The Biggest Problem With How We Protest

In this climate, it can be as difficult to find the so-called “proper” way to express yourself as it is to deal with injustice itself.

This post originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s editorial hub.

Image by Wesley Reed

Every day for the past few weeks, whether I’m engaging in face-to-face conversations, reading the news, or scrolling through social media, I keep witnessing the same thing: Watching people of color disagree over the method by which people should show support for — and “properly” participate in — the Black Lives Matter movement.

Stepping back, it has been an interesting year to be a college student — a Black male college student — in America. Footage of Black Lives Matter protests and racial tensions across American universities flooded the national news. We did see some actions and reactions from schools: Administrators stepped down, and university leadership announced new programs specifically supporting students of color. Change is good, but I keep thinking about how, during periods of protest and rebellion, criticisms and divisions /react-text react-text: 128 within /react-text react-text: 129 communities never fail to surface, and with them come countless disagreements on what you should be doing if you’re /react-text react-text: 131 really /react-text react-text: 132 down for the cause. On the quad, despite public displays of Black solidarity, the Black community is not all united.

Maybe this isn’t surprising, but I find it problematic. It weakens the overall potential strength of a movement, which I’m seeing today in the reactions to the highly publicized recent murders of Black men by police officers.

Some people tell me I need to be out in the streets actively protesting. Others suggest supporting only Black-owned businesses to show the power of the Black consumer. Still others claim that if you aren’t publicly voicing an opinion, your silence is actively contributing to the oppression of people of color. In this climate, it can be as difficult to find the so-called “proper” way to express yourself as it is to deal with injustice itself.

What if we all stepped back and accepted that there is no single correct way to express support for oppressed people? Everyone has his or her own unique ideas, strengths, and weaknesses, so shouldn’t we all be entitled to have our own means of partaking in this movement?

I’ve seen people condemn friends, colleagues, and classmates for not being outspoken enough. But maybe the condemned don’t feel like words are the way they want to chime in. Maybe they are already quietly donating money from behind a computer screen or mentoring the next generation of freedom fighters. A person’s credibility as a social justice leader should extend beyond how many Twitter followers he or she can accumulate. Just because somebody doesn’t post a long Facebook status or Instagram a picture from a rally doesn’t mean he or she isn’t supporting a movement. And being active and buzzy on social media doesn’t necessarily make you knowledgeable on social justice issues.

As for my role in this movement, I strive to exemplify the values I want to see in the world. That doesn’t mean I always get it right. But whether it’s my tweets or, more importantly to me, my interactions, I want to invest in being a good mentor, role model, advocate, student, and friend.

As a Black man in America, I don’t think I have the time or energy to invest in aggravating the separation of an already-oppressed community. It is human nature to disagree on methods of action because we are all made differently. Rather than waste our time condemning each other for what we feel someone can do better, we need to agree to disagree in some ways. If we can do this, we can each make valuable contributions to ending oppression and pushing for progress through social justice.