This past summer, my supervisor gave me and the other company summer intern a presentation on media literacy and internet branding. I worked for a feminist nonprofit, and, unsurprisingly, both the other intern and I were politically active and socially conscious. When it came time for questions, what we came up with was very different than our supervisor expected. She joked that our concerns showed a marked shift from worrying about the impact of our leaked private photos to the impact of political posts on our future professional prospects. =
I remember getting the first “what you post on the internet stays on the internet” talk. Don’t sext; someone will see it. Don’t post pictures of yourself drinking underage; someone will see it. Don’t swear on social media; someone will see it. I was in eighth grade, attending a conference for aspiring attorneys and I took the talk to heart. A few months later, one of my high school teachers gave a similar presentation, only this time he recovered pictures we had deleted from social media to demonstrate that nothing is ever really deleted from the internet. All that to say, I have been very careful on social media my entire life.
Until college, maintaining a clean image on social media meant that I didn’t post anything political. Ever. My only exception to the rule was posting feminist and women’s empowerment content. I justified that, telling myself that no one really hated women’s rights and gender justice. Most corporate companies should care about the gender pay gap and accessible education for women. However, even I can admit that my feminist “political posts” were always so broad and watered down that they could never really be political. I intentionally crafted the most centrist political posts that I could, in hopes that no future employer could hold it against me.
Looking back on that choice, it seems drastic and a bit disheartening that in my mind I’ve equated discussing immigrant rights, minority rights, women’s rights and other humanitarian issues as the same or equal to posting exposing pictures, profanity and illegal behavior on social media. However, making a very broad generalization, a lot of people see posting political in the same way.
I used to justify not posting political issues on social media, by telling myself that social media wasn’t the place to do so. People would disagree with me and there was, often, no way to have productive conversations. I can’t even count the amount of friendships I’ve seen ruined over Instagram story debates. But even at the time, that argument seemed weak. The truth is, we’re a generation that shares close to everything online. My social media followers know where I got my last iced chai latte, my mom’s birthday, every minute of the last concert that I went to and my favorite album. I’ve created a digital community where I can have conversations online, so — as a feminist gender sexuality studies and government major — it seems superficial that this community doesn’t know about the political issues I care about.
And now, given the COVID-19 pandemic, the struggle for racial justice and the election just days away, that argument feels even weaker. Why wouldn’t I post about politics on social media, when doing so could help raise money and resources for victims of police brutality? Or could raise awareness about voter disenfranchisement and provide resources to help ensure that a friend’s ballot isn’t thrown out? Or could provide access to support groups and resources for people who have lost family members and friends to the COVID-19 pandemic? I’ll borrow the feminist phrase “the personal is political,” because political issues are people’s lives. My life is my politics.
Yet, I’m a coward. I have a fear of offending people. On a good day I’m self aware, on a bad day I’ve internalized racism. As a member of one of the only Black families in my neighborhood at home, one of the only Black students in my elementary and high schools almost my entire life and a child of immigrant parents, I have spent my life “staying the course.” My parents adapted well and quickly to our lives in a county with drastically different political views than our family’s. They taught my brother and I to do the same. Pushing buttons and talking about politics has always been just another way to ostracize ourselves. It’s the chance that we won’t be invited to the sleepover or birthday party, the chance that we won’t be elected to the student council position or picked team captain and, most importantly, a one way assurance that we will not get that internship or job.
College has completely turned the tide. For the most part, I am surrounded by people who accept (and, even better, encourage) my political views. Yet, I still really don’t post political. There’s an overwhelming fear that this will all go away someday and someday soon. What if the tide shifts and something I believe at twenty-years-old is wildly unpopular and maybe even offensive when I’m forty. What if the human resources room is looking for someone “less political,” someone who stays their course? What if? The answer is, I really don’t know. In twenty years, that view I have now could be even more popular. That human resources room might be looking for someone eager to voice their opinions. I really don’t know. But, everytime that I post a political picture and lose five followers from back home, it reminds me what’s at stake.
Anuli Ononye is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. Womansplaining runs every other Wednesday this semester.