Hashtag Activism; Or, Don’t Be a Cynic in South Central….

The world has enough cynics.

I don’t say that lightly. You can’t. As a young WoC growing up in NYC, you have to be just plain foolish to believe that everyone is your friend and no one wants to harm you. I think it’s physically impossible to grow up in this city, in this era, and NOT believe that some people are just not good people. But with that being said, I think an important part of maintaining your sanity is not being a cynic.

It’s so easy to be jaded. We live in a country where people freeze to death just miles from the White House, where people advocate for our “right to bear arms” in the midst of seventy-four school shootings, where people really think being a rape victim is a “coveted status“, and where culture vultures like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Macklemore are given awards for… I’m not even sure what. It’s disheartening. Sometimes I just want to stick my head in the sand and never pull it back out again. Most times, I do.

Someone buy me one of these, please.

Someone buy me one of these, please.

But then again, we also live in a country where this happens. And this woman exists. And we have something called a ramen burger, so the world can’t be all bad, can it?

Recently, one of my faves – Shonda Rhimes – gave a speech at Dartmouth where she said some stuff that kinda got under a few people’s skins. Imagine that. People having ideas and opinions we don’t all like!

Now, here’s the thing about hashtag activism. Shonda’s right – a hashtag doesn’t change anything. It’s a hashtag. And I can sit on Twitter all damn day long and wax poetic about #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls and #Kony2012 and nothing is going to change. Nada. But you know what it does do? It piques peoples’ interest. It gets their attention. And that’s the powerful thing about ideas – all you need to do is plant the seed. If social media wasn’t changing the world, why does the White House have a Twitter? Why did President Obama just do a Q&A with Tumblr?

Social media is our future. It’s creating a world that is globally interconnected in a way our parents never could have even imagined. And it comes with a host of problems, which is to be expected. But it also is providing a whole new corridor of doors to explore. I’m confident that there are solutions to some of our world’s greatest issues hidden amidst this burgeoning field of technology. It’s exciting! And it’s empowering. Because quite frankly, Bring Back Our Girls wouldn’t be such a widely known thing if someone hadn’t started a hashtag. For heaven’s sake, Teen Vogue did an article about it. Say what you will, 4 million tweets gets someone’s attention.

Do I think #HashtagActivism will change the world? No. I think there is something to be said for being physically involved in a cause you care about, whether that be protesting or building houses or teaching orphans. Sitting at your computer or on your phone hashtagging causes isn’t bringing water to rural villages. And there are plenty of white privileged people  who are content to pat themselves on the back for a few inspiring tweets with aptly chosen hashtags. The White Savior complex becomes more prominent and profitable with every #Kony2012 tweet. I deny none of these things.

But listen, the world has enough cynics. Let’s start looking at our glass as half full. No, #hashtagactivism may not save the world, and yes, it is in so many ways just a ploy for attention and profit and to ease some of the nation’s oozing guilt over its own privilege. But it’s also informing the masses about the social issues that 30 years ago, only a select handful would ever know about or pay attention to. And it’s subverting a power that has controlled our society since the dawn of mankind – the media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are social-driven – meaning that what “trends” and what is “popular” is based off of what the masses deem relevant, instead of what the newspaper editors deem relevant. Meaning that when 276 girls are kidnapped halfway around the world and American newspapers don’t report it, we take matters into our own hands. We tweet about it. We share updates on Facebook. We create an uproar so powerful that suddenly, Teen Vogue is writing articles about it. This cultural shift is slow but powerful; as it gathers steam it will snowball, and once it begins rolling, nothing will stop it.

We are at the forefront of massive change. Stop fighting it. Embrace it.

Peace and love,

J

 

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