What does bad social media activism look like?

Rashida Campbell-Allen discusses #blackouttuesday and the shallowness of performative solidarity.

Bad social activism looks like a black square, with nothing happening beyond the boundaries of its four sides. It looks like white people creating a tagged chain of non-racist self-proclamation. It is the circulation of traumatic videos and content just for shock factor.  In fact, to be non-racist does not make one anti-racist, and people need to understand that anti-racist activism needs to shift to everyday day lived actions, not just virtually. 

In a contemporary digital era, it's no surprise that social media has become the arena upon which most of our lives and interactions take place, especially in the midst of a lockdown. Social media can act as an incredibly useful source of both information and communication, a way to inform ourselves of what global mainstream news fails to say. However, social media also has a sense of anonymity, detachment and performativity. It is too easy to simply post a one-off hashtag of performative solidarity without actually taking time to think, listen and act.

It is too easy to simply post a one-off hashtag of performative solidarity without actually taking time to think, listen and act

I woke up on Tuesday 2 June, after a relatively tiresome and emotionally draining weekend in the wake of the death of George Floyd. As a black woman, I woke up hurt, frustrated, confused and angry. Why was I suddenly seeing black spaces everywhere? After doing some research I realised that the origin of the idea was with good intention. A way for the music industry to take a commercial break to allow time for people to focus on the matter at hand. However, this transcended into the boundaries of Instagram, and this is where the problem began. People begun being “activists” by posting black squares with the #blacklivesmatter and #blackouttuesday.

People begun being “activists” by posting black squares with the #blacklivesmatter and #blackouttuesday

My problem was that it not only clogged the tag stream with a darkness that deprived us of useful information but it also seemed as if white people were being granted a “day off”, an easy way to say that they have done their part from the periphery. A day away from the trauma, the focus and the change that needs to happen. But anti-racism is not a trend. As black people, we do not get a day off from the trauma and frustrations. 

Anti-racism is not a trend, allyship is not a trend

Now do not get me wrong, some people were using this time effectively, putting information in their bios and stories and sharing sources of support and education - this I applaud. However, the majority were not. This is bad social media activism. If you posted a black square but did not sign or share a petition, research black British history or current events, share books and resources, show support for black creatives and businesses, or even have conversations with your white peers and families, then you have misunderstood.   

Allyship is not a trend. Allyship is not self-indulgent. Allyship and anti-racism is not a week-long performative act. Being anti-racist is a lifelong commitment to consistent self-reflection, action, education, staying aware and listening to constructive criticism. Your black squares and hashtags are not enough. Your shock is not enough. In this case, actions speak louder than words. 

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