I felt inclined to post this because the first thing I saw when I picked up my phone today was a notification about a tweet complaining about people who were posting about topics other than Black Lives Matter. Being seen as being tone-deaf is always a risk when posting on social media during trying times. Is it OK to post on social media about “trivial” topics considering current events? And is suddenly posting BLM hashtags when you’ve never done so before just an example of performative allyship?
But I believe that anything that really pisses you off or gets under your skin is worth looking at more closely. Why was I getting so irritated about this? Was I feeling guilty or that I wasn’t doing enough? So that tweet did something good and made me look at what I could do. I still think that that thing does not need to be posting hashtags on my miniscule social media account instead of my usual topics. But here’s my rant, followed by a list of some of the things you can do to support social justice and fight racism if social media’s not your thing and you can’t get to a protest.
The horrible murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer was the fuse that has ignited a whole powder keg of pent-up outrage consisting of frustrations and anger over police brutality, inequalities in education and healthcare, and economic disparities. Add to that the stress brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, and we have an explosion on our hands: protests erupting around the United States, and a commander-in-chief who responds by pulling in the military on peaceful protesters and tweets about them being “terrorists.”
Amid the chaos, people poured out their support on social media channels: #BLM hashtags trended, Instagram feeds went black. And another thing happened as well: I started seeing the social media shaming starting up for anyone who chose to post about any other topic during this time. Twitter accounts called meditation teachers out for being “tone-deaf” — though maybe we could all use some mindfulness advice right now. Travel bloggers were called out for posting about their favorite places to go (remember travel?)
Did these people who were not posting about racial inequality and current events not care? Did they not think Black lives matter? Were they insensitive? I was one of the people not tweeting #BLM. Was I insensitive? Do I not care? Do I not think that Black lives matter?
Yes, I care. Yes, I think that Black lives matter. And maybe my lack of expressions of support on social media channels was because I live in a bubble. Or perhaps because I just tend to dislike social media, overall.
But there’s another reason: my primary social account (other than the one for this blog, which is currently new) is about travel and I had not been posting about political and societal issues previously, other than the occasional local event. Though I care about racial injustice, to start tweeting about it now seemed like jumping on a bandwagon; like it might be, or be seen as, a type of performative allyship.
What is performative allyship? The term was new to me fairly recently, but not the meaning. Allyship: forming supportive alliances with marginalized groups of which one is not a member. Performative: think of the word “performance.” Put them together, and you get the meaning of publicly allying oneself with marginalized and oppressed groups for reasons having more to do with socially promoting oneself than helping the said group. (See the Barbie Savior account on Instagram, which savagely satirizes people who go to poor African countries to “do service” while making it all about them on social media.)
I react negatively to someone jumping to conclusions based on what one isn’t tweeting. Or maybe I was just feeling guilty for not pausing social media (I had pre-scheduled posts and I let them go live as scheduled.) Perhaps I felt defensive, but I start asking myself, why weren’t the bloggers calling people out about their insensitivity posting about these issues before this moment in time; will they continue when this particular moment in time has passed?
Systemic racism and police brutality were with us long before this horrible episode, and you were posting about meditation practice or the ten best places to eat in Rome. But now you’re avidly criticizing people for posting about anything other than current events? Some of this sudden posting, and the demand that others do the same, strikes me as, perhaps, a bit hypocritical.
I’m not saying that public displays of support, even on social media can’t help; I’m just questioning the need to judge anyone who has a social media account who does not post about BLM, or who continues to post about other topics. If we at all read the news or turn on our TVs, we are inundated with so much news about COVID, about police brutality, about Trump’s buffoonery and handling of this crisis (which goes far beyond “bad.”) that it can be overwhelming. You can care about this issue and still want to read and write about other topics. I’ve been thankful for some comic relief I’ve found via social media recently. And I want my favorite cute animals Twitter account to keep on posting cute animals. I have plenty of places to find the latest news.
But, yes, I understand and support why bloggers who seem to have never done so before are now posting about #BLM. Though I wrote before that this is not just a “moment,” there is a reason this has come to a head NOW. Yes, there have been plenty of instances of police brutality in the past, but in this case we have the evidence for those who would deny that racism is endemic: it’s right there on camera; George Floyd being brutally murdered before our eyes. Floyd’s death was senseless. Hopefully, though, it will be a springboard to real change.
I’ve also seen the concern that everyone posting with the BLM or BlackLivesMatter hashtag could do more harm than good. The hashtag is an easy way to find trending topics on social media. Reserving particular hashtags for social media posts that are genuinely informative (rather than performative) about news and events allows the more relevant information to surface instead of being drowned out in a sea of posts just expressing support. If you’re going to post about BLM on social media, post some helpful content: links to places you can donate, organizations you can support.
Plenty of reasons exist why people may choose not to post about BLM on their social media accounts, or to keep posting about other topics. Some people are afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” seeming insensitive, an attitude you may criticize. But the source may not be a general fear of speaking out or engaging in public discourse.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I find it frustrating to express myself in small bytes. Something expressed in a 140 character tweet may come across as something very different than what I intend to communicate. If somebody misunderstands my meaning or wants to debate, I fear to have the follow-up conversation be via tweets, especially if I’m only on my phone at the time. Some of us may feel that, perhaps, we are at least a bit performative or phony — even when we genuinely care about an issue — if we take up the mantle of a particular problem on social media only at times that it’s trending. In my case, I ask myself if posting a hashtag on my tiny social media account is going to do anything to raise awareness. Or is it just to make me feel like I’m doing something in the face of the overwhelming tidal wave of news so I can pat myself on the back and feel like I’ve contributed. A person with a vast social media presence is a different case, but calling out Betty Blogger that doesn’t have thousands of followers just seems wrongheaded.
In some cases, bloggers are running a business with their blog and are earning income from it; I’ll leave it to them to consider whether it’s “OK” to keep posting promotional tweets. But if you criticize them for promoting their blog, ask yourself this: are you also going to criticize physical businesses for trying to keep their doors open and advertise?
So, if you want to support the Black Lives Matter movement and the cause of stopping racism and police brutality, and you can’t attend a protest, what can you do? What can you do instead of (or in addition to) expressing your support on social media or spending your time criticizing other people who are not posting BLM hashtags? 1
I ask this of myself, as well, as a woman with a lot of White privilege sitting here at my laptop. And when I say “can’t attend a protest,” I realize that there have been plenty of protests going on in my area. I’ve had a difficult time recently jumping out of my COVID-19 self-isolation and back into life (and, I will admit, am somewhat hesitant to jump into the middle of a crowd when we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.)
I do think peaceful protests help (if you want to know where they’re going to be, getting on local Facebook groups seems to be the best way in my area, though maybe not in the city.) But, as I’m not sure I’ll get my butt to one, I wanted to explore a few things I could do from here:
Some things you can do to counter racism besides (or in addition to) protests and social media posts:
Support Black Lives Matter:
Support the NAACP
Long before BLM, the NAACP was defending people of color. Consider offering them your support by donating or getting involved.
Support the ACLU
The American Civil Liberties Union has been supporting the civil liberties of all Americans for 100 years. Consider lending them financial support. or getting involved. Some local chapters, like many other places, are holding virtual meetings such as this Seattle Police Accountability Working Group.
Stay Informed: Read and Be a Consious Consumer of Media
I’m adding this one for myself. I find myself easily distressed by the constant barrage of bad news; distress is a sound mental reaction to recent events. But I live in a semi-rural area and find it easy to turn off the TV, put the newspaper in a cupboard, and get in my bubble. A lot of people don’t have that privilege, and I’m trying to force myself out of the cozy bubble and stay informed.
And by “informed,” I also mean knowing how to choose from which sources you are getting your news. It’s OK to watch opinion-oriented news shows, but be a conscious consumer of information; know how to tell the difference between fact and opinion, and balance your favorite opinion-based channel with some news sources that report on events (these are getting harder to find.) It can be interesting and informative, though infuriating, to watch channels you don’t agree with to see what they’re saying. It can help to be aware of an issue if you need to argue your point.
If you need to brush up on current issues or even the history of racism in America, consider picking up a book. TIME magazine recently posted an article with recommendations from Black booksellers and publishers about what to read.
Challenge your own bias
If you want to fight racism, one of the places you can start is with yourself. Kendi’s book, which I mentioned above, began with a passage about how he, as a young Black man, had soaked up racist messages and then preached them himself during a high school commencement speech. It’s easy to be defensive, say “I’m not racist,” and not want to look at your own biases.
Racism and bias are not the same things. Racism is a social construct, bias is within. It’s easy to say “I’m not racist; I believe everyone’s equal and should have equal rights.” But if you don’t look at your own bias, you can end up acting in ways that support racism.
Looking at or own racial bias is uncomfortable, especially for people who believe in equal rights. It’s challenging to own up to qualities you’d rather not see. But this implicit bias is generally set from the time we’re small. Looking at it openly and honestly, at least with ourselves, is the only way to counter or overcome it.
This topic might call for a longer post another time 3 but I recall that when I was growing up, I became an avid watcher and critic of my mother’s speech patterns (a trait I’m sure she enjoyed very much.) She was a lovely person who, as far as I could see, never treated anyone differently because of their race. But as I got older, I realized that if she were talking about a person, she would mention the person’s race as a descriptor only if they were non-White. I asked her, at one point, why this was. She appeared genuinely perplexed at my question and said something along the lines of, “I’m just trying to be descriptive.”
Small things can soak messages of bias into our consciousness, the only way to counteract them is to practice honesty with ourselves.
Speak up at the dinner table
I’ve been accused of a lack of sense of humor for many reasons, but don’t accuse me of it for telling you I don’t like your racist jokes! I’m on the far side of introversion and know it can be difficult speaking up in some situations. But I feel icky when I hear people telling certain types of jokes, for instance, and that has sometimes overpowered my quietude. Faced with my father-in-law telling me Chinese jokes years ago, I finally told him I didn’t find them funny. His response? “Oh, you have no sense of humor.” The response you get when you choose to speak up may be worse.
But if I’m going to tweet anti-racist stuff and then can’t tell someone at the dinner table that I don’t agree with their racist sentiment, I will leave that dinner table with a sour stomach and disappointment in my hypocrisy.
It can be overwhelming to look at events and at huge problems and feel like you, as one person can make a difference. I wrestle with this all the time, and sometimes end up going back into bubble feeling helpless, “what can I do?” Whatever I do ends up feeling like it’s small, and not enough. So I remind myself that if everyone does small things, those things can add up. Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about myself, but a small step, a small thing, is better than no thing.
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- and is the subject of another book, Biased, by Jennifer Eberhardt. The link here is also an Amazon affiliate link.