From The N-Word To Tarzan To Zoomboming: Social Distancing Is Fostering Anti-Black Rhetoric Online

Quarantining has seemingly not just effectively fostered anti-Black rhetoric online but also increased it.



As if watching the real-time reports of the coronavirus disproportionately affecting Black people hasn’t heightened racial anxieties enough, the stunning online displays of anti-Black racism and rhetoric amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic has been dizzying, if not exhausting. And while some of the racism has been encouraged by the usual suspects — hello, Mr. President — the coronavirus crisis has brought about certain situations like social distancing that seem to have made some white people feel very comfortable espousing their personal brands of racism, whether they know it or not. The self-isolation has prompted them to say some things they would never say in the physical presence of a Black person.

The first came Sunday night when a now-fired NASCAR driver who is white blurted out the N-word (with the hard R) while playing a video game that was streaming live as part of an event organized by an online gaming company. Days later, a white teenage rapper with identity issues defended herself against accusations that she acts “Black” by comparing herself to Tarzan, the fictional white character who was raised by feral gorillas in the jungle.

Both of those gaffes, to put them mildly, happened during the live streaming of events that have become more popular during the pandemic that has forced people isolated in their homes to log on to the internet in search of any kind of human interaction. It’s not a coincidence that this is happening just as new data shows that Black people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. Asians have also been the subject of such online hate because of racist notions falsely associated with the entire continent about COVID-19. Likewise, the reports of Black people being racially profiled over the coronavirus have recently been increasing, just like the anti-Black rhetoric online.





Unlike the popular Instagram Live movement to feature musicians and DJs and other performers for hundreds of thousands of people in an effort to unite the world in the face of a pandemic, this new trend has decidedly the opposite effect. That includes so-called Zoombombing when internet trolls disrupt online meetings — oftentimes with racist taunts — held on a popular online hosting platform called Zoom. The combination has seemingly resulted in the pandemic’s stay at home order not just effectively fostering this type of anti-Black rhetoric online but also increasing it.


As such, Kyle Larson had to find out the hard way that saying the N-word has consequences after the now-former NASCAR driver couldn’t resist the urge to say it during an online video gaming session that was streaming live over the internet.


“You can’t hear me? Hey, n-gger,” Larson said for seemingly no reason other than his own apparent implicit racism. The other players online told Larson they heard what he said, but, perhaps more tellingly, none of them condemned him for it.

A day later Larson offered what may have come across as a hollow and forced apology that was only prompted by his rightful suspicion that he may end up losing his livelihood over it.

On Tuesday, Larson lost his job.


For full context, NASCAR has a lengthy history of racist discrimination against Black people, including its historic $225 million settlement in 2008 with a former official who accused the car racing association of racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Vibe documented just how white of a sport NASCAR racing actually is. “NASCAR has both the whitest viewership – an estimated 94 percent, to the 92 percent of the National Hockey League – and the whitest group of participants of any American sport by percentage,” Jay Scott Smith reported last year. He noted that NASCAR racing was significantly whiter than even the NHL, which had 25 Black players out of nearly 700 total.


Luckily for Larson, the racist spotlight shifted from shining on him to being trained directly on Bhad Bahbie, a 17-year-old white rapper who was rewarded with money and fame after appearing on “Dr. Phil” in 2016 for her delinquent behavior. The teenager, also known as Danielle Bregoli, appeared on his Instagram Live this week to address her nearly 18 million followers when she tried to explain away accusations of her acting “Black” by comparing the situation to Tarzan’s upbringing with wild animals — a popular racist trope whether she knows it or not.

In the same session, she asked her followers, “Who wants to be black? I don’t understand that.”


It didn’t help that she posted a photo of herself earlier this month appearing to have significantly darker skin than her naturally pale tone.

Chances are pretty fair that these are not the only two instances of quarantine-induced anti-Black online racism since we’ve been seeing that racial profiling has become a byproduct of the coronavirus.


Dr. Armen Henderson, a Black medical physician, was handcuffed right in front of his home by a police sergeant as he loaded up a van with supplies he said he was transporting to the homeless to test them for the coronavirus. Separately, in March, two Black men wearing surgical masks captured themselves on video being followed by a police officer as they departed a Walmart in Illinois. “He just followed us from outside, told us that we cannot wear masks,” one of the guys said in the video posted on YouTube, which shows the cop walking behind the two guys with a hand resting on his gun. “The coronavirus is real. This police officer just put us out for wearing masks and trying to be safe.”


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