How Our Good Intentions Can Become Tokenistic
Updated: Jun 4
Online global movements are significant in their ability to make a real difference in challenging dominant perspectives, and in return, shift oppressive systems that are deep rooted within our society. It is also important, nonetheless, to acknowledge how often these movements are adopted as a ‘trend’ for many, and how frequently these trends come and go. Social media platforms have enabled global movements to grow at a faster pace, however, it is important to recognise that such movements burn out quicker than the long-term campaigns and social issues that have spent years fighting for the very injustices these trends have highlighted through a few hashtags.
As quickly as these trends flood our social media platforms, we see them leave at a similar rate. The very reason for this, is not in response to the superficiality of the movements of focus, but rather, as a consequence of our inadequacy to stay genuine within our intentions.
Social media has provided an accessible platform for political and social activism. The digital world has created an abundance of connections and accessibility for those seeking to spread awareness around certain political, social, and environmental issues. However, simultaneous to the benefits of the awareness it can generate, online activism has also brought into question the legitimacy and ability of those engaging in online trends. As a result, through these trends, social media users, and more specifically, those within privileged positions, have the ability to neglect and undermine the very foundations and factors that have inherently caused the issues of focus.
WHAT IS THE REAL INTENTION, IF THERE IS NO ACTION PLAN?
It is also important to acknowledge that online activism is a great and accessible resource for those who cannot actively access other activism methods in person, such as those with physical disabilities. In addition, online activism provides individuals with a safe space. It can offer an individual an entry-point into global issues and introduce conversations for consideration to those who might not have necessarily engaged with these topics in physical spaces. If not for discussions within these platforms, many individuals would not have the ability to be exposed to these global issues. The ability to story tell is also a prominent element within online activism, and it should not be denied that this is an effective way to create awareness and establish elements of consciousness raising; which in return, inspires others to participate within these social movements.
Through social media, people have the ability to access an abundance of resources and information, which then enables a person to move beyond this entry-point of learning and position themselves to utilise their platforms for effective discussion. Thus, further allowing individuals to expand on their initial learnings with broader understandings. However, with a such safe space, people are neglecting the additional steps that involve active learning, engagement, and participation and there is then a tendency for these movements to become a tokenistic trend.
And again, whilst we can acknowledge that some conversation and awareness is better than none, ultimately, the question remains surrounding what our inherent intentions are, if there is no further action plan.
Virtual activism and solidarity is effective, but only to an extent. It has the tendency, to be basic in its execution and subsequently create superficial meaning. When there is no further commitment to the hashtags people so freely post, it is hard to deny the tokenism that is generated as a result. Consequently, people of privilege begin to exploit the situation for their benefit, and in return continue to dominate these global social movements. As a result, elements of white supremacy are continued to be perpetuated and the persistence of ignorance and selfishness that stems from these privileged positions within society continue. Therefore, ultimately contradicting the very foundation of many of these global movements.
Essentially, there is not much effect within online activism surrounding human rights issues, when there is no follow up action or understanding from those engaging online. While we may have good intentions, if these intentions are not followed by genuine action, learning, accountability, and solidarity that is meaningful and impactful, there is frankly not much point.
And when these images of solidarity saturate our platforms with little conversation attached to them to contribute to the depth of these movements, they begin to overpower the voices who are leading this movement. And in return, continue to systemically oppress those who are fighting for their freedoms.
As Lillian Ahenkan, otherwise known as @flex.mami on Instagram, perfectly states:
”Lots of people of all races have shared #blacklivesmatter with the intention of raising awareness. The impact of this is that these [hashtags] are now eclipsing important information and evidence and racial injustice”
She goes on to ask: “What’s more important, the intention or the impact?..... It’s always let’s retweet, but rarely, let’s debate the ‘N’ word user, let’s call out the racist friend, let’s educate the family on systematic oppression”.
Ahenkan’s words are vital for consideration during these global movement trends. Before posting, we must educate ourselves on the impact it will make. We must listen to those of focus within this movement, and learn the effective ways in which they want us to contribute. We must go beyond the hashtags and challenge the people within our circles. We must continue conversations beyond our posts and be critical in each of our engagements.
SLACKTIVISM; LET’S TALK ABOUT IT.
The concept of slacktivism is defined as: “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment”.
Slacktivism was coined to describe the ongoing trend found within social media and the utilisation of social issues for participants to boost their egos at the expense of such movements. Through such an act, slacktivism suggests that these inherently self-centred measures make limited contribution and have little effect other than creating satisfaction for the people posting. Through these trends, people raise awareness, they empathise, they re-tweet, and it trends. When the trend diminishes, people go back to their privileged comfort and move on to the next global trend. Further neglecting to realise that the disregard and disengagement towards the issue they were participating within during its trend, is one of the very reasons these social issues continue to be maintained within society.
People who re-post and contribute with hashtags may support the good cause, but by doing such, they are superficially doing the bare minimum, and achieving even less. It seems that when something gains momentum within the media, people of privilege are quick to jump on the trend and contribute in a way that can often simply benefit their image. Almost as if, once a person has participated within the movement through a handful of hashtags and retweets, they have completed their ‘defender of human rights’ contribution for the year. The problem is, these movements and global issues that become trends, are not topics that should be exploited. And it certainly should not involve a check list of posts and hashtags that need to be completed in order for recognition.
Another issue that draws from these global trends, is the contradictions that lie within privileged people’s actions. If we look within Australia in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, the very same issues have been occurring within its borders since the nation’s white settlement. Yet, white Australian’s have neglected to contribute to this discussion. The very national flag and anthem of Australia excludes their First Nations people. In addition, the national day of celebration is celebrated on a day that marks the beginning of white settlement. It is a day that Indigenous Australian’s have expressed as a day of mourning, a day of recognition of the beginning of years of dispossession and abuse. We continue to see such dispossession and abuse of Australia’s Indigenous population, and we continue to see active and systematic racism of other minorities within Australia and throughout the world on a daily basis through a number of systems and policies and ingrained white supremacist values.
For years, Indigenous Australians have been protesting the same. But where is their global trend? For years within Australia, refugees and asylum seekers who have been inhumanely detained and have been fighting for their basic human rights too. But where is the global outrage?
Privilege people have a tendency to be selective in their actions, selective in their discussions and selective in their use of social media. With selective tendencies, we continue imperialistic mindsets. Positions of privilege allow people to be selective in their politics and social discussions because they are not directly affected by the issues within these movements. As a consequence, and through these often subconscious choices, privilege people have a dangerous tendency to select issues to focus on that will benefit them the most. As a result, it is clear that many who engage with these social movements, are only engaging with the trend element. Subsequently, it is hard to deny that when people particapte within these movements, yet neglect to participate in various other movements for human rights that are not trending within social media, they are simply following a trend, and inherently their actions become ingenuine. And while we can argue that any kind of exposure, is better than no exposure, we can still argue that people of privilege are exploiting minorities and their oppression through such actions.
It will be interesting to reassess the Black Lives Matter movement during Australia Day next year, and to witness the many individuals who pledged their solidarity online with #BlackLivesMatter, to only continue to celebrate a national day that continues to exclude and oppress a population of people.
The irony and contradiction will be extremely evident, but it is sadly very predictable.
If people of privilege are to engage with these global movements and continue to contribute to these trends, and claim that their intents behind such actions are from a genuine place of social change, then they must also show support and action for every other minority battling similar oppressions, in addition to contributing to ongoing and active participation within these trending movements.
The issue with privilege, is that when it does not directly affect an individual’s position and image, the issue is often not worth any engagement. And within these current circumstances, for many, the #BlackLivesMatter allows people to have the validation they so regularly seek. For if they do not participate in this global trend, they will be frowned upon. And while I do not deny that people may genuinely support the Black Lives Matter movement, my argument here, is that people within privileged positions can often represent it in a superficial way. And through superficiality, not only are people missing the inherent point of the movement and the issue at hand, but they are continuing the denial of these people’s rights and the neglect to further educate themselves on their own impact and negative contribution to the issues within the movement.
WHAT CAN WE DO MOVING FORWARD?
So, what can we do moving on from this trend? How can we continue to stay active and keep ourselves accountable, long after the hashtags have stopped trending?
Posting your solidarity is only one step towards creating effective contribution.
We must take time to listen to people of colour and minorities who share their experiences. From there, we must learn from these stories and encounters and educate ourselves on the impact we have within society. We must be active in our learning and seek further resources through educational platforms and various other resources. We must connect with others and challenge dominant ways of thinking and processing. We must actively disrupt racist dialogue, and call people out for what they negatively contribute. We must not be afraid to hurt people’s feelings when confronting their oppressive behaviour. We must recognise the dangers in the common rhetoric and begin to challenge it head on through each interaction we make. We must begin to be uncomfortable within these realisations and form critical mindsets that allow us to further dismantle deep rooted oppressive thought processes and ways of thinking. We must be welcoming and open to these uncomfortable feelings and acknowledge that we will never understand the oppression and suffering many of these people have faced as a result of privileged positions, like our own.
And with these recognitions, lessons, and understandings, we must go beyond the hashtags and do more with our privilege. We must continue these actions, long after the trends have quietened, and long after the hashtags have stopped. We must continue to practise these lessons and critical thought processes in our every day lives; with every interaction and choice we make. We must unite alongside every human being who is faced with oppression and continue to acknowledge our position within society and our potential impact and contribution towards their struggles.
Recognising your privilege is a lifelong journey of continuous reflection that requires an ongoing commitment to staying accountable and aware. It is something we must fully commit to no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. For without feelings of uncomfortableness, we can never truly learn.
ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW:
Lillian Ahenkan: www.flexmami.com
Ally Henny: www.allyhenny.com
Ericka Hart: www.ihartericka.com
The Conscious Kid: www.theconsciouskid.org
No White Saviours: www.instagram.com/nowhitesaviors
Check Your Privilege: www.instagram.com/ckyourprivilege
Mireille Cassandra Harper: www.instagram.com/mireillecharper
Blackfulla Revolution: www.facebook.com/ourcountryourchoice