I’ve written about this kind of thing before, and I’d like to be clear that this framework is what I try to remind MYSELF of, not how I think all people everywhere need to operate. If other people can relate to this or use it, great, but I’m not trying to dictate anything to anyone. Especially when I think about my own identities and positionality, these points only really make sense in that context. For example, telling a Black person “you should do more to educate people” would be a super messed-up thing to say. But telling myself that would not be. So please read this spectrum with that in mind.
Also, I’m not particularly interested in being “deep” here. This isn’t some profound philosophical discussion about how human beings relate to change-making processes, or a poetic exploration of the roots of racial violence; it’s a concrete look at how social media practice can relate to movement-building.
With regards to the #BaltimoreUprising and #FreddieGray protests, a few examples:
1. Silence: So some people are silent because they’re ignorant, or because they don’t care, but there’s also a case to be made, especially for white people, that silence could mean listening, not trying to take up space: two good impulses. But as the rest of this list shows, there are ways to speak up without without speaking over others, especially when we’re talking about social media practice. And there’s just too much at stake to be completely silent.
2. Platitudes: “We all just need to LOVE each other!” Some platitudes are innocent, but a good amount of them implicitly amount to “why are you talking about this? I’d prefer to not think about it.” And then, of course, there’s the “All Lives Matter” crowd.
3. “Thoughts and prayers:” The last thing I want to do is disrespect people who are authentically trying to process tragedy and injustice. But I struggle with this one. If saying “my thoughts and prayers are with Baltimore” helps you survive, then I support that; this spectrum, after all, applies to me and yours might look different. But for me, I don’t give my own thoughts or prayers much weight. Sometimes a phrase like this can be an excuse to disengage, to say something when you feel powerless to do anything. But I don’t believe in powerlessness, as the following points illustrate.
4. Outrage: Sometimes, this is just raw emotion, and that’s fine. “This country is messed up and we need to DO something” is a great sentiment, and one I agree with. But this point is in the middle of the spectrum for a reason.
5. Outrage + links to more information: Social media can be really powerful, but not just for the vague push-and-pull of culture battles. It can be used to legitimately transmit information that can be used for the building of movements. So saying “this country is messed up and we need to DO something” AND linking to something like one of the following is more valuable to me than the previous point. A few examples:
- Zerlina Maxwell: Baltimore Uprising: How Did We Get Here?
- Ta-Nahisi Coates: Nonviolence as Compliance
- Gregory Krieg: 7 Facts Everyone Needs to Know to Understand What’s Happening in Baltimore
- Not about Baltimore but very much related: Nicole Flatow on Rekia Boyd
- Project Nia’s “Ferguson Syllabus” with a wealth of resources for educators or activists wanting to engage students and community around issues of police violence.
- This is Not a Think Piece: Turning Outrage Into Action: I collected interviews with activists, links to organizations, and other resources regarding Twin Cities-area efforts to combat police brutality in this link.
- Spreading the word about events and/or potential “plug-in” points for people. For example, I don’t know when you’re reading this, but there’s a solidarity rally at 5:30pm in MPLS on 4/29; when I use social media, I try to include a direct link to the official event page so people aren’t just going off my word.
- There’s also a May Day court solidarity rally and BBQ on Friday.
- Concrete resources and action points at Baltimore Uprising.
- (UPDATE: this post was written in 2015, but here are a few more 2016-specific resources)
7. Signal-boosting the activists on the ground: I don’t always do this, since it can be tempting to center my social media practice on my own thoughts and opinions. But I think the “tweet less, retweet more” impulse is important. If you’re one of the many people who feels like “I want to say something, but I’m not an expert; I don’t have anything to contribute,” then finding ways to signal-boost others’ voices can be a good option. It might take a little research, but those voices are out there.
8. ADDENDUM SPECIFICALLY FOR ARTISTS:
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there’s extra pressure on anyone who has a significant social media audience (whether you define that as 5k, 25k, 100k or beyond). ESPECIALLY because, as artists, it is very easy for us to veer into performative allyship, posting the hottest hot-take, being super vague, abstract, and faux-poetic. But we can do better. Artists (especially hip hop artists, my community) reach audiences that organizers don’t. When you’re tweeting/posting, please keep that in mind. Like this whole continuum illustrates– you can do some good by tweeting about the movement, but you can also actively help BUILD the movement with a little bit of intentionality.
The key word here, I think, is “specificity.” Even though so many of us are conditioned to strive for “timeless” rather than “timely,” sometimes being timely is simply more important. This is about how even though we’re all planting seeds, there’s a difference between randomly scattering wildflower seeds and planting crops.
Also feel free to add other links or resources in the comments. Thanks.