activism on social media: perspectives.

I had a physical reaction to this week’s blog post prompt. I left class after our discussions and went to unpack my thoughts and here’s where I’m at with a lot of this:

First off, it is challenging to be a social media activist and have the words “educator” in your profile. I have found that some social issues are present in schools and posting about causes that do not reflect the division you work for can be risky. We as educators and representatives of our employer are reminded often to be mindful about what we post on social media by our employer.

I have a lot of causes that I care about. I am a parent of soon to be two mixed race children. I have family of multiple races and orientations. I care deeply. This deep care has caused me to move away from social media when it comes to activism on causes I care about. In my experience, I have found when it comes to posting about causes that I care about, it’s inviting opinions and comments that I don’t need or want. I don’t need feedback. I’ve already made my decision. My morals are my morals. I don’t need to debate this with a distant relative on Facebook or some random person on Twitter.

As I have explained before in a post, I try to keep a lot of my life private on social media, and that includes activist topics that matter to my family. I have to also mention here that it is a privilege to protest; generally the people posting that we see online are ones in a position of privilege (typically by race, orientation & social status) and will receive different responses than those who are protesting something that is directly connected to themselves (race, gender, orientation). This is where #slacktivism comes into play, as many folks will repost something political or about an important social issue, and then quickly move on with their day, not having to worry about who sees and responds to their posts. Those who are posting about experiences directly related to their own backgrounds are taking great risks at doing so, and I know for many of us, we do not take the same risks when we post or repost something. This risk can threaten someone’s career or reputation and can come at great cost to their family. It is not to be taken lightly.

Katia Hildebrandt describes in a blog post from 2015, how if educators remain silent on issues related to issues on social justice, how we are implicitly saying we are okay with what is happening. This sentiment has been quoted on many blog posts that I read this morning from my peers on this topic. I struggle with this sentiment. It’s one of those statements that sounds simple in theory, but is actually fraught with variables depending on the given situation. My response to that sentiment is this: silence on social media might mean something very different than being “okay” with injustice. It might mean that speaking out is too much of a risk to one’s family or loved ones. It might be too upsetting to the person, as this issue might directly affect them and their loved ones. It might mean acknowledging that social media is typically not a safe space to be vulnerable and say one’s truth. It might also mean that this person is focusing their energy into other forms of activism that may feel more substantial, and are choosing not to post about them, which is their prerogative. If someone is dealing with social injustice on a daily basis in their workplace, school or public spaces, why put themselves more at risk by posting online? For myself, I may be in a position of privilege being a white female, but much of my family does not possess that same privilege. Not to acknowledge and be mindful of this is careless and dangerous. I cannot speak for these family members, I can only support and be open to whatever is needed of me to learn and help.

Does that mean that I do not do anything about these causes? No. I have been to protests. I have written emails to officials. I use my own activism in my teaching with students. I have found that in teaching arts education there are many avenues for using social justice in art as a way to connect content for students. One of my favourite ways to do this is by teaching a protest songs unit with grades 7 and 8, which spans from the first known protest songs by artists such as Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan to more current protest music by Kendrick Lamar and The Halluci Nation.

So here’s the question: Are you posting it to actually make change or to just look “woke”? People have been saying for years now with Black Lives Matter and with Indigenous relationships in Canada (Residential schools, mass incarceration, etc.) that we need to do our homework and educate ourselves. Are you doing that? Is it happening before or after you hit retweet?

One of the good things about social media is it is making these resources much easier to access. There are accounts that are working hard to break stereotypes and get the information out there so that we can learn from the proper educators – those who are actually experiencing oppression. When it comes to social media, this is how I utilize these spaces. To listen. To learn. To educate myself. To try and be a good parent to my children, and a good wife to my husband. A good family member. A good friend.

4 Replies to “activism on social media: perspectives.”

  1. Thank you for this post. I have to say that in the past, before I was “out” at school I really had to think long and hard about the posts that I wanted to make – there was in fact a level of fear and to a degree there still is. I also loved your questions at the end of your post. I have definitely been guilty of posting something to appear “woke” or because it was something that made me upset and I wanted others to read what I just read. I also appreciate the question about educating ourselves. I think sometimes I post because I want to come back to it and read it later, and there are other times where I will post something because I did learn something and I am hoping that someone else who reads it will have the same take away that I had.

  2. Gillian Crocker says: Reply

    You make some excellent points about why people might choose to stay silent. Brett posted this quote from Ella Glovers to remind us that “we are not equipped to handle the constant barrage of information at once. The pressure to juggle an infinite amount of injustices in our minds, while also worrying about our own lives is problematic.” Like you, I care deeply. Too deeply at times. So like you, “This deep care has caused me to move away from social media when it comes to activism on causes I care about.” We are constantly being bombarded with far too many things worth caring about. We have to find balance and choose to put our energy in better places. I think that’s exactly what you are doing by putting your energy into teaching about social issues and injustices. This is truly meaningful!

  3. Kelly Ziegler says: Reply

    Wow, this blog post was very well written and I so appreciate you sharing your experiences. Like you, I often wonder if people are posting things because they actually are invested in the cause, or are they doing it to appear as if they are doing their homework? I too think that it’s pretty darn difficult to have activists and educators (in the K-12 system) in one title and still hold down a job. So where does that put us? We try to educate the kids in our classrooms to do the right thing, but often, we cannot stand up for those that can’t. This is troubling. I want to be more of an activist, and I try to retweet things that I find meaningful or moving, but does that make me appear to be showing face? I’m not sure about that either.

  4. I really enjoyed this post! Just because educators aren’t posting on social media doesn’t mean they aren’t doing anything to be activists in their classroom or outside of social media. Social media puts a lot of pressure on people that aren’t used to it, don’t like to use it, or can’t post due to personal matters. For me, I only want to post issues that I know a lot about and not only to be “woke” or seen. I make sure to have great discussions and educate my students in the classroom to make sure they fully understand social issues! Once I gain a great amount of knowledge of a topic, I will be less silent online.

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