Nov 19th, 2017, 09:05 PM

Un-Sanitize Your "Wokeness"

By Imani Barbarin
Black Lives Matter. Image Credit: Flickr/Ella
Why liking and sharing feel-good "woke" videos is unhelpful and needs to stop.

You have likely seen the viral video. A tense moment between rival protests that can degenerate into violence — or a flash mob dance-off ends with a black man embracing a Nazi as an olive branch.

Sweet, right? Wrong.

This moment, and its subsequent virality in online spaces, is exactly what I dislike about moderate politics in the age of necessary resistance.

Why did a black man hug a neo-Nazi skinhead? - BBC News

It would seem that being “woke” in 2017 means sharing all the right videos and liking all of the appropriate content. In the same way that people are renting out planes to take Instagram pictures, so are people constructing their online lives to appear like they’re engaging with the political landscape without actually taking a stance.

“I don’t see color” is a post of two children of different races convinced they’re twins. “It’s not about race, it’s humanity” is a photo shared of African American medical professionals saving the life of a KKK member in full regalia. All of the clicking “like” and “share” builds to a crescendo until I can practically hear Kumbaya playing in my head as I scroll Facebook and Twitter.  

Image Credit: Flickr/ThomasAngermann

Don’t misunderstand me, there are excellent resources for grassroots organizing being created and circulated online, but It requires that consumers of these materials be willing to live in the fray and take a stand. One of the problems with sharing the video of the black protestor hugging a Neo-nazi is that it creates a false equivalency between the two platforms; a simple misunderstanding that can be overcome by a touch of kindness. Neo-Nazis and KKK members call for genocide, nothing less. Even for the more tame racists, the end result is, inevitably, ethnic cleansing. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his speech, The Other America, “the ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” Presenting the two sides as though they are equal and advocating the same thing is an abhorrent manipulation of the truth. Just because the video gives viewers the warm and fuzzies doesn’t mean it not also conflating the two entities.

Another issue is the gesture of hugging the Neo Nazi in itself. Why is it when people of color are threatened with genocide, it’s our burden to prove our humanity? What happened to all of the safety pin allies and the pussy-hat knitters? I can’t question the men in this video or ask the Lords of the Internet why it went viral, but I find it problematic that, as a society, Americans constantly push the narrative that it's those of color who need to fix racism. Contrastingly, it reinforces the notion that, for white people, caring about the humanity of people of color is optional.

Lastly, isolated incidents that make you coo at your computer will do little to address systemic racism. Sure, its nice in the constant onslaught of terrible news to find a feel-good story, but how does that get water to Flint, Michigan? Or open our borders to refugees? Or address the school-to-prison pipeline? Or the voter suppression of minorities? I, like everyone else, want a break from feeling helpless at times, but healing rarely comes from putting glitter on bullet wounds.

Image Credit: Giphy