#BlackLivesMatter: Case Study

So our last Tips and Tricks post was all about Telling Your Story, and in it I mentioned the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

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Kobe Bryant wearing his I Can’t Breathe tee in warm up, by Elena Duggan.

Before we get started, there are a few things I want to mention.  I need to identify and position myself truthfully and accurately with regards to this movement by stating that I am a white cis female Australian and therefore cannot possibly feel or experience the things that people fighting for this movement are going through.  I say this so that if any of my language could possibly be construed any way other than my intention, please know that my intent will never be to hurt.  I would call myself an ally except that I have seen numerous people online say that do not think allies either can really exist or should have their opinion heard in any way that subordinates that of someone experiencing the same situation as someone who identifies as black.

Another thing I want to address is that this blog in particular is dedicated to analysis of different acts of activism, and what’s involved in making successful or not successful online activist campaigns for social change.  #BlackLivesMatter is representative of centuries of race relations and anguish and murder, systemic racism that proliferates all industries including those that think they are more open like Hollywood, and more recently the despicable, horrifying and tragic events involving people like Michael Brown in Ferguson and Terrence Crutcher and the Charlotte riots… How could any singular blog post tackle or even attempt to negotiate these incredibly deep and highly emotional concepts?  I don’t think it can, what I do think though is that talking about these problems is the first step in effecting positive social change.

And that right there, is the crux of what this blog is all about.  Story telling, and how important it is.

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Tyga, by Elena Duggan.

What we all need to understand is that all problems we have as a group of people have been created entirely by us.  Therefore the only way these issues can be corrected is through people.  How do you get someone to change a belief, attitude, behaviour?  Get them to care.  Get them to care about their own future, the future their children will have.  Get them to care about the people they love, get them to care about their country.  You need to appeal to their senses of justice, morality, fairness, humanity.  If you know anything about advertising, you know that the story is what will sell your product.  Watch any Apple ad

Another thing I need to state is that while I’m talking about #BlackLivesMatter as a campaign for social change and I’m using words like success, I am well aware that this campaign will be in progress as long as necessary for systemic change to be in place.  #BlackLivesMatter is not something that’s over.  It’s not finished and everything is perfect.  I’m talking about it because it is very much something we should be talking about every single day.  Everyone.  In the whole planet.  No matter where you belong or where you call home.

The thing that draws me to talking about it is actually because of how powerful it is as a movement.  It is one of the most discussed topics on all social media platforms.  Millions of people are contributing.  Thankfully we live in a time where social media and smart phones exist.  Crimes like the ones we are seeing in videos uploaded to these platforms used to be hidden away in the shadows and not discussed.  I remember the way my stomach dropped as a kid when I saw the Rodney King footage.  I remember it so viscerally because it’s the way I feel on the verge of physical illness with each new image and hashtag dedicated to another black person killed in the streets.

These videos are stories.

And they are hard to watch, but even harder to ignore.

Stories are important to get people onside, but they are equally important in the education of the people reading them.  The messages encoded translate as important because of how much a story makes us care.  And we remember those messages.  We share those messages.

For a better description of this, you must watch or read Jesse Williams’ speech at the BET Awards this year.

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Jesse Williams at the BET Awards, by Elena Duggan.

And if you’re sitting there reading this thinking this doesn’t all apply to you, you’re wrong.  If you need convincing just have a look at the mass outpouring of solidarity expressed in recent protests held in Melbourne and Sydney.

Or if you think you can watch and love Beyoncé’s Lemonade for just the musical content, you’re wrong.  She’s telling you the stories of millions of lived experiences, you just need to listen.

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Beyoncé, Lenny Kravitz, Queen Latifah, Kevin Hart, Janelle Monáe, Chris Rock, Jennifer Hudson, Pharrell, Alicia Keys and Rihanna talk about 23 Ways you could be killed if you are black in America, by Elena Duggan.

Takeaways:

  1. Even when it’s the hardest thing to do, tell your story.
  2. Even when it’s the hardest thing to watch, watch the videos shared.
  3. Even when it’s the hardest thing to say, call out racism.
  4. Even when it’s the hardest thing to own, own and acknowledge your own prejudices and do your best to change them by educating yourself.
  5. Even when it’s the hardest thing to believe, believe that change is possible.
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Matt McGorry: Case Study

So if you’ve been living under a rock, or somehow just circumnavigating the Netflix globe and haven’t managed to come across Orange is the New Black or #OITNB as we call it, then you’ll have probably missed breakout star Matt McGorry in his role of prison guard Bennett.  You can also catch him in How to Get Away with Murder.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-4-18-26-pmMatt McGorry as Bennett in #OITNB, by Elena Duggan.

I’ve warned you, that this page would be at times political.  This is one of those times.  I want to make it clear however that while I have my own opinions, the purpose of this case study is to look at this actor’s contributions in the world of activism.  Overall the opinion most important to this blogging space is that we should all believe that any level of activism contributes something good to any movement.  EVEN the negative stuff.  That stuff is the fuel for conversation to continue.  Dialogue is the only way change can start, and sharing stories is key here.  So keep that in mind when I discuss the ways McGorry has been both praised and hated on by media and activists alike.

McGorry posts to his Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts a wide variety of content.  He promotes new shows and movies he’s in, he posts photos of him with castmates… But most importantly he posts links to campaigns for social innovation, tweets whenever he attends a physical meeting of those within a movement, uses hashtags to demonstrate his solidarity and alignment with a cause, and engages in discussion with his followers about all manner of political topics and his involvement with them.

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Laverne Cox with Matt McGorry accepting her Television Industry Advocacy Award, by by Elena Duggan.

First things first, this is brave.  It takes a lot of courage to speak our minds.  It takes even more thoughtfulness and consideration to not only have an opinion and share it but also to be able to back up what you’re saying, and admit where you’ve been wrong.  Is he perfect? No.  He’s told us that himself.  Should media news outlets be lauding him as they do? Well, that’s up for debate.  One side of that argument is that continuing to give praise to white men who do good things over shining lights on those marginalised and subordinated within the movement itself perpetuates that which McGorry and other activists are trying to challenge.  A convoluted way of saying that privileged white males are not really allowed to define themselves as feminists, but rather allies, and that them receiving praise continues the system of patriarchy.  This last part, I totally agree with. Where’s all the praise for the ultra brave women who fight this every day?  Well, I can tell you, it almost doesn’t exist. No one thinks it’s cool to be a feminist. And we all know the ways people have perceived this movement.

The other thing that’s interesting is that he doesn’t just post or know about one topic.  He posts about feminism, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, domestic violence… the list goes on.  Critics would say that he contributes primarily to the #slacktivism side of each of these campaigns.  But that’s wrong.  He is posting as a part of the activist strategy that suits his life best.  He goes to #BlackLivesMatter chapter meetings, he donates to these organisations… and then he posts about these events on his social media.

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Matt McGorry with Francesca Ramsey, ridiculously busy activist, by Elena Duggan.

Let’s take a particular moment of his online activism into consideration.  In 2015, he posted the definition of feminism to his accounts stating that he ashamedly only just discovered the true meaning of the word and the movement.  Then this year for International Women’s Day, McGorry designed a shirt that all proceeds from would go to NARAL in support of women’s reproductive rights.

And then, he got absolutely slammed by Feminist blogs for it.  Wow, it was vicious.  I would definitely recommend reading this and this though because they both are incredibly poignant for highlighting the struggle women face every day with this.  I feel these things too.  And some things that have been said by all sorts of people that claim themselves Feminists like McGorry leave me with equally conflicting emotional responses.

But I will never condone criticising someone for their attempt to develop their understanding and contributions to fixing something so wrong with societal systemic prejudice.  Especially with regards to feminism.  This is something incredibly difficult to overcome… We’ve been trying for decades.  And hey, look, it still exists.  Should we not be embracing any individual who fights against patriarchy?  Just because the way they fight is different, or maybe could be interpreted as adjacent or oppositional in contrast to some of the core tenets in the fight for women’s freedom, this doesn’t give us the right to say they shouldn’t speak their feelings.  I don’t understand anyone who fights for a more inclusive and equal society by labelling other peoples’ contributions to a similar if not the same fight unwanted, incorrect and stupid.

We are all on paths towards education, change and meaningful contribution to our world.  Fundamentally, he’s hoping to spark dialogue about something truly wrong that he along with many others has a problem with.  All of these arguments could be applied by people of all the movements he supports.  And they are all good arguments.  To be successful in creating change we need to be hypercritical that the steps we take are all in the right direction, I just think there are much better ways to criticise, discuss and create dialogue.

While feminism is about removing patriarchy and male power, rather than the fight for gender equality, this doesn’t mean the fight can or should only be won be women willing to stand up.  I would not feel content within myself to achieve any type of feminist state where all and any gender identities are not given equal power.  Getting away from patriarchy should not be seen as a binary.  Again, my opinion.  I am equally as free as you are to express it.

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Matt, by Elena Duggan.

But what does all of this teach us?

Here are your takeaways from studying Matt McGorry:

  1. Be prepared that once you take a stance, you will cop both love and hate in equal measures.  Either way you MUST question both.
  2. To be an influencer, it’s not enough to know the bare minimum about your content.
  3. Dialogue is all important.
  4. Listen.
  5. Make growth and progress your constant goal.  This should actually be a takeaway on how to live your life as well, but in this case, you need to make sure you are focussed on learning, evolving and being open to the rest of the world.