Why Social Media Consciousness is Okay
The death of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old of Ferguson, Missouri, shot by a cop under some questionable circumstances is but the most recent event that quickly gained national attention. Brown’s death came only a day after cops in Beavercreek, Ohio outside of Dayton shot an unarmed 22 year old man. Oh yeah, both victims were black. Both of these death-by-cops incidents were on the heels of a country seeing the death of Eric Garner in a police chokehold and watching police organizations publicly support the actions of these cops even in the face of a coroner report ruling it a homicide. Garner’s case received national attention for one reason and one reason only: someone recorded it and put it on social media.
History has afforded technology as a means to transform society and move it to the next level of consciousness. The printing press suddenly meant “the masses” could have access to this secret knowledge that was stored on scrolls. Jumping across the ages, radio gave viewers a first row audio seat to the Hindenburg disaster. News footage of police dogs turned on peaceful protesters in Kelly Park in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 showed a nation what lay under it’s rug. The Kennedy-Nixon debates, the Zapruder film, to images of the VietNam war all were turning points in which technology played a key role in how the public saw itself as a country. With the first reality show that wasn’t staged (like “Candid Camera” for instance), “Cops” had been at the forefront of many minds and perhaps in some way laid the foundation for us as a country to see and deal with the likes of the Rodney King tape.
That unfiltered tape, in short, went viral before we as a country knew what “going viral” even meant. This early form of sousveillance (monitoring from “below’) raised the consciousness of a nation. So much so, given the critical acclaim of NWA’s “F*ck Tha Police” and the impact of subsequent gangsta rap rebellion pieces that had transfixed a nation, the release of Nelson Mandela, the seemingly failed state of race relations under a George H.W. Bush administration; and not to mention the vary long history of police brutality with the Los Angeles Police Department–the reaction was bound to happen upon seeing the video.
Currently Facebook and Twitter, on any given day have some video posted of some citizen on the sidewalk filming an interaction with a police officer and the interaction is usually violent. Despite laws that allow it, police officers sometimes turn their anger and rage onto the person filming. What ensues is the nadir of emotions that citizens should engage; the power struggle between private citizen and public citizen police officer is a flashpoint that favors the one with the badge and the gun. Yes, we all know all cops aren’t crooked, but as much as police want to get that message out, citizens want cops to know every citizen isn’t crooked either.
Traditional methods of community engagement and political activism were seen as doing voter registration drives, providing particular social services to a community, holding neighborhood and even providing basic needs to families and individuals who fell on hard times. In a post-Civil Rights era, what is considered political activism has greatly shifted. It has gone from grassroots organizations started by those who suffered from disenfranchisement to being run by operatives who profit from the privileges afforded to them by middle-classism and capitalism. Inherently, this is not a bad thing, but the optics don’t bode well when leadership of these group are consistently charged with being behind the times, being aloof and not responding in a timely fashion. Even more so, community activism is evidenced in the broad expanse that is social media.
Time to time, in the offices that I’ve worked in I come across old photos stuffed in albums collecting dust or in boxes that are full of out of focus and grainy images with people donning fashion that is nothing less than gut-busting funny. I may look over and see a few homemade VHS tapes of a few services or formal programs, however through the lens of the present, I wonder how many of those spontaneous moments of life are only stored in the memory banks of the snap shots of the individuals seen in those photos taken with a 35mm camera. Today, that’s not the story, community activism is being able to pull out your phone and take a picture or video record with audio police brutality on a sidewalk. It’s the ability to upload the video or a link to Facebook or Twitter and suddenly being able to spread this message globally. Reread that: globally. It’s being able to tweet Al Sharpton, to tweet your mayor, to tweet your city council representative–and you actually may get a response! Blogs, Facebook statuses and Twitter rants have now provided an equal access to giving a voice to a community and stands as a hallmark of a generation.
What voice people use can cause consternation from older people and can provide a mixture of images to a surveilling public: Does Pookie’s blatant use of marijuana on Facebook pictures or Vine preclude him taking pictures of police brutality on his block? I myself can be very vocal on Twitter and let off a string of rants that suddenly get tweeted across the nation–my voice; what I have to say goes beyond an immediate geographic area. In the recent days I’ve seen people make the comment that liking a Facebook post is not activism. While I agree with that in the truest sense of activism, I don’t want to deny the sheer power of “liking” a Facebook post or retweeting a tweet. Liking and retweeting, primarily are economic metrics that companies and large corporations use for advertising and measuring just what is a tipping point for a demographic. Not to mention, the power of Black Twitter has proven to actually sway public opinion in the past and again is at play during the events in Ferguson, Missouri this weekend and forward. If nothing else this type of “activism” raises the consciousness of the user, and that’s okay with me.
One’s consciousness and awareness is what spurs true action, a sustainable action. These actions, I would challenge, are not going to be seen publicly in marches and rallies or even at the voting booth (although I’d argue that the latter can be tailored to be a resulting action), but the sustainable actions that follow from a raise in consciousness are not easily definable actions. A raise in consciousness may spur a graduate student to submit a thesis that otherwise they would have never thought about; it may prompt someone to call out racist and prejudicial practices at work; it may spur a student to run for student government; it may spur a citizen to pick up trash on their sidewalk or at least put their own trash in a can rather than litter.
The concept of micro-aggressions has been used to describe the subtleties of racism that pervade everyday lives from interactions in public to on the job experiences. In return, one’s level of consciousness and awareness can also be micro-aggressions against the injustices. Having the consciousness and the courage to respond appropriately to the effects of racism is counter-behavior that does chip away at the foundation of racial institutions. Being able to use counter-behaviour may lead to revolt–it may also lead to a revolution.
Of Revolution and Reconciliation
Below is an excerpt of the speech that Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri gave at Christ The King church on Tuesday, August 12 in Ferguson, Missouri:
We stand together tonight, reeling from what feels like an old wound that has been torn open afresh. A wound that hadn’t quite healed right in the first place, and now the pain is just as searing as when the injury first occurred. In its aftermath, the shooting death of Michael Brown left a family in mourning… a community in crisis… and an entire nation looking for answers. Now, as we grieve for what Michael’s family and this community has lost… the charge is ours to make sense of the senseless. This tragedy is a challenge to all of us, not only to the citizens of Ferguson – but to all Missourians – to join hands and begin a journey of reconciliation. To have patience for the investigation that is now underway, but be unwavering in our insistence that it be open, thorough and fair. To keep the peace, while remaining uncompromising in our expectation that justice must not simply be pursued, but achieved. To express the anger and frustration that we rightfully feel in a way that respects the living, and honors the memory of the young man we mourn. In the face of crisis, we must show calm. Instead of burning bridges in anger, we must build them with love. And when these traumatic events threaten to open a chasm of distrust, we must fill it with understanding and compassion.
I have to openly admit: I’ve struggled with my response to the looting and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri.
I’ve literally struggled with how do I feel about it. I was taught that because of my faith background that the moral highroad is non-violence. I’ve rationalized through a few sermons here and there and in my own functional theology that violence is not the answer and that a violent normalcy is the tools of an oppressive civilization, but revolutionary history is not on the side of the non-violent.
While I will not openly condone the rioting and looting in Ferguson, Missouri, nor will I endorse or promote more of it, I will not apologize on behalf of it. With Martin Luther King’s quote “a riot is the language of the unheard,” ringing in my ears and Frederick Douglass’ famous quote:
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
In an historical context, this country was going to have to have a civil war to address the issue of slavery. It was not going to be some bloodless revolution that settled the issue. While I believe I can understand sacrificial deaths, those given the title of martyrs, it’s become increasingly more difficult to reconcile some of these issues of violence and non-violence in my own soul.
Primarily, I’m bothered by the rhetoric of Gov. Nixon. When black folks start talking about “we’re tired” and begin openly musing about how things have to change, then suddenly the “reconciliation” card gets used. Remember in the 1990s following the OJ Simpson trial the concept of “the race card” was introduced into the lexicon, now the “reconciliation card” I believe is the counter. Namely because reconciliation sounds good and it’s even a churchy word, but it’s also a calming word and a word that’s meant to quell emotions. As I mused above, once you raise consciousness you then change emotions and emotions then can lead to actions and bottom line, no one wants any revolutionary actions to take place.
Martin Luther King was a reconciliationist. And that’s fine, I agree with him to the point that this country and the Constitution had within it’s framework the power to support the full citizenship of black people. King, however, was not a true revolutionary. Revolutionaries overthrow the system: look at all the great empires in recorded history. This country speaks of how great it is based on British ex-pats coming to North America slaughtering the Native Americans and breaking away from the British because of oppression–and this was deemed great. Far be it for an ethnic group in this present-day and age to levy the same argument for free and equal treatment, then suddenly it sparks sentiments from those who want to “take their country back.”
Again, let me state clearly: I’m not an anarchist nor am I supporting anarchist movements. But I get the sentiment of the people living in Ferguson.
As a black man in this country, every time I see blue lights in my rearview mirror or anywhere around me I get nervous. I’ve been pulled over just enough times for it to get in my head that I am a target. My mother had to have “the talk” with me around 12 or 13 when I started taking the bus alone to a gifted class downtown. And I will never forget her telling me how to behave in public because I was “big for my age” and that people would automatically think I was 15 or 16 and because of that perception people would respond differently.
The challenge with reconciliation talk is that it is always given to the ones who have been injured. Why is reconciliation offered as a salve to the people who have suffered the most? I surmise because “reconciliation” is a false hope given to those by powers-that-be that are interested in maintaining the status quo for the sake of keeping the system intact. Keeping the system intact does mean that black faces will be in white spaces, we have made progress to that point, but for me the system right now is broken.
Since I’m not calling for a revolution, that means I am calling for a major overhaul of the system. If this were a transmission in a car, while yes it may still be functioning, but the slippage between the gears is causing more damage, and the car refuses to ever go into fourth gear and at times seems more comfortable just falling into reverse… you get my point. The owner either pays for a new transmission or opts for a complete rebuild of the transmission (maybe even a new car). A major overhaul of the system means some things need to be repaired.
Oh yes, that word that becomes a non-starter for many in a conversation: reparations.
What the people in Ferguson need are reparations. Primarily, they need to see that the white faces in positions of power are intentional about repairing their image to their constituency. Seeing as how Ferguson is anywhere between 60-65% black, but the police force is 5% black, and the city council and mayor are white and the school board is white, and even still how blacks have a disproportionate amount of interaction with the police, what needs to be repaired is the relationship. Until the face of the oppressor decides to repair the relationship with the oppressed, reconciliation will continue to be an empty word. This brings us back to the Douglass quote.
If this dynamic continues, revolution is the final resolve to the problem of systematic oppression.
A Final Theological Note
I had a colleague of mine throw out the question “How can you tell someone not to shed blood when we celebrate blood shed?”
As a trained theologian, I can offer up the three historic schools of thought on atonement: 1) blood shed was to pay [the ransom] the debt that original sin caused–and to pay it to Satan, 2) that blood was shed to satisfy or pay restitution for the injustice caused by sin to God [seen as improvement about the previous one], 3) that the work of the cross blood was shed to bring about a positive change in humanity. There are subsequent doctrines that I won’t take the time to go into, none of which I believe fully answer the question posed at the top.
While those of us in cushy offices and church board room tables can succinctly arrive at an answer, we have to deal with the fact that yes we celebrate the resurrection, but that resurrection had to come through a bloody murder, a lynching, a few days prior. Jesus’ words on the cross transmogrified that lynching into a crucifixion, but far too often we experience these modern day lynchings of black and brown bodies.
What elevates these deaths from the dastardly horror of murder is that these murders are carried out at the hands of agents of the state. In churches across the country we celebrate Pontius Pilate absolving his hands of the situation, we celebrate mob rule calling for the body of the innocent, we celebrate the carrying of the cross up the hill toward Golgotha, we celebrate the blood, we celebrate the gore, we celebrate it to the point of creating a ritual where we [symbolically] drink the blood and eat the body of the one that was killed. Then we turn around and tell our young people to not be violent. We may do that because of the resurrection story–but where’s the resurrection of Eric Garner? Where is the resurrection of John Crawford? Where is the resurrection of Michael Brown? Kathryn Johnston, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallou, Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Renisha McBride–I could go on.
Practically, I don’t have an answer for that question–and I’m going to just have to be okay with that.
If our functional theology can always succinctly wrap up and tie with a bow an answer for our deity then we have created no need for the deity to exist in our mind. If this is the case, then the words of Paul ring hollow: for we see through a glass dimly. If we always can answer and formulate how God is to act and react then we no longer behold a mystery.
Just like the story goes on the fateful day in which Jesus was executed, we are at a state of unrest, we exist in the tension and that’s exactly where we need to be. A state of rest and a state of unmitigated peace is not real life, that is the true death.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully racial, JLL
Editor’s Note: I entitled this “Untitled” because publishing required a title and also because it’s exactly my feelings surrounding the events of this past weekend, they are untitled. I cannot locate them in my spirit, I cannot center them in my lived existence, they exist in a Lo-debar place far afield from what I expect from my life, nevertheless they are a part of my landscape.