Social media, above all other things, has made one particular thing especially easy nowadays – extending solidarity. This potentially means that your sense of contribution to the ongoing injustice around the world typically boils down to a gesture of ‘double-tap’. This is not to say that the realm of the virtual world hasn’t resonated or, for that matter, substantially added to the struggles on ground. You could think of many contemporary examples to prove exactly that. However, repeating such instances is not my aim here.
We inhabit a world in which relationships have come to be increasingly mediated by ‘images’. This could come in the form of news reports, live debates, and heavily-curated content. Images are constantly flooding on our social media feed and it is hard to look away, especially when you’re looking at it on a private screen. To say that these images, in all shapes and sizes, do not tweak events as they happened to our convenience is to avoid a very emergent issue in today’s political life in general – the generation of ‘spectacle’.
Moments after George Floyd’s death, major news corporations inadvertently took up the story, with a varying number of opinions floating around the clock. This means that people like you and I, who aren’t just geographically but also culturally apart from America, can tune in for latest developments. For anyone who’s even remotely aware of the inhumane murder of George Floyd knows that the subsequent outrage that managed to stir the sentiments of African-Americans still reeling from the most subtle forms of racism started from a video.
A more blatant show of racism that might have gone unnoticed on the international forum got recorded on a passerby’s camera. Leaving the dramatic narratives conjured up in the comfortable and privileged seclusion of a newsroom in a competition for TRPs aside, the video of a Black man being suffocated to death by a White police officer, while other officers as shown on camera failed to intervene, hint at an issue that isn’t just individual.
Racism in the States is ‘institutional’. Here’s some food for thought – nearly 23% of the identified Covid-19 deaths in America is the African-American population, even though records suggest that they make up for barely 13% of the entire population. Reasons cited by health professionals hint at an undercurrent of racial prejudice leading to a lack of basic healthcare facilities amongst other things. Treating police brutality as just a symptom avoids deliberation on the (already identified) actual disease.
A system that confers privileges on a certain class and race cannot be expected to be inclusive, unless the cultural problem engulfing the main discourse keeps getting pushed to the margins. What clearly requires a systemic overhaul, or at least a discussion that would lead to the same, gets lost in translation, thanks to the antics staged by everybody’s favorite, Mr. Trump. Attention is diverted. Should one not then resist inflammatory remarks from the man who’s apparently in charge of the nation? Yes.
Should it remain restricted to just that? No.
Most of the live debates on air right now should be held complicit in adding to this endless recycling of spectacle where the news has displaced our attention from the very ‘nature’ of the protest to its ‘effects’.
And a certain vocal section (read: online) is busy imitating that same closeted space of a newsroom rather than educating itself on the very issues that involve them.
Rampukar Pandit. Does that name ring a bell? Probably not, because it didn’t particularly make headlines. Or maybe people, and by that I mean the ones active on social media rallying in support of Floyd, did not make the slightest effort to even look at what the nation had wrought when it announced a nationwide lockdown, giving just four hours for people to gather their bearings. It is very simple really.
Claiming to be affected by something has its own trappings in the sense that people seek validation on social media specifically on issues that have somehow managed to grab the attention of one and all. Take the not-so-curious case of Indian celebrities expressing their pain and anguish at the murder of Floyd, but choose to remain tactfully silent on countless migrants who died, not of Covid-19, but of the consequences of the lockdown.
Privilege confers a position of responsibility. Denying this position means conformism, which in turn leads to reproduction of relations that go into the maintenance of status quo. To people pledging and celebrating the cause of donations, I ask: what forced millions of migrants to go back to their homes in the first place, what can be possibly done to avoid such an exodus again, and more importantly, why should such conditions be allowed to exist? When the problem is inherently systemic, do we still go around shouting slogans of individual social responsibility?
Jumping onto online bandwagons, protesting for social justice while choosing to remain (willfully) unaware of the suffering of oppressed groups in one’s own nation is the paradox no one’s willing to admit. How does one accept solidarity from a section that has been equally complicit in silencing the voices of the marginalised of their own nation?
We need to take a step back, educate ourselves before jumping the gun. That means unlearning the structurally rewarding ways of looking at the world, being empathetic of one’s own before taking to forums contesting for justice, using your resources, which are of course a privilege, in at least starting a dialogue with people, putting yourself on-ground with the day-to-day realities of life, and stepping out of that bubble in order to make an actual difference that is not just restricted to private chat rooms or the comment sections. ‘Double-tap’ isn’t and shouldn’t be the answer. All of it, the change we insistently vie for, needs to start from somewhere, and we owe this to Floyd, to Rampukar.
About the author: Soham is currently pursuing M.A. in English from Delhi University