Social Media Messages at UC Imply Lynching

Racist messages aimed at activist group the Irate 8 raise concerns

Racist messages, including at least one appearing to threaten lynching for black student activists at University of Cincinnati, have recently begun appearing on social media site Yik Yak in response to calls to increased diversity on UC’s flagship campus.

Yik-Yak is an anonymous, location-based online message board. One of the recent messages posted on the site reads, “I don’t know if I have enough rope for all of the irate8…”

The message appears to refer to lynching, a murderous tactic used throughout the United States, but especially in the Jim Crow-era South, to terrorize blacks during the decades after emancipation.

Another message says “Breaking News: Use promo code 'irate8' at Burger King and get a black whopper for free.”

Both messages, and others with similar content, had been upvoted multiple times by campus Yik-Yak users. The posts have since been reposted to Facebook and Twitter.

The racist messages refer to UC’s Irate 8, a group named for the 8 percent of the school’s student body that is black. The Irate 8 points out Cincinnati’s population is 45 percent black and has pushed the UC administration to articulate a plan to boost diversity on the school’s main campus to better reflect the demographics of the city as a whole.

"This means these were people on our campus, people who were students," says Irate 8 member and UC student Ashley Nkadi. Yik-Yak posts are only accessible within a short distance of where they were posted. Nkadi says that some of the posts have gotten dozens of upvotes, meaning that people very near her are also boosting the racist messages. That's caused her and other students anxiety.

The activist group sprang up in late August in response to the July 19 shooting death of black motorist Samuel DuBose by UC police officer Ray Tensing. The group is pushing for substantial reform to UC’s police force in the wake of that shooting, highlighting the large disparity between blacks and whites in stops and arrests by the department in the past year. In 2014, 17 whites and 52 blacks were stopped by the UC police force. Police issued 30 citations to whites that year and 119 to blacks. As of July 2015, that disparity had grown — 12 whites had been stopped so far that year, while the department had stopped 62 blacks. UC police issued 31 citations to whites and 189 to blacks.

The student-organized group has staged a number of rallies, teach-ins and other peaceful efforts to advocate for black students on campus. On Oct. 15, the Irate 8 released a list of 10 demands for UC’s administration. In that list, the group asks that the officers serving with Tensing at the time of the shooting be restricted from patrolling on or off campus and calls for comprehensive screening for all officers employed by UC police, the establishment of campus-wide racial awareness training, disinvestment from any companies running private prisons, the hiring of at least 16 black staff and senior faculty members over the next three years, and the doubling of the school’s percentage of black students on campus.

UC student and Irate 8 activist Brittany Bibb and other activists say after that list was released, the racist messages on Yik-Yak began in earnest and have increased since.

Both the administration and student body government responded yesterday to the list of demands, stating that they wished to work together with the activists to increase diversity and racial awareness on campus. But in the meantime, some black activists say the anonymous messages on campus-centered social media sites have been increasing, highlighting a culture of racism there.

UC President Santa Ono addressed the messages on Yik-Yak this morning in an email.

“I ask everyone in our community to join me in condemning such comments and for all of us to fully embrace civility and respect,” Ono wrote. “Furthermore, I have asked for an immediate investigation into a particularly offensive post and will look after the safety of our students.”

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