Jorge Guajardo '21
The murder of black men and women at the hands of police and white supremacists—sometimes one and the same—have rightfully spurred a reckoning on the oppression of Black people in this country. Leaders have spoken out, activists have led the charge to enact lasting reform in this country, and many of us have had to ask ourselves the difficult questions of how we benefit from and contribute to white privilege and systemic racism. Social media has been a welcome home for us to share the grief and shock of these events. One new phenomenon I’m sure you all are familiar with is the advent of the Instagram infographic: fancy fonts laid over artistic backgrounds with the goal to educate the reader on issues of justice. But there are dangers to them.
To start, they lend themselves too easily to performative activism. Performative activism is real and problematic—some may post an infographic every day and then tell themselves that they have done enough. This is not so. Many of us may know others—celebrities or friends—who posted their black square on June 2nd and then remained silent in the months after. To paraphrase Angela Davis, being non-racist is not enough; we must be actively anti-racist. What does this mean? This is something I am attempting to educate myself on and thus cannot speak on with full confidence, but I can say this much: posting a daily infographic on your story to signify to others that you are “doing your part” is not being anti-racist. It is designating yourself as a “non-racist” and signalling an act of performative virtue. We must do more than repost infographics, though educate they may; we must fight for justice which they do not. The latter is our responsibility.
Infographics lead the reader to a false belief of expertise. Yes, I will admit, I have been educated on quite a few subjects from Instagram infographics. But, infographics only bring a rudimentary understanding of the subject being discussed, and it is then on us to continue researching the subject further. In this way, I believe that infographics can be positive—they can push us to do independent research on topics we were previously unaware of. I indeed have learned much about anti-racism and Black history that our U.S. History curriculum does not mention (something I may cover in a future article). Infographics pushing us to do more research in their final points are ultimately the most helpful.
However, many of these posts tend to be rather reductive. Boiling down complicated and tenuous issues into five slides on instagram is bound to leave some information off the table, and this could be key context that we miss if we fail to do further research. Some infographics, instead of providing key facts and viewpoints, simply associate buzzwords (which are becoming increasingly common on TikTok as well) like “classist” and “ableist” with things that are simply not so. The assertion that calling someone stupid is inherently ableist is simply ridiculous. Yes, I have seen that in an infographic. No, the account was not acting satirically. Competing in this sense to see who can be the “wokest” is a symptom of performative activism, and comes at the cost of meaningful discourse. Instagram infographics can guide us on the path to educate ourselves on justice, whether it be racial, economic, or political, but it is absolutely crucial that we approach every infographic with a healthy dose of critical thinking and skepticism. Just because an instagram post has a pastel background and tasteful graphic design does not mean it holds additional weight or credibility.
Infographics reinforce the echo chamber of social media. Hear me out: I have ended friendships, and I have lost the respect of many people due to their political beliefs. I believe that if your opinions fundamentally infringe on someone else’s human rights, then you are not someone who I want to spend time with. That being said, I think that social media’s echo chamber is exceptionally clear by looking at infographics. For starters, most infographics being shared are leftist in nature. I must clarify that I myself am left-leaning and inclined to agree with many of the claims I see on these infographics. However, the lack of a counter opinion on our social media feeds leads us to believe two things: that our opinions are the most correct, and that our opinions are the most popular. It is important to be exposed to disagreement (again recognizing that some opinions are truly deplorable and deserve no place in public discourse) so that we cannot only be challenged in our own opinions, but also more informed about our communities.
A quick anecdote follows: I have seen posts on a popular infographic account calling GPAs racist. Now indeed, GPAs may very well be racist as this infographic states. I shall not—and nobody should—claim to know the definite truth about the possible racism of GPAs after only reading an infographic on instagram arguing this. A quick glance at the comments, however, left me disappointed but not surprised. Disagreeing voices eager to participate in good-faith discourse—the unicorn of social media—were being shut down, and any disagreements were labeled foolish and the disagreers ignorant. Now, granted, I did not expect a proper philosopher’s forum in the comments of an instagram post, but therein lies the problem. When we retire ourselves to our opinion’s safe haven (I am hesitant to overuse the word “echo-chamber” as too often I hear it as a bad-faith right wing insult) on social media, we lose the forums where we can have meaningful and productive conversations on contentious issues (remembering once again that some issues are irrefutable, namely the fundamental right to life of others).
Instagram infographics are a good introduction to the reckoning and research that we (especially as members of a predominantly white institution) need to conduct in order to be properly anti-racist. However, we must treat them as what they are, a good introduction, and we need to take it upon ourselves to do our own independent research to become better anti-racists and better citizens of this country.
I welcome all voices—especially those in disagreement—to leave their thoughts below.