Beyond the #BLM Trend: What’s the Extent of Your Activism?
Words | Mya Turner, Staff Writer
My bedroom walls are purple. They are the first thing I see when I wake up in my childhood bed. I have a small flat screen TV held up by a shelf of books across from my bed. To the left are my two dressers; one has a mirror where I’ve taken plenty of videos of myself dancing and parading around in my new quarantine look. Soon I would get out of bed and walk out my brown door to use the bathroom, hoping my sister was not in there trying out a new hairstyle to pass the time. Afterwards I continued my routine: walk downstairs, greet my parents, eat, do work, eat again, watch TV, talk to my mom, talk to my sister, talk to my dad (if he’s home), eat, shower, sleep, and repeat. This, this here was my life in quarantine.
Repetitiveness was the theme for five months of my life; the pandemic reduced society to a limited amount of square feet, and the only escape was to the grocery store, though even that only felt like seconds. Physical escape was difficult. Dangerous. Daunting. Dreaming about my life “before” became a pastime, scrolling through past memories on Instagram or Snapchat to see what should have been. Everyone seemed to feel that way. On the Gram, green indications of activity seemed to appear on everyone’s icon. Now, we are all Close Friends. New pictures every minute, new stories every second, an escape to what could have been, to what life should have been if the world wasn’t dying.
It seems that like in many crises, the other troubles bearing weight on society poke through what’s currently broken and demand attention of their own. We weren’t just in a global pandemic; we were also experiencing an uprising.
On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Days following, the story circulated widespread on news and social media, and thus ignited a new, different era for the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is different from the Civil Rights protests of the past. There is no formal leader; instead, this monumental crusade was led by emotion and outrage. Street protests were translated to the language of our generation through texts, pictures, and social media posts. For a while, it was inappropriate to post any content that didn’t pertain to the movement. And I agreed. George Floyd’s murder was an incredulous act, showcasing blatant disregard for human life. I could not help but feel the need to do something, and often, that was sharing a post, trying to convey this emotion I was feeling. But on #BlackoutTuesday, when I saw black square after black square flood my social media, I did not want to post.
For Tuesday, June 2, 2020, the music industry organized #BlackoutTuesday to reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement and recognize contributions of Black artists. Personally, I also viewed #BlackoutTuesday as a day to take the time to pause and get off social media to read about the Black Lives Matter movement’s agenda and the incidents that incited the rise of it. However, as #BlackoutTuesday gained momentum on social media, it became trendy to post a black square captioned #BlackoutTuesday to demonstrate support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although I tried to take off for this designated day of reflection, I still found myself scrolling through all the black squares on Instagram. I could not help but feel sucked in by those black squares and feel this pressure to post. Should I post a black square? Why does it matter if I post a black square or not? Is it even helpful? These questions ran rampant through my mind. Whenever I am caught in an indecisive moment, I always inquire about the opinion of a friend or two. In a text conversation with my friend Ally, she said:
'Yea but I feel like mad people that could give two fucks about this whole movement are posting it [the black square] and using the hashtag just cuz it’s easy. Like tryna [get] “woke likes” when they don’t really care. U know.'
Ally did not want to post a black square on this day either, and she also brought up an interesting point:
If one does not appear “woke,” they face backlash from their “friends” on social media. This phenomenon is often referred to as “cancel culture.” Usually, cancel culture is a method used to force celebrities to take accountability for their actions, such as when Kanye claimed “slavery was a choice.” For him to make such an incredulous notion in the media was wrong, and consequently, his brand was tarnished for some time as a result for his thoughtless musings.
However, cancel culture can also be related to the actions of ordinary people. Cancel culture exists heavily in progressive media, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and rightfully so. It is about time that people of color and other marginalized people have a place to speak their truth and simultaneously have the authority to denounce hate. However, this force that emboldens some voices may also stigmatize others. When someone such as myself, who is particularly active on Instagram, does not post a black square, this action could be seen as being ignorant toward pressing present issues.
The simultaneous woe and pleasure of social media is that you are subject to judgement or praise depending on your actions, whether it’s your words, your images, or what you share. If people like your content and you receive positive attention, social media is great. However, if you say something that is offensive, ignorant, or are behaving as a bystander to pertinent issues, you will be called out on your bullshit. At the end of the day, social media is not an accurate measure of one’s beliefs, as people don’t post all their actions on social media, but it is a partial reflection that your 1000 Close Friends can use to attest to your character.
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed our lifestyle as we became isolated and made social media more valuable than ever before. I view social media as a great place to protest, to incite action, and to empower other voices, but I also think it's a great place to post cute pictures, dancing videos, and comedic sketches, though these two realities clash with each other. Social media is already a place where people can feel excluded based on looks alone. Words and personal thoughts are brief on these platforms. So when a black square becomes the “look of the day,” one feels the pressure to conform, to fit in with the people they follow. This sentiment leads itself to performative activism. It was the look of the day, but with a meaning that meant more than just a social media post.