The Black Lives Matter Movement Is Not a Social Media Trend
by Sophia Clarke
And now, a moment to say their names: George, Breonna, Ahmaud, Tony, Iyanna, Tamir, Sandra, Trayvon, Pamela, Randolph, Michael, Shantel, Atatiana, Korryn, the hashtag-less, the ones we don’t know, and the countless others we do. We honor you. We remember you. We fight for you. If anything, we as Americans know that we mustn’t hold our collective breath on the powerful institutions within this country to do the right thing. Which is why in all 50-states we, the people, have assembled (mostly) peacefully, for marches, rallies, sometimes dances, and consistently demanding justice.
To quote The Black National Anthem, or Lift Every Voice and Sing, written by James Weldon Johnson, “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory won.” That’s exactly what we’re doing. In cities big and small, townships, counties, and fields, we’re gathering together during a pandemic because there is simply no other option. Let it not be forgotten that we’re assembling en masse at a time in which this is taboo – COVID-19 exists and the ramifications of the disease can be severe. It could leave many more of us without breath. For the first time in months we’re defying the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and our local and state governments because institutionalized racism, embodied by police brutality, is also a public health crisis. People are dying.
These lawful assemblies, guaranteed by the US Constitution and the 1st Amendment are well within our rights as citizens. And yet there has been so much flack written about the Black Lives Matter movement. Since when is ending racism controversial? Oh… wait.
There have been countless comparisons to today’s movement to the 1960s, in which people marched all over the country advocating for Civil Rights. But what is so different between 2020 and the 1960s (beyond the facts that Black people are still organizing for equal rights and humane treatment and protection under the law), is that social media has kept us all accountable. Since the first protests in Minnesota, we’ve been turning to the internet to keep us informed. I’ve been acutely aware of how the mainstream news has not accurately depicted events in real-time as they move quickly. Livestreams on YouTube, Twitter notifications, and Instagram have been much more reliable.
Beyond the minute-by-minute news I was getting on organizing updates in my home of Washington, DC, and news directly from Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered and the first major protests began, was a clear divide in information shared by those I follow. Some were still posting idyllic shots of a perfectly chilled glass of rosé, while others were sharing the ways in which they were taking responsibility for their white privilege. The dichotomy between those informed and those uninformed had never been clearer, or grosser.
In the days that followed, hundreds of resources were widely shared by friends and other accounts – resources for those looking to attend a protest in a pandemic, bail fund donations, Venmo usernames of organizers, reading lists on how to educate yourself on Blackness and whiteness, links to Black-owned businesses to buy from, articles on re-distributing wealth, petitions. There was something for everyone and every budget and ability. Really, participation was not optional. It was clear that the Black Lives Matter movement was, and is, all that exists online. For Black people such as myself, it always has in real life. It’s always been life or death simply because there is no other choice. Participation is not optional.
But these resources were coming from friends. From white friends. From non-Black friends. People who were suddenly aware of their privilege and were looking to do something with it. I read a quote once that said, “All friendships are political” and it got me thinking about all the friends who had been deafeningly quiet.
Social media moves fast, as has this movement. In the week that has followed since the first outcries in Minneapolis, all four officers involved in the murder of George Floyd have been arrested and charged. I’ve had white friends document their experiences at the frontlines of protests – using their bodies and whiteness as shields for Black protestors. They’ve been hit with rubber bullets and been tear gassed and continue to show up. All friendships are political.
For the first-time white folks have centered Blackness online and in-person. Ally-ship in action. Friends taking bullets for you.
But activism doesn’t need to be loud or dangerous. Sometimes it just needs to be heard – especially if you’ve been quiet. First there was the silence, then appeared the Black Square.
The origins of the “Blackout Tuesday” movement began with two Black women in the music industry who wanted to center how the industry profits off-of Black talent with little recognition. Using the hashtag, #TheShowMustBePaused as their campaign, it had a goal to pause the usual bombardment of regular content to allow for Black voices to be uplifted. The goal was worthy and needed, but the concept was quickly stolen and re-appropriated by everyone looking to be an “activist” – many of whom had remained silent online until this moment.
On Tuesday, the Black Square reached a fever-pitch. Every brand felt the need to post a Black Square, often tagging #BlackLivesMatter in the caption so that by 9 AM, nearly all posts on my feed were Black Squares. Gone were the resources that were so helpful for organizing and learning. The algorithm was clogged, the system broken. It’s typical of brands to use “the latest” in Instagram tends for marketing purposes: companies understand that there is a lot of buying power and business to be lost if there was no statement made – no Black Square posted.
But on the individual level, the Black Square does nothing. It does not absolve you of your ignorance, inaction, or the racism within. It does not forgive the time you yelled the N-word as you sang a song, or fetishized a Black person, or called the cops because you saw someone “suspicious.” It doesn’t elevate Black voices, brands, or the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a poor attempt to show that you’re “not racist” while doing the bare-minimum. It’s not really for anyone but your followers – it’s entirely performative. An empty, thoughtless, post. It’s the digital equivalent to a shoulder shrug – a half-hearted yes. It is like the presence of someone at a party who doesn’t want to be. In this instance, the post is perceived social cache and the party is the Black Lives Matter movement. Except this doesn’t end at 2 AM when the host kicks you out.
The Black Square posted on the individual level is exactly what it is: B.S.
The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t a trend. It is not a peplum top or a fun new bar or food in foam form. For Black lives to continue to matter, for Black life, joy, and prosperity to be centered, the movement must continue. Social media is powerful. So is whiteness. And to not use these forces to do something actionable within your network – anything – is peak privilege in action.
The Black Square posts do not show solidarity, but rather just a thinly veiled performance. An attempt at activism. A toe dipped into a churning sea of constant movement. Performative activism stems from not wanting to be called out for silence, but why resign oneself to this possibility when there are so simple ways to do actually do something? It can be simple as having a conversation with yourself as to why you’re afraid to declare yourself an anti-racist. That’s a great place to start.
Mainstream news has done a poor job at accurately portraying what’s happening on the ground. Protests have been largely peaceful, and social media has been essential for disseminating the latest facts, actions to take, and updates. It’s been an incredible tool for fostering collective action. But beyond the facts, there has been a reckoning for white people online and how to understand the privilege that whiteness holds. Doing your part, and using this privilege isn’t just cool this week – it’s essential always. It’s a commitment to justice, and there’s so much work to do. Jump in – the water is fine and history will remember you well.
At the time of publication, no arrests have been made for the murder of Breonna Taylor in her own home. Today would have been her 27th birthday. Here’s a petition to sign to ensure justice and share your action on social media using the hashtag #SayHerName. Measurable actions have worked, and will continue to work, as long as we keep speaking up, sharing the facts, and holding each-other accountable on, and offline.
We deserve better. Let’s quit the B.S.
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SAY HER NAME. 💔 In honor of Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday, these influencers, including #BlogHer Alum @colormecourtney, @tyalexander, and @gabifresh, are calling for justice to be served. Demand #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor. #BlackLivesMatter includes Black women and Black LGBTQ+ lives, too. Swipe for ways you can request action, put together by @shemedia partner @xonecole. Influencers in Slide One: @essiegolden @curvenvy @glamazondiaries @amarachiukachu @tyalexander @colormecourtney @chardlinechanel @addieohh @stylishcurves @ontheqtrain @kurvykatie @lexiwiththecurls @iambeauticurve @simplygailg @styleandpoise @dressupwithjess Influencers in Slide Two: @gabifresh @kellyaugustineb @chanteburkett @alana_reina @simplycurvee @opalbyopal @audreypatriciaw @stylenbeautydoc @monroesteele @blairimani @fromheadtocurve @enigivensunday
ABOUT SOPHIA CLARKE
Sophia Clarke is a regular person based out of Washington, DC who just wants to make her mother proud. She works in Communications for a national women’s nonprofit where she co-produces a weekly podcast, writes blog articles, and lifts the voices of women, children, and people of color. She’s committed to centering Blackness, using her platform for good, and making her bed every morning.
To learn more about Sophia, please visit her website: sophiaclarke.com.