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What Social Media Has To Do With Racism

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Generation Z has had both the blessing and the curse of growing up during the age of social media. People today use social media to talk to friends, to make business calls, to check the news, even to shop or to learn. You may be asking, what social media has to do with racism? Social media has both elevated and combated racism in ways that were not possible before the twenty-first century. In Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Tatum shows how social media has exposed racism in everyday life and has not allowed it to be ignored any further, in comparison to her original novel written in 1997. Technology today has brought awareness to racism, has given racists a mask to hide behind, and has allowed minorities to connect with others in times of isolation.

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When one is directly faced with the results of racism, it is hard for an individual to ignore them. Black Lives Matter has grown into a huge organization through social media, following the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown in Ferguson, by planning protests and raising awareness. Tatum describes the aftermath of Eric Garner’s shooting, “Where there had been conflicting narratives about the shooting death of Mike Brown, in the case of Eric Garner the video was clear. ‘Hundreds of thousands of people had watched the video of him pleading for his life and repeating, eleven times, ‘I can’t breathe,’ while Pantaleo squeezed the life out of his body’”. Social media had spread the video that was taken when Eric Garner was pulled over around the world and the shootings did not stop. An activist from the Ferguson protests, DeRay McKesson, describes the advantages of Twitter during these times: “…You are enough to start a movement… you don’t need a VIP pass to protest. And Twitter allowed that to happen… I think that what we are doing is building a radical new community in struggle that did not exist before. Twitter has enabled us to create community”. Twitter and other social media platforms have not only helped activists plan and organize protests, but they have been used to spread awareness and videos of shootings in daily life. People are shown that racism cannot be ignored and that “multiple sides to every story” cannot be used as an excuse when real lives are in danger.

Social media and technology today can be used in negative ways. When using social media, one does not have to use their real name or expose who they really are, which leads to cyberbullying. Tatum describes African American teens struggle with racism through technology, “‘The worst thing that happened to me on the internet is that someone threatened to kill me because of my race.’ Another reported, ‘Almost every day on Call of Duty: Black Ops I see Confederate flags, swastikas and black people hanging from trees in emblems and they say racist things about me and my teammates’… ‘Me and my friends were playing Xbox and some kid joined the Xbox Live party we were in and made a lot of racist jokes I found offensive’”. A lot of bullies today use technology to feel better about themselves, and they also use technology in racist ways. Why should a young teenager’s life be threatened while playing a game just because of his race? Social media leaves young minorities, especially African Americans, without protection from cowardly racists online.

Social media can be used as protection from isolation for people of color. A young muslim girl, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, originally began avoiding her religion after the 9/11 attacks. She immediately regretted it and her father ended up moving the family to Jordan, where Amani rediscovered her identity as a Muslim. When they came back to the States, Amani proudly wore her hijab to school. Looking for others who have shared her experience, “… in 2009, still a teenager, she created a virtual ‘cafeteria table’ for herself and other young Muslim women by launching the website MuslimGirl… MuslimGirl evolved from a teenager’s refuge to a cultural phenomenon, garnering attention from mainstream media outlets and giving its founder a platform and eventually national visibility as a media commentator”. Al-Khatahtbeh has used social media to empower both herself and other women of color when they are put in oppressive situations. Social media has the power to connect people around the world who share similar struggles, so individuals have understanding people to rely on if they live in an environment where they are seen as outliers.

Social media has the power to recognize racism, to permit racism undercover, and to conquer racism with empowerment. Racism is used to target people of color to make them feel alone. Since social media is used for connections around the world, social media is used to combat racism and empower people of color by uniting them with others who understand their experiences. Beverly Daniel Tatum shows how social media has helped improve the fight against racism in America by creating connections that people of color can rely on and by exposing racism in order to befriend more allies.

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