The Next Step
I want to start off by saying that I fully support everyone who is trying to learn about systemic racism and become more engaged. I have become more optimistic and have faith that our generation has the potential to break the cyclical nature of the inaction and create a true revolution. I’ll be the first to say I have a lot more to learn about the disenfranchisement of Black Americans.
In our day and age, social media has accelerated timelines for movements that normally take a significant amount of time. In just ten days, the national spotlight is yet again squarely on police brutality and the broader issue of Black Americans continuing to be treated as second-class citizens in the United States. Ten days. Social media, in particular, has really put this issue at the forefront. Public opinion started out as despair mixed with outrage, which has sadly become all too familiar. The tide then shifted to trying to understand and learn more about the issue. My social media timeline quickly filled up with people sharing meaningful videos and tools to try to learn about the broader problem. Up until now, it seemed as if the intention was to learn.
Then all of a sudden, my social media timeline turned into a blitzkrieg of resources with clickbait titles, asking to “donate to these five charities”, “read these seven books”, and “watch these documentaries on Netflix.” To me, the most shocking posts are the ones that promise magic solutions to such a multifaceted and deeply rooted problem. A lot of people began to advocate for something without a complete understanding of the full scope of the issue as evidenced by the numerous posts on complex topics such as qualified immunity or demilitarization of the police without adding their own interpretation. It has become dangerously cool to be “woke” about an issue in which many (including myself) need to spend more time learning about. Human nature compels us to share our experiences and integrate our diverse perspectives. However, this isn’t a competition about who has the most resources, who is the most righteous, and who has the next best post. The last ten days have truly exemplified virtue signaling.
This frightens me. It really does. It’s the same cycle over and over again. Despair which leads to short term outrage, followed by superficial changes, and then on to the next topic. It’s a rinse and repeat cycle. We have seen this happen with Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, and so many others. This isn’t limited to civil rights either. We saw this same issue with net neutrality, school shootings, and even illegal immigration. The news cycle moves faster than ever to the next issue the public needs to care about. The 19th century Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard artfully describes this phenomenon in his book, The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion.
“The stages of all actions which are performed with enthusiasm are as follows: first of all comes immediate enthusiasm, then follows the stage of cleverness which, because immediate enthusiasm does not calculate, assumes with a calculating cleverness the appearance of being the higher; and finally comes the highest and most intensive enthusiasm which follows the stage of cleverness and is therefore able to see the shrewdest plan of action but disdain it, and thereby receive the intensity of an eternal enthusiasm. For the time being, however, and for some time to come, this really intensive enthusiasm will remain completely misunderstood, and the question is whether it can ever become popular…”
I’ll paraphrase his message to reflect what it means to me. He claimed that we are living in an age without passion and described how we as a population have immediate enthusiasm right after an event. This enthusiasm continues to build and right at the point we need push past to start a true revolution, we fall short and back into the all too familiar habit of complacency and inaction.
We are rapidly approaching the point in which we need push past to become a true revolution. The only way we can accomplish this revolution is for all of us to take a step back and pause. We say we want to learn only to have the next post tell us what we have to read, watch, and donate to. Let’s understand what these buzzwords of mass incarceration, redlining, and police brutality actually mean. Let’s study the laws and literature. Let’s empathize and reflect on the arduous journey our fellow Black Americans have had throughout our nation’s history. Let’s give a voice to the storytellers. Let’s listen to those who know more than us. Let’s genuinely learn. Let’s take our time to change our own behaviors and create lasting change. There is no all-encompassing resource that we can read, watch, or listen to that will teach us everything we need to know. We need to find the truth for ourselves and each of us has our own way of getting there.
Instead of posting what we should be doing, let’s post what we have learned. We need to interpret and reflect on the plethora of information that has been conveyed to us. Let’s discuss our findings from our own personal experiences and the resources that we have found to be valuable. Only by sharing can we become the inclusive community we strive to be. This won’t happen overnight. It will take time. Our united voices for positive change will become a roaring crescendo.
Let’s do it right this time. Let’s break the cycle.