I was prompted to write this by a conversation I had with a group of friends around a week ago, following the tragic murder of George Floyd. We were all desperate to demonstrate our support and solidarity, but posting on our story felt somewhat disingenuous. As immensely fortunate white individuals, and having never posted on social media about the Black Lives Matter movement before, it felt awful and wrong to hop on the bandwagon just because it is now ‘trendy’ and ‘fashionable’ to do so. We didn’t want to be silent, but also didn’t want to project a performative ‘white saviour complex’.
While I was absolutely horrified by George Floyd’s senseless murder, I was not surprised. The persistence of systemic racism, not just in America but worldwide, is by no means a new phenomenon, which is perhaps why this new wave of anti-racist activism can come across as hollow in many instances.
The recent trends that have emerged over the past couple of days have arguably proven this to be true, whether it be tagging 10 people on your story alongside the hashtag Black Lives Matter, or posting a black square as part of the blackout today. As white people participating in these challenges, particularly if it is our first time posting about BLM, we are diminishing and reducing the very real struggles that black people face every single day. It reeks of white saviourism and often stems from a selfish desire to be seen as assuming a moral high ground.
‘Blackout Tuesday’ should not just be a checkpoint, a moral box to be ticked. It should not be something that stays on your story and in your mind for 24 hours, only to be forgotten and buried after that. It should not be a ‘challenge’ to stand up for equality and anti-racism. This performative activism fulfils a self-serving purpose and enables us, as white people, to maintain a clean conscience.
Participating in these trends without any taking further action is not only ignorant and lazy, it perpetuates the problem and demonstrates our inherent privilege. We must acknowledge that, for black people, this is so much more than a post on social media; this is their everyday reality. In turn, we must make fundamental changes in our everyday behaviour. We may be able to switch off from social media and the BLM movement, a privilege afforded to us by the colour of our skin, but this should not be the case. Yes, these online conversations are vital, but consistent and constructive dialogue with family and friends offline is equally as important.
This is not intended to come across as a preach about racism and white privilege, as I am certainly not the best equipped or educated to do so. Instead, it is just a reminder to be mindful of your intentions before posting on social media. Are you posting in order to inform others, or to prove to others that you are informed? Is your post stand-alone virtue signalling or is it matched by tangible action? This is not to say don’t post at all — but don’t post simply because you feel left out, guilty or under pressure. Use your privilege in other ways: educate, donate, protest, implement real change.
Do not let the consciousness that has been generated over the past couple of weeks become futile and in vain. Continue to educate yourself and hold yourself, and those around you, accountable for your words and actions.
This was originally posted on Medium by Lucy Devine on 2 June 2020.