Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

on social media and #blacklivesmatter

rb.richx's picture

on disseminating information about antiblackness,
on the transformative power of information,
on the power of #blacklivesmatter



i'd like to begin first by saying that this "essay" very much got away from me. there is so much in the black lives matter movement that can (and should) be discussed and circulated. i very much got caught up with the idea of a neo-liberal future, of black love, and with social media... honestly, the examination of this movement could have likely become a dissertation... but this is an attempt to connect some of these ideas.

the #blacklivesmatter movement, as shulman states in his keynote, “update[s] a radical democratic imagination that characterized the great theorists of black power, the american new left, and many second wave feminists.” the idea of “update” is something interesting here to me, given the inherent quality of the #blm as part internet activism – an internet in which “updates” have a certain meaning and connotation about new online information and its availability to the public.


has antiblackness changed?

du bois, in many of his writings – though i will here focus on excerpts from the souls of black folk – addressed some of the ways in which voices of black individuals went unheard. in his forethought to his essays, he writes, “i have sought here to sketch, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand thousand americans live and strive. … i have… studied the struggles of the massed millions of the black peasantry, and… sought to make clear the present relations of the sons of master and man.” (3)

in what ways has the state of black voicelessness changed since du bois’s time of writing? yes, slavery has “ended”, new laws of protection have been created, and the idea of our society as one post-racial is spreading because no longer can just anyone lynch black people publically. instead it is the white police officers who can really only do public lynching, and it is incarceration instead of slavery that often hinders voices – an incarceration in which communication to “the outside” is gashed and distorted into a limited and warped voice. while black communities have access to some education, it is mostly poor. how many of the cries of “diseased and dying” black folks continue to go unheard and un-communalized?

“whisperings and portents came borne upon the four winds: lo! we are diseased and dying, cried the dark hosts; we cannot write, our voting is vain; what need of education, since we must always cook and serve? and the nation echoed and enforced this self-criticism, saying: be content to be servants, and nothing more; what need of higher culture for half-men? away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! nevertheless, out of the evil came something of good,—the more careful adjustment of education to real life, the clearer perception of the negroes’ social responsibilities, and the sobering realization of the meaning of progress.”

through much of du bois’s writing in this piece, he calls for self-realization, authenticity, social involvement, and, to do all of this, education. much of his writing is inherently not theoretical; his work centers on describing social conditions of his fellow “voiceless” black community of the time.

to compare, #blm movement was created by black women out of “a real deep love for [their fellow black] people” (n+1). alicia garza asserts that the movement is about “shifting the narrative from a help narrative: it is not about black communities needing help, right? it is about investing in and resourcing black communities to be able to do for ourselves.” thus, the purpose of the movement is much the same as du bois purpose in writing – a call for self-realization, for involvement, for education, and to uplift the voices that go ignored. to extend that ideology, though, i think #blm adds the key component of love.

i want to stress that one or just a few of these parts to the movement is not enough. the pressures of the civil rights movement and several well publicized modern moments and sites of diversity and social justice advocacy (like colleges around the country refusing commencement speakers in their graduation ceremonies based on the speakers’ politics, the entirety of the gates’ foundation like with its race to the top program, the popularity of shows like orange is the new black, the election of a black united states president, the passing of “marriage equality”, etc.) have led us towards more “representation” of individuals hailing from oppressed communities within structures of power. capitalism has used the internet to use representation clickbait as well. neoliberalism is often the site of clickbait, in which there has become a profiteering of faux-radicalism. despite this, though, certain aspects of the internet and social media are used slightly different from clickbait to spread information, education, and various ideologies with easily accessed backing information. through this, it is easier to access leftist communities, and out of this there are also other movements that have gained traction with the use of social media. we can see this with the #blm movement, where the mass-used hashtag – even displayed away from the internet – has sparked a movement without necessitating one to return to its sites of creation.

white supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. viewers are encouraged feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. the fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat. " this is what the worship of death looks like.” 
― bell hooks, all about love: new visions 

social media is, within the u.s., considered a common access to all. while much the same as with any voice, some are given more thought and strength through follows, retweets, etc. – and any of these messages can be censored(/removed) by someone with higher power, several parts of social media (like hashtags) frequently allow there to be a sense of community, a sense of being heard through some link in knowledge despite physical distance. this networking is what allows #blm to thrive, for people to have a “space for our folks to be able to tell our stories, share grief, share rage, collaborate together. people are in motion right now, and we have a real contribution to offer” (n+1). the subversive use of networking in this way harkens, in my opinion, to the spirituals du bois scattered throughout his writing; they are sociological, political, personal, cultural, creative, educational – and push on white supremacy in order to express their community.




black violence

i do not believe that either du bois or the women who created #blm encourage(d) people to enact violence against non-black oppressors. there has been division regarding #blm because some do not care about or actively support the destruction of property – which, in a time where black lives are still not seen as important as property under the white supremacist capitalism that we live under, is seen as violence.

in some ways, it is hard for me to imagine #blm as a way to spread radical violence, such as gun use, in the face of the heavy militarization of police. #blacklivesmatter has in many ways become so popular because it unites people across political and “color lines” (a la du bois) in its lack of clear outcome or futurity beyond some form – any form – of justice for black lives.

however, it is apparent to me that gun violence in the u.s. grows still after more and more threats in schools and universities. so why have gun violence or other types of force not been utilized by #blm?

who is at fault should people use violence as a means to achieve their goals? is not violence as a response to the severe and long history of antiblackness reasonable and understandable?

regardless of the justification of violence, it is important that much of the “rioting”, property damage, and other violences that have occurred are largely committed by whites in an attempt to cause more mayhem or to further instate control over black communities. black violence has been a perpetuated stereotype due to the association with black people as inhuman and animalistic. the black rapist myth continues, as it has for hundreds of years. there is no reason for non-black individuals to feel continually under the threat of possible black crime, and yet the panic is instigated by media and those with power.

a bit of a sidebar here: bomb threats were a pretty big issue at my and surrounding public schools. gun threats less so, but guns still had a heavy presence in that southern community, in which hunting and the right to bear arms are major parts of the culture. while i’ve been alive, i cannot think of a single time these threats have been acted on. when a threat was issued here over gun violence, i couldn’t find it within myself to take it as seriously as many of my classmates, and i imagine that these things are related. the threat of violence is not uncommon, i think, in poorer areas, and so does not imbue an extreme sense of fear in me unless there is any sort of follow-up. in comparison, destruction of property does not scare me beyond the assurance of having a place to sleep -- perhaps because i own so little. the destruction of property is only worrisome to poor communities when, i believe, there is a threat on sites of community building and organization. property changes definitions at different places on the class latter. poor black people’s property can essentially be taken at will. privileged people will always care more about property damage rather than the fear of violence that they do not feel daily.


black love

 (taken from n+1)

in this way, i think #blm stands out. there are no threats to people or their property because these collaborations, marches, and networkings are frequently happening within the black communities themselves. when these marches and disruptions are more public, it is not with a threat of violence, but of changing the ways in which we live, the ways we incarcerate, the ways that we allow white supremacy and the existing hierarchies to remain untouched, rather than a threat of terror. at no point yet has a faction emerged that carries guns. not once is it mentioned by the women of #blm. because the nonviolence is such an unspoken fundamental to the movement, i cannot see a division occurring soon, such as that within sncc, that breaks the movement down. similarly, as chris lebron writes in his opinion piece, this sort of “radicalism” within #blm does not pit those who say we must love white supremacists against those who say that we must put an end to all white supremacy and that black people have every right to defend themselves against it. the whole movement focuses instead on, as lebron puts so succinctly, “where is the love for us [black people]?”

part of this harkens to the conversation between michael hardt and alvaro reyes, who call attention to the lack of dependency on a single or few set (often charismatic male) leader(s) within the movement. while the queer black women who created the movement may not have intended to not be “heads” of the movement (because the work of queer black women is so frequently erased), the result has been a great deal of community organizing rather than an inherent power dynamic.

and in comparison, #alllivesmatter, one of the reactionary hashtags to #blacklivesmatter has no love to its name. instead, it literally has more violence on its hands, such as with the recent assault of mercutio southall jr. at a trump rally as they chanted, “all lives matter.” #alllivesmatter is a facet of neo-liberalism that is equally “vague” as #blacklivesmatter, and thus uses some of the same “tenants” that makes #blm so strong; people can congregate under the slogan from all aspects of political and color lines in a façade of positivity. this reactionary “moment” that attempts to pull attention away from #blacklivesmatter and the violences and death of black people has not gone to the same lengths of utilizing the power of community and the internet.

the use of hashtags by the black and black-supporting community(s) has helped perpetuate black love and #blm. the protests and hashtags go beyond simply that of “#blacklivesmatter” to center the names and lives of black individuals, especially innocent bystanders, murdered by the police. the hashtags #saytheirnames, #sayhername, and #sayhisname is a major, often overlooked aspect to the #blm movement to educate and humanize the countless black victims. to list a very small number of hashtags for people:





















other names can be found in various places, such as 


the love and education [1] through social media of black present and past (including just through networking of violence against black people so that people know they are not alone) has transformed black communitites and the movement to become a site of power.  more than ever within our white supremacist society, i think, there is a focus on all black people, and the love and power they hold. with this education and love, i think it is possible that the neo-liberal present (and future) can be reshaped. 

to love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.
― bell hooks, all about love: new visions


futurity: blackness, the u.s., and power

some of the arguments against #blm are such as posed in charles payne's opinion piece, in which there is no need for a "new movement". maybe we cannot “finish an old movement” because you have to update goals, and thus it is a “new” movement. movements are defined by the moments they occur within, but a movement is more than a moment. a movement is constantly evolving, and there is a philosophical question of if a movement is ever truly over, but taking on new “waves” such as with women’s liberation and feminisms[2]. 

the #blacklivesmatter movement, then, has many unstated tenants, which revolve around rejection of traditional and hierarchical leadership, around empowerment, around the education and help of all who can involve themselves, around non-violence. this brings to my mind mia mingus and tocqueville. tocqueville comes forth because at least about this, he “called it”; the very foundations of the u.s. are on the backs of black slaves, and there will be continued oppression because the damage is done. #blacklivesmatter calls to light the ways that education and oppression are continued and did not end with the civil rights movement. and mingus posed to us, as activists and organizers in her recent address at bryn mawr, to envision and enact as much of our ideal world as we can. is #blm doing just that, but in a way that goes unspoken by many?

what this movement calls for, in its unspoken tenants, create a path towards a new, unspoken future.

with part of the future of the movement unspoken, it might seem that one of the only goals is that of justice, whatever that may be. much of the movement looks towards the indictment of the officers who have murdered these black individuals. but the women who created #blm have also spoken on prison abolition. decriminalization and abolition affects the future of antiblackness, and it will inevitably take a new form within whatever system is created. i think part of the net steps of leftists within the movement is to create space for formerly-criminalized bodies and formerly incarcerated individuals, as this is part of being for all black lives, for black love, for black power.

(taken from n+1) 


futurity: technological education and social justice

i also want to turn an eye towards part of what has made the movement as widespread and possible as it is -- the internet.

i do have a fear that the neo-liberalism and identity politics will lead towards a future in which already privileged individuals are used to continue white supremacy. the use of social media as tools of education and social justice are also why this neo-liberalism has in many ways taken off – as we can see with the popular adoration for people such as stephen colbert, dan savage, amy poehler, joss whedon, john green, and other celebrities who claim to be progressive and subversive of norms while perpetuating them. antiblackness does not only come from the absence of black individuals in positions of power. given the trajectory of modern, often neo-liberal “social justice” and “civil rights” work, there will be countless positions of power held by oppressed people (poc, disabled people, lbgtq+ people, women, etc.) – but this future likely holds the continued oppression of “deviants” within these communities, those who embody the margins of society. the black man who dropped out of high school and has since been incarcerated several times. the addict who began as a self-medicater. the undocumented latina single mother with several children. the mixed trans woman with aids.  these people will continue to get poorer, while non-black people (especially whites) point to the obamas and claim a post-racial society.

but, again, the internet and social media are also used to spread information, education, and various ideologies with easily accessed backing information. and as alicia garza notes in n+1, "because we’re organizers, and we know social media is an avenue, but it’s not the destination."

internet activism and education is activism like other texts and publications are, but also the internet allows for connectivity, social mobilization, and community in a new way [3]. through technological means (like the often more accessible kinds of social media/networking), it is important to do more than just create visibility. in fact, i'd argue that it is this hypervisibility of black individuals that has led to people believing that black people are now represented equally. instead, i believe we should focus on education, mobilization, justice, accountability, community, and love, as the #blm movement has done. 




the n+1 article i reference:

[1] acknowledgement of the truth (such as the epidemic of antiblackness) and open, honest communication (which is, i think, education as well) is part of love, and thus part of the answer. “choosing to be honest is the first step in the process of love. there is no practitioner of love who deceives. once the choice has been made to be honest, then the next step on love's path is communication.”  bell hooks, all about love: new visions

[2] black liberation is viewed as so inherently different from feminism waves, despite their frequent parallels – and overlaps, as with womanism and prominent black women theorists... i definitely think i could have gone to do something similar to @butterflywings and done an in-depth compare/contrast with women's lib and black lib, but certainly there isn't space in this paper (lol this is so long)

[3] i also am against calling internet activism "slacktivism", which i once wrote about on serendip briefly. i just now think that it's more than awareness, and "awareness" isn't enough


jschlosser's picture

One of the most important quotations from this excellent essays comes buried in the end, I think. Here's Alicia Garza in n+1:

Because we’re organizers, and we know social media is an avenue, but it’s not the destination.

 And this then connects with one your best lines from earlier in the essay:

the subversive use of networking in this way harkens, in my opinion, to the spirituals du bois scattered throughout his writing; they are sociological, political, personal, cultural, creative, educational – and push on white supremacy in order to express their community.

I'm stuck by resonance here but also tension: subversion through Internet activity differs from actual conspiracy; yet subversion can also be the tool of the organizer, the way to steadily weaken the opponent or unite forces for change. I love how you connect this to the very songs that produced and maintained solidarity during previous struggles -- the sorrow songs and the spirituals, work songs that made enslavement bearable but that also then transformed into freedom songs, protest songs, songs of the movement. 

Hashtags become a kind of cadence of voices joined together, a chorus of protesters united. And yet while these voices remain disembodied -- only virtual -- they don't yet have the function that Garza asserts is already there -- they're not yet organizing.