Expanding our activism on and offline
Over COVID-19 isolation, some decided to take advantage of the free time on their hands and channel their inner creatives and make art. Some spent a good chunk of lockdown questioning their sexuality and subsequently coming out. Others took up an instrument or cooking. They did whatever they could to pass the time and prevent a steady descent into insanity. The point, however, is that due to the lack of societal pressures, a lot of us got the chance to emanate our true selves.
Are you experiencing warm, fuzzy feelings at the thought of that?
Remember when the pandemic first started? It was still during the Trump administration, meaning right-wing rhetoric dominated conversations. As a result, we experienced a lot of anti-Asian sentiments, mainly because Trump dismissed his own negligence towards the pandemic and scapegoated COVID-19 as the “China virus.” Hate crimes against the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community spiked by 150 percent in 2020 in places like Los Angeles and New York. The hate crimes ranged from verbal and physical abuse to the vandalization of small Asian businesses. And, of course, we have the most recent blow that took place with the mass shooting in Atlanta. Here’s where we see racist words translate to action.
Shortly after the start of lockdowns, we faced the tragic murder of George Floyd. His death caused uproar around the world, escalating tensions between the Black community and the ruling class and creating a stronger adversity against the police. We witnessed months of riots and protests. Hell, we attended those riots and protests. But something lurked beneath it all. Something violent and regressive lingered in the background and made sure to exhaust any chance for liberation.
The Internet has served as a vehicle for cowards to further their bigoted agendas from the comfort of their own bedrooms, with absolutely no exposure to consequences. It was easy to sit behind a screen and make a meme mocking the death of George Floyd. It was easy to spew “hot, controversial takes” and participate in “No Nuance November” when you didn’t have to worry about being confronted as you walked to work or your next class.
Recall earlier when I said that lockdowns reduced societal pressures? Well, the lack of those pressures can be dangerous when weaponized by an opportunist who thrives off of comfortable right-wing politics that cater to whatever racist rhetorics they were withholding. So, it’s not surprising to see a surge in people retreating into echo chambers of white supremacy.
The year 2020 was an eye-opening year for a lot of people, especially the working class. Approximately 555,000 people lost their lives to COVID-19. Corporations continued to openly exploit workers during a pandemic and shut down unionization efforts, and any advances that were made towards a sustainable minimum wage were disregarded and shoved into back pockets. Naturally, the pressures of economic collapse and worldwide deaths will have a greater effect on some people more than others. Unfortunately, a lot of people took the time to neutralize and water down the messages of Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movement and completely ignore the demands of these communities.
“Weak messages create bad situations,” as David Shrigley said. They strip movements of their true meaning and allow for complacency to trump liberation efforts. The inevitable outcome of a defanged movement, whose demands are neutralized, is the strengthening of the opposition who arise to ensure that progress is delayed even further. We cannot afford to let that happen.
When envisioning a moral and ethical future, what do we see? In a just society, does racism perpetuate against marginalized groups? Does misogyny and rape culture prevail and continue to harm millions of women and femme-presenting individuals around the world? Does the ruling class, which mostly consists of White people, resume its xenophobic rhetoric against immigrants?
I’m hoping the answer to every question asked above is an effortless ‘no.’ And if it is, what is stopping you from approaching this utopia in a more steadfast manner?
Conservative pundits often rant endlessly about the so-called “cancel culture” and perceived suppression of their ‘freedom of speech.’ America prides itself on having ‘freedom of speech.’ Exceptionalist nationalists relentlessly compare themselves to other countries whose civilians are supposedly not granted the freedoms required for shameless self-expression. A brief look into the history of the United States, however, will effortlessly show that that is not the case. America has a track record of murdering or incarcerating its own people who used their speech to demand meaningful political change. Fred Hampton, George Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, the list goes on. So we can establish that “freedom of speech” is only extended to those who do not threaten or disrupt the status quo.
On the other hand, those who proclaim that their freedom of speech is under threat of censorship do so on the most-watched news network on television. On social media platforms, we see a parallel approach to who wields that liberty as opposed to who gets theirs revoked. Bigoted takes reel in the most views, whereas civil rights activists are constantly getting little to no interaction.
Additionally, private enterprises, such as Twitter, have taken a different approach when it comes to freedom of speech. They’ve been repeatedly inattentive towards reactionary and sensationalist figureheads such as Nick Fuentes and Steven Crowder. These are people who advertise dangerous sentiments towards minority groups and send their impressionable audience down a pipeline that leads to treacherous radicalization.
Subsequently, you see a surge in activity and an oversaturation of white supremacists on websites like 4chan, 8chan, Reddit, Omegle, and Parler. Next thing you know, you’ve got someone like Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha shooter who engaged in counter-protest activities that were rooted in white supremacy. Or the Quebec mosque shooter, an avid fan of Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Or the Pittsburgh shooter, a conspiracy theorist with anti-semitic biases and an ardent supporter of Glenn Beck. Or the Charleston shooter who was a neo-Nazi with the urge to start a race war. Point is, the list is never-ending. The unbridled freedom of speech and these websites quickly become a breeding ground for lunatics.
And this is the proposition:
In order to attain the aforementioned utopia, and in order to attain any degree of liberation and/or justice, those who claim to be on the side of the persecuted need to be far more combative towards people who have grown exponentially comfortable behind the guard that is their screens. Proceeding the events that took place in 2020 and so far this year, we can no longer be permissive or sparing towards reactionaries. It’s our complacency that oftentimes allows another person to slip through the cracks of radicalization and then proceed to commit an act that they can never undo.
What does an assertive approach look like?
Opposition by any means available. If you are affiliated with someone who espouses hate on a public (or private) account and you know them in real life, expose them. Shamelessly or anonymously, if safety is a concern. If you are not affiliated with them and their information is publicly available, feel free to forward their comments to a figurehead in their life, whether that’s a parent, an employer, a dean or a principal.
When a social media personality or content creator is exposed, encourage de-platforming and make sure to disengage as well. Immediately counter and oppose any white supremacist language and reactionary politics wherever you find it. Engage in collective efforts to disseminate anti-racist messages and support people voicing the opposition to hateful content. At the same time, keep in mind that our goal should be to rehabilitate, not eradicate. Our motives shouldn’t be based off of our own personal anger but rather a collective struggle that aims for the rehabilitation of those who have fallen victim to racist propaganda. We don’t want to end kids’ lives over a racist or bigoted remark. Instead, we want to demystify leftist sentiments and create a space for them to grow.
While there are a multitude of ways to handle racism online, I, ultimately, believe that any significant change starts within the walls of our own homes. It’s important to have conversations with your friends, family, coworkers, and peers to make sure that they are not perpetuating racist rhetorics. Not only that, but you are also responsible to equip yourself with the knowledge required to immediately refute and oppose racist sentiments.
Do not shy away from being an outspoken critic of white supremacy. All just causes require persistent and determined efforts. Our action must be taken both in real life and online. Neither front can be left alone. Passivity is the death of justice.
Jazz Abraham is an Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine. She spends her days annoying her mother, crying over baby orangutans, obsessing over Brad Pitt, listening to obscure 60s rock, reading, and writing songs about things she’s never experienced. Her passions lie in film, music, the planet, and the amplification of silenced voices. You can reach out to her at @jazzabbraham on Instagram.