By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. (President and CEO of the NNPA)
Racism is a malignant, powerful, and harmful reality for millions of persons of color throughout the world. Here, inside the United States, racism is institutionalized and we have the evidence that this dreadful, racially discriminatory system of oppression now has been digitized thanks to Facebook.
We must oppose all forms, nuances, and modes of racism. I am defining “digital racism” as the deliberate and systematic exclusion and discrimination of people from any Internet access, benefit or policy-making procedure based on race, color, ethnicity, or any other social or cultural factor.
I know when this is read, some of you will be shocked while others will be in some form of denial. Such was the case when I first coined the term “environmental racism” over 30 years ago. But the truth is the truth. And the truth is therapeutic.
Racial and ethnic cleaning at Facebook is the manifestation of digital racism on one of the most powerful social media platforms in the world. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) is opposed to racial and ethnic discrimination. We are alarmed and we resolutely join with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in demanding that Facebook stop engaging in racially discriminatory practices.
Earlier this month, the CBC sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, concerning this issue.
“We are writing to express our deep concerns with reports that Facebook’s “Ethnic Affinities” advertising customization feature allows for advertisers to exclude specific racial and ethnic groups when placing housing advertising,” stated the CBC.
The CBC letter was signed by Robin L. Kelly (D-Ill.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C., the Chairman of the CBC. Their joint statement concluded, “This is in direct violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and it is our strong desire to see Facebook address this issue immediately.”
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 says it is illegal “to make, print, publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin” (42 U.S.C. § 3604). The enactment of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was a milestone accomplishment of the Civil Rights Movement.
“By allowing online advertisers to promote or market a community or home for the purpose of sale to select an ‘ethnic affinity’ as part of their advertising campaign, Facebook is complicit in promoting restrictive housing practices,” the CBC letter stated. This is clearly a violation of the law.
The NNPA agrees with the CBC. This practice must be stopped immediately.
Today, we all should remain vigilant and committed to stand up and speak out against all instances of racial and ethnic discrimination. Facebook needs to right this wrong. The online and digital worlds should not be permissive of racism.
With all the technological advances aimed at ensuring that the quality of life of all people will ultimately be enhanced in the U.S. and throughout the world, we must strive to identify, call out and stop racism wherever it may arise. Therefore, we call upon Facebook to stop its digital racism and its “Ethnic Affinities” discriminatory program.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.