fad [fad]; an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object’s qualities; a craze.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by FOUR Minneapolis police officers. Like many other Black/police encounters before, his death was caught on video by bystanders. The video itself shocked the nation, and the world, to its core.
“Wow, I can’t believe this happened.”
“My heart is so heavy.”
“This is not okay.”
People were reminded- or forced to remember- what vilification and condemnation Black people are subjected to on a daily basis. I believe it was in Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, 13th, where I heard Jelani Cobb say that using media is a way of “searching for the medium of technology, that will confirm your experience such that your basic humanity can be recognized.” Camera phones, social media, technology… they all force a conversation to be had.
The murder of George Floyd indeed started a conversation- or rather it magnified the conversation already being had. It ignited a movement, and it unearthed so many other people who were buried beneath the system of silence and oppression. Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Kendrick Johnson, and so many more stories were brought forward to light, reopened, and given the proper recognition for push for justice. With the increase of recognition, calls for abolition, and catalysts of action, there has also been an influx in pandering and performative activism to the point that the deaths of Black people have been twisted into a meme-procuring, internet fad for some.
I have never been more familiar with the word “pandering” than recently. More like, I have never USED the word “pandering” more in my daily thoughts, conversations, and tweets. In politics, the definition of pandering is aligning oneself and your views with the views of a group you are attempting to appeal to- most likely, not even reflecting your own true, personal beliefs. So when I- and others- say “stop the pandering,” what we really mean is stop the bullshit. We can smell it a mile away.
Lately, the pandering has been coming from more than just politicians. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they are still the most guilty of it. Democrats have been appealing to Black and Brown people for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure even longer than that. Their latest job in kente cloth was not surprising at all. In fact, through this entire presidential campaign I’ve been reminded how much Democrats, and many of their followers, don’t care about how their “status quo” tramples over the lives of those they claim to care about. However, celebrities and businesses have joined the wave. Remember when Gal Gadot and other celebrities released their tone-deaf version of Imagine to spread support through a pandemic? The whole world told them they were being tone-deaf, but they didn’t listen. We know they didn’t listen because then another group of celebrities released a video admitting their past complacency with racism?? Yeah, you read that right. It’s all meant to be in good faith, but with everything going on, I just don’t believe it. Do you also remember when Alec Baldwin admitted to acting “inappropriately” in the workplace during the time of #MeToo- before anyone had even come out with a story about him? He was jumping the curve. And that’s what everyone else has been doing. All just to save face. They jump to make that one post on Instagram so that they don’t look bad. They appeal to Black trauma because they care about Black consumerism- when most likely, they don’t even agree with our views anyways- pandering.
What they don’t realize is that they’re discrediting real life, real feelings, and a real movement. They’re cheapening it to a single post, a 24-hour story, an afterthought.. Without the work behind it, they show that you don’t really need to care about Black lives, you just have to seem like you do. They’re not the only one’s guilty either.
There seems to be two major factions of social media society that work to devalue Black death and the movements that rally against it- the first being people who actively work to demean the movement and the second being the jokesters. The Candace Owens’ and the meme-makers. The Candace Owens’ diligently take pleasure in criminalizing a victim to the point where they might as well say, “He deserved it.” They’re the All Lives Matter folk who say, “But not your life,” “Not when you make a mistake.” They are expected. But then, the performers and jokesters seem to be a new group filing in. They meme-ified and danced endlessly on tik-tok for Breonna Taylor to the point where her death has literally become an internet fad. They hide behind the notion of bringing awareness, but the awareness is already there! It was there before George Floyd, and it was re-heightened after him. There is no need for awareness, there is need for accountability, education, and action. Just say you’re using the death of a Black woman to a.) not make yourself seem racist and/or b.) to get clout off of her name.
Celebrities, pandering, and social media memes has allowed Black murder to become desensitized. It’s a craze to rally behind for a few weeks then forget about- not just with Breonna Taylor, but with the entire Black Lives Matter movement altogether. How many people have completely stopped talking about the issues? How many people deleted that little black box off their Instagram once the topic wasn’t trending anymore, because it ruined their aesthetic? How many people posted 24-hour stories and let their cares die along with it? How many celebrities went on social media to make one post about how “racism make me sad” and that’s it? Performative activism and memes have made my life and death a literal fad. A faux martyrdom.
And the defending of it all has pushed me to a deep space of confusion and, honestly, depression. Tell me, why do you expect average people- ones who have been put out of home and work due to a literal pandemic, Black people who are mourning and living with this shit every day, people struggling every damn day in some way or another- why do you expect them to advocate, spend the money donating, march, and do all the work, but expect nothing more than a measly Instagram story from celebrities and influencers? Or a fake kneel from politicians? Tell me why you think it’s acceptable to turn others’ trauma into a meme? You don’t even offer context and knowledge after you use their name.
I’m here to tell you that none of it is okay. If I were murdered tomorrow, I do not want to live on as a weekly tik-tok dance, or a meme for you to occasionally post and retweet, or a black square that you post with no additional context. I want justice! I want my story, not just my name, to be heard, and I want that for my brothers and sisters too. I want that for them YESTERDAY!