By Janice Gassam
Social media has become a powerful tool to engage in discussions around justice, equity, and oppression. The internet exponentially increases one’s reach, impact and message and has been instrumental in sparking revolutions. Despite the internet’s ability to amplify the work of social justice activists and educators, there is evidence that some stories and voices are being highlighted, while others are ignored or silenced. A ProPublica report found that there were inequities between which content was deemed as hate speech versus political expression. Some even assert that the algorithms that detect bias are actually biased. “I am no longer on any social media platforms,” says Dr.Kimya Nuru Dennis. Dennis is a social-community activist, social scientist and the founder of 365 Diversity, LLC. “They got me banned from Facebook…I am no longer on Twitter…and now I’m banned from LinkedIn. I’m not on social media anymore and I don’t believe in censorship. The problem is how people define censorship. They think that the words that I say are not ‘professional,’ which is that idea that you can challenge and dismantle injustices using a smiley face…there is no such thing as that…it’s also very racial and gendered as well…for example, cisgender, heterosexual White men are allowed to advertise themselves as ‘tell it like it is…if you don’t like it don’t come to my trainings,’ that sort of thing. And they’re considered to be the most knowledgeable ones in the room…whereas I, as a Black woman…I am assumed to be this angry, hateful Black woman.”
There is evidence and reports of clear disparities in who is viewed as an authority or expert—overwhelmingly, it tends to be White males. This trend is particularly problematic for those who do equity and inclusion work because of the importance of listening to and centering the experiences of non-white people to better understand how to deconstruct inequitable systems. With a homogenous group of people being deemed as the “authority” this may widen the gap and limit one’s understanding. “Centuries of Black and brown women being told to be [in] the backseat of racial justice…I call all of that out…this is stuff I used to teach to 18 and 19-year-olds in undergrad. You can’t change something if you don’t know the origins. It seems to be predominantly White organizations that will come to me and they’ll say, ‘Dr. Dennis, we’re social justice warriors…but they don’t want social justice that makes them have to self-reflect…makes them have to look in the mirror…that’s why when I got banned from LinkedIn, I told my people, ‘don’t you dare contact LinkedIn.’ LinkedIn sent me an email telling me why I got banned and it was a bunch of posts that outraged [people] on LinkedIn reported. When you read those posts it’s like, this is basic inclusion stuff…when they use their real name and their company’s information, this represents what’s happening at their companies as well.
Dr. Dennis shared advice for Black and brown folks who do equity and inclusion work. “I want to meet more Black and brown people who do this work…more marginalized identity women. I want to meet them because most people claim that they do this work, but they don’t. I always tell people of primary marginalized identities, if you have friendships and colleagues of the power majority, and you’ve never said anything that made them in the least bit uncomfortable, you’re not doing anything. For me, as an LGBTQIA+ advocate, my friends and colleagues who they themselves are LGBTQIA+ hold me 100% accountable. I can’t ever arrive as a cisgender heterosexual and say, ‘I’m helping you, don’t challenge me!’ The onus is always on me as a cisgender heterosexual person to self-reflect, to dismantle my own privilege, to dismantle overall cisgender heterosexual privileges. I do not ever have the audacity to get mad about that.
Dr. Dennis explains that when undergoing this process of unlearning, there will be resistance and pushback. “If the power majority never fights back, you’ve got to be honest and say you’re not doing anything. If men never push back, when talking about gender, that means you’re not doing anything. If these people are not bothered that you’re dismantling their privilege and power and you’re calling them out at school, at work, and everywhere…my work is based on activism. It’s based on [the idea of] if the internet goes away tomorrow, I know exactly where to go in our communities. It’s not about whether someone likes a post or not. Your typing on social media is not activism. Reading some articles does not make you an expert on the topic.”
Originally posted on Forbes