Why That Black Square on Your Feed Does More Harm Than Good
Words By Charllie Ito and Julia Gorospe
Art by Krischelle Cadao
In the age of social media, showing your solidarity can take about five seconds.
Find a picture - a black square, a rainbow flag, or even a Sanrio character posing beside trendy typography.
Post it on your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter accounts.
Put your phone down, pat yourself on your back, and continue on with your day.
As you mindlessly scroll through your feed, you see the exact same posts getting shared around, especially from celebrities and large multinational companies. Amazon releases a statement denouncing racism. Netflix makes a Twitter thread on the importance of representation in media. Kylie Jenner posts a Black Lives Matter Instagram tag chain. But despite the increasing popularity of these kinds of posts, one might begin to question the authenticity behind them. Gauging true motives through a screen is difficult, even when trying to tell the meanings behind “k” vs “okay”. Online activism is no exception. In this digital world, how can you tell when activism is genuine or performative?
With thousands of BLM protests around the world and many educational resources available on the internet, people should already know how activism - an action that comes from a place of honest and deep anger - is properly executed. Sadly, not everyone is using these resources to their advantage. Sorry to break it to you, but these black boxes, Instagram story tags, and public statements don’t do anything. Don’t get us wrong - there are some exceptions and many of these superficial deeds can come from a good place. But, in most cases: you can actually cause more harm than help to Black people, seriously.
Oftentimes, these performative methods of activism are done to increase social favourability among peers. With the recent ‘silence is violence’ trend, many people have scrambled to post something that signifies solidarity with whatever movement is currently trending - in order to give off the image that they actually care about these issues. Take the infamous trend of using Black Lives Matter protests as a photo op or the infamous instagram #BlackoutTuesday event – which ended up flooding the hashtag with black squares and drowning out important resources regarding incoming protests or BLM donation links. Going hand in hand with ‘slacktivism’, performative activism is focused on spreading awareness without much thought or effort.
One of the most recent, egregious examples is the viral video titled “I Take Responsibility.” The two minute clip, shot in black and white, comprises of white celebrities – such as Sarah Paulson, Kristen Bell, Aaron Paul, etc. – taking responsibility for the instances when they turned a blind eye to racism. “I will no longer allow any racist, hurtful words, jokes, stereotypes,” the stars utter as their eyes shift away from the camera to read their assigned scripts, while somber piano music plays in the background. This video received a great amount of backlash on Twitter, with users calling it “unnecessary” and criticizing how issues like police brutality and racism are being recentered around white celebrities coping with their white guilt.
With another example that demonstrates how white celebrities tend to take over the conversation, Australian singer and songwriter, Sia, received backlash over a recent tweet directed to two black female rappers, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. It started when the singer mixed the two up. Once she got called out for it, since both Black artists and their respective fandoms have their own personal vexations towards each other, she apologized and attempted to shift things to more important matters with the statement, “You think @iamcardib and NIkki are so petty that they would want you focusing on a silly feud instead of REAL NEWS?”
When she could have ended it there, she decided to add more salt to the wound with her following tweet, where she questions the priorities of these two Black women -the ones who are directly affected by the “real news” and have been using their platforms to educate, spread awareness, and donate. Users of the social media platform were quick to call her out -saying that she, as a white person with such privilege, is in no position to tell these women that they should care more about the problem that they, themselves, are victims of.
The disingenuous nature of these statements are amplified once corporations get involved. Take for example when Amazon released a public statement regarding their solidarity with the Black community “in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.” Despite pretty words, this statement means very little if not reflected in their company’s practices and operations. Many have pointed out Amazon’s ties with police funding and surveillance, along with their recent firing of a Black man for criticizing the way Amazon handles COVID-19 cases. Similarly, the rising trend of “Rainbow Capitalism” or the commodification of gay pride, also falls into this trap. It has become popular for liquor companies such as Absolut, Bud Light, and Skyy Vodka to publicly support pride parades -a sponsorship that becomes more insidious considering the high rates of alcoholism and substance abuse within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Here lies the biggest problem with performative activism – it capitalizes off of potent issues as a means to advertise personal or corporate brands. As a result, the urgency of these issues become less urgent as complex social and political issues are morphed into shallow PR moves or cutesy meme formats. But, as the youth, how can we ensure that the activism we partake in goes deeper than mere virtue-signalling?
As mentioned before, there is a wide array of resources that we can use to educate ourselves. One mighty google search will give you billions of links to available data sources. It is our responsibility, especially in a time like this, to educate ourselves on how we can help in a way that is effective and progressive. Some ways many people are helping the BLM cause are through signing online petitions and donating to mutual funds. One thing to remember, however, is to thoroughly research the different petitions and organizations before you take action. It’s important to know exactly where your efforts are going to and if they align with the organizer’s true intentions.
Perhaps, most importantly, we must take activism outside of our screens and into the lives we live everyday. One way of doing this is by making it necessary to call out the wrongful actions of those around you. Your toleration and indifference to these actions perpetuate societal problems that many are dedicating themselves to change.. It is very important to note that Black people remain at the center because this fight is for them – their rights, their life, their future, their history, and the opportunities they have been robbed of. We should recognize the privilege we have to not have to fear for our own lives by just simply living it. By doing this, we can stand with them and make use of our privilege to further their cause. .
As the weeks go by, you may see less posts on your timeline regarding the “Black Lives Matter” movement – but don’t make the mistake of treating it as another social media fad. Remember that Black lives should and always will matter. We should not stop supporting them until they get what they want to achieve -a life free from racial hatred and discrimination. Continue applying pressure, having difficult conversations, and educating yourselves and those around you – be consistent.
JULY 10, 2020