Lesson of the Day: ‘Discussing Blackness on Reddit? Photograph Your Forearm First’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Discussing Blackness on Reddit? Photograph Your Forearm First’

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Note: Teachers, the issues raised by today’s article can be provocative and challenging. For tips on facilitating difficult conversations, see this resource from Facing History.

Featured Article: “Discussing Blackness on Reddit? Photograph Your Forearm First

With nearly four million subscribers, Black People Twitter, on the popular website Reddit, is one of the few large public online discussion forums about black American life. Moderators of the Reddit forum caused an uproar by requiring participants to submit a photograph proving they were not white.

In this lesson, students will examine the evolving debate — how the forum originated, why the moderation policy began — and reflect on their own need for and access to safe spaces.

Do you have spaces where you feel safe to share your ideas, thoughts and experiences — at home, at school, online — without threat of being attacked or disrespected?

How does your identity — race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, background or other factors — affect how you share and express who you are? Do you ever feel more comfortable with people with similar identities and experiences?

Make two lists: What kinds of qualities make a space feel safe for you? What kinds of qualities make it difficult for you to let your guard down and be yourself?

Now, reflect upon your lists: What is the importance of safe spaces for you?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What was the initial goal of the Black People Twitter forum on Reddit, according to the article? What kinds of comments are typically posted there?

2. The author writes that “a discussion meant to be a respite from the racial tensions out in the world began to mirror them.” What examples from the article illustrate this statement?

3. Why is it difficult to tell a person’s race on Reddit? How could not knowing a user’s race be a “boon to free speech” (according to proponents of that policy) or something that “encourages hate speech” to detractors)?

4. What does Wesley Moreno, a former moderator, mean when he says that white users pretending to be black were “like a constant form of gaslighting?” (If you don’t know what gaslighting means, look it up.)

5. What are the roles and responsibilities of Reddit moderators? What challenges have they faced in moderating the Black People Twitter forum? What early steps were taken by moderators to address the “weight of unseen white opinion?” Why did moderators believe these initial steps were unsuccessful?

6. What are the forum’s current rules for participation? How have moderators justified their new policy? Why have some forum members celebrated the move? Why have some Reddit users criticized it?

Choose one or more of the following questions to respond to in writing or in a discussion with your classmates:

  • What is your reaction to the article? What was most surprising, thought-provoking or impactful? What aspects of the article resonate with you?

  • Have you ever participated in an online discussion forum? If yes, what has been your experience? Do you find these forums to be safe spaces? Or do you feel the conversations are dominated by “provocateurs,” “trolls” and people “gaslighting” other participants?

  • A black moderator whose user name is Nasjere said of the new guidelines: “People are complaining, but I have yet to figure out a better way to do it.” Do you think the new moderating policy of the Black Twitter Forum was necessary and justified? Why or why not? If not, what would you propose to better address the concerns of black users and moderators raised in the article?

  • What changes would you recommend to make online forums, in general, more safe and equitable spaces?