Do Belarus’ Protests Suggest a Chance for Change, like the 1989 Revolutions in Eastern Europe?

This article will use Russian spellings of Belarusian names for the sake of consistency.

When comparing the situation in Belarus today to the revolutions of 1989, we have to note that each country experienced a different revolution. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in the Baltics were trying to reverse the fifty-year long annexation of their nations since the Nazi Soviet Pact of 1939. The Baltic protest movement also saw an emphasis on salvaging national cultures – particularly language. Poland’s revolution was the result of a more long-term protest movement that began in the shipyards of Gdansk in the early 1980s under the helm of Lech Walesa. Romania saw the violent overthrow of the maverick megalomaniac dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. 

What we are seeing in Belarus is a combination of all three. The protest movement is fundamentally against a long-serving authoritarian dictator whose foreign policy modus operandi is to play east off west, like Ceausescu. As in Poland, the Belarusian protest movement is spearheaded by striking workers. Finally, there is an element of the movement that campaigns for the revival of Belarusian national customs in favour of the more ‘Russified’ and ‘Sovietised’ ones pushed by the incumbent system. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya seems to suggest a blend of these three aspects in her interview with the independent Russian news site Meduza.

It must be said that Tikhanovskaya is not Lech Walesa, Lukashenko is not Ceausescu and Belarus is not the Baltic States. Nonetheless, we still see aspects of 1989 permeate the Belarusian protest movement. 

Belarusian protestors holding old Belarusian flags in support of the opposition, Minsk, August 25, 2020. (CreditL Sergei Grits, via The Associated Press)

The one aspect that is very different to 1989 is Moscow’s willingness to intervene in Belarus. In the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev rescinded the Brezhnev Doctrine – the idea that if a country in the Warsaw Pact tried to break away the USSR, other Warsaw Pact nations would intervene to quell the political dissent. In an interview with Russian state television on the 27th August, Vladimir Putin essentially came up with his own version of the Brezhnev Doctrine. He said that Russian police forces would come into Belarus in the event that “extremist elements, using political slogans as cover, overstep a certain boundary.” The fact that Putin publicly admits that Russian forces could be used in Belarus is a reassertion of the Brezhnev Doctrine in a more subtle form – in contrast to Russia’s intervention in Eastern Ukraine where the Russian government denies that its military is present. Putin’s initiative is very bold and risky but if that is what it takes, in the view of the Russian leadership, to keep NATO out of Belarus, then so be it. 

Russian support is the best chance Alexander Lukashenko has got if he is to survive. Beyond the security services and the highest echelons of the Belarusian leadership, Lukashenko has little or no support in wider Belarusian society. The price that Lukashenko will pay for keeping himself in power, thereby protecting his own security and finances, is by outsourcing more of his nation’s sovereignty to Russia. 

Belarus’ protest movement does have some similarities with the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe if we look at some of its aims and the demographics of the opposition. However, Russia is more willing to intervene in the post-Soviet sphere than it was in 1989. Therefore, it is highly likely that instead of moving away from Moscow’s sphere of influence, Belarus may end up much nearer to it.

James Meakin

Defining Peace: Re-evaluating the Assumptions Behind the Term

When we planned the third episode of the first series of History in Politics’ podcast Dead Current about peacebuilding and memory politics, we decided to begin by asking a broad question about peace in the world today versus peace in the world historically. And whilst we knew this question was challenging in that it is very difficult to quantify an abstract concept such as peace, we overlooked the definitional complexities associated with the term.

The Cambridge Dictionary online defines peace as “freedom from war and violence, especially when people live and work together happily without disagreements”, but during our recording Dr. Stefanie Kappler reminded us that peace is a deeply contested term and ‘peace’ can mean different things to different people and within different contexts. For example, if peace is seen as an absence of an official war declaration, this may misrepresent relations. Dr Kappler explained to us that peace can be a loaded term, manipulated and used to pacify; she pointed to examples in history which have not been represented as war yet were very violent.

Jake Lynch, a peace journalist, covering protests opposing US-Australia military exercises in Australia.

Dr Kappler referenced a difference between positive and negative peace, which adds a further layer to defining and analysing the concept. Johan Galtung, who is widely regarded within Peace and Conflict Studies, distinguished between negative peace as an absence of large-scale violence, and positive peace which goes beyond that to include provisions against structural violence which hinders, among other things, democratic processes and social mobility.[1] Often when we refer to ‘peace’ we are only using the definition of negative peace, limiting our understandings.

Peace and its representation are inherently political and interesting concepts. When peace is discussed there are a number of assumptions and biases which interact with the use of the term. Perhaps then, there is scope to go back through history and re-evaluate periods which have been classed as peaceful. To truly understand and apply the concept of peace to an event or time frame the political context surrounding the use of the term, and who is using it, must be considered. Who stands to gain from a certain circumstance being labelled peaceful, and is there anybody whose experience is being misrepresented by affixing this label? These are questions which should be asked in considerations of conflict and peace.

Would this re-evaluation affect how we view contemporary occurrences and scenarios around the world today? And would it affect how we represent and interact with our own histories? Which aspects of modern politics could this pose a challenge to today?

So many political statements and beliefs rest on a certain narrative of history, and by challenging standard historical narratives we begin to challenge the foundations on which they are built.

To hear more of our discussion with Dr Kappler and Dr Olga Demetriou and other topics we covered, the full episode can be accessed here.


Bibliography

[1] Desmond Tutu Foundation USA

Anti-Denial Laws: The Politics of Remembering

In many countries it is criminal to deny the Holocaust; yet, many historians have argued heavily against this concept. Do laws like these, which are passed by parliaments, unjustifiably limit the freedom of expression? Or are they necessary in the remembrance of genocides, such as the Holocaust, or the Armenian genocide?

Protesters at a demonstration against anti-Semitism in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018.
(Credit: Henry Nicholas, Reuters)

Holocaust deniers either state the Jews were not killed in a systemic genocide or minimise its extent; some claims suggest they were instead victims to disease, or other forms of indiscriminate hardship. The reality, as we well know, was “the most documented tragedy in recorded history”, as Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner, Elie Wiesel declared during a discussion in 1999 at the White House. Due to the indescribable suffering inflicted upon many by the Nazi regime, many countries have in response passed Anti-Denial Laws, which criminalised both the promotion of Nazi ideology, as well as the denial of the Holocaust. In France, there is a more general law on genocide denial, geared perhaps to the Armenian genocide, which was commemorated formally for the first time in 2019. President Macron said during his 2017 presidential campaign, “France is, first and foremost, the country that knows how to look history in the face”, setting a precedent perhaps for other countries to not only set Anti-Denial laws, but to also commemorate such genocides. 

However, historians protested heavily against the more general law on genocide denial in France, and on the concept more broadly. As Garton Ash writes for The Guardian, such laws “curtail free expression”. Through restricting this by law, regardless of good intentions, other freedoms which free expression sustains are suffocated. Although ex-German justice minister Brigitte Zypreis argues “this historical experience puts Germany under a permanent obligation to combat systematically every form of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia”, Garton Ash contends there is no evidence that a ban on free expression will make any significant difference. Many of the countries with laws against Holocaust denial (such as France, Germany, Lithuania, Romania, and Belgium) happen to also be some of the countries with particularly strong right-wing xenophobic parties. It is of course not that these parties exist due to the existence of Anti-Denial laws, but independent of this. 

When the French Anti-Denial law was passed in 2006, many felt, again, that this was a repression of free expression. Even the renowned Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink passionately opposed such laws, as they placed limitations on the discussion of what happened to thousands of Armenians in 1915. While in Turkey, it was illegal for Dink to describe these events as ‘genocide’, for which he was tried. Before his death, Dink responded to the first moot of such a law in France: “I cannot accept that in France you could possibly now be tried for denying the Armenian genocide. If this bill becomes law, I will be among the first to head for France and break the law.” He continued somewhat humorously, that then we could all watch whether it would be the Turkish Republic or the French government to condemn him first. 

Anti-Denial laws while necessary in the remembrance of genocides, have proven a particularly contentious topic for historians. Although we promote free speech in society, there has to be limits. Therefore, while I have discussed both views, the promotion of free speech should not act as a gateway to hate speech in any form.

Emily Glynn

The Decreasing Stamina of Provocative Journalism

Throughout history, journalism has been used for many different purposes. It has been used to promote public morale, provide an antidote to social depressions, and expose injustices by revealing the voices of the oppressed. However, in a world of fake news, important stories have been lost by the rapid pace of today’s journalism. We can all remember the famous image of Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach. Despite drowning in his attempt to flee the conflict, today the crisis infrequently makes headlines despite the fact, to date, the war has displaced around 13 million people (NY Times). 

The ability to shock and expose the injustices of governments and societies is not new to journalism. William Howard Russell, often cited as the first war correspondent, exposed the government’s disastrous handling of the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the devastating number of fatalities that subsequently ensued. This sparked a gripping new kind of journalism – one dedicated to precision, truth and immediacy.

A Roman newspaper stand. (Credit Ed Yourdon, via Flickr)

There are cases throughout history of heroic individuals using journalism as a provocative agent of justice and a vehicle for truth. Nellie Bly, a journalist for the New York World faked mental illness in order to be admitted to an asylum in New York City in 1887. The abusive treatment of the patients and lack of sanitation, caused by government cuts, provoked outrage and forced the government to grant almost $1 million in new funds for the institution. Similarly, in 2012, investigative journalist Katherine Boo released a book titled Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in Mumbai Undercity, documenting the people she encountered in the three years she lived in the slums of Mumbai. These are clear examples of journalism working to promote the voices of those often passed over in society.

Yet, with the changing mediums of journalism over time, today’s stories seem to have increasingly less stamina. From the initial spread of news through newspapers, to TV and now online, there is a much larger variety of platforms to receive news than ever before. With this increase in platforms, combined with online algorithms predicting what we want to read, logic assumes that stories need more stamina to be able to penetrate the collective public conscience. An Ofcom report in 2018 discovered that 44% of adults consume online news via social media as well as TV, magazines and newspapers. However, social media was also one of the least trusted mediums of news. 

This lack of trust hints at the modern socio-political ‘fake news’ crisis, which has become particularly potent through Twitter’s narration of the coronavirus (case in point: Trump advocating injecting disinfectants as a cure). With 145 million daily users on Twitter, there can be too much information and not enough clarity or importance given to the most ground breaking stories, such as the rise in domestic violence in the UK during lockdown. Research from Google Trends has suggested that today, a news story stays in the headlines for only seven days, likely very different to the popular memory of stories when newspapers were the only source of journalism.

Former journalist Alistair Campbell has emphasised the individualistic nature of modern journalism. From early journalism through newspapers, Campbell advocates that today “everyone should think of themselves as a brand” able to perpetuate reputable, true news or fake news. News agencies now have teams who specialise in cracking down on the spread of disinformation. James Hamilton, a professor of communication at Stanford University, recently said in an interview, “journalism is said to be the first rough draft of history.” If this is true, to provide stamina for important stories in journalism, we face the greatest challenge of allowing the most important and true stories to penetrate our conscience and make history, without the risk of disinformation by fake news, and keeping the tradition of provocative journalism alive in order to allow history to ring true.

To hear more about the risks within journalism today relating to fake news and the changing landscape of conflict, listen to our new podcast with former The Guardian foreign correspondent Dr Rory McCarthy, available on Spotify on ‘Purple on Demand.’

Anna Shepherd

“Strong people don’t need strong leaders” – The Continual Impact of Women in the Black Freedom Struggle

With the ongoing global protests against police brutality and systemic racism sparked by the murder of George Floyd, it is now more important than ever to look back at the history of the civil rights and black liberation movements. When we look at these movements, the work and contributions of women are often overlooked, although current protests take far more inspiration from historical female activists than is often recognised. The impact of women, such as Angela Davis and Ella Baker, in the black freedom struggle can be seen clearly. Many of the global demands being made at this time concern the police and prisons; however, it can only be helpful to take a closer look at the successes of women and attempt to learn from them as best we can.

The most well-known leading female figure of the black liberation struggle, and arguably the most influential in the current protests is, without a doubt, Angela Davis. An active and continuing campaigner for the black liberation struggle for over 5 decades, she has an exceedingly large body of experience to examine. The influence of her commitment to police and prison abolition and her lasting criticisms of the prison-industrial complex can be seen throughout many of the demands currently being made in protests. Furthermore, her internationalist, intersectional outlook should undoubtedly be the standard against which organisations attempting to foment radical change should be measured. There is much that has already been said about Angela Davis, but her ubiquity should not serve to diminish her influence. We should not focus simply on her work, but also the work of other contemporaries and past figures. The most important, yet overlooked, is Ella Baker.

Angela Davis speaking at Columbia University. (Credit: Columbia GSAPP, via Flickr)

It is hard to overstate the monumental impact that Ella Baker had on the civil rights movement. However, compared to many of her contemporaries, her contributions remain largely unrecognised. During her lifetime she was an active member of organisations such as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and even helped to co-found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. She was deeply critical of organisations driven by a single, usually male, charismatic leader and feared that such organisations would distance themselves from the very people they were intending to help. Ella Baker fundamentally believed that people should always be prioritised over organisations, and her approach to activism remains forward-thinking and progressive by modern standards. By prioritising grassroots appeal and more horizontal, technocratic forms of organisational hierarchy, she showed commitment to her belief that every individual has the capacity to engage with, and fight against oppression. 

The nature of the current protests exemplifies these womens’ lasting influence. We see now movements driven not by a single, messianic leader, but by a confidence in the wisdom of ordinary people to define their problems and cultivate solutions. We are beginning to see forms of group-centered leadership with individuals accountable to each other. Never before have calls for police defunding or prison abolition been so loud and so widespread; more people than ever are attempting to fight and dismantle a system that perpetuates racism and violence. However, none of this means that the current protest demands and organisational forms are beyond reproach, and it is important that we look back and learn from the actions and demands of women such as Angela Davis and Ella Baker, as well as unmentioned figures such as Assata Shakur, Rosa Parks, Elaine Brown, Ramona Africa and many, many others. Looking reflectively at the past, and the pioneering work of these women is critical to ensuring the current movements can be as effective as possible, and provide the best chance of inducing real change.

Freddy Fossey-Warren

Decolonising the Curriculum

Whilst the #RhodesMustFall protests began over 5 years ago in South Africa and in the United Kingdom, misunderstanding has continued over movements to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. To ‘decolonise the curriculum’ means to question well established biases and gaps within teaching that limit our understanding of the world around us. Thus, the movement campaigns to give a fuller version of British history to reflect injustice and celebrate the histories of British POC.  

If our curriculum remains entirely static in its distorted presentation of knowledge, it will become stale, risk entrenching racial thinking, and inadvertently devalue POC. As students, if we do not challenge what we are learning (and how we are learning it), entire perspectives and realms of knowledge can go unheard, which can become enormously damaging over time. For our BME peers, our current focus on the great (white) man theory can suggest that BME identity is inferior, as British course contents do not attempt to teach any aspect of their history.

On a personal level, as a white History undergraduate, I am glad to see petitions being submitted to my previous school which call for widened GCSE and A-level History curricula. Despite having both a GCSE and an A-level in History, my learning has been entirely Euro-centric, limited to the Tudors, the World Wars, the Cold War and the Stuart Century. Shamefully, it is only recently that I began to question why my curriculum focussed exclusively on white, western intellectual traditions and histories. To young and impressionable teenagers, this undoubtedly promotes the notion that European history and culture is both universal and superior.  

The movement to decolonise the curriculum is multidimensional and therefore its application, in practical terms, must also be. Firstly, our curriculum should widen its scope to include more internationally diverse thought. Undergraduate reading lists, for example, should encompass a greater inclusion of authors outside of Europe. Further, course contents, from the age of 16, must become more international, and give a fuller version of British colonial history.  

Students at Oxford University calling for the removal of Cecil Rhose’s state in March 2016. (Credit: David Hartly/Rex, via Shutterstock)

In terms of having a genuinely positive impact on POC, providing an accurate and full portrayal of history will help to address the prominent racial attainment gap within academia. Where only 50% of black students are awarded first-class or upper-second class honours, 78.8% of white students are. Many believe this can be partly explained by BME students’ inability to engage with an exclusively white-focused curriculum in the way that their white peers do. We must also fundamentally reconsider who is teaching and how they are teaching. In 2016, only 25 black women were working as professors compared to 14,000 white men – outnumbering black women professors at a rate of 560 to 1. Promoting a more inclusive and diverse teaching body within higher education will help to broaden our perspectives by examining biases within our course content.  

See our podcast with Dr David Andersen for his academic view on the importance of a decolonised curriculum, as well as wider discussion about the impact of the Black Lives’ Matter movement on the Obama and Trump presidencies, alongside many other fascinating topics. Listen to it on Spotify here.

Amelia Crick

A Knock in the Dark: Venezuela’s Human Rights Violations

In a country ravaged by authoritarian socialism under dictator Nicolás Maduro, voicing opposition can be a death sentence. Freedom of speech and the right of expression are taken for granted where they exist, and it’s difficult for many in the West to envision a country whereby expressing a political opinion would endanger your own life as well as that of your family and closest friends. 

For Ariana Granadillo, it was a ‘knock in the dark’. Government agents, without a warrant, detained Granadillo, confined, beat, interrogated and threatened to suffocate her. Granadillo’s only crime had been that she was related to a political opponent, her father’s second cousin. Secret detentions such as these are used by the Venezuelan government as a tool to control its population and discourage dissent. Human rights groups counted over 200 cases in 2018 but 524 in 2019, revealing how sinister the situation has become. As well as arbitrary detentions, Venezuela’s Press and Society Institute recorded 1,032 violations to freedom of expression and access to public information for citizens. This year, there were 326 aggressions and attacks on journalists, the nature of which includes detentions. More important than counting the number of violations is the lasting impact of such tyrannical governance – a deliberately instilled fear of fighting against the government. 

Before Maduro, it was Hugo Chávez’s reign of destruction that plagued Venezuela, beginning in 1998 until his death in 2013. A damning report by Human Rights Watch in 2008 accused Chávez’s government of flouting human rights by ‘neutralising the judiciary’ with allies and increasing censorship in private media. The systemic abuse of freedoms has proven to have become entrenched by Venezuela’s worsening humanitarian crisis under Maduro. The government suppresses dissent through violent crackdowns, arbitrary arrests, and by prosecuting civilians in military courts. There remains no check on executive power by opposition groups. In 2019, a UN humanitarian affairs chief estimated that there were 7 million people in need of humanitarian aid in Venezuela – a quarter of its entire population. Whilst organisations send medicines and food supplies into the country, they are withheld by Maduro’s government and used to manipulate citizens into voting.

President Nicolas Maduro at a press conference in Caracas, March 12, 2020 (Credit: Matias Delacroix/Associated Press)

Yet, the same UN that recognises the perilous position of Venezuela’s people and its violations on basic freedoms, voted last year for the country to sit on its Human Rights Council. In fitting company, the council also hosts China, which has detained over 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims in re-education camps; Saudi Arabia, which likewise carries out arbitrary detentions and continues to commit atrocities against the Yemeni people; and Cuba, whose government represses and punishes dissent and criticism. Countries which are guilty of committing human rights atrocities often seek positions on the council to prevent alarms being raised towards their own country. Whilst the Venezuelan crisis continues to unravel, its people remain afraid of speaking out for fear of arrest and torture, or worse, their own families being punished instead. Whilst the Venezuelan government enjoys another two years on the council, those that are brave enough to take action may only await a ‘knock in the dark’.

Ariana Fanning

What Stonewall 1969 can Teach Us About Activism

Photo by Diana Davies depicts the Gay Liberation Front marches in Times Square 1969, accessed via The Guardian.

Understanding the historical construction of LGBTQ+ movements is imperative to furthering current activism. A prime example of this is the creation of the ‘Stonewall Myth’, as the Stonewall riots are now revered as the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement in the US. Given the current situation in the US it seems more important than ever to understand how protests shape the historical narrative. Understanding how activists construct social memory around particular events enables us to further the gains of the current LGBTQ+ movement as many grapple with how to further the rights of, and protect the more marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Stonewall riots were started by African American transgender woman Marsha P. Johnson. A series of riots began on June 27th 1969 after police raided a homosexual bar in New York (Armstrong & Crage, 2006: 724), they are now remembered as a catalyst for the gay civil rights movement in the US. However, sociologists Armstrong & Crage note that there were similar instances of activism prior to this such as the 1965 New Year’s Ball raid in San Francisco (Armstrong & Crage, 2006: 730), which were not committed to the collective social memory. They use these instances to highlight the two conditions that are essential for an event to permeate the collective memory, which are that ‘activists considered the event commemorable and had the mnemonic capacity to create a commemorative vehicle’ (Armstrong & Crage, 2006: 730). Unlike previous raids in other parts of the country, Stonewall was able to achieve these criteria. Activists used the raid as the basis for commemorative marches which became the first gay pride and has since solidified the event in US social memory. The significance of Stonewall also highlights the extent to which the movement grew between 1969 and the Black Cat raids a few years earlier (Armstrong & Crage, 2006: 736). Events that fit into existing genres are generally seen as more commemorable. Much like how the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd in the US demonstrate a maturation of the black lives matter movement, Stonewall showed a maturation of the gay civil rights movement, which meant that the Gay Liberation Front was better financially equipped to create mnemonic resonance.

Achieving ‘mnemonic capacity’ with regard to an event is all the more difficult now as the growth of social media makes it harder to corral attention around specific events for extended periods of time. As we have seen with the recent protests in both Hong Kong and the US, social media can be an immensely powerful tool to bring people together, even when communication is limited within society. But in order to make sure these movements are remembered and create lasting change we can take lessons from Stonewall activists in how they used repetitive action to make their message permeate the collective memory and achieve long term progress in civil rights. Zeynep Tufekci argues that modern social movements fail to ‘sustain over the long term and exert leverage over the system, which leads to frustrated protesters dropping out, and even more corrupt politics.’ Social media is a powerful tool to raise awareness of how our rights may be under threat, as we saw with the Government’s recent proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act which could have devastating impacts on the trans community. However, in order to transform this awareness into significant political power we can take inspiration from Stonewall, which showed how repetitive, radical action is necessary to make sure that the wider public take notice of movements for justice.

Alicia Bickerstaff


Bibliography

Armstrong, E.A & Crage, S.N, 2006, ‘Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth’, American Sociological Review, Vol.71, No. 5 pp. 724-751, Viewed 7th June 2020, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25472425

Loong, L.L.H, 2012, ‘Deconstructing the silences: Gay Social Memory’, Journal of Homosexuality, Vol.59, No.5, pp.675-688, DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2012.673903

Mitchell Reyes, G & Schulz, David. P & Hovland, Zoe, 2018, ‘When Memory and Sexuality Collide: The Homosentimental Style of Gay Liberation’, Rhetoric & Public Affairs, 1 April 2018, Vol.21, No.1, pp.39-74, Viewed 7th June 2020, https://muse-jhu-edu.ezphost.dur.ac.uk/journal/171

Tufekci, Z, 2014, Online Social Change: Easy To Organize, Hard To Win, online video, Viewed 7th June, https://www.ted.com/…/zeynep_tufekci_how_the_internet_has_m…

George Floyd

History does not look kindly on bystanders but we must not allow our fear of this to determine our reaction to injustice.

The killing of George Floyd has emblazoned social media with messages of protest in solidarity with movements such as Black Lives Matter. Unlike those who came before us, we are able to broadcast our views to the world, but eagerness to not be remembered as onlookers in an atrocity should not determine the action we take. Soundbite political culture and social media allows statements to be publicly broadcast, but we must be careful that this does not supplant real meaningful political engagement. When the hashtags have stopped we must continue to act against injustice.

Posting on social media is not a replacement for real life critical engagement with our political and social climate. Public statements that ‘Black Lives Matter’ are virtue signalling if we don’t look at the flaws within our communities, families and ourselves. Racial injustice does not just occur in times like this when we see an African American man being murdered by a police officer in the US. In the UK, racism is prevalent, institutional and historically entrenched. If we are to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, they must matter always, not just when it is the done thing to post a slogan supporting justice on social media.

Unless they are backed up by action, words are dispassionate at best and dishonest at worst.

I fear that statement-led politics can be used to absolve white peoples’ guilt. Expressions of sympathy can be used as a statement that ‘I am not racist’, ‘I am not one of them’. White people are in a position of inherent privilege as their skin colour is not a basis for oppression. Does this political culture on social media make it easier to avoid conversations about race as people appoint themselves immune from being part of the problem? We must consider the use of social media in a productive way and solely expressing sympathy or solidarity is not enough to be part of the solution. White people must acknowledge their racial privilege and actively challenge racism even when it may feel uncomfortable to do so. If our behaviours or attitudes are challenged we should listen to the experiences of others and not assume that our Black Lives Matter post can make us immune from making mistakes.

Our generation’s power to engage with and combat global injustice is unparalleled and this is largely due to our connections with each other through social media. Our anger should not be used for social approval and our anger does not absolve people from wrongdoing. Our anger needs to be supported by action for radical change and active anti-racism. Social media can raise awareness, but if we don’t support these words with action, we are no better than those who stand by and watch.

I am writing this as a white person and am not exempt myself from what I have argued. I am going to do better and put more effort into being aware, listening and learning about racism and my own privilege. To find out how to help go to https://blacklivesmatter.carrd.co, this includes informational resources and links to the places where your donations and signature can be the most effective. For causes to contribute to in the UK: https://www.independent.co.uk/…/black-lives-matter-charity-….