May 13, 2020

WAITE | Social Justice on Social Media

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I found out about the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery the same way I found out about nearly every other murder in the progressing genocide of black life over the past few years — social media.

I was made aware of his death seconds after scrolling past two other videos depicting police officers harassing, brutalizing and, ultimately, arresting young black men for purportedly not following social distancing rules. This new violation is only actually threateningly criminal if your skin is not white. Despite often being continuously ignored and obscured, the egregiously disturbing reality of America’s conduits for racism is neither novel nor surprising. It is not surprising for me, other people of color or even our white counterparts, whether they crave justice or not.

I follow many  “social justice” and “activist” pages on social media. I repost these page’s content as if my life depends on it. Sometimes I swear to myself that it does. I repost a hashtag “#Justicefor ____.” I repost a “call to action” or videos exposing police brutality. I repost the words of people more prominent than I, denouncing the racism, intolerance and inequities even my generation can’t seem to escape.

I recognize that simply just posting or reposting on social media is not the epitome of social justice and social awareness, albeit, it would be impractical and narrow minded to suggest that many social media platforms are not influential mediums for change. Social media is a powerful tool in the dissemination of information, the spreading of resources and the increasinging of solidarity.

The day I found out about Arbery’s murder, I, along with so many of my black and brown friends, reposted infographics, hashtags and Arbery’s photo calling for justice in his name on our Instagram stories. Another friend of mine also shared a similar post on her story, and I was astonished. I had never seen her repost anything even remotely related to acknowledging the injustices faced by communities of color. And, quite frankly, as this friend is white, seeing this repost on her Instagram story meant more to me than seeing it on any of my black and brown friends’ stories.

Just reposting on social media is not necessarily indicative of someone’s social awareness. I know that. But I was so astonished, and even gracious, until I realized just how low the bar has been set for the non POC who are standing in “solidarity” with POC.

The majority of my black friends follow the same social justice and activist pages. I expect them to know about and care about injustices like Arbery’s abbreviated life. I rely on them to understand that his death is not singular, nor is it exceptional.

As author Frank Wilderson III astutely points out, the “increase in media coverage and yet little decrease in murder reveals the ease with which anti-black violence can be ignored by white society; at the same time, this reveals that when one is black one needen’t do anything to be targeted, as blackness itself is criminalized.”

Why was my white friend’s repost initially so much more impactful — and perhaps even more important — to me as a black woman, than all of my other black and brown friends’ reposts? Probably because we, as a society, do not expect our white comrades to act. We do not entrust them with the responsibility to care about the inimical impact of racism. And so it is unfortunately surprising when a white friend of mine sees the racist death of a Black man to be important enough to tap the “repost” button on her Instagram page. Because at this point, non black allies are anyone who dont kill us and try not to say the N-word. The bar is set so low that I am surprised when someone who is not black — and is not a celebrity — shares a post acknowledging the murder of a human being.

 

Sidney Malia Waite is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at smw327@cornell.edu. Waite, What? runs every other Friday this semester.