates a "self-handicap" that reduces engagement and productivity, especially among Blacks and other underrepresented groups. "In a situation like this, it takes cognitive resources away from a relaxed engagement with the task at hand and that undermines your performance," says Steele.
Employers have a responsibility to create a favorable work environment and generate an atmosphere of safety for all employees. That means taking a firm stand with a no-tolerance policy for those who participate in behavior that promotes stereotypes, bias or microinequities, both inside and outside the workplace.
Best practices for promoting diversity in the workplace to ensure an inclusive environment include:
1. Communicating corporate values. CEOs need to take the lead in being visible and proactive advocates for diversity, in particular by holding their executive team accountable for diversity results. The corporate website also should feature the company's values on diversity and inclusion prominently and highlight the company's successes in diversity and inclusion. An excellent example of this is jcpenney CEO Ron Johnson's support of Ellen DeGeneres as company spokesperson. Watch Johnson discuss the controversy on CBS News.
2. Leverage mentoring and resource groups to teach cultural competence. These relationships allow employees to develop their skills and gain exposure to management, and they also generate awareness and understanding for differences in race/ethnicity, religion, orientation, etc.
3. Mandate diversity training for your employees, especially at the manager level and above. This will help educate employees about the negative business impact of stereotypes and allow them to recognize existing gaps and biases. Sixty-six percent of the DiversityInc Top 50 require diversity training for the entire workforce, up 13.8 percent from five years ago (58 percent).
Discrimination: From Social Media to Society
The political arena reflects the continued racial tension in the United States. Most recently, the passing of voter-ID laws in 33 states, which require that all poll-goers show government identification before they can vote, has sparked controversy.
While advocates say the voter-ID law is meant to reduce fraud at the polls and improve the electoral process, opponents argue that the laws are a type of "voter suppression" and will prevent ballots from many Blacks, Latinos and poor people, groups that typically vote Democratic and most likely supported Obama's re-election.
A national poll suggests that the issue may be influenced by racial tension. The University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication found a correlation between American's attitudes toward Blacks and their support of voter-ID laws: the more "racial resentment" a person had, the more likely it is that they support legislation.
Results were mainly divided along political party lines: Democrats had the lowest resentment rating overall; Republicans had the highest. Democrats' support of voter IDs was most likely to coincide with their racial attitudes. Those with high racial resentment had greater support for the laws. Republicans tended to support the policy regardless of racial resentment.
Paul Brewer, the center's associate director for research, says, "These findings suggest that Americans' attitudes about race play an important role in driving their views on voter ID laws."
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