Opinion: Advocacy going viral

Social media is often – and justifiably – vilified as a vehicle of abuse, a many-headed monster of racist, misogynistic, homophobic and other discriminatory proportions.

This week though, there were reasons to appreciate its other side, for its digital disruptiveness that also translated into social disruption of a good kind.

A day before a Toronto police officer showed the world how to take down an alleged rampaging killer alive, three Alabama police officers threw a Black woman named Chikesia Clemons on the floor of a Waffle House, straddled her, suggested they were going to break her arm and exposed her breasts.

Thanks to smartphones, this violation was captured on video. Thanks to social media the video was widely shared.

Not that it fazed either the Waffle House or the Alabama Police, who said their respective staff behaviour was appropriate.

The woman’s mother said Clemons had asked to speak to a manager after being told there was a charge for plastic cutlery to go with her food when police were called.

The authorities said Clemons and her friends were behaving in a “drunken and disorderly” manner, refusing to throw away their alcohol.

Quite by coincidence, at around the same time, a white gunman who killed four people of colour with an assault rifle at a Waffle House near Nashville, Tenn., was arrested without incident.

There’s nothing new either about restaurant racism or racist violence inflicted on Black bodies. And while digital evidence hasn’t helped Clemons get justice, it is making it harder to dismiss racist incidents as lies, backing racism-deniers into a corner, leaving them foolishly, desperately grasping at straws: “What did she do?” as in, what’s the slightest bit of imperfection in the victim on which to pin the brutality?

Again, it’s getting embarrassingly easy on social media to point out the hypocrisy of this argument. With video, of course.

Social media has enabled long-silent voices to speak their truths, to make it uncomfortable for those who have sailed through and benefited from the oppression of others.

When Toronto was struck with horror and tragedy earlier this week, and Islamophobes and xenophobes tried to wrest the narrative of the van attack on social media, what was heartening were the voices of Torontonians who were sickened by it.

Jonathan Goldsbie of Canadaland published an eye-opening expose of “How the far right spun the Toronto van attack as Islamic terrorism” and Andray Domise evocatively damned in Maclean’s the irresponsibility of speculating journalists.

In other hopeful news: Yet another attempt to give the neo-Nazi Faith Goldy a platform – this time at the University of Waterloo – failed when the cost of security became unaffordable for the organizers.

Thank goodness for these university students channelling their energetic idealism into defining the values they would stand for.

Where in the past, such efforts would get scant publicity, having to jump through hoops to make it to newsroom radars – they are now accessible on our screens.

Waterloo’s Indigenous Students Association launched a petition to their leaders to not go ahead with the speech. The university’s Faculty Association created a GoFundMe campaign to support campus diversity.

“We want people who are marginalized by these events to know we support them,” Bryan Tolson, the association president, wrote in a blog. Word spread. It raised more than $12,000.

Based on events this week, it’s fair to say that the painstaking labour of equality advocates holding discriminatory systems, institutions, people and behaviour to account is getting through.

Canadians who are capable of holding some discomfort are listening.

It’s not soon enough. It’s nowhere near the rate it should be. But this week, we – or at least I – need to see the glass at least a third full.

A Halifax indie-rock band named In-Flight Safety pulled out of a Nova Scotia music festival for its lack of diversity, or as frontman John Mullane tweeted, “I found myself apologizing to close friends for another all-male (not to mention nearly all-white) lineup. Apologizing isn’t enough.”

National affairs columnist Shree Paradkar tackles issues of race and gender.

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