BLM activism extends to on-campus behavior

Jamila Dawkins | Forum Editor

Let me see if I can guess your social media presence from late May to June. George Floyd’s murder rocks your feed—seemingly overnight, everyone you know is posting about it. Protests spark in dozens of cities nationwide—then, in even more cities worldwide. Statues are toppling. Suddenly, more names: Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Oluwatoyin Salau—and more every day. Everyone is shouting at once. Even the people who are silent are speaking volumes—and they’re being called out, too. You don’t want to be one of those people. So you decide to do something.

There’s a spectrum of activism. I don’t know exactly where you were on it. Maybe you were out there protesting. Maybe you couldn’t protest but you donated or shared information about bail funds. Maybe you watched one of those YouTube videos where the AdSense gets donated, or supported Black-owned businesses. Maybe you added lots of aesthetic black-and-white graphics to your story, but skipped through all of the GoFundMe’s and petitions on your feed. Maybe your activism started and ended with a black square and a hashtag.

Even if you did the most bare minimum, your behavior signaled an ideology. The phrase “Black lives matter” shouldn’t be controversial , but it is—and it carries weight. Declaring that “Black lives matter” means that you care about Black life. That you are allied with Black life and Black communities. That you think they are worthy.

It is a grave mistake to compartmentalize this sentiment. It is easy (or easier) to say that Black lives matter when confronted with the nationally televised brutalization of Black protesters. It is less easy to recognize that you are advocating for Black lives by wearing a mask and limiting the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable Black communities—communities that are dying of COVID-19 at twice the rate of whites both nationwide and in St. Louis.It is less easy to recognize that when you tweet about BLM and then turn around and have a kickback with your friends, you are being a hypocrite.

Risk-taking during a pandemic is a spectrum, too. Many of us would be quick to shame people for partying—and rightfully so. That is a large risk. But there are smaller risks, too. Maybe you notice a friend’s mask has slipped off their nose, but you decide not to tell them because it’s awkward; maybe someone is standing a little too close and you don’t know how to tell them to maintain the six feet.

These concerns can seem important in the moment they crop up. Allyship and anti-racism, too, are uncomfortable. They are often not polite to bring up in light conversation. But maintaining politeness is not worth endangering life. Black lives are worth the discomfort.

Advocating for Black lives means acknowledging that systemic racism touches everything. Nothing has made that more evident than the fact that a global pandemic—by definition affecting every person—still disproportionately hurts Black people. Allyship doesn’t end with a hashtag—it’s a full-time job.

Social media activism has value. It’s convenient. It gives more people access to the fight. It can spread awareness and support like wildfire, as #BlackLivesMatter has proven. But it has also bolstered a sense of allyship among many people who are not doing nearly enough. Since more tangible means of activism are so much more accessible now, this is doubly lazy. Black lives don’t stop existing—or mattering—when your phone dies or you log out of Twitter.

Now is the time to put up or shut up. Online activism can only take you so far. You care about Black lives? Then stop endangering them. Here’s a good place to start: Wear your goddamn mask.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe