Racial Justice Teamwork Makes the Racial Justice Dream Work

It’s been called a racial reckoning, a social justice movement, and maybe even a rennaissance. In the nearly two years of upheaval since the murder of George Floyd, there has been an effort for change that shows lots of promise.

From my view, however, this movement won’t move without more awareness, and better coordination. Central to this is people giving up their fractured ways of living and getting on the same path.

In my view, the catalyst for all of this uncoordination is social media. Contrary to the conventional wisdome that social media is empowering, what I see is that it is actually the means by which people stay disconnected and efforts for change remain underwhelming. I may sound like an old fogey by saying that, but hear me out

Case in point: this year in Virginia, Republicans won the governorship in large part due to the candidate constantly talking about the imaginary bogey man of “critical race theory” being taught in primary and secondary public schools.

This claim is absurdly false for many reasons, but that didn’t stop Republican voters from falling for it and electing Glenn Youngkin.

Perhaps people fell for the falsehood because of the volume of unsubstantiated accounts they were hearing/reading in their social media feeds. And here’s the thing: there wasn’t nearly enough pushback from others who knew the facts of the matter. Thus, lies spread unimpeded, like a virus. And Youngkin gets elected.

I think one obvious problem is that people advocating for social change are spending time in a social media sphere that does not at all intersect with the bubble of people opposed to social change (let’s call those people “conservatives”).

Recently, I had an experience that left me wondering about this problem. The college I graduated from put a post on LinkedIn that contained reference to “Latina educator” and a fellow alumni commented with the standard conservative bullshit about identity politics and how those who advocate for change in America are “destroying” this country (his word).

I pushed back by pointing out the flaws in his opinion. Unfortunately, I got little support from either my fellow alumni or the college. In fact, the conservative alumni’s rant got more “likes” than my pushback did. He claimed that he “won” the arguement, and perhaps that is the case (I did not intend for it to be a competition).

So I’m left wondering, where were the social justice warriors? Who had my back in this exchange? Maybe they’re off doing whatever on Twitter or Instagram, planning the next phase of the movement with like-minded people. But that doesn’t help this particular situation.

And the situation is this: given that the goal of social justice work is to call out and challenge the misconceptions and misinformation that support the status quo, perspectives such as those shared by this conservative alumni need to be revealed as what they are and challenged at every opportunity. If this doesn’t happen, then change won’t happen.

I’m not saying that people need to join social media such as Parler where people with regressive opinions take comfort in each other’s company.** That would be like joining the Army to try to change it into a pacifist organization. What I am saying is that when regressive conservative opinion appears on mainstream comment forums, it should not be given a pass.

So next time you see someone going to bat for the social justice team, give them support. Because we are all in this together.


**Parler views those who challenge regressive opinions as censoring free speech. I saw this point of view expressed in the conservative alumni’s emotional rant, that being challenged amounted to “defelection” from the “truth”. I have seen this warped view of freedom, social manners, and consitutionality in other places as well, often accompanied by a tactic where it seems they feel they will “win” the argument if they bluff and bluster long enough and loud enough, and with the right smattering of jargon and insults. But when one tries to probe for nuance, they can’t come up with a logical or coherent arguement.

Speaking Up

I am an introvert.

There a number of ways in which introverts and extroverts differ, some of which are fairly obvious day to day and others that are more subtle. One of the ones that shows up rather frequently is that introverts think about what they are going to say, and extroverts talk so that they know what they think. Each can be annoying to the other but being self aware about which camp you are in helps when navigating social situations.

So, for myself, my tendency is to not speak until I have something to say. This carries over to social media (something that I’ve discussed previously here).

But in the new year, I’m resolving to make a change: to speak up more often when it is necessary.

And necessary it is in 2021. Because we have learned that there are real-world consequences to giving free reign on social media to extroverts, those who lack impulse control or self-awareness, and people for whom belief is more important than thinking critically.

I know a lot of extroverts (who doesn’t? They are a dominant force in culture). Many of them are lovely people, warm and friendly, kind and loving.

But the danger comes when many act before they think–which as I said before is part of their nature. And on social media it is SO easy to act before thinking. You click the like button or shoot off a nasty reply before you even process what you’ve seen or read. (The person who coined the phrase that it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission was an extrovert.)

This is how things “go viral” (a term I hate, by the way). But it is also how things become a shit storm. People pile on, one thing leads to another, and before you can say “Facebook” you have a flame war on your hands.

Voices of reason–badly needed right now–are drowned out, buried, lost in the flood. Calm dialog is shouted down. Mob mentality prevails.

So I don’t truly believe that my effort will make any difference, at least not right away. But I do need to defy my nature and speak up when warranted. And not be upset by the inevitable nasty responses. Or apologetic without reason.

If civility is actually what we want in this country (doubtful, but it’s a worthy goal), then somebody has to get the ball rolling, Might as well be me, and maybe you too.

My Facebook Experiment

A few years ago, I joined Facebook. Reluctantly.

The members of the band I was in at the time thought that social media was a good way to publicize our gigs. Everyone else in the band was already on Facebook, and I thought it would give the wrong impression if the bassist were the only one who was not. Up until that point, I didn’t see the value of it. Facebook

So I joined. But I had one condition.

I felt that if I had to be on Facebook–if it wasn’t my idea–then I would do it on my terms. And my terms were these: with a few exceptions, I would not initiate friending anyone; I would wait for them to friend me.

I thought it would look phony if, after having dismissed social media, I suddenly joined and started friending everyone I could think of. Also, and more importantly, I wanted to gauge the level of other’s interest in being connected to me. One way to do that was to wait and see.

And you know what? Very few people have friended me. The usual suspects have–I could have predicted with 95 percent confidence the small number of individuals who would friend me–but a surprising number have not. For example, there are some people with whom my wife is barely acquainted–but who I have known for years–who have friended her, but not me.

I have to wonder what that means. Does that say something about me, or about them?

I would like to blame Facebook’s automated “find your friends” feature, which mines your address book and friends everyone whom you may have, at some point in your life, listed an email address for.

But, more likely, it is that I have some fundamental misunderstanding of the rules of social media, because they are essentially the same rules that govern social interaction in general. It has something to do with how attractive you are, how talkative you are, and how comfortable you are with the medium. Things like intelligence and humor do not come across well on Facebook.

And if that feels like high school, it’s because…well…it is like high school. In a recent article in New York magazine, writer Jennifer Senior points out that research indicates that all our social skills–the ability to pick up on cues or fail to do so–we learn as adolescents. Quoting work by Gabriella Conti, she says ” ‘Adolescent popularity,…it’s about interpersonal relations. High school is when you learn how to master social relationships—and to understand how, basically, to play the game. ” Or don’t.”

Underlying all of this is being able to effectively interact with people and make yourself interesting to others. This is a skill that is, for the most part, independent of media, although Facebook does amplify the extent to which one has mastered it, thus requiring the refinement of one’s social toolkit to avoid being annoying.

I’ve heard people say how connected they feel on Facebook, but these are people who were already connected in the real world. For me, Facebook has not upped my feeling of connection. Rather, it is one more avenue of communication that I suck at. Most days, instead of updating my status with some inane personal detail, I find myself thinking, “Why bother?” and “Who cares?”

The bottom line is that social media is little different from any other social situation. Those who understand the rules are rewarded, and those for whom the rules remain mysterious are marginalized or even penalized. I know of a number of people who’ve tried Facebook but have since deactivated their accounts. “It just didn’t work for me,” one guy told me.

I continue to use Facebook on occasion. Often I go more than a week without even logging in. Sometimes I wonder why I use it at all.