Man fired from job for racist response to friends and followers on his own Facebook post

A selfie taken with Gerod Roth's co-worker and three-year-old son went viral after his initial reply incited further callous remarks


Social media can be costly.

It cost a local man his job after a photo he posted of himself and a co-worker’s three-year-old son became a target for racist trolls.

And it cost the mother of that three-year-old her privacy, and her son his innocence, both of which she is trying to reclaim.

“Cayden is a child. He is not abandoned. He is loved,” Sydney Shelton said about her son. “If people are going to see my son, I want them to see my Cayden. I want them to get that image out of their heads.”

That image is a selfie posted last month on Facebook by Gerod Roth, who at the time was a co-worker of Shelton’s at Polaris Marketing Group, an Atlanta-based firm.

The photo, which shows little Cayden, who is black, standing behind Roth, who is white, is seemingly innocuous. Yet it drew a torrent of racist and bigoted comments from Roth’s friends and followers. They called Cayden a “slave” and likened him to the pivotal character in the book Roots – Kunta Kinte, whose name was changed to “Toby” after he was stolen from Africa.

Someone even posted an image of Little Black Sambo to draw a cruel comparison.

When he initially posted the photo, Roth did not actually comment.

But in response to someone asking: “Dude where the hell did you get a black kid??” Roth responded: “He was feral.”

Later, in an image that appears to be a Facebook Messenger conversation, someone asks, “Why is he feral though?”

An avatar that appears to be Roth’s responds with: “Because he was abandoned in the Atlanta projects, to fend for himself, he is deaf mute, ca’t properly communicate and is in and out of a shelter home, that is the definition of feral.”

“The comments were horrible,” Michael Da Graca Pinto, president of the Polaris Marketing Group, said on Monday. “What Sydney was upset about is that [Roth] referred to her son in slanderous ways and didn’t defend him.”

Pinto promptly fired Roth.

“We have to be more careful about who we hire,” Pinto said.

Roth told WAGA-TV in Atlanta on Monday that his entire post was “taken out of context”.

He said he simply made the photo his profile picture and that his friends took it upon themselves to comment on it.

“I really feel upset, not only with myself, but also with the comments that my friends made,” Roth said. “I feel as if, not only has poor Cayden been victimised, but also myself for being targeted.”

Roth admitted to the “feral” comment, but said that too had been taken out of context.

“Someone said, ‘So you just have wild kids running throughout your office building,’ and that is when I said he was feral,” Roth said. “Which of course was interpreted directly as racist, but that was honestly not my intention.”

Shelton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she is relieved Roth is gone and grateful for the support from social media and her company.

“I never thought that it would get this big. Someone in Kenya messaged my mother and said they were supporting us,” Shelton said. “I never imagined something like this happening in a million years. At 25, I am just trying to work and support my son.”

Detroit-based blogger Ife Johari said the images started appearing in her timeline last Thursday.

She reached out to the mother, blogged about it and created the hashtag, “HisNameIsCayden”.

“Black Twitter was already doing their thing and I made a decision to find out who the child was,” Johari said on Monday. “These people are just average people. A young mother who goes to work every day. Now the whole internet is in their life. Who asks for that?”

As of Monday night, the hashtag “HisNameIsCayden” had been retweeted several thousand times and several blogs and news outlets had written stories about it.

It is unclear who took the screen shots from Roth’s Facebook page and posted them. Several Roth supporters have flooded Johari’s blog in defence of him. But it took a while for the uproar to get back to Shelton, who found out about the posts last Friday.

Roth initially posted the image of Cayden on September 16, which makes what he did all the more heinous, Shelton said.

“Every morning he would speak to me. Every afternoon when I came back with Cayden, he would speak to us and he never said a word about it,” Shelton said. “If he knew this was happening and he knew they were talking about my child, why not say something to me? If you didn’t mean it or you didn’t believe it, why didn’t you say something about it to the people posting?”

Shelton started working for Polaris in August. She said Roth was there when she arrived.

“I work in an office with 10 people and it is very diverse. Racism is the last thing that should be thought of. Nobody is a minority. Everyone is equal here.”

Roth told WAGA that he considered Shelton “a friend.”

Pinto said he fired Roth on September 29, issuing a strong Facebook message that he was “disgusted”.

“It breaks my heart that Sydney and her adorable son Cayden were subjected to such hateful, ignorant and despicable behaviour. Cayden visits my office almost every afternoon after daycare, he’s sat at my dinner table and I consider him a part of the PMG family,” Pinto wrote. “The atrocious lies, slander and racism he and his mother have been forced to endure are wholly intolerable. It has no place in the world.”

YourEDM, where Roth worked under the moniker “Geris Hilton”, issued a statement that it, too, had fired Roth. Several other companies, where some of the commenters worked, also issued statements saying they have fired people over the posts.

On Monday, Pinto doubled down.

“We have a family-oriented environment,” Pinto said. “Sydney is a friend and a great worker. I just wanted to let her know that this is not something we condone. I wanted Sydney to know that we support her.”

Meanwhile, Shelton has taken to social media to celebrate her son.

“This is Cayden Jace! The love of my life, the apple in my eye, my everything,” Shelton posted with a series of photographs of her son. “When people hear about him, these are the pictures I want them to know about.”