#BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName#ICantBreathe #HandsUpDontShoot
Remember these hashtags? Do you even still use them when communicating on social media? Do you even know why these hashtags were created?
For many African Americans who utilize social media on a regular basis, the answer is more than likely – No!
The aforementioned hashtags have been a few of the most commonly used hashtags on social media that were created as a means to address issues surrounding victims who were targeted by because of their race or who were subsequently killed by a member of law enforcement.
The hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) hit the scene on social media (Twitter) a little over six years ago in 2013, after neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman was acquitted of the racially-charged murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.
After the introduction of #BlackLivesMatter to the social media universe, which has been used to highlight a number of high-profiled incidents and acts of violence towards Black people, it has taken a backseat to other hashtags in an attempt to highlight injustice and protest the unexplainable violence that many Black people have been experiencing in this country.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of hashtag is “a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet).”
The hashtag was first brought to Twitter in 2007 by former Google developer Chris Messina.
Needless to say, the use of the hashtag has been a huge phenomenon and has become a regular part of the daily social media world that it is second-nature.
These hashtags have brought an increased awareness to many of these incidents, but the real question on the table is, are the creation of these hashtags just a fad or are they really effective?
Since #BlackLivesMatter came into existence to highlight Trayvon Martin, there has been #HandsUpDontShoot in 2014, after an unarmed 18-year-old Black teenager named Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
Then we had #ICantBreathe, also in 2014, that was created after Eric Garner, 43, was strangled to death on camera in New York City by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, under the suspicion of selling single cigarettes.
Then we had #SayHerName, which became popularized after several Black women became casualties of racial profiling or undeserved police violence, such as 28-year-old Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, in 2015, after a routine traffic stop led to one of the most despicable acts of police abuse of power ever caught on tape.
Dealing with the issues of racial profiling and police brutality have become the civil rights issues of the day for many African Americans living in the U.S., and although marching and protesting are still being used to bring attention to these issues, social media has become the modern day tool of resistance for many African Americans, especially millennials.
According to the Pew Research Center, around 7 out of 10 American citizens use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves.
Going further, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, has done research that shows that 40 percent of African Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 use Twitter, compared to 28 percent of Whites of the same age.
Although the creation of hashtags and the use of social continues to bring attention to Black people who have been victimized by police or others, the incidents have not decreased.
Pamela Turner, Jordan Baker, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Korryn Gaines, Laquan McDonald, Stephon Clark, are just a few Black people who have had hashtags tied to their names, as they were all unarmed and shot to death by a member of law enforcement.
Again, the question is, are the creation of these hashtags just the latest trend or are they really making a difference?
For the most part, it would appear that the hashtag movement has and continues to be effective and making a difference because it has engaged the younger generation and gotten them to be more concerned about the civil rights challenges and injustices that Black people experience daily. Another thing that tells you that a movement such as the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag movement is effective, is that people have gotten mad when hearing #BlackLivesMatter; people have sought to imitate #BlackLivesMatter; and people have attempted to discredit #BlackLivesMatter.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag movement has made a difference by irritating the status-quo surrounding police brutality, as well as the loss of Black lives as a result of police brutality.
The use of hashtags to highlight injustice should not be temporary or treated like the flavor of the month. These victims should never be forgotten. Many times, however, they are forgotten and society tends to move on the next victim as if they were a thing of the past. This cannot be.
Many African Americas have become numb to the struggle and unaware of the pain that others have endured in an attempt to enjoy a solid quality of life and uninhibited freedom in America.
If these hashtags don’t result in continued advocacy or justice for the families of these victims, then their deaths will become a distant memory for some and their lives won’t mean anything to others who came after.
The only way that these hashtags will become even more effective, is if African Americans make it a priority to keep the names of these individuals alive by educating the community about what happened to them and continuing to advocate and demand justice on their behalf.
Hashtags will continue to be a thing, so let us hope that the hashtags the Black community begins to see and share more of, are hashtags that promote positivity and growth, versus hashtags that are created as a need to highlight negativity and death. Time will tell!