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'We're not keeping anything in': Milwaukee activists, educators work to call out online racism

Local woman calls out former TMJ4 employee for racist comments
Posted at 6:40 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 19:40:17-05

MILWAUKEE — Numerous viewers reached out to TMJ4 Tuesday to inform about racist comments coming from a person believed to be associated with the station. Station General Manager Joe Poss released the following statement:

“On Tuesday evening, screenshots of several offensive comments and private messages were circulated around social media. The person who appeared to send these messages is not employed by TMJ4 and his views do not reflect those of the station. We are grateful to those who brought the posts to our attention and are committed to providing a platform for robust but respectful discussion for our Milwaukee community.”
-Joe Poss, TMJ4 General Manager

The comments were made to Anita Robertson, a Milwaukee business owner.

“We’re not standing for any of it,” she said.

Robertson says the conversation started on Facebook because of ignorant statements the man was making.

“He was basically saying all people with brown skin are African American,” Robertson said. “I said, no, not everyone identifies as African American or Black. Just because your skin is brown doesn’t mean you’re Black.”

Robertson, who runs a daycare, felt obligated to educate the man. She goes by the mantra, “each one, teach one” in an effort to help squash stereotypical views and racist feelings.

However, after the comments on the public post, she got a direct message to her inbox.

“I need some more cotton, any chance you could help...?” said the first message.

“Bum welfare queen loll” the second message read.

Later, the man said, “Now go shine my shoes, girl.”

Racist and Derogatory messages sent on Facebook
Racist and Derogatory messages sent on Facebook

“People think it doesn’t exist, but look at my inbox,” Robertson said. “It exists. I’m 34 and I’ve never been told to pick cotton or shine anyone’s shoes. The welfare comment, I’ve heard that before unfortunately. It’s an assumption that’s not true, however he went kind of far. Extremely far to me.”

Robertson says before, maybe two or three years ago, she may have just ignored the comments or discussed it with friends. However, with an increase in social justice efforts over the last year, she felt more empowered to act.

She screenshotted the message and posted it on Facebook. Friends were as upset about the messages as she was and the message began to go viral.

Her followers started investigating the man from the message and found a LinkedIn profile saying he was currently employed as a Digital Sales Associate at TMJ4, which has been proven incorrect. As of Wednesday morning, his LinkedIn profile had been removed.

However, under the presumption he worked in the media, Robertson’s concern grew.

“That was extremely concerning,” Robertson said. “You have a pretty good platform and work with various people. How can you do that and think like this?”

Robertson’s post reached Milwaukee Activist, Vaun Mayes. He reposted it and went to Facebook Live to voice his displeasure. His post was shared dozens of times and received hundreds of comments.

“People know our platform,” Mayes said. “One of the things we have done, we call people out. We have a large following so people pay attention to that.”

Mayes stands by this kind of action. He says it’s an effort to hold keyboard warriors accountable. He feels the rise of the internet has emboldened people to say whatever they want online without repercussion. He’s hoping this can be a shining example that what you say, even online, matters.

“If you don’t want to put your company, your business, your family name in the line of fire, you need to think about things you say and do on social media,” Mayes said. “People look at it like 'oh, it’s just social media.' It’s really not.”

Mayes says he has helped organize pop-up protests in the past when there are questions of racism or wrongdoing online. He doesn’t feel this will elevate to that level, but with the number of notifications fielded by TMJ4, it proves these passionate communities will be sure those who feel brazen enough to say derogatory things to people on the internet will face consequences.

“All of his information is available, including criminal history,” Mayes said. “I don’t see why people continue to do this type of stuff and not expect some type of repercussion for it. None of us are exempt from protests. None of us are exempt from accountability, including myself. People need to understand, when you do or say those things, some people may find out about you. I don’t encourage people to harm anyone or approach people in personal or direct capacity.”

“At this point, we’re not keeping anything in,” Robertson said. “If you dish it out, you will suffer the consequences.”

Anita Robertson helping kids learn at her Daycare
Anita Robertson helping kids learn at her Daycare

While teaching her group of kids at her daycare, Robertson feels even more empowered to standup against racism directed towards her. As kids, aged only in the single digits, learn on the very electronics she received hateful messages from, she knows the technology won’t be going away. So, on top of reading, writing and arithmetic, she wants to teach them courage to stand up for what’s right.

“You don’t have to accept anything,” Robertson said. “No one can tell you how to feel. If someone treats you a certain way and you feel a certain way, you don’t have to accept that. You let them know, you don’t appreciate it.”

Both Robertson and Mayes encourage anyone experiencing racism online to speak out about it. There is a community of people, including TMJ4, willing to support efforts at extinguishing racism.

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