Roger Barbee: The Internet as a weapon

Roger Barbee

Since last summer’s deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, many people have protested what they see as illegal acts by police. The right of our citizens to protest against or for something — in a peaceful manner — is a cherished part of our citizenship. Thus, since Garner’s death of in July by a New York policeman who held him in a “choke hold,” some people have protested what they see as an illegal activity left unpunished in numerous ways. And it seems to me that any protester — whether he or she is for or against an issue — has become open to sometimes hostile and unjust criticism.

Last week an acquaintance forwarded me an email that had been forwarded numerous times to folks. The number of names and email addresses was proof that many, many people had found the accompanying photograph and comments worthy of being shared.

In the subject line is written, “I are a college student.” The caption above the photograph reads: “And they look so proud,” and below that is the photograph of five African-American men who are standing on the edge of a basketball court in some undisclosed gymnasium.

Four of the taller and younger men are wearing warm-up pants and basketball shoes. The older and shorter one stands in the middle of the other four and a whistle can be seen around his neck. The four “basketball players” are wearing black T-shirts with the caption, “I can’t breath.” Below the photograph is written, “You can’t spell, either.” The creator of the email adds at the bottom, “Hint: Can we have an “E.” The final comment is a quotation attributed to John Wayne, “Life’s tough … it’s even tougher when you are stupid.”

My goodness! As I thought more and more about this email, I grew more dubious of its accuracy.

I am not an Internet detective, but I did check on Snopes.com, and I found nothing there about the photograph or email. But I remain skeptical because I have never been in any gymnasium that is not clearly marked and identified by lettering or a painting of a mascot on its walls and floor. However, nothing is visible to identify the location or the team in this photograph. That strikes me as odd for any college or any team. Maybe it is a staged photograph; maybe it is not. But, I am sure of one thing — the self-styled corrector of the T-shirt has some rules of civility and language he or she could follow.

The only reason I can see for the snide subject line, “I are a college student” and the comment, “And they look so proud,” is to ridicule the men in the photograph. In my mind, making fun of someone never changed his or her behavior or helped him or her see the error(s).

Ridicule, I believe, diminishes the one who ridicules. The self-styled grammarian then feels the need to write, “You can’t spell, either,” and is mistaken by that criticism. Cannot the proof reader see that there is no misspelled word? The corrector may mean to point out that the word printed on the T-shirts is the wrong form of “breath,” but that is not a matter of spelling.

However, the grammarian makes a mistake in punctuation in his or her note — there should be no comma between spell and either since the word either is not an appositive or an interrupter. Then, for whatever reason, the creator seems to feel that he or she needs to show what is wrong with the T-shirts by adding the “Hint.”

Are we so pathetic that we need a hint? Hardly. I see that hint as just one more arrow of ridicule. Finally, the creator uses that oft-misquoted adage that is mistakenly attributed to John Wayne, as if citing “the Duke” will grant credibility to the tasteless email.

I doubt, as I wrote, the veracity of this photograph. I think, for whatever personal reason(s), it is staged. I will not open that Pandora’s box as to why, but I do suggest that it is just one more example of how we have evolved as a culture fixated with the Internet as a tool for misuse. It has, sadly, become too often a tool that a hidden individual can spout whatever he or she wants without being held accountable. When James, in the first century, describes the tongue as “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison,” he did not have in mind the Internet, but he knew people and their capacity to be unjust.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at red-hill@shentel.net.