Screengrabs were shared of a conversation between a group of young, brown Muslim women in the comments of a post. What started off as poking fun at her domestic worker, for dumping her wireless kettle and detachable base into the sink, soon turned into a free-for-all as others began sharing the "daft" actions of their domestic workers. It was “interesting how their minds work”, chimed one woman.
When the post, titled “Tales of the privileged sisterhood”, was subsequently shared by The Daily Vox on its Facebook account, it set off a heated debate.
Some readers said the comments were racist, assuming (and reasonably so) that the domestic workers were black women. Others accused The Daily Vox of poor form for sharing a personal (but public) post and maligning the original author’s name.
To be clear, the discussion on the screengrabs were outright classist, racist and downright obnoxious, but we didn’t use so many words. We just called the exchange “disgusting”.
Soon enough, readers called out the racism and the privilege of the discussants.
The original author said the post has been made in jest. She said her employee had even laughed along with her when she pointed out her mistake.
Her friends backed her up and accused The Daily Vox of resorting to sharing “gossip” and not “asking the author to clarify what she might have meant”. In other words, we should have asked: “Was your post meant to be racist?"
Others pointed out the tone-deaf conversations between a bunch of privileged brown women who were commenting publicly about the mistakes of the poor black women who clean their homes, cook their food and look after their children.
How cruel could you be? they asked. And what could be funny about their poverty or their mistakes and lack of sophistication? they asked.
Less than a week later, the original writer published a new Facebook status apologising for her original comment mocking her domestic worker.
She said someone had messaged her privately and explained how and why it was offensive.
“I do believe now, that it was the rude awakening I needed,” she said. “I’m sorry I put that post up. It was wrong to joke about my domestic helper as we have a pervasive culture that pokes fun at the intelligence of others based on their race.
"Furthermore, I was wrong in trying to defend my ignorance instead of trying to see things from other’s perspective. I hereby undertake to educate myself and others on race relations, how the language we use can hurt others and more so, how it reveals the hidden ignorance we have. Can you please forgive me?” she added.
She thanked those who called her out and bid others who had defended her to rethink their position.
The spectacular turnaround was welcomed. But it left me reflecting, too.
I have no doubt that sharing a public status of such a nature was in the public interest.
The espoused bigotry of the original post and the subsequent collective violence of her fellow commentators smacked of social superiority.
And yet, though the call-out was justified and we might be gently surprised at this individual’s decision to rethink her stance and publicly apologise, I was left wondering at the utility of calling her out publicly.
Was it the most productive way to deal with her racism?
The call-out prompted some to write directly to her. Some tried to explain. Others sent her threats of violence.
In the end, she says it was the direct message of one black woman who took the time to explain “why” her comments were offensive that compelled the turnaround.
And yet, in truth, was it not the call-out that prompted the intervention?
Racism comes in different shades. As much as we seem shocked each time it happens, we seem convinced to act only by the kind of racism that comes with intonation dripping k-words or monkey comparisons.
In fact, until our friend came round, the excuse used by her friends was that the author had not mentioned race. How could it be racist?
The invisibility of prejudice outside horrific occurrences or the use of racist language has long been an escape route for the wicked.
In fact, amid all the frightening talk about the rise of the right in Europe and the re-emergence of white supremacy in the US, it is the murky, so-called in-between racism, that often does not mention race, which is most elusive.
This is the racism that allows financial institutions to skin the poor, and corporations to pay low wages. This is the racism that ignores social and historical factors for poverty and blames laziness for the lack of upward mobility. This is the racism that sees black talent as quotas to be filled rather than human potential.
The re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan today, for instance, is the most vile incarnation of US foreign policy over the past 70 years.
Has there been a moment since World War II that the US has not plundered black and brown bodies across the globe?
The only difference between white supremacy and this polite racism is the manner in which the racism expresses itself. To victims, it’s all the same.
Ultimately, it is the social construction that “we” know better and “they” know no better that lies at the root of colonialism, racism and general prejudice.
And this disingenuity is not limited to white people.
Black and brown people with a western education, a "favourable" passport, excess money and power or proximity to a higher caste or whiteness might be just as awful and prejudiced towards those seen as below on the social order.
Ending this bigotry means looking into the mirror.
It means acknowledging how these colossal meanings are politically sustained.
It means always bursting your bubbles, as well as asking each other and ourselves if we are working to end the problem, or merely reproducing it.
* Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founding editor at The Daily Vox.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.