Navigating the Online Field as a Black Person

Artwork by Rachel Harvey

"Is the online world just another place where we are forced to keep our heads down in fear of being attacked?"

In the wake of the response to the Sainsbury's Christmas advert, remarks made regarding Meghan Markle’s Oprah interview and Clubhouse discussions about Black women, navigating the online field has been increasingly difficult. Is the online world just another place where we are forced to keep our heads down in fear of being attacked? With such a lack of regulation or repercussion towards those who openly leave racist comments or those inviting misogynoir, it’s never been easier to be a racist on social media.

Levels of activism are becoming increasingly common on social media, with an increasing number of people and platforms sharing infographics and uncirculated news stories on their stories and feeds. Whilst this can be a great way of generating attention and informing people of contemporary issues, this can also come at the cost of Black people's mental health. Sharing images of racist comments on your story without content warnings transforms your well meaning post into trauma porn. Your intent may be to shock white people into action but shows little regard for the emotional burden that these images or posts may place on Black people. Black people should be able to view such content on their terms out of their own choice, not have it sent into our dms or broadcast without warning on our timelines. These very common actions serve as a damning reminder that many are so detached from hateful comments and online racism that it is simply see it as an extension for existing online. Seen as something we simply have to deal with and accept if we want to be a part of this world.

Traumatic content tends to be seen solely as graphic footage, but racist remarks are also a form of traumatic content. You want to amplify the voices of Black people, but you pay no heed to how tired we are of the continuous reminders being shared showing just how so many are still pitted against us.It can be overwhelming as a Black person to choose between the desire to remain informed and the need to protect our mental wellbeing, but rest and happiness are crucial elements of resistance. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the content put out on social media, it is ok to take a step back in order to practice mindfulness, take yourself on a stroll or reach out to a close friend. Centre yourself in reminders of the goodness and beauty in the world that exist outside of social media and its toxicity.

We are only just beginning to see spaces online where we can see ourselves reflected. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to view an expanse of curvy bodies, blemished faces and diverse skin tones through our screens, one long denied. Although there are safe havens, many spaces can conceal a core of hatred and racism. Black people are simply not able to engage with social media sites and online spaces in the same easeful way that white people can. We aren’t able to use online spaces to simply view and share images or engage in commentary about the latest meme without fear of stumbling upon racist content or experiencing it ourselves. When it’s so easy for individuals to leave hateful comments at the click of a button it’s honestly hard to entertain the idea of a time where we can exist carefree online. There is a significant amount of work that has to be done by social media platforms to shut down accounts that are commonly leaving racist comments and to make the online world a safer space for Black people, yet this is something that may take time to see. At an individual level however you can be mindful of sharing hate comments as you are ultimately giving more of a platform to hatred and continue to share and focus on Black joy and happiness, as this is so much more powerful and deserved than comments of hatred.

Article by Rachella Lartey