‘When It Comes To Racism And The Ensuing Social Media Response, I Will NOT Be Caught Up In This Perennial Cycle Of Aggression And Reaction’

At this stage the cycle is just rinse and repeat, says Emma Dabiri.


by Emma Dabiri |
Updated on

I didn't need to be psychic to know what was going to greet me on Twitter last Monday morning, the night after England were beaten by Italy in the Euro finals on penalties. As soon as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, three young, Black men, missed their penalties, I could guess what was going to come next – a racist onlaught, followed by the inevitable social media reaction.

Here we are again, another high profile example of racism in the UK. At this stage the cycle is just rinse and repeat. Racist * insert incident * happens, the public reacts, a “debate” ensues, the conversation dies down, a week, or perhaps if we’re real lucky, a month or two later the next incident blows up and the sequence is repeated.

Racism is predictable yet versatile and it shows up in different ways. There’s the good old fashioned IN YOUR FACE variety, the type of abuse that Sancho, Rashford and Sako –three gifted and inspiring young Black men- who by rights this nation should only be hugely supportive and deeply protective of -experienced; the use of the n-word, the abusive tropes about monkeys and banana’s, rejigged for the internet age by the use of emojis. Its the type of explicit racism that few would deny and most express horror at.

But more often than not we are dealing with more insidious types, where racial slurs might not be used, but where comments and decisions are informed by a racist bias against Black and other racially minoritised groups. We might see the use of coded language rather than outright racist epitaphs, but this is often less about language and more about outcomes for people in a society where the odds are stacked against them because of discriminatory attitudes. These are the types of incidents where we often enter into the arena of the “debate”.

As I’ve written previously, these “debates” are [well illustrated by the controversies over Meghan Markle:](http://Meghan Shows Us We Can't Keep Having The Same Conversation About Race - So Here's What We Can Do Next) One side insists, 'It's not racist' while the other is adamant that it is, and so it goes on ad infinitum. In March it was, as I wrote “all eyes on Meghan and Harry, but the ‘It’s Racist’ ‘It’s Not Racist’ formula shows up again and again - at this stage we could probably make it a prime-time telly family gameshow - and it will continue to do so”. Although only a few months ago that already feels like old news in a market place where racism feels rampant and increasingly our outrage is mined both as entertainment and profit.

The background against which all this plays out against - diminished life opportunities that find their roots in the structural racism that expresses itself through not just the above, but also often more perniciously through inequalities across health, the criminal justice system, education, employment, immigration and politics – is ongoing. The steady work of addressing, challenging and restructuring this is unlikely to be achieved by the perennial loop that serves as our current framework for addessing racism.

Of course we can harness certain moments but we cannot allow all of our responses to be determined by a constant cycle of abuse and reaction. It’s harmful for us and it doesn’t create substantive change, sure it drives social media engagement, but does little to tackle the deeply entrenched racism that facilitates this type of behaviour in the first place.

There is now an expectation with social media that we are always at the ready, waiting in the wings with the hot take, with the outrage, and the promise of the viral tweet, the video viewed a million times. Increasingly I’m choosing to opt out of this game. I’ve been called the n-word more times then I can count – sharing content that demonstrates the enduring use of such terms is exhausting, and no doubt traumatizing for many.

We find ourselves constantly trying to “prove” that racism exists, but racism is well documented in this country, through sharing this type of content we are either preaching to the converted, causing people to experience, and often to relive very real distress, or indeed trying to “prove” the reality of the thing to certain people who are very committed to denying it.

I don’t believe in burying my head in the sand or ignoring or minimising reality, so I will continue with my work; the dismantling of racism is an on-going endeavour, but I will NOT be caught up in this perennial cycle of aggression and reaction. And the way that particular dynamic plays out on social media is something that we should be deeply mindful of, it’s certainly not where I want to direct all of my energy in the fight against racism. Constantly having to “prove” that racism exists rather than an honest reckoning with the fact that it does, - a great starting place would be an honest engagement with British history, the reality of Empire and colonialism, an understanding of the invention of the concept of a “white race” and a “black race” by the English in their Caribbean colonies - would mean that we could move on in terms of how we address all of this, rather than perpetually debating if its real or not.

One of the things I write in my most recent book What White People Can Do Next; From Allyship to Coalition, borrowing from the sociologist Vron Ware, is that the elimination of pervasive racism is part of an overarching ‘politics of change that does not provide short-term gratification’. The antithesis perhaps then of social media use, with its quick dopamine hits.

The harder slog of necessary anti-racist work that occurs offline, certainly doesn’t “reward” us with the same immediate “buzz”. As I write towards the end of the book “Don’t be discouraged by this; the on-going nature of this work is part of what makes it all the more urgent. As many of us as possible must embark on the journey”. The effort required may well be more enduring, but so to will be the rewards.

READ MORE: Here's How You Can Show Support For The England Players Suffering Racial Abuse Right Now

READ MORE: Why Are People Still Denying The Endemic Racism In The UK?

READ MORE: ‘We Are Grateful To Meghan Because Speaking About Racism Knowing You Will Be Met With Disbelief And Hate Is A Trauma In Itself’

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