Orange is (Not) the New Black

What happens when slacktivism trumps activism.

By Adjoa Walker

  Graphics by Grace Rogers

Graphics by Grace Rogers

 
 
 

Over the past three years we have bore witness to the resurgence of extreme racial discrimination and intolerance, or rather new light has been shed on an already existing problem. This is largely thanks to the appointment of Donald J. Trump as the 44th president of the United States of America. Trump’s election has sparked massive, and arguably justified, controversy and scrutiny. Within his 17 months on the campaign trail, the rate of hate crimes in 9 metropolitan areas has increased by more than 20 percent; the wellbeing of our planet has been jeopardized alongside the health and safety of millions of Americans; immigrants new and old who have given their lives to this country are being jettisoned in the name of “democracy” and “Making America Great Again;” not to mention Trump’s litany of racist, misogynistic, and transphobic rhetoric remarks that have greenlighted hate speech and racism as acceptable American social norms.

This intolerance and hatred have, of course, not been taken lying down by the American people. The youth have taken to the Internet and the street to voice their outrage over a government that seems to be working fiercely against public interest. Hundreds of protests, such as the Women’s March in January of 2017, have succeeded as a direct reaction to the election of the Trump administration. More times than not, young people are at the forefront of such protests, such as that of Black Lives Matter, which has amassed much of their following due to a large social media presence and their public protest efforts. Among the protesters, there are those who have traded in traditional paths of social activism for more radical forms of political resistance. Organizations like ANTIFA have begun to gain notoriety due to counter-protests of the newly proclaimed Alt-Right Movement, the most shining example of this rivalry being in the violent and profanely discriminatory events that conspired in Charlottesville. With the call from many private citizens for the destruction of Confederate national monuments, the Alt-Right (a hipster-like, youth-approved take on white supremacy) have turned to protest themselves to advocate for the protection of the nation’s “history,” challenging a factual account of the pain and struggles of 400 years of enslaved black people with a shallow storyline of a dignified South protecting an admirable lifestyle of forced black servitude and racial oppression.

Unsurprisingly, however, the most favored form of political resistance remains to be social media. When a political event occurs, it is Instagram that many turn to first to post the Polaroid of themselves posing with their handwritten signs at a protest or Twitter to retweet the viral zinger that concisely captures their outrage. If one is feeling particular chagrined, a Facebook debate ensues, a conversation that will remain confined to a pixelated screen.

Every controversial policy out of the White House launches online communities to form hashtags in response, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #ProtectTransKids, #NoBanNoWall. Content surfacing on America’s leading fashion, beauty, and culture publications engage with this form of online activism in an effort to stay relevant; to be more “woke.”

But, in the year 2017, in which police officers offer more anxiety than protection and families are being split apart by deportation threats, it begs the question, is a Tweet or Instagram caption enough? Unfortunately, it is not enough to passively “support” those whose lives are being sacrificed at the hands of bigotry and ignorance. It is not enough to recognize your privilege if this recognition does not entail using your position of power to take action for the marginalized groups spanning race, gender, sexuality, and nationality who cannot. Advocacy must extend beyond the glassy screen of an iPhone, because unlike your follower count, this country cannot afford to lose the very people that built it, those who truly made America great.