What the Coronavirus can Teach Us About Bypassing Activists Bottlenecks
The uncomfortable conversations outside of our echo chambers that we need to be having.
The #BlackOutTuesday demonstration showed that people wanted to be involved, and for many, it was their first time using what influence they have to publicly join some type of good.
There are no congratulations for that.
A micro-demonstrating black square of performance activism may be a sign of solidarity, but it doesn’t reach the groups it needs to: those who support him.
I wasn’t surprised to see an endless scroll of 1080 x 1080 black squares across my feeds. I’m a white millennial, from a Blue state, and a graduate of a leading liberal university. For my entire life, I’ve been surrounded by individuals that are committed to stopping racial inequities, righting injustices, and stopping the killing of black people.
Scrolling through my “blacked out” feeds though, I wondered how many had the intention to share this square when they went to bed Monday night, and how many scrambled to download an image off Google after seeing a few friends post it Tuesday morning?
Social media is a reactionary sport. Everywhere I swiped: total blackout.
I realized that I exist in an environment where all the beliefs and opinions of those I follow coincide with my own.
We curate experiences that reinforce what we believe in, and in doing so we delay the advancement of movements. Most people don’t follow social media profiles of individuals they politically disagree with, and each share is submitted to algorithms designed to show us more of what we care about. This decision to curate an experience as such will reinforce our convictions but we must also consider: If I’m only seeing stuff I believe in, are those who disagree with me only seeing stuff they believe in?
Not for a second do I believe that any of my recent postings are being seen by those who chant “All Lives Matter”, or those who silently snuck a Red vote in November 2016. My tweets are not reaching those who were upset at Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling, and my stories aren’t populating the feeds of those who call for the violence to stop, yet remain unwilling to call for an end of the killing of Black people.
That’s what needs to change.
I don’t need to follow the profiles of oppressive voices, but it’s my duty to seek out conversations with those who might disagree with me and introduce them to what you now understand is anti-racism.
We can not high-five ourselves for just being decent humans. Equity and equality should be the American expectation.
It’s offline, out of the public eye, where the work needs to be done. We need to be reaching beyond our circle of influence to those who disagree with us.
Our failure to do so allows oppression, inequities, and injustices to continue.
Movements need momentum, and there is no greater momentum than that of human numbers. We must use our privilege and our public immunity, to engage those with opposing positions, no matter how difficult it might be.
No matter how much time it might take.
“You always told me ‘It takes time.’ It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time. How much time do you want for your progress?” — James Baldwin
In the early weeks of the current Coronavirus pandemic, we learned of its transmission path through a new term “R0.”
Pronounced R-Naught, R0 is the reproductive number of a virus. It is the number of people, on average, that one infected person will subsequently infect. It’s an indicator of how contagious a disease is, or how easily it spreads from person to person in a community.
When R0 < 1, each sick person will infect fewer than one person, if R0 > 1, each sick person will infect more then one person.
What if our activism had a metric as measurable as R0?
When we share our black square, we’re expressing our commitment to other like-minded individuals, not engaging opposing positions: R0 <1.
If every black square activist carried an R0 >1 what could that do for achieving equity?
If every activist committed to having three conversations, how many injustices could we avoid?
Remember those friends who told kneeling NFLer’s to “stick to sports”? Those high-school classmates that share MAGA posts? Those peers who, now that you think of it, may have voted for him in 2016?
These are the individuals we must invite into conversation.
Some are as boldly red as Clifford, others more like Waldo, but this is a true opportunity to play a game of Red Rover that means something.
Bring compassion with you to these conversations. Engage out of the public’s eye, a cornered animal is almost as dangerous as a wounded one. Use curious language. These will be the hardest and most uncomfortable conversations of your life, but also the most necessary.
Enter these conversations knowing that you may need to return to them, time and time again. You may even need to dismiss yourself only to return more educated on a subject, but do not, at any point, become discouraged because it’s with continued exposure to compassionate conversation that justice spreads.
For an opposing-minded individual to engage in dialogue with you is a step forward.
That’s what allies and activists do.
There’s a simple way to avoid being a person who an ally reaches out to too: Support Black Lives.
When former classmates of Ahmaud Arbery’s killer revealed that they weren’t surprised to hear he was involved, it shattered me. I asked myself: Who’s ignorance in my life, is my silence responsible for?
We will not always be ready for the boldest moments of our lives, but on the heels of your Instagram post, this is an opportunity for you to be the person you want your followers to think you are.
“But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.” — Barack Obama
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