For all the criticism leveled at Facebook as an enabler of fake news, I rely on it to get my real news. The real news, that is, about people I've known since childhood and whom I once counted as friends. We lost touch after high school, and Facebook brought us back together. Not in a good way.
Meet Fred, a guy I've known since ninth grade. Fred rode with me to our first job interview at a Houston ice cream shop. Sometime around 2010, he began posting vague messages on Facebook insisting that he was not a racist. Who said he was?
For Fred, Facebook was the place where he could vent about things that were going on elsewhere in his world or in his head. Fred believed that he was among like-minded friends on Facebook and, therefore, he could post opinions without concern for who might take offense. As President Barack Obama advanced through his first term, Fred's barbed references to liberals steadily morphed into harsh criticisms of black people. But he was not a racist.
The Nov. 8 election apparently unleashed the real Fred. A few days ago, he posted in large letters that he had just been in an argument on the street with a black man in a Volkswagen who complained about a Confederate flag on Fred's pickup. The irony was delicious for Fred that a black man would be upset over a Confederate flag while driving a car whose Beetle model was the brainchild of Adolf Hitler.
Hardee-har-har. One of Fred's friends responded that he kept his BLM (Black Lives Matter) sticker on the bottom of his truck, as if to suggest that blacks could read it as he ran them over. To which Fred replied, "LOL."
The journalist in me has resisted all the times I wanted to unfriend Fred. He provided key insights into a much overlooked segment of American society. Unfriending Fred might make a brief and bold statement against everything he stands for. But I would be cutting myself out of an important conversation.
Then there was Kellie, whom I've known since junior high. Kellie has long had a tendency to recirculate fake news on Facebook, especially when it involved outrageous things Obama reportedly had done. Once, during the 2012 campaign, I noticed something in one of her posts about longing for the day when, finally, a classy woman would become first lady. That is, after Michelle Obama's departure.
What, exactly, disqualified Michelle Obama? The first lady dressed conservatively. She wasn't flashy. She always chose her words carefully. And, as a Harvard Law School graduate, she ranked among the two most highly educated first ladies ever to occupy the White House.
Could it possibly be that Michelle Obama isn't classy because her skin is the wrong color?
Now meet Janeen, who once bore a resemblance to Cher. In high school, she always hung out with the hippies. I had assumed that the flower child I once knew would somehow be reflected in a more gentle adult persona. Wrong.
She has spent the past year raving about Donald Trump on Facebook, constantly posting items about him along with derisive and often erroneous commentary about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Late last month, Janeen offered her own item following up on Kellie's "classy" thread. Janeen posted a photo of Trump's wife, Melania, that carried these boldface words: "Do you think Melania will bring class back to the White House? Like and share if you agree!"
Let's set aside the fact that Melania Trump read a plagiarized speech before the Republican National Convention this summer. Let's set aside that the woman who originally spoke the words Melania plagiarized was none other than Michelle Obama.
Let's focus on Melania, who will become the only first lady in American history to have posed nude for a camera in the embrace of another naked woman. She will become the only first lady whose nude photograph has been published on the front page of the New York Post. Twice.
This is what qualifies as classy. But in the eyes of Janeen and her friends, the qualification doesn't extend to a first lady with a Harvard law degree who writes with such impact and eloquence that her words are worth stealing. Unclassy is a woman who manages to raise her two daughters for eight years in the White House with nothing but grace and aplomb amid some of the nastiest, racist vitriol any human could endure.
Think about these two future first ladies at the age of 20 as they were making important decisions about their futures. One had the character and foresight to stay in school and persevere through probably the most rigorous law program in the country. The other opted to sell her naked beauty on the cheap. But at least she's white.
If the racist universe were limited only to these three Facebook "friends," I wouldn't be so worried. Sadly, they're only the tip of a very big, and very white, iceberg.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST LOUIS DISPATCH