Whilst I believe broadcasting something I feel so strongly about online can never properly convey the meaningfulness and severity of the message, I couldn’t not write my thoughts down on this one.
Much to the misunderstanding of many people online, anti-racism isn’t a social media campaign. A large misconception is that what makes you anti-racist is posting a black square and hashtagging BLM on social media, which categorizes you as an advocate of the movement with no changes to your state of mind and the way you then continue to live your life. Being anti-racist has do with your own inherent beliefs in change for discrimination and anger towards injustice. Being anti-racist is a life long commitment. It is not reposting images because everyone else is, and not because it’s now a trend to hashtag #blacklivesmatter. It means you post the things you do, if that is your way of expressing your support, unprovoked by mass conduct and at your own accord. It means independently speaking up in situations of racial discrimination that you may encounter because you desperately believe in and want justice for inequality. It means wilfully signing the multitude of online petitions and voluntarily donating to the George Floyd memorial fund and Minnesota freedom fund pages, not because you’ve been tagged in an Instagram challenge to and post a screenshot proving it. You do not become anti-racist just by advocating so on Instagram, and even more confusingly, you certainly do not become complicit by not posting on social media.
I personally feel like a lot (not all) of social media activity is performative activism that, is amazing for raising awareness, information and education, but in terms of being actionable is simply an ineffective ‘I’ve posted therefore I’ve contributed’ attitude. I significantly struggle to see how a black square can be said to stand up for 400 years of slavery, oppression, police brutality and murder. What’s worse is that it is giving those participating a very twisted saviour complex that they’re projecting onto others through posting quotes such as ‘if you are silent you have chosen the side of the oppressor’, implying that sharing an Instagram post somehow makes that person’s support better than that of someone else’s who hasn’t posted. Not once have I felt the need to announce my support on social media, and THAT IS FINE. People who are posting things like ‘silence is complicity’, you are completely right, but silence is ignoring the petitions and abstaining from protesting and donating, not posting on social media is not silence. More importantly, posting alone does not make you an advocate of the cause, if all you have done is posted a black square, you have done the bare minimum.
I have followed the racially discriminatory stories of police brutality in America far before the past week, and whilst George Floyd’s death was sickening and hard to watch, it was not the first. However the difference this time is that white people are waking up to the brutal reality and barbarity of racism and the fact that it is more than ever prevalent today as it was generations ago. I am in no way condemning or belittling the support of these people, it is great to see social media flooded with petitions to sign and fund me pages to donate to, as well as the wealth of information and education that was nowhere to be found before. But the truth is, until now these very people who have not spoken up before in their lifetime or done so much as share a post on systematic racism have been, whether intentionally or subconsciously, ignorant and complicit to the racism around them. I can’t help but wonder; would you have spoken up at your own accord in response to racism, or are you now reposting stories and posts because #blacklivesmatter is trending?
The distressing truth is that not even half of those currently advocating anti-racism online would be doing so if George Floyd was just another name on the list of black men who have died at the hands of white supremacy. I am in no way trivialising the remarkable solidarity amongst us during this time. But the killing of Eric Garner by New York policemen and the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin epitomize this; their stories are now being dug up by white people realising the horrifying reality of those deaths, unaware of the fact people of colour have grown up with these stories. Racism has dominated our entire lives through perpetual micro-aggressions. You might have unintentionally been ignorant of the prevalence of racism until now, but that is your very privilege in action, because you have been ABLE to ignore it, whilst POC have had no choice but to see the people of their country and community be dehumanised and brutalised, time and time again. So forgive us for being angry and for not applauding your #blackouttuesday post. But whilst your white parents were protecting 9-year-old you from the horrors of these racist attacks, ethnic minority groups have grown up exposed to and being taught of these atrocities you are now discovering.
But what I also wonder, is that those that have taken it upon themselves to spend the past week posting black squares and Martin Luther King quotes, will you continue to be outraged and educate yourself in the same way you are doing now for the remainder of your privileged lives? When #blacklivesmatter is no longer trending and Instagram goes back to being apolitical and devoid of the racial activism that is currently flooding the internet and city streets, will you continue the conversation and carry on preaching what you have learnt in this time to those that are ‘tired of talking about it’? I hope from the bottom of my heart that this isn’t just a short-lived trend that people are participating in because we are at the height of the movement, but rather something they continue to believe in and want to change by donating and signing petitions, even when the hashtags subside. I hope people never lose awareness, like so many people before us have after historic revolutions like this, only for life to return back to its usual state of ignorance and complicity. And I hope people remember that this movement exists, has existed and will exist outside the social media quotes and posts, in the daily lives of POC, and that they continue to stand up for it.