Four months ago I was walking to the 145th Street train station in Harlem and noticed the ground was littered with the mug shot of a black man in his late 30s to early 40s. He was adorning circular-frame glasses and a harmless smirk. Over the next few months, I’d see his picture attached to trees, light posts, temporary construction walls, and the doors of random buildings throughout the city. He even started popping up on website ads. And as many times as I saw his picture, I never thought to do research on who he was and why he kept showing up. Blogs weren’t talking about him. He wasn’t trending on Twitter. Status updates on Facebook didn’t know his name. Family and friends had nothing to say or had no knowledge of this man.
It was almost as if he didn’t publicly exist until 48 to 72 hours before he was scheduled to be executed in Georgia. Suddenly everybody knew the name Troy Davis. Unfortunately, as we would find out at 11:08pm ET on Wednesday night, we were too late. The face that I grew accustomed to seeing but never cared enough to investigate now sporadically overwhelms me with sadness and guilt. I can visualize his image and hear him saying “Where were you when it really mattered?” I see the same image of Troy when I look at black teens dropping n-bombs and acting unruly on the train or standing on the corner with jeans that somehow stay seated at the middle of their thighs. They have to the potential to be great, but they’re destined to be far less if nobody steps in to help.
Similar to the way I walked past Troy’s face for months, many of us have walked past others on their own path to destruction for years. It’s a vicious cycle that I’m not proud to say I’m a part of at times. And based on the way people mobilized in support of Troy in the last days of his life, it’s clear there are a lot of people out there just like me. It’s also clear that we have a long way to go aside from mentorship and youth programs.
If you were a part of the public outrage on social media or discussing Troy Davis with those around you, people showed you exactly who they were and/or who they wanted to be. In a matter of hours, black folks who learned of him in the days leading up to his death divided into 4 distinct groups: the Twitter Activists (TAs), the Bandwagon “Better Than” Activists (BBTAs), the Why Do You Care Nowers (WDYCNs), and the Generally Apathetic (GAs).
The TAs consisted of all the people like myself that found out about Troy Davis late in the game, but showed up to support once they saw what was going on and how committed people were to the cause. Ideals are infectious. And to this group, it wasn’t only about Troy Davis or the death penalty. It was about Hope and potentially being able to tip the scale to effect change. Everybody wants to be part of something that has the power to transcend. This group is no different. They also believe that late action is better than no action.
The BBTAs were the folks that policed social media for anybody not tweeting or updating their statuses to reflect support of Troy Davis. There were the folks that stood proudly behind their virtual picket signs and looked down upon those that dared to share content not related to the situation or thoughts that offered a contrary opinion. It was very much like the christian evangelist that seeks to convert the nonbeliever but doesn’t realize he or she is doing more harm (polarizing) than good. Holier than thou, better than, same thing. Little do they know they’re promoting their own brand of oppression.
The WDYCNs are the cynics that openly called folks bandwagon hoppers and noted that if people really cared, they would’ve taken action long ago. This group doesn’t believe that some action is better than no action. They believe action only matters if taken before everybody else does. In their nation, there is no country for laggards. Their great points are pulled down by their pessimistic attitudes.
The GAs are the folks that heard about the situation, but continued on with their lives. They accepted that the boat had been missed or that they’d make their voice heard when and where they felt they could truly have an impact. The GAs are the bane of the existence of the BBTAs.
The most frustrating aspect of all this is that even at a time when we were trying to unite for a common cause — albeit late — we still managed to segment ourselves. I see the way that some of us looked down on others and it reminded me too much of too many debates. Light-skin v. Dark Skin. Degrees v. Non-Degree, PWI v. HBCU, Caribbean v. Black, African v. Black, and the list goes on. We’re always trying to outdo each other and this was another instance of just that.
It’s so easy for them to conquer us when we continuously divide ourselves. And as much as we’d like to be optimistic about the direction we’re heading, let’s be real. There’s just t00 much doubt. It’s been less than a week since Troy was executed and I can see the activism retreating as defeatism and apathy plant their flags in their rightful place. But as the days go by, I’ll work on not being a member of any of the above groups. There’s much work to be done and I’m figuring out my next moves. What will you be doing to avoid being an online only activist? Hopefully more than reading this post then heading over to Worldstar Hip Hop.
Twitter’s becoming the new Second Life,