For some reason Trayvon Martin's senseless death is a marker in my social media history. The specifics of his death were significantly traumatizing to my psyche, but so was the national debate that proceeded George Zimmerman taking the unarmed Black teen's life. Each day I would log in to work, because social media has been a part of my work life for almost ten years. At first, I was shocked by the updates that flooded my timeline. Friends, who I adored, were expressing such racist views that my mind couldn't process how to reconcile the reality. Slowly, shock gave way to a deep sense of grief. This grief was marked by the reality that so many people in my friends list, people who I've lived life with online and in real life, are utterly entrenched and accepting of the systemic and active racism that we live with. I hit a depression and wondered if I should even move. Where was I safe? I watched as my white friends also expressed exasperation.
"I will unfriend anyone who expresses racist views on my timeline. Zero tolerance."
One friend wrote about how she would "eradicate" anyone who defends racist beliefs on her page. She wasn't going to put up with it. I watched then and I watch again and again as the media cycles news of yet another and another race-based death or incident. More and more of my white friends are expressing outrage and intolerance for racism, prejudice, and bigotry. My white friends are doing this because they are trying to be allies. On its face I wish I could accept this sentiment as an act of solidarity with people of color who suffer from wounding racist comments. "What a great thing," we might be tempted to think. "Unfriend the racists!"
- Unfriending racists doesn't change the laws that are put in place, and continue to be put in place, legislating prejudice against people of color.
- Unfriending racists won't help them see how their thinking is harmful.
- Unfriending the racists will not allow them to see that other white people disagree with them.
- Unfriending the racists renders you silent from their dialogues.
The reality is that unfriending racists might protect YOU, but it doesn't protect me and my family. Unfriending all the racists creates an echo chamber of comfort for you. YOU get to be surrounded by friends who agree with you and re-share that same cat video. YOU get to forget that there are nasty people out there who think my son is a thug because of his race. YOU get to be lulled back into complaceny and live your life. YOU get to avoid being assaulted by MY lived reality. I can't unfriend the racists in-real-life. I get to go to the gynecologist, after having a miscarriage, like I did last month and have a nurse say flippantly to me, "I am sure you have plenty other kids, right? Are you married?" I am just another Black woman over here with too many welfare babies.
Qui tacet consentire videtur: He who is silent is taken to agree. Thus your silence gives consent for those people to continue to represent you as they spew their hate.
I need you, People of Color need you, to stay friends with the racists. I need you to continue to live in the space filled with discomfort that their vitriol breeds. I need you to be reminded, daily, of their existence. I need you to remember that those racist commenters and updaters will raise their kids with their views. They will impact their nieces and nephews. They will teach in schools. They will be policy makers. They will be conference planners. They will be servers.
I need you to see that our nation didn't just end up where it is at by way of some social anomaly. I need you to see that where we are is an intentional destination. As you are reminded of their existence and the realization that their ideologies have reach and impact, I need your discomfort to be the catalyst that leads you to action. Those people who you are unfriending have been steering the ship. I need you to engage them. I need you to tell them that they can't steer anymore, and if they don't like it they can get the fuck off the boat.
The rules have to be different now, I think. I think people of color have to engage in a certain kind of self-care, these days. Brown and Black people need to unfriend to their heart's content. We don't need to stay friends with racists on social media to know it exists---- we live it every day.
Stay friends with the racists. You shrugging them off and dismissing them as fringe could mean the difference between my life or death one day. Engage them. Feel the discomfort. Would you turn a blind eye to a Black person being verbally assaulted by a group of white people in the street? Would you walk by?
Unfriending racists in your friend list is the online equivalent to turning a blind eye to suffering of Brown and Black people. You can't afford to do that any longer.