OP-ED: COVID Helped The Black Lives Matter Movement

By Rohail Spear || Contributing Writer

The Black Lives Matter movement is at an all-time high. More people are supporting the movement and participating in protests now than ever before. This can be observed nationally and locally: the protest on September 2nd at Franklin and Marshall had one of the largest, if not the largest, turnout than any previous of the sort at the college. Besides, the participants were more diverse than at any prior protest for racial justice. While there have been several previous protests and riots in America in the last century, none reached so far and endured for as long as the movement occurring right now. During the turbulent sixties, for example, the vast majority of protestors were African American. For the most part, the only white people attending the protests were police. So what makes the Black Lives Matter movement different? What sets it apart? Why has it been so successful in enlightening the public and in recruiting non-African American supporters?

The answer is the coronavirus pandemic.

Several people believe that the death of George Floyd is the sole instigator of the movement, and while his death played a significant factor, it is not the only factor. African Americans had been killed unjustly by police thousands of times before George Floyd: Rayshard Brooks, 2020; Atatiana Jefferson, 2019; Aura Rosser, 2014; Stephen Clark, 2018; Philando Castille, 2016, and countless others in recent years and years prior to 2014. Why, then, was 2020 the year when racial injustice entered the limelight?

Because COVID-19 created free time. Due to mass layoffs, furloughs, decreased work hours, and closures of thousands of school districts across the country, people had more time.

Social media has played an increasingly significant role in shaping public opinion in recent years, and 2020 is no exception. Social media users had more time than ever to scroll through Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and other platforms. Online events such as the controversial Blackout Tuesday, in which social media users posted black squares to show their support and to raise awareness for the movement, took the internet by storm. Creators had more time than ever to write posts, create videos, and research articles about allyship for their loyal followers to read.

 Once social media platforms became consumed by anti-racist content, it was impossible to scroll through Twitter for ten seconds without seeing a post relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. The more time you spent scrolling, the more posts you saw regarding George Floyd’s story or promoting Black Lives Matter. And the more likely you’d be to share these posts.

And as its virtual community expanded, Black Twitter, an online subculture consisting of black users on Twitter, has created trending headlines. In turn, essentially every single celebrity has since dedicated–in most cases, multiple–posts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, sharing links and graphics about how to become a better ally. Taylor Swift, for example, a singer-songwriter most notably known for her music and personal life, posted a Tweet slamming Donald Trump for “stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism” when he tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The Tweet became her most-liked Tweet ever. This means that many of the likes were from people who weren’t following her, and it attests to the ubiquity of tweets advocating for racial equality on Twitter circulating beyond individual users and followers’ circles.  

All of these events have one thing in common: their occurrence was partly because people had time to participate in them.  

The Black Lives Matter protests and riots also became the news’ favorite thing to cover; instead of regurgitating the same headlines about coronavirus regulations or updates on the number infected, footage of protestors holding up signs among thousands of others took the front seat. People that would have normally been at work turned on the television and saw coverage of the movement played for hours on end. Such immense news media content effectively educated the public on the current events regarding BLM.

Historians are calling this era the Information Age due to the absurdly large amounts of information that we absorb daily. Many claim that most of this information is filtered out of the brain almost immediately such that while this generation has the most amount of information at our fingertips, we are, in fact, the most clueless. This claim as a whole may or not be true; but regardless, it was certainly not true during quarantine. While in isolation, Americans had the rare opportunity to pause and think. And with many having virtually nothing to do instead, they were to some extent forced to.

With the time spent reflecting on the information being thrust at them via social media and news programs, Americans had time to formulate their own opinions on the issue. They had time to mull over the racist microaggressions they were learning about and realize the immensity of systemic racism. They also had time to talk about racism not only through social media but with their families too. Millions of families were left with only each other for months on end for company, and that being so, they had time to discuss the topic and educate themselves together.

But Americans had more than just the time to learn about and digest the movement; they also had the time to participate in it. One of the reasons why the protests involved record numbers of participants was because people had the time to be involved. In addition, there is no doubt that some young people were viewing the protests as one of the few legal ways in which they could spend time with their friends.

Despite all the negative consequences of Covid-19, the quarantine gave us the only thing that we can never buy more of: time. And in this instance, we used that time wisely. We used that time to educate each other and to bring light on the hundreds of years of immoral racist behavior and the lack of consequences for those who have committed those acts. We used that time to participate directly in protests for change. We used that time to contemplate the fact that unlike previous civil rights movements, this movement cannot end until racism no longer plays a part in society. We used that time to create the most involved, diverse anti-racism movement in history-wise use of time, in my opinion.

First-year Rohail Spear is a contributing writer. His email is rspear@fandm.edu.

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