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Anti-Racism is Not an Instagram Trend

by Ayinde Olukotun

      Since the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd irreversibly recast America’s attitude towards racism, a new sociopolitical zeitgeist has emerged: one where shallow and sanitized conversations around racism are no longer standard, one where it is no longer socially acceptable to oppose the Black Lives Matter movement, and for Generation Z, one where being an anti-racist is en vogue, and the public signaling of such on social media is nonoptional. However, as racial activism increasingly coincides with social conformity and evolves into the new status quo, I can’t help but recognize the insidious nature of a new expectation for activism impelled by social media, a medium inextricably linked to superficial public perceptions of self, rather than an individual’s lived reality. The social paradoxes exposing the faults in this new expectation for anti-racism work are numerous. In the Blackout Tuesday Instagram phenomenon, over 20 million people posted black squares using the #blackouttuesday hashtag, yet less than half that number signed the Justice for Breonna Taylor petition on The officers that murdered Breonna Taylor in her sleep have yet to be charged. As I watched the same people who lacked the integrity to condemn their friends who used racial slurs and epithets (in instance shouting them around black teachers) parade as activists on social media, all I could envision was my little brother telling me, through tears, of his fear of social repercussion if he told school administration that someone had called him a n*gger and a monkey. As I read their manifestos dedicated to racial justice, the words composing them condensed into one: hypocrisy. After seeing another instagram post preaching racial justice from someone who remained close friends with a known racist, I contacted my friend Jhaydan to discuss how miraculous it is that one can develop both a voice and a conscience in such a short time span. She then confided in me that the student herself had actually used racial slurs, claiming that she “was singing a song [in her head] and the only word [she] said out loud was the n-word.” Though I have no desire to scrutinize every individual’s online activism and past actions to try and determine whether or not their online activism is authentic, productive anti-racism work cannot merely be social media gesticulations underpinned by a moral compass that evaporates as soon as racism ventures off of social media and into real life. The real work in combating racism is not trendy or neat, and certainly does not maintain the status quo; in fact, it usually involves burning a few bridges. As long as the anti-racism work orchestrated by my non-black peers is trend-driven, circumscribed by an ombre app on their phone screens, the America we all aspire towards is as heartening as it is unattainable. 



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