Are We Required to Issue Our Own Press Releases On Current Events?



In the wake of the horrible tragedy of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, many people have taken to Twitter and Facebook to voice their opinions. But is this, issuing your own press release of sorts, now culturally expected in certain circles? And if you do not issue your own "press release," are you thought of as ignorant or uncaring?



I recently read a think piece on QZ.com entitled "12 Things White People Can Do Because Ferguson" (yes, missing the "of") that helped unpack white privilege in America in the wake of Ferguson. As a white person, I am fully aware of that privilege and happy to help others unpack their own. However, this isn't the point of the article I'm writing today. The article discussed that many liberal, white, academics took to social media to express their outrage over the decision in the Michael Brown case. Fair enough. My Facebook newsfeed is populated by many people of that demographic (and also many people who are not). Many people wanted to express their feelings on the injustice, which is within their right as Facebook users. Others, wanted to express their racist attitude, while within the realm of free speech, is particularly infuriating. And although I feel very passionately about what's happened and have all along sympathized with the protesters (and my heart has always gone out to Michael Brown's parents), I felt I had nothing to say on the matter that hadn't already been summed up.

 A simple #blacklivesmatter didn't seem like enough, and almost patronizing in a way. Jews and blacks have a long history of both struggle against one another as well as working together when times are tough. Particularly in the wake of the Holocaust, many Caucasian Jews (whether they are Ashkenazi or Sephardic) were a great ally to black people in the Civil Rights Movement. I can't ignore that our people's dual struggle with hatred and racism hasn't connected us in some way, but I still didn't have the words to express what I felt. So I stepped away from the keyboard. I read what others had to say with interest and kept up with the news flashing across my screen. 

But when I delved into this QZ piece, it said the following:

And almost nothing, silence practically, by the majority of my nonactivist, nonacademic white friends—those same people who gleefully jumped on the bandwagon to dump buckets of ice over their heads to raise money for ALS and those same people who immediately wrote heartfelt messages about reaching out to loved ones suffering from depression following the suicide of the extraordinary Robin Williams, may he rest in peace....

....They have nothing to say?

Why? The simplest explanation is because Facebook is, well, Facebook. It’s not the New York Times or a town hall meeting or the current events class at your high school. It’s the internet playground for sharing cat videos, cheeky status updates about the joys and tribulations of living with toddlers, and humble bragging about your fabulous European vacation. Some people don’t think Facebook is the forum for serious conversations. Okay, that’s fine if you fall into that category and your wall is nothing but rainbows and happy talk about how much you love your life....

 .....However, I think the explanation is more complex and mirrors the silence of many people that I witness in real life. A lot of white people aren’t speaking out publicly against the killing of Michael Brown because they don’t see a space for themselves to engage meaningfully in the conversation so that they can move to action against racism. It’s not so much that they have nothing to say but rather they don’t see an opportunity being opened up for them to say something or to do something that matters. Or they might not be sure what to say or how to do it. They might have a hard time seeing a role for themselves in the fight against racism because they aren’t racist, they don’t feel that racism affects them or their loved ones personally, they worry that talking about race and differences between cultures might make things worse, or they think they rarely see overt racism at play in their everyday lives.

But what if, like myself, you engage in thoughts about racism and how to combat it on a near everyday basis. Indeed, this is what my PhD thesis is basically about. And having grown up with family members who vividly remember the Jim Crow Era South (and regrettably, I have ancestors who owned businesses which refused to serve non-white customers) and having dear friends of all races, colors, and creeds, I understand that racism is a serious issue that needs to be discussed in public and out in the open. I understand that there are complex situations, historical narratives and institutionalized racism that contribute to the unending suffering of minorities in the United States and elsewhere. I want to talk about racism...so much so that I have taught about it in high schools and worked with teaching artists to create curriculum around it. I am doing a doctoral thesis on the Holocaust, so in a sense, I live and breathe the complexities of racism, even though they are not directly related to Ferguson. This is not an issue far from my heart. 

And yet.

 What if we feel paralyzed and powerless? What if we feel as though our voice is just one more privileged, over-educated white person shouting into the din of Facebook? What if our heart is just too broken by so many similar stories that we can't find the words to express how tiring it is to be human? And although posting on Facebook starts a conversation, does my opinion on your newsfeed, which is probably similar to about 300 other people's opinions on your newsfeed, do much to change the situation and dismantle the institution of racism in America? 

Action is what is needed, but often I think action is confused by Facebook posts and likes. If we publicly state we are for or against something, we feel we have done our job. But have we? Are we really solving the problem simply sitting behind our computers? Sure, we are making people feel less alone, and that is surely something, but is it really necessary that with every current event it is expected that we have a statement or pithy post to share on the subject?

What do you think? In the past, I have felt this was the case with other current events as well, that I needed to make some sort of statement to show I was educated or paying attention. But why is there that pressure? And why are we being judged? Is Facebook a litmus for how socially involved we are or how much we care, or is our Facebook activity irrelevant? 

 

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2 comments

  1. I love this piece! Very interesting read. I can certainly understand feeling wary to say anything especially about this issue and I think even black people are watching their words very carefully. I am black but I dont live in the US so apart from a tweet saying pray for Ferguson, I myself have said nothing although I have a lot to say. So I totally understand people's silence :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. I don't think it has to do with people not caring...which is kind of why I resent this article's tone. Do I have to make a public statement about everything, you know?

      Where do you live? x

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