In this blog, I will be writing about my personal experience in this transformative national movement surrounding racial violence, in the hopes that it might offer you something that will help you in your pursuit of activism. However, if you feel overwhelmed or traumatized with the onslaught of social media content, and can’t fit anymore in your head right now, please don’t spend your time reading this. Just click here for resources. It’s better to sign off for a minute and figure out how to take action, than it is to drown in the noise of all of this, and feel like you have no grounded sense of what to do. We all know what that feels like. So feel free to just check out these action guides and links that I’ve listed below, turn off the screen, take a deep breath, and get to changing the world!
Isolation is a common feeling these days. People are searching for ways to feel connected to the world around them without coming into direct contact with it. It’s no surprise, then, that social media and the Internet has become a major part of so many of our lives, even before this pandemic began. There is now a cultural expectation that we must uphold and maintain two personas: one in-person, and one online; as the in-person interactions have decreased, the online persona has become incredibly significant. It can often become a viewer’s first impression, providing abbreviated glimpses into that person’s life, some glimpses more transparent than others. Social media has also made it really easy to interact with others, whether it be through direct message, live stream, or video chats. It has become an essential tool for our society, as we navigate a new socially distant world. Work, education, performances, celebrations, and entire communities have assimilated online in a very short amount of time. However, I think we can all agree that it doesn’t feel the same as it did before. Something has been lost in this process. As we move forward, it is important to acknowledge the essential things that social media cannot replace, and to seek those things for ourselves.
So although we use social media in an effort to keep the feeling of isolation at bay, it presents us with an entirely new array of challenges: our necks and backs ache from hours of scrolling and clicking, we sift through mountains of sensationalized stories and misinformation, we get lost down rabbit holes of hilarious memes, infuriating headlines, or tragic videos, filling our brains up with so many dots that are impossible to connect. In the end, I still often find myself feeling just as lost and isolated as when I first decided to open my phone.
Then there came a tidal wave of recent murders of black Americans at the hands of a white supremacist system: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and months before them, Eric Reason, Dominique Clayton, Michael Lorenzo Dean, and so many others whose names don’t make it into our collective awareness. Some were caught on video and spread rapidly across online platforms, while others fell through the cracks of media reporting. We have seen this wave crash in our nation so many times before, only this time, it is virtually impossible to look away— we can no longer recede into the familiar routine of our pre-COVID lives. I remember, for instance, when Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed in 2014, Tamir Rice in 2015; those tragedies felt only temporary to me and the culture around me. I was five years younger and in high school, running about my wildly busy days as an aspiring dancer. Although I knew how important the Black Lives Matter movement was, I always had the privilege to exit the conversation, observing in complicity as my life chugged along. Now, I have no exit door. I am an unemployed college graduate with a BFA and a mission to change the world with my art, to make it a more accepting, compassionate, and just world. And this is what I am faced with— what my whole generation is faced with. Our eyes are glued to a screen that is broadcasting proof that black lives and bodies are expendable in our society, and for the first time for many of us, we cannot look away. We cannot let these tragedies be temporary interruptions in white silence.
What do we do? How do we counteract this devastating wave so that it doesn’t crash yet again? How do we employ social media to help us understand, organize, act up, and resist against these oppressive regimes, rather than letting it cloud our focus? How do us non-BIPOC allies specifically cut through the loneliness of quarantine and the informational chaos of social media to enact real change?
Firstly, we must recognize that engaging with social media is not enough. In fact, it isn’t even all that essential to being a real ally, although it provides a sense of solidarity, unity, and common understanding among and across communities. To use an all-too-common metaphor: social media is good tinder to ignite a flame, but cannot create a fire on its own. It burns brightly and quickly, but not for long. We must continue the work, with or without the Internet as our catalyst. We must research, self-educate, donate, listen, amplify black voices, and support one another in doing so.
I feel a pressure in this period of revolution to share the actions that I am taking to further the cause of racial justice in the U.S. on social media— to ‘prove’ my advocacy as a white ally. But this thought quickly leads to the trap of performative activism, which adds to the sensational noise that dilutes real, concrete information that we all, but especially white people, need to know right now. It helps me to clarify my intentions before sharing a post: is my true goal right now to spread good resources that will lead to action? Or am I signaling my activism on a surface level just to ease my conscience? Am I feeding the fire or smothering it? We must hold ourselves accountable for the roles we choose to play in this. No one else can do that for us.
Secondly, we must recognize how we can engage off-screen, in physical, communal, real-life ways. For many of us who are fortunate enough to be healthy, this is very possible. Whether you live in an urban area like me, or a suburban/rural community, talk to those whom you live with. Talk to your neighbors. Meet with them (at six feet apart). Come up with group goals to dismantle racism. Share resources and information with them (e.g. if you are an artist and you feel inspired, share your art with them). My neighbors in Bernal Heights, San Francisco, have an ongoing email chain. We gather on our street every Sunday where a few of my neighbors play jazz music. This past Sunday we put out a bucket raised money for BIPOC organizations. These are just some small actions we are taking, yet there is so much more we can do. Yes, our online communities are incredibly valuable, but as I said before, a lot is lost in the process of virtualizing our lives. We have to reclaim our tangible, human relationships. We will not make it through without them.
In addition to who we are relating with, we must also give time and energy to where we are on Earth right now— the soil you are standing on. Pouring myself into screens for hours makes me feel out-of-body, forget the time of day, and lose my sense of place. Connecting with nature and the outdoors is so grounding and important in how we process mentally, especially in times of crisis. Make an effort to leave your indoor space regularly, in whatever capacity that feels healing for you. Standing on soil reminds me of how our planet is suffering alongside the black and brown lives on it, at the hands of a white supremacist, hyper-capitalist order. Both climate change and racism are symptoms of the same societal disease.
Lastly, as we move through all of this, be kind and attentive to yourself. There is no such thing as a perfect ally. We have all contributed to the problem before. We have all taken part in racism before. That cannot discourage us from speaking out and moving forward into action and solution. People often say in regard to committing harm, racial or otherwise, that the intent does not matter if the impact caused harm. I agree, but I challenge us to rethink this relationship between intent and impact as more fluid, particularly when it comes to being an ally. Being an effective ally starts with setting the right intentions: letting go of your ego, opening yourself up to uncomfortable truths, expanding your network to include more diverse perspectives. In this process, you will mess up. You will say the wrong thing. You will have an accidental, negative impact. But you cannot let these bumps get in the way of your original intentions. Give yourself time to learn. Forgive the mistakes of yourself and others. Do not let white guilt distract you. A family-friend of mine, who writes inspiring newsletters to my local community, said it most concisely and powerfully: “Perfectionism is a tool of white supremacy.” If you set strong intentions, an imperfect but positive impact will follow in time.
I hope that these past several days have sparked new ways for you to resist anti-black violence, white supremacy, and white complacency, both on and offline. Every day, I see BIPOC activists and friends around me offering more and more small acts of revolution. I am inspired by their determination to raise awareness in the face of trauma. Let this movement not be a trend, but an end to injustice.