Growth is hard— I’m sure you know that. I’ve been learning new routines and thrown into a completely new atmosphere at work this last month that’s forced me to grow in ways I’m not used to. Even while I’m grateful for how much I will learn and change professionally over time, it’s uncomfortable for the time being.
One of the hardest things to do is admit to ignorance or to say the words “I don’t know.” Especially when someone corrects me about something I thought I did, in fact, know. But alas, I’m getting better at accepting the fact that I have plenty to learn.
There’s one area of my learning, however, that hasn’t quite come from work but instead from something that I think a lot of us interact with on a daily basis. Especially with the limited access we have to our friends and family, as well as how we try to keep up with the news and simply entertain ourselves, there’s something that we keep up with on a regular basis without thinking about it. We all have a lot of growing to do in that area of our lives.
It’s in how we interact with social media.
Now, this may apply differently from age group to age group depending on how each person spends their time, but how we connect with and think about what we see on social media is something that’s changing quickly. The more we’re staying inside and not seeing our friends or distant family, we rely more on social media and the news to keep up with the world around us. That means that in turn, we’re taking in a lot more information across these social platforms.
The more information we take in, the more aware we need to be about what we’re reading. At least, that’s how it should be.
The problem is, we’re not quite engaging as critically as we need to be right now. What do I mean by this?
Here are two examples.
Do you remember blackout Tuesday?
Though it feels like it wasn’t very long ago, back on June 2nd, the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused was begun by two Black music marketers Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang. From the New York Times, their goal was to “hold the industry at large, including major corporations + their partners who benefit from the efforts, struggles, and successes of Black people accountable.”
Though the message and intention itself was a good one, the actions that followed were not true to what Thomas and Agyemang had hoped for.
Much in the spirit of social media trends, the black squares were picked up like wildfire by well-known music artists before spreading far beyond that industry and into the rest of us. As it spread, the message and the idea behind it got lost. The goal to acknowledge the loss, struggles, and successes of black life was quickly buried by countless black squares until, before noon that morning, no one knew what the original show was about.
In some cases, people were genuinely showing solidarity and in others, it became performative— between almost all of them, it was hard to tell the difference.
Even though right now it’s the end of July and this happened in the beginning of June, I’ve seen much of the same thing happening this week— did you see the hashtag #challengeaccepted come up this week?
Now this one is not something I can say I know the whole story about because I am still learning, and I have only begun to do my research. In the beginning, I thought much of what other people like those here thought: It was just another photo challenge to pop up on Instagram. I figured, with the words challenge accepted, it was celebrating the strength of womxn around us and those in our lives, so people tagged other people and that’s simply how it spread.
Apparently, according to an article in the Guardian, I was right about that last part. At a certain point, “the hashtags were translated and shared in other languages and western celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Eva Longoria and even Ivanka Trump picked up on the trend, the original context appears to have been lost on most users, morphing into a lighthearted – if directionless – display of female solidarity.”
Does that sound familiar?
At a certain point, I know I didn’t even question the challenge or the meaning of these black and white photos when I first saw them. Maybe I should have wondered more about who started it or why maybe I should have questioned what “challenge” we were taking up in the first place. After all, if we post something on social media that has a hashtag or is possibly tied to a larger movement, shouldn’t we find out what that movement might be saying or perpetuating before we amplify it?
I wish I could find it now, but I remember seeing someone asking those of us taking part in the challenge to step back and think about it: There is an irony in that we find it a challenge to put a b&w filter on a color photo just to match the criteria of a something we know nothing about. It’s a privilege most of us probably didn’t consider, having to go through a put a filter on a photo. After all, that privilege only emphasizes the real reason this version of #challengeaccepted came about here in 2020.
Because the real meaning behind the challenge was to stand in solidarity with women behind the death of 27-year-old university student Pinar Gültekin, a crime for which her ex-boyfriend was arrested. Though it has since been proved misinformed, this Instagram post was not fully incorrect in stating that “Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens.” While this solidarity movement was the act of hundreds of Turkish women coming together to fight against the violence perpetrated against women, it did not originate in Turkey.
This is a resurgence of an online movement that began back in 2016 that goes far beyond Turkey and actually seemed to start with the spread of cancer awareness. Throughout the years it has been repurposed and spread through hashtags and other forms of social media tags, like “#İstanbulSözleşmesiYaşatır, or “Enforce the Istanbul Convention.”
You see, this “challenge” was, in fact, not just about empowering women and strength. It was so much more than that and it was not at all what people believed it to be. Instead of being what many initially thought, this movement ended up getting buried under black and white selfies of women who changed the meaning of what it was supposed to be; even though many may have had good intentions, it had an oppressive impact nonetheless.
As for my ignorance, I was more than a little bit off in thinking it was just another Instagram trend.
Though some of the things we see on Instagram like the memes and the jokes really are just surface-level things or ways to lift up those around us, some of them aren’t. This week, it didn’t take long for more information to unfold and people to come forward with what they knew about this movement— it also didn’t take me long to realize that I knew very little about what it actually meant.
Learning and growth are up to us and we have to choose how we engage with our world. Today, I am issuing you my own challenge: Take a step back from something that you don’t know a lot about and if you want to know more, go find out. Do the research.
Then share what you know and be open to someone telling me there’s still more knowledge to find.
Feel free to come back and tell me all about it. I’ll see you next week.