struggle is not a commodity: on the “woke” social media trend

May 19, 2017

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised, Will not be televised, will not be televised. The revolution will be no re-run brothers, The revolution will be live. -Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

I’m trying not to be the #wokepolice and pass judgment on people, although I think it’s important that we address a certain issue. Many of us are familiar with the popular poem by Gil Scott-Heron first recorded in 1970 and quoted above. Nowadays with smartphones, facebook live, Instagram, and technology in general almost anything and everything is recorded. While in some ways the ability to document things, such as the killing of innocent Black people by police officers in the United States, is beneficial–it can also mean that people don’t truly engage and take genuine action… that is–unless it can be recorded.

When I was growing up we’d call people “Studio Panthers;” those who dressed and talked as if they had a Black consciousness and read all the right books, but it turned out it was just a front, they had only skimmed the first pages, if that much. Social media makes it easy to seem as if you are taking action against injustice and participating in dismantling oppressive systems by using hashtags and reposting videos.

By Teju Adisa-Farrar*, AFROPUNK contributor

There are many people who use hashtags and repost videos that are actually aware, however I worry that some people are doing it because a sort of “Pro-Blackness” and/or being woke is now a trend, even if you don’t practice it in your daily life. I do believe social media and technology have the ability to encourage people to become more aware, or more “woke,” but sometimes it’s just new-age “Studio Panthers” using social media to maintain a persona that they don’t back up with their lifestyle or action. Political and social awareness is not something that can be turned on and off like a laptop. Sometimes we are in environments or situations which make it difficult to remain socially-aware, however that is different from awareness being a trend that one perpetuates on social media and nowhere else in their life.

“…struggle is not a commodity, right, to get you more clicks. It’s not a commodity to be packaged and sold.” -Beverley Bryan, former Brixton Black Panther

In an interview with Beverley Bryan by Heather Agyepong, the former Black Panther perfectly sums up my feelings with the above quote. The need to be photographed at a protest so it can be posted to various social media platforms in order to get likes and new follows is, in my opinion, an exploitation of people’s struggle for personal internet fame or popularity. This pervasive feeling that it doesn’t exist unless it is on social media, or social media “official,” is a problem and only perpetuates disenchantment and desensitization. It is important to document the struggle and the fight against injustice. Though, if the only feelings of validity you get come from the documentation of your participation in said protest then I question your commitment to something many people have and continue to put their lives at risk for. The struggle against injustice and oppression is not a spectacle sport.

If there is going to truly be change, than it has to exist actively, centralize intersectionality, and be daily. It is not just something to be shown off because it’s currently popular to be woke. You cannot claim to be against anti-Black racism but not pro-indigenous rights or for #BlackLivesMatter but not aware of the injustices immigrants face in Europe. You cannot be against one structure of oppression and not all structures of oppression because they are all connected in a global system of injustice. If you know his name, say her name. If you’re reposting woke shit, get a book and read to try to actually be woke.

Social media creates a lot of watching and not enough doing. I don’t need to see another live recording of a Black person being killed or a Nigerian man in Vienna getting brutalized by the police to know something must be done. To truly support and participate in the struggle we need to check ourselves and others around us who claim awareness on social media, but it seems to stop there.

The revolution will be documented, it could be televised, it will be intersectional, it will be Black Feminist, it will be indigenous, but most of all it will be live. There will be no space for the “Studio Panthers” or the fake-woke . There will be no time for those who did not educate themselves, there will be no time for those who forget or deny their privilege, there will be no time for those who want to perpetuate the system, there will be no time for the social media fronters. The issue is not televising (or Netflix/Hulu-ing) the revolution, it’s being passive while it happens. If you could not take photos for Instagram or post on Facebook would you still be a part of the struggle… apart of the revolution?

Four Things You Can Do To Tot Be fake-woke:
1. Read articles and books (yes, entire books) that focus on issues of racism, oppression, history and also provide solutions, clarify intersectionality, inform solidarity, etc. Check out this list of free books.

2. Go to the website or facebook page of the movement you feel most aligned with; see what their principles and demands are. See what type of actions they do and how you can get involved.

3. Think about what you can bring to the fight against injustice based on your personal experiences, skills, stories, location, purpose. What is the best way in your capacity to fight against oppression.

4. Talk to people around you about how they deal with issues of injustice, what they do–if anything, and how you can support each other in challenging structures of oppression.

Photo by Zak Stone via melmagazine.com

*Teju is a urban geographer and poet. She currently lives in Europe studying subaltern artist & activist communities, geographies of Blackness, and postcolonial culture in cities. She spends her time performing poetry and working on various collaborative projects.