Hate, Hashtags & Healing: On Social Media Social Justice

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Candice Crowell, MS, Pre-Doctoral Intern, Emory University Counseling & Psychological Services

I’m an introvert, an INFJ to be exact. Not only do I process things internally, but crowds of people drain me of energy. Still, I found myself overwhelmed with grief, passion, and hurt when George Zimmerman walked free after killing Trayvon Martin. I wanted to join the many folks in cities around the country who protested this injustice, so on a rainy day I walked about a mile from my home to participate in a rally in Trayvon’s honor. About twenty minutes in, during the prayer of all things, I fainted.

I understand the critiques of social media social justice. The movements sometimes feel trendy, rather than consistent and whole-hearted. People who may not know the sociopolitical implications of what they’re hashtagging may make missteps. There are few identified leaders. However, in an age of constant connectivity, to totally discredit this as an option misses the impact of the movements, no matter how brief and disorganized they may seem. I have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. I spend more time with more people there than I do anywhere else. If I’m going to have an impact in any space, where my heightened sensitivity to crowds doesn’t threaten my power, I choose social media.

As the impact of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner non-indictments hit me, the passion and pain again became salient. It isn’t something that goes away, but it felt qualitatively heightened by the defensiveness I kept seeing. I do a pretty good job of keeping critical thinkers around me, but there were a few conversations that gave me pause. I was thoughtful about where I wanted to direct my attention during such a tumultuous time. I read and wrote some think pieces first, and I asked in Black Vernacular English, my comfort tongue, “what you gone do?” I asked my White friends, my Black friends, my other friends of color, my colleagues, and myself. The response was powerful. A good friend and colleague wrote about White privilege and how it was showing up in the many Facebook discussions she’d been having. Another friend and colleague facilitated a dialogue with his high school students, most of whom looked just like the young men who’d been slain. And because my political ethic is love, I decided to start a social media movement of love toward Black men, during a time when it seemed they needed to be reminded that they were loved and valued. #DearBlackMen was born.

For the month of December, hundreds of people across race, class, gender, and age expressed their love for Black men using that hashtag. My White friends asked, “will I look silly if I contribute?” I said, “silly to whom? I welcome your voice.” Most of my Black friends said, “I’m down,” but there was even some fear among them that they may be perceived negatively for writing a note of love to Black men. In a world of screenshots and going viral, what you say is said forever. I said, “I welcome your voice.”

It was successful. There was an outpouring of love. Black men said they felt appreciated, loved, understood, and seen. The legacy of it lives by Googling or Facebooking #DearBlackMen.

Through this social media social justice collaboration, I was able to process and share some of my stories about the Black men in my life in a way that felt healing to them and me. I was also able to engage more people than I would have ever known in any other space, some of whom I’ve never met. I experienced solidarity through social media, doing the work of social justice my way. I took a stand without having to faint, and I invite those of you who are introverts to do the same. Here are a few ways to get started:

  1.  Choose a primary social media platform that works for you. Using all of them can be overwhelming and disorganized, but there are apps that allow you to sync all social media that you use, so that you message consistently across platforms. I chose FB because it allowed me to write more than Twitter or Instagram. The top 15 social media sites can be found here.
  2. Google your idea to look for potential collaborators. I thought of #DearBlackMen and had started drafting a call to action before I considered searching for people who were already doing this work. I found a like-minded group with a blog and Facebook page who had the same name, so we collaborated and focused our attention on that month-long movement. It increased the presence of the movement greatly.
  3. Read and share blogs. Although anyone with internet access can start a blog, they are often a good way to get conversation started on your social media platforms. Many people inside and outside of the academy subscribe to blogs because they make current events and news accessible. Just be sure you read what you repost and share, because some titles can be misleading.
  4. Have a hashtag. If there is an issue about which you are particularly passionate, create a hashtag to catalogue any posts that may be written about the issue. The hashtag feature works best on Twitter, but Facebook is tweaking the bugs in theirs. There are hashtag search engines such as TagBoard that scan social media sites to see what is being said. This allows you to join existing conversations or create your own.
  5. Invite people to converse with you publicly. One way to raise consciousness in less threatening ways is to use your social media profile as a space to have difficult dialogues. Posing questions and inviting others to chime in both facilitates conversation and gives people who view your page an opportunity to read multiple perspectives. There may be people who simply read the post, but they never comment. The positions shared on your page may be the only space where folks outside of academia see varied views. The guidelines for facilitating difficult dialogues may be helpful if you are new to this, because you do not get to control what others say. But, you can always delete any comments that you deem disrespectful or unrelated.

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