“What does a ‘like’ do to change the world?” Have you all heard about how pointless social media activism is?
I don’t know about you, but I have heard quite a few statements like that and held long conversations I didn’t particularly enjoy participating in. Often, the same people who talk to me about how ridiculous social media activism is are the same ones who tell me that Black women are “too angry” or “All Lives Matter.”
Has anyone ever wondered why Black women are so angry? Has anyone ever entertained the thought that maybe, just maybe, social media is the only platform that is free, accessible, and visible for hyper-marginalized populations like Black women? I am tired of thoughtless, pathetic people discrediting Black women and other people of color’s efforts to rise above and express their voice in a world built on a system of oppression where their voices are silenced, presence is unexcused, and visibility deemed attention-seeking.
When mainstream media eats up Black culture to market how edgy they are, we praise them for their creativity. When Black women demand their cultural identities and struggles to be represented equally and done by Black women, the answer is almost always negative. Accordingly, besides a few characters like Olivia Pope on Scandal and Lt. Abbie Mills on “Sleepy Hollow,” Black women roles that deviate from stereotypes are rare to find in Hollywood (Byng). How can we expect to hear about what Black women want and need, if mainstream media blocks them from expressing their true character and passion?
That is where social media steps in. Whether you are a famous celebrity making bank or a regular high school student from Beacon Hill, social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and etc.) allow you to influence people in ways that was not possible fifty years ago. Well, first of all, the extreme lack of gender equality would have caused a major backlash if Black women dared to show agency by posting about their needs, representing, and offering support for the community. Even more, racially oppressive America would not have consumed, and debatably still does not, an alternative perspective on race and Black Americans. In this new era, where people log onto their social media sites more than watch conventional television shows, Black women might be able to have their voices be heard more so than it has in the past. Hopefully in the future, whether social media takes over or mainstream media catches on with racial equity for all, marginalized communities will not have to depend on an alternate source to express their ideas.
Amandla Stenberg, a Black actor who starred in the Hunger Games, posted a photo on Instagram, documenting her ideas revolving Black female lives (Stenberg). It begins with a powerful message, “Black features are beautiful. Black women are not. White women are paragons of virtue and desire. Black women are objects of fetishism and brutality” and describes, “a web that entraps black women when they claim sexual agency… When the media is not ignoring black women altogether, they are disparaging them” (Stenberg). Within those lines, you can already tell Black female voices are silenced unless they are objectified or eroticized.
In saying so, Amandla Stenberg challenges the structure of the system and the barriers that block her from expressing her concerns as not only a woman but a Black woman. As seen in the image, that picture alone gained attention of various audience groups, achieving 38.2 thousand likes. Knowing how images and ideas circulate through social media at the speed of light, we can safely assume that this photo was not only seen by those 38.2 thousand Instagram users but rather, seen by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of more people.
As a celebrity, Stenberg could post physically provocative pictures to gain more likes and stand in the spotlight. However, her Instagram page is full of Black pride, #BlackLivesMatter messages, and inspirational quotes to support Black women existing and actively surviving in the world (Stenberg). What possibly motivated Stenberg to defy the norms of a female celebrity and post a highly political and sensitive picture that tens of thousands people are mulling over? A White woman, specifically Kylie Jenner. As White female feminists take up more space than Black women do posing as an ally, the effects of that are just as detrimental as men disregarding Black women’s voices because it inevitably takes away even the limited time and space that Black women have to fight for. Kylie Jenner is the epitome of a White women benefitting off of Black women’s backs and financially thriving through the means of cultural appropriation. Jenner posted a photograph on Instagram in which she had cornrows in her hair and captioned it “I woke up like disss” (Jenner), advertising her new wig line. As you can see, Jenner’s post has reached 1.4 million likes. To this post, Stenberg commented, “when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help plack Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter” (Robertson). In addition, Stenberg posted the image describing Black cultural appropriation. Are cornrows just another hair style that anyone can appropriate? Should a White woman, in this case, ignore the culture, struggles, and reality of Black people while snatching only the edgy beauty style from them? Stenberg thought different. By posting that text on Instagram, Stenberg conveyed her compelling message clearly, letting the Instagram audience know how she feels about Jenner’s post.
Although Amandla Stenberg was motivated to post that photo in that instant by Kylie Jenner’s imbecile actions, she is known for using her position as a celebrity to tell the world what Black people go through. In one of her videos, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” she reached out to not only the Black audience, but millions of non-Black users about the significance of cultural appropriation (Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows). For Stenberg and many other Black women, inspirations to post on social media can be found in other White women like Kylie Jenner or living in a society that considers their struggles are not as important as their beauty standards.
Posted on July of 2015, Stenberg’s criticism of Kylie Jenner caught the spotlight of many news articles and discussion happening on various online forums. In the current day and age, social media platforms are the easiest and quickest way to deliver a message. For marginalized populations who don’t get air time on television or fill up the work space in the field of journalism, there is no better way to reach out to the world about their concerns. For African Americans, Blacks, and Africans, entering 21st century has not improved their living conditions or quality of life nearly as much as their White counterparts have. Could the #BlackLivesMatter movement offline and online, representation through social media activism, and dialogue occurring due to these triggers pave a path for a wave of social equality?
Byng, Rhonesha. “The Images Of Black Women In Media Still ‘Only Scratch The Surface,’ Essence Study Finds.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows. 15 April 2015. Web. 15 November 2015.
Jenner, Kylie. “I woke up like disss.” 02 July 2015. Photograph. 15 November 2015.
Robertson, Inyana. “‘Hunger Games’ Star Amandla Stenberg Criticizes Kylie Jenner’sCornrows.” Vibe. N.p., 12 July 2015. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Stenberg, Amandla. “bigger than you or me. discussions are healthy. ignorance is not. words by me.” 03 July 2015. Photograph. 15 November 2015.
Stenberg, Amandla. Instagram. Photographs. 15 November 2015. https://instagram.com/amandlastenberg/