It’s no secret that the recent spike in the Black Lives Matter movement propelled a social media outburst of sharing videos, articles, links to petitions or donations in order to educate others and encourage them to advocate the rights of Black and indigenous people. The growing emphasis of “educate, advocate, and donate” had, for a moment, been the new normal. But even as we warn others about the possibility of all of this turning to dust once the outcry is over, I can already sense a decline in awareness. And I am afraid I am a part of it.
Like so many others, I was shocked, infuriated, and saddened by the revelation that the policing system was rigged against the protection Black citizens’ rights following the devastating turn of events that exposed the brutal racism of officers across the country. But as they say, one bad apple – and certainly many bad apples – can spoil the bunch. Now people are saying the basket the apples were in was already rotting.
Like so many others, I immediately sought to right any of my wrong perceptions of this issue and the African-American community with the online resources I had access to. I clicked on petitions and signed them. I researched well-known organizations and donated to their links. Many of these resources, I found, had been handed to me through Instagram stories and posts by activists, influencers, and even my friends that I had been following. Upon realizing this, I chose to follow their example.
Then there was the heated debate on whether or not people were treating the movement as another social media trend. For some online, their reposts and reshares were an outcome of their FOMO after scrolling through their feed and coming across their friends, acquaintances, and favorite celebrities crying out Black Lives Matter. Some people I followed would upload the hashtag on a black background and keep quiet on the issue afterward. Recently, TikTok user Tony Lopez went under fire on the popular app for his video of himself speaking about how he “stands for what’s right and what’s right right now is black lives do matter.” The issue with his video was that it encouraged fans to “fill the comments with a fist and spread the positivity and love.” And it ended there with no mention of spreading awareness, of donating to the cause, of any real action. It was apparent that this TikTok was posted half-heartedly.
And when I say that I sense a decline in advocacy for BLM, I do keep in mind that the momentum created by the police killings and subsequent protests will inevitably die down after a while. But what I am concerned about is that some of the same accounts that reposted protest clips are now returning to flaunt their quarantine lifestyle – which is completely fine, but not a single reminder has been made to continue to actively support black and indigenous lives and fight racism. Is this a sign of what we’ve been afraid of – gradual indifference to the movement – or am I just sensitive? What if progress comes to a halt?
On top of all this, celebrities, models, teenagers – accounts across all categories on Instagram, have experienced a mass unfollowing that coincided with their posting about black advocacy.
I’ve had a lot of people unfollow me throughout these past few weeks because of my support in regards to the black lives matter movement…. AND I’LL DO IT AGAIN. Get off my page.
You will not be missed. 💋💋💋
— gabs (@gabby_stelly) June 14, 2020
I have always been cautious about what situation I put my peers in as a result of my actions. This can be a good or bad trait, as my alertness might save others from feeling uncomfortable on the one hand, but I also tend to over contemplate what I do or what I have done. And I think, in part, as lame as it sounds, I am also anxious about how others judge my behavior.
Without a doubt, my feed is slowly clearing out of signs of continued support for anti-racism and the protection of black rights. But when I stumbled upon a post that takes me to a link to a black transgender organization and was immediately convinced to support their cause, I hesitated before I put my finger on the paper airplane icon that lets me share the post to my story. Thoughts swirled in my head: I’ve already posted about BLM twice yesterday. What if people get annoyed? I’m sure they care, but they probably didn’t come on here to be bombarded with people telling them to donate and read up on black history. Maybe I can just donate quietly without sharing and it’d be enough.
Sometimes, I ended up just archiving the posts and telling myself I’ll share them later. And I immediately felt a pang of guilt. If others’ judgments matter enough for me to repress my inclination to do all I can to contribute to something as important and obvious as standing up for people’s lives, am I truly a part of this movement, or am I motivated with the wrong reasons?
And to add to the distress, while I was disappointed in how some people decided to participate, I was also, at the same time, self-conscious about how my own participation was being affected. Not only that, but the never-ending arguments about what kind of advocacy was right or wrong also overwhelmed me. I was scared of criticism.
In part, this is a natural human tendency that serves as the basis for the bystander effect. In a digitalized era, bystanders are no longer limited to physical situations. Whilst issues circle the internet, if I, with a social media platform that I use on the daily, make the choice to refrain from acknowledging the problem with it, I am a bystander. However, what the bystander effect explains is the human inclination to doubt our actions in fear of how others will perceive us, even if what we are contemplating about doing is morally good.
This is what is at the root of my worry. My fear of negative evaluation might be preventing me from putting in more of my efforts to support the cause, whether it be about the disregard for black lives, climate change, or the war in Yemen. It’s definitely right to be sharing such information. To do so would be speaking out, “these issues are uncalled for, you and I need to know, and we need to do our part.” There is not a single aspect of that idea that is unjust. But the part of me that shrinks in the eyes of the public was holding me back. Yet if I’m anxious now, what will I do if or when the protests and informative posts start receding even more?
To resolve this internal conflict, I have resolved to check myself objectively and weigh out the priorities. Did I do my research on the scores of petitions I am about to upload? Will this profane video of a protest be a useful resource for my friends and acquaintances, or is it more triggering? Will people read this extremely wordy screenshot, or can it be simplified to deliver a more clear-cut message in an approachable way? As much as raising understanding for yourself and your peers is one influential component of catalyzing change, I still feel that it’s important to question my decisions before I take action. But I have decided not to doubt myself if I believe I am passing on relevant material. Because when others do, for people like me, it encourages advocacy to persist, and it can really be an eye-opener sometimes as well. In the event that my choices online end up being contradictory to the cause, then so be it. It’s a relief that I, and possibly someone who called me out for it, recognized my mistake; I can now correct my knowledge and assist others in doing the same.
So I beg of you, too, not to fear negative evaluation. Especially in such a politically active generation, it’s easy to be anxious about how people respond to your voice. To thrive, I’ve learned that it’s important to remember that you might be wrong, but that doesn’t make you an inherently bad person as long as you remain flexible to criticism and develop the ability to recognize your slip-ups. Meanwhile, it’s equally important to stay devoted to what you believe is good for the world. If you withdraw from that, you are slowing your progress. Disapproval is inevitable, but if it isn’t reasonable, it shouldn’t be worth it to let it take your valuable words down.
Featured image via Unsplash