While we at SPICE have our attention on all things ‘new,’ inline with the worldwide ushering in of 2015, writer Sekai Makoni’s got more than New Year resolutions on her mind, as she she considers 2014’s stories of injustice and social media’s response. Read about it, below;
As celebrations die down following the turn of the New Year and people begin work on their resolutions, now seems a good time to also take a moment to consider the non-celebratory events that occurred last year – particularly those that have affected Black and African communities, which should not be forgotten as we move into 2015.
The fight to counter police brutality against African-American communities in the US has been at the forefront of many people’s thoughts recently. Be it the police shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson and the subsequent Grand Jury decision not to indict the officer responsible, Darren Wilson, the death of Eric Garner who died at the hands of an NYPD officer’s chokehold, or the police shooting of Tamir Rice (a 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun); 2014 offered stories that shocked many but did not surprise those who’ve long been aware of the reality of the police brutality experienced by ethnic minorities.
Though these stories are worryingly repetitive and can move us to despair when considering the state of affairs and the attitude of the time we live in, it has been inspiring to witness the movements springing up in reaction to these injustices across the world. There was #BlackLivesMatter, founded in the USA by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrise Cullors and Opal Tometi; there was a silent solidarity march in Tokyo, Japan where protestors held up signs that read “Tokyo stands with Ferguson” and “America, the world is watching”; there was a large scale ‘die in’ at London’s Westfield shopping centre and parallels were made by those in Palestine posting images of themselves holding signs to show their solidarity – all great examples of positive responses to some of the world’s most negative events.
The use of social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter last year worked to enable a sense of immediacy and worldwide support – network-building at times of crisis – allowing people based in places geographically distant from the event itself to take supportive action along with other followers from all over the world. Through social media, people have been able to feel closer to stories that mainstream media may not have assumed relevant to them, and real people’s, real time reactions have been able to be recorded, shared and brought together online by use of the now universally know ‘hashtag.’ For example, when Nigeria’s Chibok Girls went missing, an online campaign broke which generated worldwide support within hours and even had First Lady Michelle Obama sharing a selfie along with the now famous hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls. Thousands of others followed suit to post their own images, raising awareness to the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.
But social media didn’t just provide people with a connection to specific stories either. People have also been quick to show an awareness of the wider issues that surround them. Take the London solidarity protests following Eric Garner’s death – not only were protesters showing their mutual outrage at that particular case and those similar, they were also protesting to a theme of police brutality in the UK. Be it the ‘lawful killing’ verdict in the Mark Duggan case, the historical case of Joy Gardner who in 1993 suffocated to death at the hands of police (the three officers responsible were found not guilty of manslaughter) or the numerous Black deaths within police custody that no one has ever been charged for. Thanks to the culture of social media, people have been able to make quicker connections between events and on-going struggles, and have been inspired and galvanised to challenge the structures maintaining these unjust practices; a trend we should hope continues into 2015.
Unlike with mainstream media, where headline attention in 2014 was grabbed by stories of crime against males in Black communities, social media does not seem to discriminate. For example, in the US, figures such as 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, who was shot by an off duty officer in Chicago, Erica Collins, shot by police in Cincinnati, or the even more disturbing story of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was shot whilst she slept (as depicted in J. Cole’s “Crooked Smile” video), aren’t as quickly remembered by mainstream news. It seems as though Black women’s suffering is only recognised by the media when it is connected to slain young Black men. Stories of bereft mothers, grieving the loss of their sons are what seem to be more easily grasped by mainstream news, as exemplified by the media’s portrayal of Doreen Lawrence (the mother of Steven Lawrence, who was murdered in 1993) or the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, who recently gave a joint interview on CNN. Via social media though, stories of crime against females are recalled and given attention, with bloggers like Bougie Black Girl dedicating space to them – in this case reminding us of the names and faces of Black women who have died at the hands of US police through a visual guide, showing us women like Darnesha Harris and Miriam Carey. We are called upon to “speak their names, see their faces and know their stories.”
So, while everyone’s busy considering the New Year and looking back at the highlights of the last, it’s worth also considering the lows that have hit our global community – and perhaps seeing their prominent presence in our timelines and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds as something to celebrate. Having social media as a tool to access these stories, as well as document and involve ourselves in them is useful for our generation, and with that, one thing is certain: whether 2015 is a better year for Black and African communities or not, we will all be able to share the struggle, which is surely a fact worth ‘liking.’
By Sekai Makoni
Image source: Nydailynews.com, Mikebrownlaw.org, Pbs.twimg.com, Thefader.com