Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: “Activist, But Offline”

This week, Jenée Desmond-Harris and Lauren Williams discuss a Prudie letter: “Activist, But Offline.”

Jenée Desmond-Harris: So, you knew I had to get in a dig at the non-showerers. But what are your thoughts on this person’s dilemma?

Lauren Williams: Honestly, I felt their pain! You know that I am a nervous and reluctant tweeter. The enormous pressure to “get it right” when you’re a conscientious person who cares about other people and issues can really freeze you in place. So, I applaud their decision to keep it light and breezy.

Jenée: There are a LOT of mixed messages about what you’re supposed to do if you follow a lot of people. I remember feeling sorry for White people during the “summer of racial reckoning.” Because the instructions were all over the place: “Check on your black friends,” “Leave your Black friends alone! “Post about racial justice,” “Don’t post about racial justice if you’re not actually doing anything!”

Lauren: Yes! And a lot of people you respect can have a lot of very strongly held but different opinions about what’s correct. Which is totally fine. But for a certain personality type, that can really be a lot to carry. I, for one, did NOT want to be checked on by my white friends! Who started that? White people—Black people didn’t want that. I promise!

Jenée: I don’t know, but a LOT of people listened, and it was very strange and not great (in OUR opinion, maybe some people loved it). Part of it for me was like, I want YOU to be upset too. I shouldn’t be the only one in this relationship who is upset that Black people are getting killed.

Lauren: Right, if a White friend wanted to reach out to me to share in outrage or to talk about what was going on, that’s different than someone I hadn’t talked to in 10 years being like “Are you ok?” You got the feeling some folks had a “Black acquaintances list” they were running down. Like an obligation to call your sex partners after you found out you tested positive for an STD. But … we digress.

Jenée: Anyway … I also think it’s okay—good, even—not to post when you’re not sure if you have anything to add.

Lauren: Another thing about social media is that every post can feel like it’s subtweeting YOU.

Jenée: So true.

Lauren: I think you gave them good advice to think about why these things were making them feel insecure about their contribution to social justice, but I also think it’s just so hard for social media to not shake even the strongest people’s confidence.

Jenée: Yeah, but since racial justice is at the core of her work, I feel like she should set an intention for what she wants to do (and maybe that’s just “go to work”) and feel good about it and try as hard as possible to ignore everything else. Or maybe she really has something to contribute. Like on one discreet issue.

Lauren: I think one way to thread the needle could be posting more about their work. Not necessarily any posts about current events but just posts about projects they’re working on or things that happened on the job. Stuff that shows to their followers what they’re about without having to prove it with a daily rant. And maybe that will make them feel more comfortable spending most of their time posting cat pics or TV show recaps or whatever.

Jenée: Right … I am personally more impressed by White people who are like “Here’s how to drop off water for protestors” than those who post “Black people are great!” or whatever. And there’s always re-posting/amplifying too, if you learn something and want to share.

Lauren: My Instagram is 100 percent pics of my children and happy birthday posts, btw.

Jenée: Husband and happy birthday posts here. So yeah, she’s fine, and I do think she should give herself a break especially because of how she spends her workdays.

Lauren: Agreed. Not everyone on social who confidently posts things like “white silence is violence” is correct or knows what they’re talking about or is talking about you. Take what’s useful, disregard the rest.

Jenée: Social media is filled with complicated and flawed people with complicated and flawed messages! If you’re not one of the people putting out shitty messages, you’re already winning. So post your baked goods in peace, letter writer.