POTSDAM — Late last month, Potsdam First Presbyterian received a message on Instagram laden with racist diatribes against the church, which has been outwardly supportive of Black Lives Matter and other social movements.
The racist message, sent by an anonymous Instagram user on July 24, uses the n-word 10 times and repeatedly says that God doesn’t like people of color or their white allies.
“It’s probably the most vile language I think I’ve ever read,” Reverend Katrina G. Hebb told the Times.
Rev. Hebb said she believes the message was sent in response to messages the church regularly displays on its sign board in front of the building. She says since the death of George Floyd earlier this year, the church has displayed several messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racist ideas.
“I’m fairly certain it was in reaction to — I think it was the sign that said ‘rather than colorblind choose color brave,’” Rev. Hebb said.
After the message was discovered, Rev. Hebb said she consulted with the church’s board, which decided to share the message verbatim with the congregation.
“It was important for our predominantly white congregation to experience what the hate actually feels like.” Rev. Hebb said. “I mean we can’t unzip our white skin and put on black skin to know what the full experience is being black in America, but this was a little tiny sliver of that experience.”
The church reported the message to Instagram, which declined to remove the user, asserting that, despite using the n-word multiple times, the account did not “go against our community guidelines.”
Those guidelines state in part: “We want to foster a positive, diverse community. We remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech, content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them.”
Rev. Hebb also said she reported the message to Potsdam police to have an official record of the incident, but she admitted there’s not much local law enforcement can do further.
The church isn’t unfamiliar with similar incidents. For several years, the church has hung flags in support of LGBTQ+ and transgender communities. Rev. Hebb said the church has put out nine flags, all of which has been destroyed or stolen, including one that was hung a month ago. But she said, despite the reactions, the church will continue advocating in favor of its beliefs.
“I think if anything it encourages us to keep doing the work that we’re doing,” Rev. Hebb said.