One minor drawback of living in the digital age is that at any moment, you can type the wrong set of words on your phone and subsequently find your life in shambles.
It happened to Justine Sacco, although she has since recovered. It happened to Anthony Weiner, although knowing what we know now, it was likely going to happen with or without Twitter. And this past summer, it happened to Roseanne Barr, who wasn’t just “canceled” in the colloquial sense following her racist tweet, but rather in the sense that her self-titled hit TV show was actually taken off the air. Roseanne’s tweet likening Valerie Jarrett to an ape was perhaps the most widely circulated and consequential act of racism that captured the public’s attention this year, but it was only one tall tree in a grand, gross forest of foolishness.
Make no mistake: 2018 was the year of the viral racist.
The problem of racism itself may or may not be getting worse in the Trump era, but it’s definitely getting caught on camera more often. Racists are now so emboldened–and the urge to record them so easy to act upon–that this year felt like an unending festival of short films about weaponized ignorance. With practically each passing day, a new villain would emerge, shouting racist epithets or calling cops for preposterous reasons, often earning an unflattering nickname in the process. Eventually, the video evidence became a genre unto itself: Living While Black. It’s a title that perfectly encompasses the sheer lack of offense required for people of color to actually offend racists, causing them to lose their legendary cool.
How is it possible in 2018 for anyone to still act this way without considering the ubiquity of cameras and the internet’s sleuthing prowess? Probably a combination of being scared of everything and feeling obliged to defend the historic dominance of whiteness. To be clear, neither are good reasons. The cycle repeats itself so frequently, though, that this list received three fresh entries between the day I started compiling it and the day I finished, one week later.
Have a look below at the year of the viral racist, and never doubt the panopticon’s ability to amplify bigoted outbursts to an audience of millions within minutes. Some of these instances (or the comeuppances that follow) seem almost funny in a schadenfreude-y way, but considering that this impulse to equate non-pale people with danger is what got Botham Jean killed in his own home, it’s no laughing matter at all.
- H&M introduced a catalog picture that, uh, got people talking.
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) January 8, 2018
The company later apologized after mounting pressure, but the incident betrayed an aura of either carelessness or controversy-courting that left a sour taste in our mouths.
- 19-year old University of Alabama freshman Harley Barber was expelled after videos of her racist rants on Instagram went viral. Later, her mother said she agreed with the decision to remove her from the school.
Whether because of Black History Month or the fact that it’s the shortest month of the year, February happened to be the only month in 2018 with no prominent displays of viral racism. Congratulations, February!
- Virginia Tech’s (all-white) women’s lacrosse team was criticized after a video appeared online showing the group singing a Lil Dicky song that prominently features the n-word. The team ultimately apologized for the video. Although this incident isn’t nearly as egregious as most of the others on this list, it ushered in a conversation about the typical lack of diversity in certain college sports.
- A barista at a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two black men who were waiting in the coffee shop for a friend. As a result of the social media outcry that followed, Starbucks shut down all 8,000 of its stores one day for anti-bias training.
- A woman was captured on camera calling the police on two black men who were using a charcoal grill to cook meat in a designated grilling zone in Oakland. The woman became known as BBQ Becky.
- A white man suffering from a terminal case of Economic Anxiety was filmed ranting to the manager of a Fresh Kitchen in Manhattan about an employee speaking Spanish to a customer. After Twitter crowdsourced the man’s identity, local politicians filed a formal complaint against him with the state’s court system and his law practice was kicked out of its office building.
- A Missouri woman released a video around the topic of going “[n-word]-hunting” on Snapchat, and was subsequently fired from both her waitressing job and the Air Force Reserve.
- A white real estate agent was caught on a phone video hurling racial insults at a Latinx bouncer. After the video made the rounds, the agent lost his job for apartment broker MySpace NYC.
- A white woman earned the nickname Permit Patty after threatening to call the cops on a young black girl selling water on a San Francisco sidewalk. The woman eventually resigned from her job as CEO of a cannabis-products company following the backlash.
- A white woman earned the moniker Pool Patrol Paula for attacking a black teenage boy she suspected was not allowed in a community pool. (He was.) Months later, the woman pled guilty to an assault and battery charge and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
- A California woman was caught on camera yelling racial slurs at a black couple on an interstate freeway. She later lost her job over it.
- A white man became known ID Adam after calling the police during a Fourth of July pool party because he refused to believe that a black woman and her child were members of their community pool in Winston-Salem, NC. (They were.) ID Adam soon lost his job at Sunoco and was kicked off the community homeowner’s association.
- A white CVS manager called the police on a black woman in Chicago for using a manufacturer’s coupon he suspected was fake. The plot twist, however, was that the man now known as Coupon Carl had himself been busted for forgery two years prior. Coupon Carl lost his job at CVS.
- A white employee of a land management company went on a racist rant directed at a cameraman at an anti-fracking protest for a documentary on climate change entitled, fittingly, The Way We Live. The cameraman later shared video of the rant, which he had been caught on, you know, his camera, and the racist man lost his job.
- A Mississippi hospital employee was caught on camera calling a Donut Palace worker the n-word. After the video went viral, the employee lost his job.
- Also, this happened:
‘You don’t belong in my city.’ – This officer was fired after telling these Black men that they don’t belong in their hometown pic.twitter.com/nQKdZn5ahy
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 9, 2018
- A woman working for Delta called the police on a black woman who asked to speak with a manager about her badly damaged bag. The Delta employee was dubbed Baggage Claim Becky.
- A Puerto Rican man accused his Lyft driver (a black man) of discrimination and then went on a racist rant that went viral. The passenger later lost his job and became banned from Lyft for life.
- This also happened:
This woman blocked a Black man from entering his own apartment because he was making her feel 'uncomfortable. She’s since been fired from her job. pic.twitter.com/38iYfb5cFZ
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) October 16, 2018
- And this happened too:
Young, black anti-violence marchers went into a gas station for a quick drink when a white woman and man call the cops on them. pic.twitter.com/k4Iiel3iWK
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) October 18, 2018
- A white woman was caught on camera drunkenly yelling at two black men outside of a downtown Kansas City bar, repeatedly using the n-word. She has since lost her job.
- A white librarian called the cops on black students for an apparently suspicious bout of studying.
- A North Carolina woman verbally harassed two black residents in an extremely weird manner, for standing outside of their own apartment complex. The woman has since lost her job.
- A New York City woman falsely accused a 9-year old boy of sexual assault inside of a store. Although the woman later apologized after seeing exculpatory video footage, the boy did not accept her apology. (“I don’t forgive this woman at all … she needs help,” he said.)
- A Kirkland, Wash., yogurt shop employee called the police on a black man for being inside the yogurt shop without ordering anything. (As a court-appointed special advocate, the man was supervising a meeting between a mother and her young son.)
- A white Tennessee woman was recorded verbally attacking three black Target shoppers, telling them “you don’t belong here.” Her new name? Target Tammy.
- A Virginia teacher called university campus security on an art professor (who happens to be black) for eating her breakfast inside her own classroom. The teacher is suspended for the reminder of the semester.
- A Brooklyn woman went on an explosive rant against a woman of Asian descent on the NYC subway, eventually attacking her with an umbrella. The perpetrator now faces felony assault charges.
- A white Columbia University student was caught on camera ranting about the superiority of the white race to a group of fellow students, several of whom are black. The student defended his rant on the platform that definitely made him look the most reasonable: Alex Jones’ Infowars.