There Is No Such Thing As "Accidental Racism"
This past week, social media influencer and party promoter Julieanna Goddard, known as @YesJulz, found herself at the center of a Twitter hailstorm after tweeting a photo of a t-shirt brandishing the N-word that she later deleted after the onslaught of comments. Since then, @YesJulz has been dropped from two upcoming events in Toronto, and has tried to explain her position via Twitter along with a tear-filled apology on Snapchat, calling the incident "accidental". The problem is, when it comes to racism, there's no such thing.
If you don't already know who Julianna Goddard (aka Julz) is, the NYTimes called her "Snapchat Royalty." Similar to Kim Kardashian, many follow Goddard to get a peek at a jet setter's lifestyle full of cool parties, celebs, and the latest fashions. With over 400,000 people who pushed follow on her Instagram and 150,000 more on Twitter, this party promoter/brand influencer certainly has quite a sizable audience — which is exactly how her unfortunate recent post got the internet talking right away.
In the now-deleted tweet, the social media star posted a picture of a shirt featuring the N-word. The post only worsens with its caption "Should I wear this to the festival or nah," which seems to acknowledge that somehow, Goddard wearing this shirt is up for debate.
Before getting into the semantics of what constitutes as racism, here's what it's not: reversible or accidental. In fact, racism by design, whether overt or subtle, is meant to underscore — and even poke fun at — a long history of racial hierarchy and oppression. While Goddard found this as a source of humor, it also underscores her privilege.
While many might be asking if the following tweet is forgivable, it also warrants another question: Was Goddard's following response to people calling her out enough?
Instead of acknowledging this huge error from the beginning, she immediately used that privilege to defend herself. Even when she apologized on Snapchat, it is still mostly painted as an honest mistake in need of "context" or further explanation:
“I just wanted to come on here and say I made a huge mistake yesterday. I did something really dumb, and I’m so sorry. I am so sorry. I understand completely that I f*cked up and that word is not something I should be ever be associated with—In any context, in any way shape or form and I apologize. I’ve been thinking about it all night and all morning, people have told me to talk to this person and talk to this person and get a written statement. This is the best way that I know how to express myself—it’s just to directly talked to you guys and let you know that I f*cked up and I’m sorry. I’m open to going into more detail about it if you guys want more context or explanation, but at this point it was just important to me to acknowledge the fact that I understand what I put out there was wrong in every way, shape or form. That’s it. That’s all I have to say right now."
It is worth noting that this also isn't the first time that Goddard has waved her flag of white privilege by way of cultural appropriation. Where some attribute this to a hip hop influence or "stylish resurgence," she is also known to rock corn rows, "door knockers" or hoop earrings, and imitate other elements of black culture. In fact, much of her image and fame in music entertainment draws from that same culture she joked about earlier.
But this privilege doesn't just mean that she can ask for all to be forgotten — particularly given tweets like her response to DJ E Feezy defending her in the aftermath, which seems to undermine her apology.
Again, Goddard acknowledging DJ E Feezy's response also says another frustrating thing: that it appears that she agrees with him that this instance isn't something to be upset about. This is also exactly why social media users are calling celebs like Goddard and Miley Cyrus "culture vultures"; in both instances, these young, white women appropriate black culture, and create a career on its influence. But the experiences and history of people of color is often isolated as "no big deal" or carelessly discarded when those same marginalized people ask, at the very least, not to offend them.
The uncomfortable truth concerning Goddard's tweet and the responses thereafter is that racism can't happen on accident. When she chose to twitpic that offensive shirt, she made a decision. And that decision doesn't just warrant another apology so that social media can just get over it — it warrants accountability, and actual change. It may be painful, but it's necessary. So instead of trying to distance herself from the blame, Goddard should admit that her unchecked privilege is the problem — not an "accident," or anything else.