By Julianne Malveaux
You can run, but you can’t hide from racism. I was preparing to write a column on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade agreement that President Barack Obama wants to fast track through Congress. I considered tackling the Planned Parenthood kerfuffle, as Republicans are targeting a most important women’s health provider for political purposes. But a friend sent me a link to a photo uploaded by Atlanta native “Geris Hilton” with a string of comments that simply turned my stomach, and I realized that the TPP would have to wait (it isn’t going anywhere until January anyway).
Hilton, whose legal name is Gerod Roth, worked at the Polaris Marketing Group in Atlanta, Ga. There he took a selfie of himself and a coworker’s child and posted it on Facebook. When one of his “friends” asked why the child was running around the office, Roth replied, “He was feral.” The dictionary defines feral as “relating to, or suggestive of, a wild beast”, and “not domesticated or cultivated – wild,” or “having escaped from domestication and become wild.” Excuse me? Roth’s own daughter hangs out at the office at the end of the day. She plays with the adorable boy whose innocent little face attracted the most “feral” comments from Roth’s intellectually challenged Facebook friends.
From one “friend”: “I didn’t know you were a slave owner.”
Others commented about selling enslaved people another suggested that Hilton “send him back,” because they are “too expensive.”
Sydney Jade is three-year old Cayden’s loving, caring and hard working mother. Gerod Roth knew this, but he never corrected his “friends” who described the child as abandoned and worse. Jade, started using the hash tag #HisNameisCayden on Twitter to affirm her child’s humanity and to reject the caricature that Hilton portrayed. She has received an outpouring of love and support from cyberspace.
Thumbs up to company executives at the Polaris Marketing Group, who fired Roth about two weeks after his offending selfie and wrote about the incident and subsequent firing on Facebook. I am among those who think it should have taken less than two weeks, but they deserve credit for taking action instead of hiding behind the “free speech” argument that many make to defend their racist employees. The Root reported that others who made offending comments about Cayden were also fired from their jobs. Yes!
Gerod Roth is one of those pouty little racists who has now described himself as the “victim” in this matter. He “has been targeted”, he says. He whines that his remarks were taken out of context. He posted an “apology” that was several paragraphs long attempting to “explain” how he happened to post the selfie in the first place, suggesting that young Cayden actually asked him to take the picture. He had neither the grace nor the good sense to say, “I’m sorry and I’m out of order”, and then shut up. Instead, he tried to cover his insensitivity up.
Next thing you know, there will be a group of folks rallying around Roth who some would describe as nothing more than a child molester for his callous exploitation of his coworker’s son. Those who railed against this incident will be told this occurrence is isolated.
The late, great writer Bebe Moore Campbell once wrote an essay about “race fatigue,” about the many ways she was tired of seeing, living, talking and writing about race. She wrote about ignoring slights she might once have challenged, tamping down an anger that might once have been volcanic. In that particular essay, she wrote about seeking a peaceful respite from race matters. We all seek that respite, those days when we don’t have to think about the indignities of both institutional racism and the micro-aggressions that are difficult to quantify. We seek, but we don’t find the respite when cyberspace reveals life as both gritty and grand.
While Roth is little more than gas in the wind, not even a footnote in our nation’s history, he merits attention, because there are so many more of him, lurking out there, fracturing peace because they are so hateful. Who calls a child “feral” and then describes himself or herself as the victim? And who, in the light of this kind of nonsense, says we live in a “post racial” space?
Julianne Malveaux is author and economist based in Washington, DC. Her new book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available for pre-order at www.juliannemalveaux.com.