A couple of weeks ago, my cousins and I were catching up online over a few games of “NBA 2K20.” Upon entering the park, we were immediately met with a message I’ve never seen but always hoped for in a video game: Black Lives Matter. It was on T-shirts, banners and billboards in the game’s playground.
There were messages like “I Can’t Breathe” and “Say Their Names” on player clothing, all the while they crossed each other over during gameplay and emoted on the sidelines. Several video game companies made similar shows of solidarity as the phrase “Black Lives Matter” lit up Twitter banners, Instagram posts and public statements delivered by companies, celebrities and organizations across the country.
While mostly well received, these shows of support — ranging from generous donations to rebranded names and logos to combat racist caricatures — have nearly all shown how performative social activism can become online. George Floyd’s death typified the systemic and institutionalized brutality brought against Black and other minorities at the hands of the state, yet it forced a conversation on a scale we haven't seen before.
When you look at the response to Breonna Taylor’s murder online, however, you begin to see where the activism ends, and the performance begins. The sudden and increased “memification” of her death through all types of Twitter and Instagram posts that are making the rounds daily continues to remind us how to improve our calls for social and economic justice.
We’re weeks past Floyd and Taylor’s murders, past companies penning statements calling for systemic change, well past organizations changing their profile pictures and banners to political statements, and are slowly — invariably — reverting to business as usual. The fatigue and burnout have already set in for many and have brought with them conversations around self-care and how to sustain the push for social change.
Since social media makes it easier than before to disseminate the necessary information needed for movements like Black Lives Matter, the ensuing backlash has been swift. Public outcry coupled with large numbers of supporters coming forward on a more public scale have caused many lawmakers to lash out at the BLM movement altogether, most notably here in North Carolina. It’s also important to note the dangers of how rapidly misinformation can spread as well, framing false narratives about BLM that quickly gain traction through typical politicking.
It’s not news that even liberal college campuses face racially motivated acts of discrimination in the age of BLM. NC State’s Coalition of Black Organizations continues its calls for systemic change to improve the quality of student life for BIPOC at NC State after multiple instances of racially charged events occurred across campus. While Chancellor Randy Woodson has been vocal in his condemnation of said events the last few years, we’ve reached a critical point where more is needed than diversity training alone.
Programs and initiatives that help foster spaces for Black and other minority academics and creatives is where we can begin to enact actual change. Having support systems in place that bolster efforts at the grassroots can better ensure equity for students who identify as Black, indigenous or as a person of color, as well as bring those into the fold who wish to build and sustain relationships as allies. We must have conversations about how we move from diversity training online to supporting Black and minority organizations across college campuses before checking off that proverbial box.