Article by Charlotte Ray
Artwork by Indira Falle
In a contemporary digital era, society is facing many new and dynamic issues. Arguably, the majority are caused by the fact that the internet is perceived to provide an easier way to express negative and offensive opinions towards others. This may be due to the misconception that the online world is a ‘freer’ space in which individuals may express themselves openly, whilst seemingly escaping the consequences that they would face for such actions against others in the physical world. A few of these issues include social media trolling, writing inflammatory Facebook messages and creating offensive posts; however the list is almost endless. Online racism is no exception.
Before 2nd June 2020, many people were not aware of the extent of racism still imbedded within our communities or the hate crimes that take place both in the physical world and within the interconnected world of social media. Previously, a very minor proportion of the posts on Instagram or other social media platforms were devoted to raising awareness of the racism present within our world. Despite the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement has been striving to create a world where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive since its establishment in 2013, there is still a distinct absence of awareness for the movement within the society of 2020. Furthermore, there is arguably a fundamental lack of understanding about how this movement advocates for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against all incidents of racially motivated violence against Black communities.
However, after this pivotal date, things finally began to change. Although, this begs the question: why didn’t the Black Lives Matter movement have international recognition before 2020, as it had already been established for seven years? Perhaps, as Alicia Garza, one of the initial co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, suggested, “seven years ago, we were treated like we were too radical, too out of the bounds of what is possible”; however, now, after the death of George Floyd and countless others, the world reached its "boiling point” and the movement began to gain the international recognition it should have had from the beginning. On 2nd June 2020, a day which is also known as Blackout Tuesday, a collective action against racism was sparked by the murder of George Floyd. It was originally initiated by the music industry, who pledged not to release any records on that particular day. It was soon adopted by millions who took to social media – and Instagram in particular – to post symbolic black squares to participate in and raise awareness of “the long-standing racism and inequality that exists from the boardroom to the boulevard”, as stated by Jamila Thomas, senior marketing director of Atlantic Records and one of the initiators of this movement.
What is undoubtedly true, is that this day of solidarity brought with it awareness and recognition of the wider issues surrounding racism and also for individuals such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others who have suffered because of it. Perhaps you too joined the masses and posted a black square on your Instagram feed, or took the opportunity to read more about the reasons behind this momentous social movement. Undeniably, this one day sparked the beginning of real education on racism and the understanding that the fight against it is far from over. For these reasons, this movement has to be praised. However, that being said, is it possible that this day of mainly posting empty, black squares actually hindered the progress being made in our fight against racism?
A worrying aspect of this movement is the way that it has suddenly received an increase in international recognition due to its ‘hashtag ability’ or ‘trend status’. Typically, trends on social media last just two weeks and this means that the movement is in danger of losing the recognition it struggled for so long to achieve. Additionally, if we allow this movement to slip from people’s minds, we risk blowing out the spark of education that has just been ignited. As time passes, social media may move from this movement onto the next trend; but we must ensure that we keep reading and educating ourselves on this matter to allow it to remain at the forefront and allow us to combat racism within society. It is only through education and understanding that people will truly understand that the fight against racism is far from over.
Furthermore, whilst the far-reaching and significant action taken by many individuals to post a black square and use the #blacklivesmatter or equivalent hashtag is highly commendable and aided the movement greatly, it would be fair to assume that many of those people believed that posting a black screen was enough. Although, it must be said that posting something was better than doing nothing, what individuals might not have realised is that a day of silence for social media may not have been as beneficial to the anti-racism campaign as it had the possibility to be. Instead of posting a black screen, arguably it might have been more valuable to create a post about what books someone could read, or what documentaries they could watch to educate themselves on this subject. Individuals may not have gone on to research this long-standing and deep-rooted issue, or to donate to charities supporting the movement, or sign a petition; but, posting something educational to their followers could have made the difference a black square could not.
Additionally, this social movement has been criticised because of the fact that, within hours of the start of Blackout Tuesday, a key problem emerged. The internet became so saturated with posts using the #blacklivesmatter hashtag that the posts containing important information about this movement (educational resources, donation information, peaceful protest details and other advice) became swamped beneath a deluge of blank, black boxes. Despite good intentions, it could be viewed that Blackout Tuesday unintentionally muted the voices that endeavoured to raise more awareness.
We must all strive to give a voice to this social movement through educating ourselves on this matter. Moreover, there are a multitude of ways to contribute to putting an end to the racism that is so ingrained within our society. First and foremost, we must not dismiss the anti-racism movement just because the posts on social media have dwindled. It is still an ongoing and significant issue. An easy way to continue raising awareness on this matter is to use your social media platform to share and repost anti-racist educational resources. Furthermore, you could adjust your social media feed by following more Black Lives Matter activists such as Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Layla F. Saad. By changing the people you follow, you can ensure that even though your feed may have gone back to normal, you can continue to educate yourself. In addition to this, there are innumerable books to read to educate yourself on this matter, such as Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. There are also films such as 13th, documentaries such as When They See Us, and countless other anti-racism resources that you could use to educate yourself about this prevalent problem.
Educational Resources and Further Reading: