The Legacy of Slain Blacks: How Social Media is Influencing Racial Tensions

By Perle R Desir, Opinion Writer

In 2014, a couple hundred yards from where he lived in a row house on the west side of Cleveland, Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a police officer.

The boy, not more than 12 at the time was seen playing with what was believed to be a real firearm, when in actuality, it was just a realistic looking toy. That day, in broad daylight Officer Timothy Loehmann wasting almost no time at all, fired a lethal shot.

Tamir Rice is but one example among a sea of black victims whose stories evolved into popular hashtags and memes on the social web. Following the many instances of police brutality that have and continue to plague the country, the topic of racial tension has been fueled with terms such as “race baiting”, “race cards” and, white supremacy.

Subsequent to the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore—initially peaceful protests turned violent—America began to represent the law as “white” by representing all police officers as white, and the “disruption of order” as black.

This lead to hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter being misconceived as anti-cop propaganda to some, derailing its simple message of safety for all black lives. The truth is, the ever-growing social media veil of real-time updates shapes our conversations. In reality, American racial bias, disempowerment, and discrimination date back centuries.

The novelty lies simply in these instances being recorded, uploaded, live-streamed, tweeted, and broadcasted.  As it turns out, the public no longer needs to wait for news conferences, petitions or legal actions to bring immediate attention to what’s going on.

It is no secret that social media has proven itself to be an effective medium for racial activism this past decade. Its inherent efficacy in spreading awareness of racial injustice is unmatched. However, this wealth of information has also had its backlash. Very often, social media hinders racial harmony: “Unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire,” the Washington post wrote last year.

On the opposite end of the conversation, there is Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke on — “Fox & Friends” —stating, “There is no police brutality in America — we ended that in the ’60s.” Such is the dichotomy in digital forums, a stark contrast of black and white.

The nature and speed of the Internet undeniably lead people to fabricate conclusions which allow no space for nuance. It almost feels as though it’s only been able to create an “us versus them” mentality. In doing so, it complicates statements like #BlackLivesMatter, which seek to acknowledge the importance of a marginalized group’s life.

Simultaneously, it encourages ideas that police officers are the law by shutting down anyone who dares question their actions, instead of encouraging others to face reality, which, is that police officers merely instill the law.

In essence, social media encourages a lack of empathy and critical thinking. People rarely start conversations by agreeing that every death is awful no matter the skin attached to it. Moreover, there is an unfounded conviction that talking about race is the problem when in reality it is part of the solution.

Despite its shortcomings, social media also redeems itself in some aspects. In multiple ways, it has opened the dialogue to more people and empowered the voiceless. When well navigated, social media provides access to a niche of activists or simply concerned citizens with the ability to understand certain concepts. Consequently, the growth one experiences is unmatched, making the social media experience a most lucrative one.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 13th print edition.

Contact Perle at


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