I Can Live Without All This ‘Hashtag Activism’

It’s doubtful that many of you care as much as you pretend to.

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I’ve enjoyed stand-up comedy since well before I was old enough to be listening to anyone who wasn’t Sinbad. But only recently did a routine actually give me goose bumps for the first time.

It was from the coda of Anthony Jeselnik’s Thoughts and Prayers, currently on Netflix:

This is who I make fun of when I make a joke on Twitter the day of a tragedy: the people who see something horrible happen in the world and they run to their social media and they all write down the exact-same thing: “My thoughts and prayers.” ... Do you know what that’s worth? Less than nothing. You are not giving any of your time, your money or any of your compassion. All you are doing is saying, “Don’t forget about me today.”

Picture a solitary tear rolling down my right eye. Picture that Charles S. Dutton Rudy meme. For a brief moment in time, Jeselnik was my pasty, white spirit animal: I, too, believe that mass “prayers” on social media have the efficacy of Diet Coke in making one less of a fat-ass. But his joke underscores a social media pandemic: folks pretending that they actually give a damn.

I doubt that nearly as many of you care about Sandra Bland as you’d make us believe. You don’t actually care about Tamir Rice. You don’t actually care about Trayvon Martin. You don’t give a good g--damn about Mike Brown, Laquan McDonald or any of the countless black males extinguished by f--kboy cops.  

Sure, you care about the systemic machinations that lead to their deaths—that should be a social imperative. But, let your tweets and retweets tell the story, and they were like kin. You and “Sandy” lay in the grass and sparked mad J’s together as you contemplated doing big things. Lil’ Tamir was that bad-ass cousin who always stuck his finger in the cake icing before anyone had a slice. Mike Brown was your brother, and you shed tears right along with his heartbroken mama at the sight of his body baking on the sidewalk.

And so you tweet your “sorrow.” #IAmMikeBrown. #IAmSandraBland. Because it’s as easy as a keystroke to pretend that you’re emotionally invested in the controversy du jour. You’ve mustered up whatever profundity you can shoehorn in 140 characters so you can get your likes, follows and retweets. And then ... it’s over. The dead’s actual kin are left wondering how it ever came to this as they pass an empty bedroom, and you’ve quickly moved on to tweeting about Porsha from Real Housewives of Whateverthef--k.

See, Twitter is an unholy confluence of the Internet hive mind and opportunists seeking fame, job opportunities and the like via social media. “Hashtag activism” frequently manifests itself as the inchoate musings of those willing to throw on the metaphorical kufi and “fight the power” over whatever’s trending at the moment.   

That’s why Twitter is littered with the angry ghosts of s--tbox hashtag causes and boycotts that accomplished virtually nothing. Anyone remember #Kony2012? What about #BringBackOurGirls? It’s just Africa ... who cares, right? Damn, you hear what Cookie just said on Empire??

Even worse than backing a cause with just a quarter of your ass is caping for the wrong damn cause altogether, which I’ve seen a lot lately with the defense of Bill Cosby. I could cover the same ground many writers have already, but the “Free Bill Cosby” memes actually make me want to use Darryl M. “Ron” Bell’s brim hat to chop off every sharer’s head, Kung Lao-style.

I can hear all the dissenters in my head right now, sounding like Martin from The Simpsons. “Bu ... but why is this guy crapping on all these people that are trying to make a difference? What’s he doing??” Look, if I had the magic key to eradicating racism, sexism, LGBTQ phobia, socioeconomic inequality and killer cops, I’d be on a beach in the Maldives with a sangria in one hand and the ass of my bethonged Eritrean mistress in the other while my wife and her boyfriend plotted on how to poison me to death and abscond with my vast wealth.

As it stands, all I can do is support the mitigation of racism (which will never fully disappear, because we’re human f--king beings), as well as the mitigation of sexism/misogyny and homophobia (neither of which will fully disappear as long as people still choose to receive the bulk of their learnin’ from holy texts penned at a time when we thought we could fall off the side of the earth).

For all its bulls--t, social media exposes people to well-done journalism, as well as thought-provoking books and films. I can rattle off names of people a lot smarter than I am who can kick knowledge on the issues that some dumb-ass meme generator can’t contain. And since the members of every successive generation spend more time with screens jammed into their faces, social media will likely play a role in any meaningful “revolution.”

But as long as we keep pretending that we care when we don’t and stay focused on the wrong s--t, it’ll be like granules of dirt getting through the clean-water filter and tainting the whole damn tank. 

Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavyweights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. You can find more of his work at VerySmartBrothas.com.

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