University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Social Media Isn't Real Life

If we want real change, we need to do more than just reshare social media posts.

Alexis M. Murillo (B.S. ’18) is a Latinx woman and the cochair of the U of M’s Multicultural Alumni Network (MCAN), one of several groups of alumni who drafted statements immediately after the killing of George Floyd decrying his death and asking fellow alumni and others to recognize and help dismantle structural racism.

She wrote this essay for Minnesota Alumni.

Photo Credit: Tony Saunders / Minnesota Daily

If you were surprised by the uprising in the Twin Cities and across the world after the murder of George Floyd, you haven’t been paying attention.

The protests that ushered in this monumental moment in history were not only an immediate response to his death. They were about the structural racism that is rooted deeply in unfair power structures and institutions that perpetuate unequal treatment for millions of people.

Now, more than ever, each of us has a choice to make: We need to decide whether we will speak up and be on the side of history that is advocating for freedom, liberation, and justice or if we’ll remain silent and complicit. I believe if we remain silent about these injustices, it will be the equivalent of being one of the officers that watched George Floyd die.

Lately, I have seen many people on my social media feeds attempting to speak out and confront the reality of racism—sometimes after years of minimizing or ignoring it. While this may feel like a start in trying to address racism, I’m afraid much of what I’ve seen has fallen into the category of “performative activism.”

Performative activism is a surface-level form of advocacy rooted in optics. People want to feel like they’re actively stepping up, but sometimes, what they’re doing doesn’t really go much beyond sharing social media posts. I think most people falling into performative activism typically share posts out of a fear that they will not be seen as good people if they don’t show support, rather than out of empathy and genuine support. Unfortunately, immediately following George Floyd’s death, this type of performative activism also included some people who attended a protest ONLY to post photos of themselves on their social media and then leave. (And yes, I witnessed this personally).

The problem with performative activism is it does nothing to truly contribute to the Movement. For each of us, it is not enough to only be in solidarity. Folks need to show up, daily. Don’t get me wrong: It’s helpful to bring awareness to important topics like racism online, but then you need to follow that up with action. After sharing a post, ask yourself, “What am I doing to positively contribute and take action on the topics I’m retweeting or sharing?”

I’ve got a few initial suggestions: 

Self-educate and engage in difficult conversations

Take time to educate yourself about what racism actually looks like today, and how it manifests. Listen to podcasts, read books, watch documentaries, and explore topics that might make you uncomfortable. Then share what you’ve learned. Engage in uncomfortable conversations with your family and friends to break the silence. Address the racist people in your life—all of us have them. And for non-Black folks of color, this includes recognizing the inherent antiBlackness in our own communities. Lasting change cannot happen without putting in the work to deconstruct our learned, toxic, narratives. It is no longer enough to not be racist. Be actively anti-racist.

Reflect, listen, and recognize your privilege

As a mixed Latinx woman, I recognize my own privilege and acknowledge my proximity to whiteness. It is important to me that I recognize this reality and make a commitment to reflect, listen, and have truthful conversations with myself and others. Colorism is part of white supremacy and has deep and historical implications in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities, from beauty standards and professional opportunities to even how people in the same family treat each other. To anyone else who is also mixed-race or a lighter-skinned BIPOC, think about how colorism benefits you and what you can do to bring more good than harm.

Although racism still damages us, we cannot deny that we have privilege. And as a non-Black person, I do not have a right to say how the Black community should react to their pain. Why? Because I am not Black. It’s really that simple. Instead, I work to listen instead of speak, and to elevate other’s voices to help create and embody change.

Donate resources and time

By all means, attend protests against racism, but don’t just show up because it’s a good photo op. Activism shouldn’t be trendy. Instead, activism needs to focus on the communities affected by these issues. Sign petitions, volunteer, and if you can, pour financial resources into BIPOC communities in pursuit of economic justice.

Keep going, this is only the beginning These are only first steps. Over the summer, most of us watched the news turn away from that first crush of coverage on racism, but to make real change, we need to keep the conversations and support going online AND offline. The fight is not over.

So, non-Black people, will you show up for the freedom and justice of Black lives? I know I will, and I’ll continue to fight for Black people, my Latinx community, and the other voices that continue to be silenced.

I demand to live in a world where George Floyd would be alive today. I also demand to live in a world where families are not separated, where children are not locked in cages. Oppression in all its forms does not exist behind closed doors, concealed from public view, but in broad daylight, outside a store with many eyes watching.

We can begin to embody change if we show up daily, protest, self-educate, reflect, and donate our time and money. And every day, please ask yourself, “How will I continue the momentum?”

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