Social networks, epidermal tools in the fight against racism

San Francisco | “There is no deep awareness, on the contrary,” says researcher Meredith Clark about the wave of mobilization against racism in the United States, on the street and on social networks, since the death of George Floyd, asphyxiated by a white police officer.

Thanks to the platforms, “people are uncomfortable. They see racism in the face, they recognize themselves and recognize victims. They are affected. But their understanding remains superficial, ”elaborates this professor, specialist in media at the University of Virginia.

Despite the multitude of actions around the “Black Lives Matter” movements, African-American intellectuals point out the limits of networks.

They doubt, for example, that the massive sharing of videos showing police violence has really changed public opinion, beyond visceral reactions.

“It is good to accumulate the evidence, but we are only in the shock of the moment, not in long-term thinking”, analyzes Kyra Gaunt, professor at the University at Albany.

Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, Freddie Gray in Baltimore in 2015, Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte in 2016 … History repeats itself, black men killed in a police context.

And the anger that becomes riots.

“We want to share the video, because it’s so odious, and at the same time not, because we relive the trauma, it triggers again (the emotions) … Until normalization”, sighs Kyra Gaunt .

“I see you”

This ethnomusicologist remembers the beginnings, when networks inspired a feeling of freedom.

“It was a way for us, academics, graduates and activists, to have an audience, without having to whisper, without self-censoring like when we were the only black person in the room,” she said.

She was then part of “Black Twitter”, an informal community born in the late 2000s. “This hashtag said:” I see you. I recognize my humanity in you and your experience of marginalization. “”

Ten years later, she deplores the scourge of disinformation, which “drowns the truth”.

Others do not see salvation on platforms because they do not break down racial and social barriers … They reproduce them.

“On Facebook as elsewhere, we are in our bubbles,” says Joshunda Sanders, author and journalist. “If you don’t have black friends in real life … you don’t have any online either, and they’re not going to tell you about the racist micro-attacks they experience on a daily basis.”

In the end, she notes, “the most powerful white men I know are not on networks. They make decisions in golf, at lunches or by phone. ”

Black, therefore militant

But there is no alternative and militancy on the networks tends to impose itself on many black Americans.

“We are constantly struggling to be seen as humans like any other, while having our lives to lead,” says Meredith Clark, citing the phenomenon of “double consciousness” theorized by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois.

According to this sociologist at the turn of the 20th century, African-Americans live permanently with the perception that “non-blacks” have of them, in addition to their own perception of themselves.

“Just living, being who I am, in this body, is a form of activism,” says Redbone, a burlesque Métis artist.

Based in San Francisco but originally from Minneapolis, she hesitated to leave to go and support the mobilization on the spot.

“I was wondering what to do … And then a friend got angry on the networks,” she says.

“She challenged us, in fashion,” You, there, artists who have fans and who do nothing for fear of not looking professional! ” And I realized that the solution was in front of me, ”she says.

Like many black artists, she struggles to raise funds via Instagram and mobilize her community around various efforts, letters to the authorities, petitions, educational content, etc.

“I am already an activist, as a female producer, black and gay, doing what excites me. But that is no longer enough, ”she concludes.

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