It’s hard to escape current events when the same tools we use to stay connected with each other are also how we express our opinions on politics, social justice, and crises around the world. This past week, we’ve seen our nation engage in an intense response to the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. Activist groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement have called for a systematic review of America’s law enforcement agencies for the past decade, yet this is one of the few times engagement on social media dominated the space to such an extent. I logged into Instagram this morning to see #blackouttuesday — every story and post tied back to the Black Lives Matter movement. A thousand questions about the case demand answers, but one stands apart from the rest: Why was this the straw that broke the camel’s back?
Maybe it was that Darnella Frazier caught on tape white officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he pleaded that he couldn't breathe, that three other officers watched and did nothing, or that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other innocent Black individuals led up to it. Maybe it was that George Floyd was a pillar of his community, a “gentle giant” who was planning to meet his friend that Sunday to get involved in MAD DADS. But I want to focus on a single explanation that pertains to all of us as young people: our collective engagement online in protest of his murder.
It started with just a few posts by empathetic, in-the-know friends who shared each time they saw an act of unimaginable injustice. But, rather than remaining limited to those select voices and fading away soon after, those posts multiplied. Simultaneously, many of my friends expressed frustration toward those who simply posted about George Floyd. They argued sharing on social media “wasn’t enough,” that linking an article on Instagram was less effective than donating, protesting, or contending with the racist policies that systematize police brutality.
While those individuals undoubtedly have the best intentions, and I applaud their honesty and courage to challenge their friends, I also hope to convince them of an alternative to the false dichotomy of activists and onlookers. So many people we all know choose to ignore these injustices altogether. I’m reminded of the hard conversations I’ve had with my family over these issues, the late nights spent listening to my Black friends confess that they know they could be next. That doesn’t mean that everyone who posts at a socially convenient time is an ally, that sharing on social media isn’t often an excuse not to take a step further. But chastising their inaction maintains the status quo.
To you, I ask: Help them understand the underlying issues and get involved. Respond to their posts to engage in meaningful conversations. Share with them the disturbing video of Floyd’s murder or personal stories from your past. I came to high school with little comprehension of the complex issues of race in our country. My lived experiences blinded me to the daily fears of my peers. Without the courage of the outspoken Black friends I met there, I would have remained ignorant to the depth of their pain.
We need as many people to continue these conversations as possible. I’m ashamed of my inaction in the past relative to my friends. There’s a reason that this straw broke the camel’s back: social media brought our communities together in protest of undeniable injustice. By harnessing this tool, we all have the power to express our support for the protesters in Minneapolis and the rest of America, but also to educate those who are ignorant. Change doesn’t come from the valiant few. As the Black Lives Matter movement has shown, inspiring unity reverses the tide of oppression.
Before moving on to the next eye-grabbing story, please remember the power of your voice. I truly believe that the level of backlash we are seeing is, in part, due to the multiplying effect of social media engagement surrounding George Floyd's murder. Expressing our political and social views online is invaluable to creating lasting change, and we need to keep doing so for all the issues we care about deeply.
CHARLIE ARESTY is a rising Junior in the Wharton School majoring in Accounting from New York, NY. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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