T.I. is many things.
He’s charismatic, talented, business-minded, charming and has a rather adorable family-oriented reality show.
One thing he is not, however, is a role model for social media responsibility.
During the recent Triumph Awards taping, the rapper performed a spoken word piece called United We Stand. Steeped in hazy blue lighting, surrounded by the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta and accompanied by a mellow background music, T.I. finger wagged at people who use social media for activism and “likes.”
“Swimming with DMs, likes, comments/Not noticing how much it makes us slaves/Chained by a man-made device small enough to fit into the palm of our hand/I guess that’s made it easy to swipe to the left and scroll to the next/And forget about Sandra Bland.”
First, it’d be great if we could stop comparing everything to slavery. You know what’s like slavery? Slavery. Also, it is fair to note the ebbs and flows of certain hashtags and topics on social media, such as the case of Sandra Bland, whose name has all but disappeared from trending topics on social media platforms since her death in July.
However, this is rich commentary coming from T.I. This is a man is very active on social media and has exchanged more than a few crass words with people like Azaelia Banks and 50 Cent. He has also used his social media presence for good to highlight important civil rights and socio-economic issues. So, what’s the point in trying to shame people for using social media to be, well, social and also using it for grander purposes?
In his spoken word piece, T.I. also takes aim at those whose activism does not extend beyond a click or a hashtag.
“Our societies’ issues are deeper than social media posts/ There’s a long list/And if you think solely making them a trending topic is going to solve them/Then you’re a part of the problem”
Much has been made of this current era where it seems everyone is too distracted by digital devices to actually enjoy or engage with real life, but one area where social media has been culture-shifting in a positive way is activism. Yes, it would be optimal if everyone enthusiastically engaged in activism online, in person and every other necessary outlet. But the reality is that not everyone is fit for every measure.
Pocket activism (the cousin to arm-chair activism) seems hollow at first glance, but social media activism alone does matter and does make a difference. Issues and disturbing patterns that minority communities have been painfully aware of for decades are now front-page news across the country and sometimes the world. Institutions, corporations and politicians simply cannot ignore millions of tweets, hashtags or trending topics. A simple click adds to a powerful online community that has seen results. Black Twitter alone has taken down many a celebrity and has also triggered important national conversations.
The work of revolution takes many forms. Police brutality, for example, will not be eradicated with hashtags alone nor just community meetings alone nor just marches alone. Informing the public with facts and context is just a start. Creating substantive change is a multi-faceted process, and each part is important. Some people are best suited to be soldiers in the digital army, while others can take command in more tangible ways. It’s more than okay to add #BlackLivesMatter to that perfectly filtered vacation selfie.