Black Lives Matter: Making a change in the noise online

by Maddie

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve blogged. This is because a lot has been happening in the online and offline spheres, and it felt wrong to be blogging away as if all was normal – and there were more important things to be doing. Educating myself, learning from useful resources, sharing resources on my Instagram for others, and taking time to reflect both online and offline. The last few months have been heartbreaking for the world, and it feels like they’ve only just got worse. But in the passionate anger and overwhelming sadness is coming a hope for real change. And we ALL must listen and join in.

I think that whilst 2020 has been horrific on many levels, internationally, aside from the horrendous minority, we’re all learning to be kinder to each other. To stand with each other. To not stand by and watch unjust actions be deemed ‘justified’. 2020 is teaching us a lot. We need to listen and commit the events of this year to memory, so we can continue to work on making the world a better, more inclusive, fairer world – a world that we should have always been living in.

There has been a lot of incredible resources going around recently and you can find many on your social media feeds, or at a Google search. We have information at our fingertips, and we can use that to make a difference. However, I wanted to share today some resources that I’ve used over the last couple of weeks and also share some lessons that I’ve learnt. They may be things you’ve already read about or have educated yourself on already, but there’s no harm in reading the same resources or being exposed to the same things: they only consolidate the importance of them the more you encounter them. So, here is what I can offer that have been big lessons and moments of education for myself the last couple weeks:

Watch: When They See Us, Netflix

This harrowing mini-series on Netflix is a dramatisation of the ‘Central Park 5’ (now referred to as the ‘Exonerated Five’) and the wrongful incarceration of five young black men after the brutal assault, rape and attempted murder of a young woman jogger in Central Park in 1989. The American justice system failed these innocent men, they coerced them into pleading guilty for something they did not do based on the racist agendas of the very people who were supposed to keep New York City safe.

It’s a very difficult watch, I cried a lot and I felt the raw pain of these poor men who were jailed for over a decade until the real perpetrator came forward and pleaded guilty, freeing these men finally. I’ve felt a lot of anger over the last few weeks at the horrific events in America and continually watching and learning keeps the fire burning, the passion strong long after the news cycle has carelessly forgotten them.

There’s an interview after the series with the Exonerated 5 and Oprah Winfrey which is such a heart-breaking, yet inspiring watch. I felt so stupid and silly that one of the few things white people were being encouraged to do to help the cause was just watching a Netflix show – it felt so wrong that we get to watch a bit of entertainment whilst POC have to face horrors day in, day out. But exposing yourself to as many truths as possible can help you take other steps in eradicating racism and fighting for justice.

Read: Common People and The Good Immigrant

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Today, I want to tell you a bit about one of my favourite books of all time. The Good Immigrant Edited by Nikesh Shukla is a collection of short essays by people that consider themselves (and others perceive them to be) immigrants in Britain. These writers from a wide array of backgrounds all have one thing in common; that they feel othered within the larger society. The personal accounts are deep, thought-provoking, and at times, humorous. I read this book back in 2017…It was a required reading for an undergraduate Sociology class. Since then, I have gone on to graduate school, and have had a wide array of experiences. But THIS BOOK has stayed with me. I think about it all the time, and it has truly had a big impact on my life. In light of Black Lives Matter, I wanted to post about a book that held a deep importance to me, and one that highlighted marginalized voices. I'm not sure if you have all seen the hashtag #publishingpaidme on Twitter, but I was dumbfounded when I saw that one of my favourite authors, @nikeshshuklawriter spoke out about the wage disparities among Authors. I am not under any illusion about the impact that race (and gender) has on salary, but the differences in pay are truly astronomical, and it has really shown me how much more White voices are valued in the publishing industry. I want to share with you one of the excerpts from the book, taken from Nikesh's essay: "When I first started out on Twitter, I had 10-odd followers, all people I knew in the real world, people I could be myself with. As my following increased, I had to become less of myself and more of the public perception of me as the writer. And it made me lose track of who I was and what voice I spoke in." I just want to say… I'm so glad that the authors in this tag are speaking out about these disparities, especially since salaries are such a tabboo topic. Bringing these injustices to light is the only way that things will change. Also, I want to say.. Please, please check out this book. I don't think this is a required reading for many other Canadian classes, but honestly, it should be. What is a book that had a profound impact on you?

A post shared by Tahira's Bookstagram 💭 (@bookrecswithtahira) on

These are two of my absolute favourite books, books which changed my life. I read The Good Immigrant, which is a collection of essays from minority authors about what it is like to be an immigrant in the UK now, two years ago – and it changed my life and ignited a fire in me to do everything I could to make the world a more inclusive place. That book has stayed with me, close to my heart, for a long time now. Similarly, I purchased Common People, another collection of essays from working class writers that was compiled by Kit de Waal, a writer featured in The Good Immigrant, earlier this year because I knew how affecting the former book had been for me. And this book has similarly had such a profound affect. Coming from a working-class background myself, I resonated with a lot of these essays and these two books are just such important reads for everyone.

Sign: these petitions

  • Battle Racism by Updating GCSE Reading Lists – I think it’s disgraceful that the UK’s racist past isn’t explored in the curriculum, as it’s one of the main ways children can learn that racism is WRONG. There is another similar petition here.
  • Justice for George Floyd – the petition that kick-started a movement. This petition currently has 16 million signatures – but every single signature counts and the louder we shout, the more we will be heard.
  • Justice for Belly Mujinga – this poor woman was assaulted at London Victoria and knowingly infected with Covid-19 before her death in a racist attack. We are demanding justice for her family.
  • Suspend UK export of tear gas, rubber bullets and riot shields to USA – I did not realise until a friend sent me this petition the other day that this was something that was happening. I find it disgraceful – and if you sign this petition, you can help make a stand in helping the UK stop defending police brutality.
  • More protection for Black Trans Women UK – Trans Women are disproportionately vulnerable across the UK, and Black Trans Women more so. It is so important we help protect vulnerable people and ensure we can live in the inclusive, supportive world it should always have been.

Join: this Journalism masterclass – proceeds go to Black Lives Matter

I felt disgraced at the industry I actively want to try and be a part of this last week. I have wanted to get into journalism for years, albeit magazine journalism which isn’t so politically-fraught, but I felt disgraced watching how the media helped portray the Exonerated Five as suspects and hounded them for years until their exoneration. I want to try and make the journalism industry a more inclusive and supportive place – and if this is something you’re interested in, too, you can help do this by signing up to freelance writer, Grace Holliday’s, feature writing and pitching workshop this Friday. All proceeds go to Black Lives Matter and it will be such an insightful evening. Grace is also offering free places to working-class BAME individuals and can help offer a place to anyone who wants a place but is struggling to afford it. Find out more on her Twitter – and here’s the link to sign up for the masterclass.

Open up: have frank discussions with others; access well-being support if you need it

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at this time because the world feels a heart-breaking place, it’s important to please just talk. Confide in someone you trust about how you’re feeling, reach out to free mental health support services in your area, do what you need to do to ensure you’re feeling okay. Getting access to free mental health support can be unfortunately very difficult in the UK, and I came across a really useful resource last week detailing free mental health support services that UK-based BAME individuals can access. Here’s the list:

  • Free therapists across the UK can be found at The Free Psychotherapy Network
  • Free support for those feeling suicidal in London and a place to stay for free at Maytree
  • Free counselling for African, African Caribbean, Dual Heritage people 13yrs+ – the Black Health Initiative, based in Leeds
  • Free phone consultations and support for LGBTQI+ across the UK: Switchboard
  • Free digital self-care, self-defence training and advice for BLM campaigners and activists at Glitch UK
  • For Bristol-based BME folkx aged 55+ (but others can call, too) – Nilaari
  • Chit Chat: confidential chats via DM
  • Body and Soul Initiative: supporting Black families, with a weekly livestream for 16-30yr olds sharing Distress Tolerance Skills (DTS) and more

And here are some lessons I’ve learned from the last couple of weeks.

Ensure your activism isn’t performative

If you’re committing to being part of the conversation online, commit to doing the work offline, as well. It’s difficult in these unprecedented times, because social media has become our literal social lives, and we instantly take to online to voice our opinions on things we’re passionate about. However, a re-share here and a re-tweet there won’t make a difference. It’s what you do afterwards that does. Similarly, taking part in re-post challenges (such as the ‘tag 5 people that won’t break the chain’) Black Lives Matter chain challenge on Instagram, doesn’t do anything except spread awareness of a hashtag. Take part in these re-post chains if you want to, but follow up on your next story with some useful resources, further context or ways that people can go beyond adding something to their social feed.

Be mindful of the hashtags you use online

We were all taught a stark lesson on #BlackoutTuesday last week, when users were encouraged to post a black square of solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. These squares were lovely to see, but thousands of users were hashtagging #BlackLivesMatter and in turn clogging up the hashtag feed where otherwise useful information for the Black community and for protestors would usually be found. Instead, it ended up showing only black squares of hope without any useful resources or action. It’s important to share your support for a movement, but work out whether your voice should be occupying the hashtag’s space, or whether you should leave it for others to flood the hashtag with relevant resources.

If you are protesting, do all you can to ensure you’re Covid-secure

Protesting is important and has been throughout history in making real, lasting change. The protests we witnessed across the country this weekend have been largely peaceful, hugely inspiring and heartwarming to see. However, we are in the midst of a devastating pandemic whose virus does not discriminate, and gathering in large crowds is increasing your risk of infection. So if you do protest, please ensure you’re wearing a mask, you have hand sanitiser and you keep a 2m distance at every possible moment with others who are not within your household. Your health – and others’ – is incredibly important.

Educate YOURSELF: do not ask others to be your teachers

Don’t ask your BAME friend to explain why this movement is important. Don’t ask where you can find useful resources, what might be best for you to do at this stage – look out for those resources and those next steps yourself. We’ve got a wealth of information available to us across the internet. We need to use our initiative and demand change.

I hope these resources have been somewhat useful. The last few months and increasingly so the last two weeks have been heart-breaking and challenging internationally. But please know that with unrest comes change and hope and a better future – and by doing everything you can to make the world a better place, we’re all doing our bit to ensure the future is brighter for everyone.

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