Social Reform with Social Distance

Mia Seabrooks –

George Floyd’s gruesome murder by three officers in the Minneapolis Police Department was seen throughout the nation. Don Lemon, following the murder, stated that “there are… two deadly viruses killing Americans. COVID-19, Racism-20,” (CNN, May, 2020). This is the current state of affairs in this country and many Americans young and old are (and in the case of racism, have been) falling to these circumstances. The injustice of Floyd’s death, and many other countless innocent Black lives lost, ignited a wildfire of protests which spread from Minneapolis to every single state in the union. Justifiably, Black people are tired of the brutalization and oppression that has been historically and contemporarily placed on their backs. With the growing distrust in mainstream, traditional media, young Americans have been increasingly turning to social media and the Internet to receive information. In my case, many young people and I have been attempting to disseminate information to my friends and followers through my page.

Social media is no stranger to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. In fact, in 2013, the movement was formed following Trayvon Martin’s killing by George Zimmerman. #BlackLivesMatter spread in 2013, declined a bit, spiked in 2016, declined a bit, and is back again and stronger than ever now in 2020. Perhaps COVID-19 and its quarantine and social distancing practices made the emotional responses to these injustices more amplified than ever. But is that a bad thing? I personally don’t think so. In my opinion, it feels like people besides the Black community are finally getting as angry as we have been for years. Almost everyone I follow has been using their individual platforms to not only spread vital educational information but also donation, petition, and outreach links. I couldn’t be prouder to see the conjoined effort of the masses working together towards a mutual goal.

Yet, something about this seems off to me. Why does it always take extreme cases like this to get people’s attention? Why does it take riots for the people in power to hear us? Why, when looting occurs, are lost goods viewed as more important than lost lives? Why do companies, who prior to this situation never cared, suddenly claim that they champion for Black lives? Why are common people who are largely unemployed (due to COVID) donating more than the CEOs of multi-billion-dollar companies? When I think of occurrences like these, it makes me hesitate when viewing the posts of many corporations and ordinary people who claim to be allies. I understand that my own cynicism towards peoples’ inner narcissism and their wish to not be seen as a racist is my own problem, but it does keep me thinking critically about true intentions. Either way, it is good that the majority of people are banding together to acknowledge and fight racism and bigotry all over the world.

On the 2nd of June, Instagram was flooded with blacked-out timelines. I woke up to this and asked my boyfriend, as he had made one of these black square posts, about what was going on. He explained to me that today was #BlackoutTuesday and people are posting the black squares to stand in solidarity with Black people and the BLM movement. I was still somewhat confused but ended up posting one myself with a caption stating something along the lines of “we shouldn’t even have to explain why our lives matter” with the Blackout Tuesday and BLM hashtag. As the day went on, I discovered from a pro-black page I follow that these posts were clogging up the BLM hashtag and keeping people from accessing vital information posted under it. I quickly checked the tag myself and sure enough the entire tag was blacked out. We were all willingly censoring ourselves… and we didn’t even realize. I took my post down immediately and tried to spread the information about our self-censorship as much as I could. I posted about it on my grid and story and whenever I saw a blacked-out post with the BLM hashtag I politely asked the poster to remove the tag and explained why. Everyone I spoke to was extremely understanding and acted quickly.

I bring up #BlackoutTuesday only because I think it’s a great example of good intentions gone wrong on social media. The original plan, I learned later, was to mute the normal content we see every day and amplify the voices of Black creators (artists, musicians, activists, etc.). In the end we did the exact opposite of this by flooding the wrong tag. People caught on quickly and corrected themselves which also goes to show the power of social media, information can be spread just as quickly as it’s censored. Especially with the extra time the masses have with the unemployment COVID-19 struck, social media usage has been up, even higher than normal. This makes it extremely important to check what you are sharing and how you participate in the movement online, something even I tripped up on. Standing in solidarity is important, but doing so correctly is the top priority.

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