In my last email I wrote about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and how I believe white Christians should be responding. For the first time I also published an edited version of the e-mail for non-subscribers to read.
At the end of that email I asked:
How have you been impacted by Ahmaud Arbery’s death?
Here are some of the responses I’ve received (not just from subscribers):
”I maintain radio silence on social media for professional reasons, but I’m deeply frustrated by the willful blindness embraced by so many of the professing faithful, including members of my extended family.”
”Fuck dude. My heart is just aching.”
Since I sent that email there have been a string of other police murders — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks (and that’s not even a comprehensive list). Nooses are appearing across the country. Protests have erupted around the world. Beethoven was actually Black?
While these events are only the latest in a long history of America’s fight against racial injustice, this time around there seems to be a growing sentiment of hope…that we might be on the cusp of sustainable change.
In 2017, Vox published an article titled:
“Colbert asked Ta-Nehisi Coates if he has hope for America. Coates said no.”
From Vox, June 2020:
“Why Ta-Nehisi Coates is hopeful.”
So why is there cautious optimism that (white) America’s response to 2020 will be better than our previous responses to Ferguson in 2014 or other similar times of protest before?
There are many factors, of course, but I think one of the primary differences between then and now is the role of social media in our lives.
Linking the various ways in which social media has evolved since 2014 (the same year I got my first iPhone) to the momentum of racial justice efforts we’re seeing now deserves an entire essay on its own, but in short:
More is captured.
More is shared.
More is consumed.
As a result, engaging with social media is also more complex (for example, the well intentioned but terribly executed #BlackOutTuesday)
But complexity is never an excuse to disengage — removing social media from my life, even if only temporarily, would be at best privileged and at worst negligent. (Also this is The Valleyist so you already know I’m not interested in doing that anyway 😏)
So in this email and the next I want to explore the complexity of consuming and contributing to social media, starting with consumption.
The many voices of social media
While I’m not a big social media contributor, I practically inhale Tweets (preferably with a side of Instagram Stories). And with everything going on in America, my consumption has only risen.
But the problem with giving the voices of social media so much of my mindshare is that scrolling through my feeds is like having every appendage of my body yanked in a different direction.
For example, I might see one person say:
”Your silence means you are complicit — if you’re not saying anything I know where you stand.”
While the very next post will be someone else saying:
”Actions speak louder than words. Save your performative social media post, open up your wallet and start donating.”
”Check-in with your Black friends.”
”Your Black “friend” doesn’t need to hear from you right now, your white guilt isn’t their emotional burden.”
”Stop posting pictures of these protests, the government will identify participants and punish them!”
”The media has stopped covering these protests, keep sharing!”
In these specific examples, neither side is completely right, but neither side is completely wrong, either. It’s nuanced.
And the only effective way to navigate nuance is through discernment — by inviting God into my inner dialogue.
It’s easy for me to let the cacophony of social media drown out God’s voice because social media doesn’t require me to grow or change. If I don’t like something I can cancel or block it, if I do like something I can use it as confirmation bias.
Consuming social media is like pouring cement into my heart.
As I evaluate the content of each post I see on social media, I’m essentially training my own neural network of how I should behave towards certain ideas or people the next time I encounter them.
In contrast, when I’ve invited God’s voice into my inner dialogue in the past I’ve been challenged on things I believe, or hold tightly, or want to do a certain way.
But last time I checked God doesn’t have an Instagram or Twitter, so hearing from God takes a little more effort and discernment than just unlocking my phone. So how do I hear from God?
Hearing from God
As I write this, I’m reminded of the story of Elijah. Elijah was a prophet who was running for his life after receiving a death threat from his country’s leadership (who, by the way, had murdered all the other prophets).
After escaping to the wilderness and praying to die, Elijah ended up hiding in a cave.
It’s there that God told him,
“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
So Elijah stood on the mountain and waited for God.
”Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
There are two points from this story that have been sticking with me:
- Elijah had to leave the cave to hear what God wanted to say to him
- Elijah had to discern the form of God’s voice
Now, I’m not using this story to say that if you had asked God the night before #BlackOutTuesday,
“should I post this black square on Instagram?”
he would’ve whispered back
“as long as you don’t caption it with #BlackLivesMatter.”
And I’m not saying that God only speaks in whispers — if God spoke to Moses through a burning bush I think God can speak to us today through a burning Wendy’s in Atlanta.
What I am saying is that unlike social media, God’s voice is both rooted in love and contextual to the situation of myself and others around me.
Several weeks ago I was torn about whether or not I should reach out to one of my Black friends. I suspected that she was likely receiving a lot of contact from white people for whom she is their only “Black friend,” and while I wanted to let her know that I care for her, I wasn’t sure if she needed to hear that from me at that time.
While I felt like God was prompting me to reach out to other Black friends, ultimately I didn’t feel like God was telling me to reach out to her. So I didn’t. A day or two later she posted an Instagram story asking (white) people to stop reaching out, saying:
“I really do appreciate the intent but I’m just trying to process my anger and sadness without crying on a video call this week.”
Apparently (white) people had been sending her receipts of their donations 🙄
Had I acted rashly in response to social media, even with the best intentions, I could’ve added on to the hurt of a friend I care deeply about.
Social media cannot tell me which of my Black friends to text or not text. Or what I should say if I do text.
That’s why I need God’s voice.
In what form have you heard God’s voice recently?