#BlackLivesMatter - What my silence is saying
Every social media hashtag comes with a message and a following, intended for connectedness and commonality. George Floyd’s death on the 25 May, 2020, initiated the resurgence of #BlackLivesMatter, and unleashed a beast on social media and the world beyond.
Opinions are unfiltered, fingers are pointed, accusations are harsh, blame is raging and words are many. In the ensuing social media frenzy, it is as if we have hit the replay button - as if the record got stuck in 2018.
Did we learn nothing?
Philosopher, George Santayana's idea that history repeats itself and if we do not remember it or learn from it we are condemned to repeat it, is hard to refute. It certainly illustrates the brokenness of our world and exposes the ugliness hidden in our human natures. How easily we get drawn in.
‘The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.’ [Martin Luther King Jr.]
The hashtag may be the same, but this time round it has taken on a nefarious life of its own.
Public opinion has shifted.
The boxing gloves are off and we await the duel at dawn.
The issue and spirit behind #BlackLivesMatter is noble and legitimate - it is a social justice issue, speaking to the value and dignity of humanity. The public reaction and outrage however, especially on social media, is not legitimate. It has created much opposition, resentment, division and misunderstanding. Open conversations, honest acknowledgement and personal repentance seemed to have been forgotten as animosity rears its ugly head.
Did we achieve nothing?
Social media has become the platform for promoting hate speech, laborious venting and articulate prejudice. Words are many - they are loud and have become clashing cymbals.
That is why, this time round, I have not engaged with the many, many voices on social media, even though I feel deeply about #BlackLivesMatter. I have heeded the seasoned caution and wisdom of my husband, ‘Why would you choose to enter the cave of the dragon?’ and the divine wisdom of King Solomon, ‘Fools care nothing for thoughtful discourse; all they do is run off at the mouth.’
So, not wanting to appear a ‘fool,’ and not wanting to engage with one-sided pontifications of those who are adept at airing their own opinions on social media, I have chosen to sit this one out.
Here are my reasons:
#1 My heart is aching
As I hear the personal stories of pain and struggle experienced at the hands of injustice, my heart aches. It is extremely difficult to truly express your emotions, or for others to really hear your heart, in a back and forth verbal sparring match on social media. Trying to have the last word, or the better word, only polarises and divides. Helpful interaction on any sensitive and vital issue can only happen in person - by engaging relationally through eye contact, interpreting body language and many hours of face-to-face honest and open conversations. (Which hopefully take place over many cups of #coffee).
When stories are heard and tears are shared hearts are changed.
#2 My understanding is limited
The analogy often used to explain the premise of #BlackLivesMatter is that of a burning house. On a street of houses, each house and its inhabitants matter. One house is not more important than another. But when one of the houses on that street is on fire and is going up in flames, that house matters more and those living in it need rescuing and attention.
My house is not on fire. I am not living among the ashes and am not a victim of social injustice and prejudice experienced by so many African Americans. As a child, I grew up on the wrong side of the moral fence when it came to the Apartheid system in South Africa. So I cannot fully understand the struggle of so many of my fellow black South Africans. The issues are complex and emotive, and the stories are full of pain. But I can try. And I will listen with empathy. But I cannot do that on social media.
Right now, my story doesn’t matter as much as yours. When it does, I hope you will be there.
#3 My history has become one-dimensional
Thanks to the ranting and venting on social media, my story, within a specific historical context, has been reduced to the bare essentials of skin colour and birthplace, and the box that puts me in. I no longer have a face or a name or a unique narrative. In the context of #BlackLivesMatter, that has been stripped from me.
I am simply a white South African and that comes with a host of generalised and stereotypical baggage. White South Africans are the oppressors and black South Africans are the victims. This has dominated everything. The message of Martin Luther King’s convicting letters from prison in America in the 1960s, and Nelson Mandela’s message of reconciliation in South Africa in the 1990s, have been stomped on and silenced by ongoing bitterness and vengeance.
My heart has been pre-judged because I am a white South African. My actions and motives have been misjudged because I am a white South African. History has spoken. And right now, my voice will not be influential or helpful on social media - it will only provoke. That will not be helpful. For now, I will accept that.
Social media conversations and opinions are never going to
truly change the world, they will only expose hearts.
#4 My words will be misunderstood
I have followed social media threads and read the words. Voices of people I hold in high regard have easily been misconstrued. Words of some have surprised me. Words of many have been controversial and some have been ambiguous. A few have had the audacity to speak on my behalf as a white South African or accuse me and apportion blame and guilt - all under the banner of the ‘royal we’.
‘I have experienced the most racial prejudice from my white brothers and sisters in the church’ or,
‘We need to start changing the way we've made black people feel in our schools, churches, etc.’ or,
‘White South Africans will never understand our struggle’ or,
‘We, as white South Africans, really need to start building relationships and listening to our black brothers and sisters’ ...have been flying around Facebook and Twitter.
These general and sweeping statements are unhelpful. Please don’t put your guilt on me or assume I am to blame in the same way as you, just because we are the same skin colour. And don’t assume wrong motives of me, just because I am of a different skin colour. That is the danger of social media posts, comments and threads; truth, honesty and the opportunity for open and transparent dialogue take a backseat - lost among the many words.
'As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.' [Nelson Mandela]
I am not sure where this #BlackLivesMatter battle will lead on social media. I am hoping words will be few because, as Solomon concluded, ‘When words are many, sin is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.’
As we reflect on #BlackLivesMatter, the answer is simple. The prophet Micah told the people then and God’s voice rings out today: ‘Oh, he has told you what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to act justly, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?’ Perhaps these divinely inspired 144 characters will transform our hearts, words, actions and relationships.
To hear my heart and personal perspective on these issues that have come out of hard conversations and dear friendships, please read the following 2 blogs I penned in 2018 in trying to understand the personal stories behind #BlackLivesMatter:
He had a dream
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Fifty years ago, on the 4th April 1968, he was assassinated for that dream. It was a good dream.
It was a noble dream...
The art of not forgetting
We cannot rewrite history, defend its mistakes, sanitise it or pretend it no longer matters. We need to look history in the face and acknowledge its wrongs and injustices. None of us can change the atrocities of the past and so our fight becomes against memory...