During the summer, a recent Amherst graduate shared an article on Facebook about the black rights movement. As usual, I read the accompanying quote, skimmed the article, and tossed the post a like.
In a few hours, I noticed that the same post was still in my feed. I briefly wondered why before realizing that there had been various comments on the post since I’d seen it.
I recognized a familiar pattern: Some comments sang praise of the post while one or two others raised issue with the content. The originator of the post, and friends, responded to the minority opinion, creating a long thread of comments, an effort to help the opposition see the existence of racial inequality.
I rolled my eyes. I was rolling my eyes at the naysayer. Wasn’t it clear that we don’t live in a post-racial society? But I was also rolling my eyes at the exchange itself. As an Amherst student, my feed is filled with similar posts. Amherst students love to share articles on Facebook. Because I share similar beliefs, I at least skim the most interesting articles and toss the post a like. But I still can’t help rolling my eyes at the usual online discourse that follows.
Facebook is an interesting medium for activism. Before college, Facebook was reserved for highlights and life events. It’s my birthday, I traveled to Europe, it’s Mother’s Day, I got into college. Throughout my time at Amherst, my feed has become both a highlight reel and a center for activism.
At first welcome, these posts now prompt the thought: “How tiring.” Another post, another person trying to show someone that things, in fact, aren’t equal. How tiring.
This thought is sad. I thought it a lot this summer. But then I remembered that dialogue doesn’t end with the close of the academic year. I realized that Facebook discourse can be tiring at times, but it’s essential. Discourse must continue. As usual. Especially in the summer.
In a recent conversation—of all places, on Tinder—I realized that students at Amherst have taught me the most about injustice. The College has helped me feel more comfortable with my sexuality and mental health, but it’s been the conversations I’ve had with students that have been the most eye-opening in terms of social justice.
There are so many people at Amherst who aren’t afraid to talk about inequality. They feel the need to educate friends, family members, and acquaintances. It’s not their job, but they do it. Amherst students give me the strength to act and feel the same.
So far, none of the courses I’ve had at Amherst have made me question the systems of the world I live in in the way that my peers have. Few, if any, of my professors have been people of color. History has been essential to my studies at Amherst, but few courses relate the past to the current state of the world. I haven’t taken a sociology or black studies course, but I should. Before I do (hi, I’m abroad), I want to thank my peers. Thank you for creating a desire within me to do more and be better. For this, I’m a stronger citizen, a more useful citizen. To those who post and actively respond to comments and questions on Facebook, thank you. It’s important to speak up. It’s tiring, but the need to communicate these ideas to those who don’t fully understand is essential. Please have opinions and voice them. Explain to your nana why refugees aren’t deviants, tell your granddad why it’s not okay to call someone an oriental, talk to your mom about slut shaming.
These conversations can happen anywhere. Ideally, these conversations would take place in person, but sometimes these conversations have to take place on Facebook. The family friend you haven’t seen in a while, the well-intentioned youth group leader that doesn’t quite get it, the high school friend who sat at your table in homeroom. You might not see these people much, but that doesn’t mean your discourse can’t have an impact on them. Things may get militant — it’s Facebook after all — but the conversation is important.
Facebook posts, with their public nature, turn a private discussion of social justice into a public one. A post doesn’t just involve those who react to it, but those who don’t. Think about how many people see exchanges on Facebook and don’t comment. How many times have you looked at a post and read all the comments but not added something yourself? Maybe many times, maybe every time. If someone chooses to unfriend or unfollow you, that’s their choice. But at least they saw your post. At least they know that you’re invested in something important––whether they wanted to or not. A post might just make them care a little more. Forget lightheartedness; share what’s important to you on Facebook.
Of course, simply sharing an article isn’t effective. If you’re going to post, be active. How likely is a passive post to encourage dialogue? How likely is the post to appear in people’s feeds? Not likely. Is it slactivism? Maybe. Sharing shows support, but making meaningful change requires more. Even just adding a quote from the shared article shows you care.
Conversation is important, and it must happen year round. Inequality doesn’t disappear in the summer, shootings don’t stop in the summer, rising xenophobia doesn’t simply plateau with the season.
Whenever I leave Amherst and go back home to South Jersey, I quickly remember how important it is for people in the world outside of Amherst (and within) to learn about inequality. It’s too easy to live a certain way and never question systems and the seemingly natural order of things. In my hometown, the closest I got to activism was environmental activism. The closest I got to political awareness had to do with things close to me, mostly related to the public education system.
I live in the most conservative county in the state of New Jersey, and when I go home I’m reminded of who I need to talk to, both people who I know and care about and people that I’ve never met. The Facebook posts that I find exhausting are exactly the posts that need to exist. When people you haven’t talked to in years make comments or pose questions that you find shocking, respond. Speak with them. Understanding can’t be forged without conversation.