The murder of George Floyd has sparked a new level of engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement. Social media has become instrumental in documenting the injustices, and once again people around the world are shocked and horrified at yet another tragic loss of an African American life. Yet since the USA was founded on genocide and slavery, it is hardly surprising that such racism exists. It is as inevitable as the sunrise and will remain for as long as we fail to address the root causes…
The murder of George Floyd has sparked a new level of engagement with the Black Lives Matter movement. Social media has become instrumental in documenting the injustices, and once again people around the world are shocked and horrified at yet another tragic loss of an African American life. Yet since the USA was founded on genocide and slavery, it is hardly surprising that such racism exists. It is as inevitable as the sunrise and will remain for as long as we fail to address the root causes.
However, the overwhelmingly supportive online response to George Floyd’s murder has triggered many challenging emotions for the black community. As well as feeling inspired, I am also exhausted and frustrated by what I have seen on social media. Despite the widening engagement and growing discussions, I have been struck by the way in which some people have favoured broadcasting over commitment, soundbites over nuance, breadth over depth. Some of the social media activism that I am witnessing is best described as an image enhancing for newly ‘woke’ individuals, rather than an actual commitment to racial equality. Opposing racism is not just quoting Malcolm X or sharing aesthetically pleasing infographics. This is not to suggest that everyone sharing is not truly committed to racial equality or that they are merely virtue signalling. The feelings of anger and grief are genuine and authentic. However social media is superficial, and this is where things become problematic. At the worst of times – and these are the very worst of times – the balance feels completely wrong, self-promotion is competing with the political cause and content struggles against character.
I am not alone in having experienced a cognitive dissonance whilst navigating the sudden endless stream of online activism. Along with many others, I have been upset by a lack of humility and self-serving broadcasts of outrage. So much anger has been shared in these last two weeks. But some forget that a lot of us have been angry about these injustices for our whole lives. Opposing racism is not a trend or a personality trait. As a person of colour, it is exhausting to find the whole world suddenly talking about your race and telling you how oppressed you are. It is traumatising to see videos of black people being murdered circulating the internet. It is frustrating to have to navigate performative posts and consider white fragility in a time of emergency. Black voices and the black experience have always been marginalised in our society. Talking about race is new territory for a lot of people and it will take courage and self-awareness to serve the message effectively. We must be careful, specific and intentional with what we share online and probe our individual and respective privilege, racial or otherwise. Right now, the emerging space where change is becoming possible feels like it is being partly diluted by careless clicking – Sometimes it is okay to just listen.
When we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ – ‘matter’ is the absolute minimum. I crave change and can see that others do too. But we need that determination to exist more powerfully offline. Will there be lasting change in unseen moments? In private moments where there is no reward? And the times when it is most uncomfortable to speak out and challenge someone or to even challenge ourselves? For deep structural inequalities to be addressed we need societal change to be delivered through radical political programmes. We must use our vote to elect the best people to dismantle the structures that discriminate and take black people’s lives. For our shared future we must ensure that we choose to fight racism where it truly counts : in the real world.
So, when I switch off my phone and the news cycle moves on, can I be confident that something permanent has been achieved through our response to this tragic loss of life?