The black community has always faced criticism when speaking out about the oppressive forces we face in the world. Yet, the music we make, the art and fashion trends we create, and the slang that originated within our communities are heavily used amongst our critics. After the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the Black Lives Matter Movement was founded the following year by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. From the very beginning, this civil rights movement has been condemned by people who say they do not want to bring up the past or that African Americans now have equal rights in the United States. However, our society is driven by trends and social media has been the well-worn path of so many bandwagon rides around the movement. We are seeing people who we would have never guessed supporting the cause and we wonder if it is just because it is the popular thing to do now.
I have witnessed this sudden suspect-enlightenment among my own peers. Back in high school I had a black U.S. History teacher who encouraged the class to learn about black history more in-depth than what our textbooks told us. She would have us write essays, read books, and do assignments on systemic racism. One book in particular I remember reading in class was “Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon. The book covered the origins of Jim Crow, black codes, and how black men were arrested for petty crimes and forced to do hard labor as punishment. The white and non-black students would complain about covering topics such as racism and the civil rights movement comprehensively and chose to stick with the more watered-down textbook version. Now those same high school students, who whined about not wanting to learn about black history, are suddenly portraying themselves on Instagram as woke, educated allies of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have now reignited the Black Lives Matter Movement here in the United States. People from around the country are now banding together to speak out on the discrimination the black community faces. But, typically, when these tragedies become old news and the media stops reflecting on it, the protests disperse and the country points its attention to the next big topic. In the age of social media, social and civil rights movements become more of a trend to some. Many people are now taking this opportunity to take photos with their friends at protests, just for likes and retweets.
On the social media platform Tik Tok, a user that goes by @notdezi came under fire for a video she made of her brother at the George Floyd protest in Atlanta, Georgia. In the video, it shows a montage of the boy taking shirtless photos as a building is set on fire in the background, him skipping with other protesters, and smiling as police officers put him in handcuffs. This young, privileged white boy used this peaceful protest as an opportunity to go out and have a photo op, so he could take aesthetically pleasing photos for his Instagram feed. A Twitter user @coochwooch later retweeted the video and said the boy was agitating police and bashing in windows during the riots in Downtown Atlanta, so that he could be arrested and put in handcuffs.
Other examples include some non black beauty influencers on Instagram and Twitter who are painting “I CAN’T BREATHE” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in all caps over their faces with eye liner pencils, thinking this is enough to bring awareness to the movement. While it shows solidarity towards the cause, makeup looks to show off to their millions of followers are not enough to bring awareness to the discrimination my people have endured. Furthermore, many Instagram influencers, who did not speak up about the protests, promote petitions and organizations that support the Black Lives Matter Movement, or donate money themselves, now think posting a black square with #blackouttuesday proves their allegiance to the cause. When it just shows that they really do not care about speaking out and feel that saying too much will cause them to lose their sponsors and brand deals. Some even refuse to acknowledge what is going on right now and continue to stay silent about everything. These and many other instances show opportunistic people romanticizing protests against injustice in the United States, with some actually using the protests as backdrops for their photo-ops or empty posts of support, all mainly for clout.
While many people see the Black Lives Matter Movement as a chance to gain more followers on their social media platforms, many are using their large followings to respectfully speak out in support of the movement. Celebrities like John Boyega, Gabrielle Union, Dwayne Johnson, J. Cole, and so many more are calling for the justice of George Floyd and so many other lives that were tragically taken due to police brutality. Many are out protesting, donating, and promoting bail funds and organizations that are changing the course of this movement. Others have brought back up old cases like Sandra Bland’s, whose case was ruled as a suicide.
When I think back on that same fifteen-year-old girl in history class, I thank my teacher for actually teaching me about systemic racism in the United States. The American education system teaches us about civil rights, but never about what truly happened in depth. Now that another innocent black man has been killed, the world is speaking out on the racist, oppressive climate our country has endured. While it puts a smile on my face to see the world coming together and speak out on behalf of what the black community has gone through, I’m aware that people are still using #blacklivesmatter just to promote themselves on social media. The oppression I face in this country is not a way for people to get more followers on Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok. The oppression I face is not for your personal gain, so people can see you as a more educated individual. Let us turn #BlackLivesMatter into a civil revolution and not just a hashtag trending on our explore pages.