By Emily Jetmore, Guest Writer
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
I’m scrolling through tumblr and an image of three black women appears. Two of them have their hands up, the third holds a sign displaying this Desmond Tutu quote. I realize that I have not shared anything related to the protests in Baltimore yet, so I like and reblog it. I keep scrolling.
Today the irony of this minuscule action hit me. I can reblog and retweet all I like, and I can trick myself into thinking that I am meaningfully contributing to the critical conversation about race happening right now in the United States; but this is insufficient. I am not doing enough. My social media actions are so small that they are essentially neutral and, through them, I have inadvertently chosen the side of the oppressor.
As a white woman, I have the immense privilege of choosing when and how I engage with race. My race is largely invisible to me and the people with whom I interact. Simply knowing that this invisibility is the product of a constructed social system meant to perpetuate the oppression of people of color and maintain the dominance of white people is not enough to keep me from taking advantage of it. It is easy to slip into the neutrality of invisibility, especially under the guise of consciousness fostered by a liberal community.
This armchair activism is not enough. What is my role in supporting the protesters in Baltimore? How can I be a good ally to black students at Mount Holyoke and to black people everywhere without stealing the mic? What can I do?
Social media is a powerful tool. You’ve heard that before. So much of our consciousness is molded by opinions of the folks we follow on Twitter, photo sets on our tumblr dashes, articles shared in our Facebook feeds. Social media plays a crucial role in shaping the way we see the world, letting people know how we see the world, and engaging the way others see the world.
My political social media experience is quite dichotomous. I’m from Indiana, a state very visibly under fire for its deeply conservative political base. While most of the people from home to whom I’m connected either share my views or are indifferent, many folks have loud right-wing opinions. Articles shared on Facebook by Mount Holyoke students lauding Baltimore protesters collide with headlines condemning “violence” and “rioting” shared by friends and family back home. Being at Mount Holyoke makes it easy to forget that there are people in another community I belong to who strongly believe the deaths of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, and countless other black Americans to be right and just.
The conversations I hope to have via social media are not limited to liking, reblogging, and sharing. I want to know what my conservative and indifferent friends and relatives have to say about race. I want to engage with them. I’m not asking for a knockout brawl in the comments section; I’m looking for dialogue, for shared growth in understanding of the reasons for such different perspectives. “Talking about it” seems too simple a solution for such a complex problem, but it is a place to start. That’s where I want to start with my community.
I’m walking a fine line, but I’m doing what I can. A white voice is rarely the right voice to have at the forefront of conversations on race, but for many in my home state and throughout this country it is the only voice in close proximity, the only voice that will not go in one ear and out the other. I want to model what it means to care about folks without my own self-interest in mind. I want to model an activism that may seem confusing but is justified.
And if I’m going to model activism, I need to do so without being passive. My activism will be loud and consistent without stealing the spotlight from people of color. My activism will not be for me, it will not be in response to the obligations of existing in a liberal community. It will be an honest reflection of my belief in the value of the life of every black victim of police violence.
My activism will be active.
I’m still figuring out what this all looks like. Finding a positive role for white people in this dialogue is not easy, but easy doesn’t work. Your role may look different than mine, but it is part of that hard work to figure out the ways in which we each can best contribute.
I urge you to confront your place in this conversation. I urge you to make difficult and uncomfortable choices. I urge you to do everything in your power not to choose neutrality.
The first step is admitting you are not doing enough.
The image posted with this article was found on the tumblr blog, Daniel in Babylon.