A New "Talk" For The Digital Age
Why we need to teach our children to watch what they say on social networks
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of the Loop 21.
Generations of black men have been given the same admonishment.
Don’t run from the cops. Keep your hands out of your pockets. Be conscious of where you’re wandering.
By the time myself and other 20-somethings came along, “the talk” had morphed into much less of a formal discussion and into more of an understood rite of passage. Find almost any high school-aged black male and ask him about “the talk.” Whether he received it from his parents or not, he’ll likely be able to give you a rundown of the key points.
At its root, the talk has always been about self-preservation: parents and grandparents equipping their offspring with practical knowledge — from how to act when you’re pulled over (“keep your hands on the wheel”) to which neighborhoods to avoid after dark — out of the hope their child won’t be the next Emmitt Till, the next Rodney King or the next Trayvon Martin.
But injustice has followed us into the digital realm.
If the slaying of 17-year-old Florida teen Trayvon and the subsequent attempts by some to vilify the boy based on his social media accounts have taught us anything, it’s that the time has come for black folk to adopt a new talk.
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Many black parents take comfort in knowing they’ve instructed their children on how to conduct themselves in public. But often overlooked is how black teens are carrying themselves online and away from their often not-so-social-media-minded parents.
Not a day goes by that my Facebook and Twitter streams aren’t full of others’ postings of rap lyrics, drug references and general ignorance. Individually, those posts, often from friends of my younger siblings, seem harmless. But it’s worth asking: have we allowed our young people to mindlessly perpetuate on social media the stereotypical characterization of the dangerous black male that we endlessly battle in the mainstream media?
As black men, we fight a daily battle against a society trained for 200 years to look down on, write off and fear us, therefore, we must insist on a higher standard for our social media usage.
Now don’t get me wrong, the demonization of Trayvon based on his social media posts and bathroom mirror pictures of himself with a gold “grill” are not only out of line, they’re disgusting. But in a world where mindlessly posted tweets and status updates will be forever archived online, it’s important that our message to young people is not solely focused on their physical presentation, but also on how they’re projecting themselves in the digital realm.
Earlier this month conservative blog The Daily Caller published a downloadable archive of the roughly 1,520 tweets Trayvon sent out in the month before his death. Thanks to this act of “journalism,” photos and messages he sent to friends will forever be used in an attempt by some to prove that this 17-year-old was a thug deserving of his fate at the end of George Zimmerman’s trigger.
It’s not that young black people are the only ones posting pictures of themselves inebriated or with stashes of money or drugs. Check out the profiles of those contributing to many of the more questionable Twitter trending topics (from #youknowyoureratchetif to #becauseofChrisBrown) and you’ll see users diverse in race, age and gender. For most of those users, the idea of those at times inappropriate yet jokingly sophomoric posts being dissected by national media outlets seems outlandish. But in the case of Trayvon, outlandish has become the norm.
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Much like on the streets of suburban America, black teens don’t get the benefit of the doubt in the social media world.
We must implore our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins to not only mind their appearance when roaming the streets of suburbia, but also the images they’re projecting online.
There’s no doubt that profane tweets glorifying drug usage and boasting about violence are no more the culprit for racial profiling than are hoodies and sagging pants. But there’s also no doubt that those wishing to silence the honest dialogue we’re now having about injustice targeting minorities will turn to those tweets and Facebook posts for ammunition.
Lets disarm the army of Americans who believe that a black man’s life holds no value by holding ourselves and our community to a higher standard.
Social media can be much more than regurgitating rap lyrics, posting and spewing ignorance because — black America — we can do better.