Following the eruption of public outrage on social media which ensued after George Floyd‘s death, I took a break from my personal platforms, but I felt weak for doing so.
As a journalist and a Black woman, I believe that it is my job to consistently contribute to the current civil rights discussion in my country. But within a week I had seen one too many comments questioning the value of my people’s lives and I could no longer mentally take it anymore. It wasn’t the overabundance of police brutality videos or injustice that weighed on my mind either.
As sad as it is to say – I’ve already seen and experienced those types of things first-hand and I’m used to seeing content like that.
What I couldn’t handle, on the other hand, was the ignorance and hatred. I couldn’t bear to read rebuttals to the absolute fact that Black Lives Matter.
I took a break from my personal platforms, but I felt weak for doing so.
But as I logged off for a few days, phrases such as “silence is violence” haunted me. Was my temporary absence from social media silence? Was I supposed to push through and continue to speak out despite the toll it took on my mental health? I was still consuming the news. I was still reporting on my community. I was still speaking about the issue on webinars yet I wondered if, in a way, my inactivity on social media was wrong. I felt guilty.
That’s the thing about silence during this time: There’s more than one definition to the term, considering the multidimensional social, political, and cultural curve balls being thrown at us daily.
Eric Brock Jr., a 19-year-old activist, told me that he too felt pressure from social media to always post, but was taking time off to grieve from the traumatic state of the country. He said that from such pressure, he was compelled to write a disclaimer to his audience that clarified his inactivity. Silence to him runs deeper than consistent activity on social media platforms, especially for Black people.
“The Black community is not a monolith and it never has been,” he said to me. “We express things in different ways and some people need time to heal.”
Posting a black square means nothing if you aren’t actively fighting for change offline, too.
Brock says that he does understand how silence can be compliant towards racism for non-Black people though, especially when they have not stepped up their efforts offline in being an ally or contributed to the conversation at all. This becomes particularly dangerous when we see social media users engaging in performative activism online without doing the actual tactical work offline needed to make real change.
We saw this with Instagram’s ‘Blackout Tuesday‘ challenge which aimed to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement. Users posted black screens in an attempt to show their solidarity to the cause.
However, the challenge’s execution essentially drowned out necessary information from the movement and, in my opinion, was used as a performative way for some to show others how good of a person they are.
Posting a black square means nothing if you aren’t actively fighting for change offline, too. It also doesn’t somehow give you an advantage over someone else who may be supporting the movement in different ways than you expect them to.
But with this in mind, astrologist Tyler Massias said to me that he does think that content outside of activism at the moment can be unsympathetic and distasteful. He said that non-Black people who don’t focus their platforms on the Black Lives Matter movement are practicing a privilege that isn’t afforded to Black people in America.
“Throughout history, our [Black people’s] existence has always been viewed as subservient. We are always having to think about it and speak about it,” Massias told me.
And activist Alexis Glasglow, a tireless protester in her Florida hometown, knows exactly what it means to dedicate all of her time both mentally and physically to the movement. She mentioned to me that seeing people’s inactivity on social media can be aggravating at times.
We have to find things to smile about throughout the day and allow ourselves the time to grieve and heal.
“You see people doing all of these things and then you also see people that you know, and who you can name, who haven’t said anything or even reached out to you,” she said to me.
But while social media is a great place to start, it isn’t the only way to use your voice. Glasgow said that people can call out racism as they see it within their communities, attend demonstrations, and sign petitions just to name a few ways to get involved offline.
As a country, we’re going through a lot right now and we can’t always realistically be our most vocal selves 100% of the time. The consistent exposure to Black death, Black trauma, ignorance, and racism weigh heavily on any average person along with a deadly pandemic that still affects the world too.
We have to take breaks occasionally. We have to find things to smile about throughout the day and allow ourselves the time to grieve and heal.
Just as our stomachs need food to eat, our minds need care and attention as well in order to continue the Black Lives Matter movement and change the world.
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