August 11, 2015

Staying woke: Confessions of my "No TV" days

NOTE: The following post has a number of hashtags included, noted with the "#" in front of a word or phrase.  A number of social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, use hashtags as a way to follow a topic. You can do an online search for each hashtag to get more information about that particular topic. Include the # sign in your search.  --Liz
I had a conversation with two white Quakers the other day, after a Ferguson-solidarity event (#MN2Ferguson), about how a number of us Friends pride ourselves in not having a TV anymore, not listening to the news, or only listening to public radio, Democracy Now, etc.

But even those outlets are embedded in unexamined whiteness, unintentionally minimizing or even erasing the lives and the lived experience of people of color. (There's also unexamined classism, and systems embedded in unexamined middle-class norms, so keep that in mind, too.) An active part of my own journey into anti-racism work is the work of undoing my "socialized whiteness," exploring my socialized conditioning of overvaluing my "good intentions," and deepening my commitment to showing up for racial justice and for working for meaningful change.

I admit that it's been part of my white privilege to be able to turn off the news, or to get by without a TV... but that choice--to turn off the TV and simply NOT HEAR about what goes on in communities of color also had cut me off from the realities of what people of color endure Every. Single. Day.

It's a privilege to be able to turn away from deeply disturbing news and then get back to our everyday life. It's a privilege that also marks what some are now calling white fragility.

With the Green Revolution in Iran a few years ago, I learned to turn to Twitter--not to create an account, but rather to do an online search for hashtags back then: #GreenRevolution for example. ...And the news that was coming from Twitter was vastly different from the (lack of) news (initially) coming from the mainstream media.

That was the beginning for me, to learn to use the internet and social media when there were rumblings of things going on. I wasn't turning on the TV so much, but I was turning to Twitter.

Next up for me was to turn to Twitter for tracking and amplifying the work of marriage equality for same-sex couples, especially when the issue came to my state.

During the 18-month period of work to defeat Minnesota's proposed anti-GLBTQ marriage amendment, I began to find my own voice on Twitter, amplifying and repeating what others were sharing (that's called "re-tweeting" or RT for those who are curious).

My life is very different now: thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, marriage for same-sex couples is now a protected right.  More importantly, I actively choose to "stay woke," as younger people are now saying (the hashtag #staywoke is actually used in social media).  I choose to pay attention and seek out news, rather than avoid it.  I choose to go to news sources that point out systemic oppression and that track fast-breaking news--sources that provide consistent messages of what's happening when there are incidents especially involving racism.

Network television seldom provides the coverage I seek.  Being at #FergusonOctober in 2014 and comparing my own experience there with what the mainstream media was reporting at the time highlighted for me the difference between news provided by mainstream media and what civilians were posting on Twitter.

So now, when I hear or see a news story of significance, especially involving the police or people of color, I use that initial exposure as a reminder for me to check out social media, especially looking for/listening for reports from civilians of color.  And by centering on the reports from people of color, I am beginning to see the world through different eyes:  a different reality that had been hidden from me before, because of the thick veil of privilege I didn't know I was wearing.

It's all too easy for me these days to forget where I started my own journey, exploring white privilege and how I unknowingly, unintentionally used it to keep me comfortable and insulated from horrific news around the world, in my country, or even in my neighborhood.  But then something comes up, like #MikeBrown or #FreddieGray or a conversation here or there, and I remember:

  • I don't know what I don't know.

  • I'm socialized to disconnect or shut down when things get tough.

  • Good intentions sometimes have harmful impacts.

  • Good intentions don't outweigh harmful impacts.

  • Rewriting how I was socialized is a never ending journey.

  • We're all on a journey.

  • Friends call that journey continuing revelation.  Sometimes it includes turning off the TV; other times it includes using it differently.