How to tell if you're protesting or just posturing for social media

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Ferguson. Mike Brown. Eric Garner. Police Brutality. Body Cameras. Tear Gas. Looting. Post Racial. New Black. #ShutItDown. #BlackLivesMatter. #CrimingWhileWhite

2014 has been a year ripe with racially tense buzz words and hashtags, all centered around discussing the way black men are disproportionately profiled and killed by those who are supposed to be protecting them.

The last few months have started to feel like a wildly unbelievable episode of “How To Get Away With Murder,” with even former president George W. Bush giving a side-eye to the blatant disregard for black lives even when there’s footage of wrongdoing.

Folks are angry, hurt, scared and frustrated — all the perfect ingredients for a major movement. Everywhere you look, protesters are shutting down highways, staging die-ins and rallying support. And I, for the most part, have been cheering them on in solidarity.

Until today.

This morning, I had the misfortune of watching a video that made me sick to my stomach. But not for the reasons you’d expect. This time, it wasn’t the police who created a spectacle, but instead the protestors themselves.

In the 12 minute clip, a small group of young black women are seen having a dispute with an officer sitting on top of his bike. They are upset at him for a perceived grievance. They feel he has harmed a man and are very vocally challenging his authority. For a while, the officer attempts to calmly speak to them. When he realizes things are escalating, he backs away from them. Shortly after that, the man they are defending jumps in and tells the protesters it’s all been a misunderstanding and he is actually fine. The officer thinks he is vindicated – but instead, the young women only seem to get angrier and eventually turn against the man they were originally protecting, painting him as a coward for taking the cop’s side.

As I watched this video I got ill for several reasons. One, because I know one of the young ladies in the clip and had actually thought highly of her activism efforts – until seeing her in action. Secondly, I was appalled by the how naively and irresponsibly these women put themselves in harm’s way. Luckily for them, they approached what may be the most zen police officer on the planet. But in no way is it ever a good idea to lean forward and scream at an armed person (officer or otherwise). That shows a lack of street smarts that could not only have endangered their lives but also the lives of those around them. And lastly – they were just wrong. Dead ass wrong. WRONG in all caps locks wrong. Already mad and just looking for someone to pick on wrong.

Which is ironic, because that’s also how I would describe the cops who killed Eric Garner as well. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

It’s well documented that abused people – if they don’t seek counseling — often end up becoming just like their abusers. And that’s exactly what I saw in that video as one of the protesters attempted to stop a camera man from filming her bad behavior — frustrated young black women acting as ugly and as irrationally as the old white men who have historically hurt them.

How does that help anything?

Yelling and screaming at a peaceful cop who is actually seeking to help you isn’t an act of revolution; it’s a good old-fashioned tantrum. And in this tense climate of racial unrest, that type of foolishness usually does more harm than good.

The days of Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson being our leaders of change are coming to an end. Just this past weekend, Oprah hosted a Legends ball, and I couldn’t help but notice in the pictures how elderly many of the activists in attendance were.

We are on the verge of a new wave of voices leading the march to a better day, and it concerns me deeply that some of them show so little emotional intelligence. What’s worse is I’ve increasingly found myself questioning some people’s motives for even joining this movement to begin with.

I’m gonna ask the everyone reading this op ed to put their ego aside for 30 seconds so they can fully receive (and acknowledge) the huge pink elephant that I’m about to put on blast in this next statement.

Some of you are mostly protesting because it looks cute on your Instagram, Twitter and Facebook timelines.

There, I said it!

Many will be pissed that I just aired our collective dirty laundry for the world to see, but from the emails and messages I’ve been getting on the low – a far greater majority of you have noticed this trend too but are too nervous to say it in public.

There appear to be four major types of protesters in current rotation online.

  1. Committed change agents who recognize social media is just one more platform to get their message across. They show up and make their presence felt in a very real way and don’t rely on recycled rhetoric or divisive language to get a rise out of people. Their ideas and actions are thoughtful and intentional even when they make people uncomfortable, and integrity seemingly oozes out of their pores. Example: Jesse Williams
  1. Supporters who choose not to be on the frontline for personal reasons but will do their best to spread the good word so that the conversation keeps up its momentum. These folks have no intention of standing on a public soapbox. They show support in quieter, less conspicuous ways. Example: Your coworker in Accounting with the busy schedule who still finds time to share really awesome articles on your timeline.
  1. Attention seekers who are  yes bothered by what’s happened – but lowkey spend a disproportionate amount of time at protests looking for photo ops to upload to their instagram page. These people need you to know about every single move they make because frankly … if they went to a protest without getting a bunch of “likes” and accolades from their followers, what’s the point?
  1. Keyboard activists who only post inflammatory statements like “F@ck the Police” but don’t actually engage in nuanced, thoughtful dialogue that adds anything new to the conversation. They don’t care about engaging all sides and don’t believe things will get better. They’re just mad and want the whole world to know. As often as possible.

If you are one of the first two types of activists on this list – I salute you and appreciate your efforts.

But if you are in the ever-growing population of people in the last two categories – don’t fear – there is still hope for you to redeem yourself!

Emotional Intelligence Do’s & Don’t of Showing Solidarity

  1. Before you leave the house for a rally or post a piece on the Internet about Ferguson, Eric Garner or racial inequality in general, ask yourself, “What’s my intention?”
    1. If your intention is to spread awareness and/or find a useful outlet for your frustrations – proceed.
    2. If you’re bored and just feel like getting some attention – abort mission.
  1. Don’t cuss out all your white friends on sight – just because. Not only is this socially jarring, it also makes it less likely that they will listen to or learn from anything you have to say.
  1. Don’t post every hour on the hour about how mad you are. We get it. You’re upset. We’re all upset. But after a while, your cries of frustration will just start to come off like self-indulgent ranting. And because Facebook now allows people to quietly unfollow you without actually unfriending – you may be losing the very audience you seek to connect with.
  1. Don’t prematurely racially profile your friends. You may be surprised by who is on your side and who’s not. White allies are not unicorns. They really do exist. Sadly, so do self-loathing black people. Some of the most ignorant stuff will come from those you thought knew better. Be prepared for it.
  1. Stay away from divisive rhetoric in general. Be willing to unpack what’s happening from varied points of view so that you can hold your own in a conversation.
  1. Do not repost anything on social media without at least doing a quick Google search to make sure it’s true. Spreading misinformation causes more harm than good.
  1. Do not confront cops as a show of bravery. Not only is this disrespectful on a human level – it’s also unnecessarily dangerous.
  1. Do not become the very thing you are condemning. You can’t fight the ugliness of the world by becoming ugly yourself. Make sure you’re still being the version of you that you like during all this.
  1. Cry when you need to. When things get disheartening, a cleansing cry is a great way to purge some of your pent up feelings without causing you or anyone else any harm. This applies to men too. Brothers, if there was ever a time to allow yourself to shed a tear – it’s now.
  1. Speak to the babies. Young kids of all races can see what we’re going through. Having “the talk” with them about racism is becoming a matter of survival at this point. If you want to make a real difference, instead of trying to change the mind of an adult, do your part to positively shape the mind of a child.

At their best, protesters change the world — and at the very least, they bring attention to platforms that would otherwise be swept under the rug. But a movement is only as strong as it’s people. The healthier your approach is, the better chance we all have in making a difference.

Your feelings are valid, fam – but don’t be scared to check yourself and fine tune your actions. Our lives depend on it.