Hashtag Activists #SlaveryWasOptional


As the Roman satirist, Juvenal, once pointed out, “Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.” He was saying the government kept the populace captivated with bread (food) and circuses (huge spectacles).

Recently, Kanye West stated slavery was an option; the media took that and ran with it. For that reason, many people did the same. The focus wasn’t on his point of “mental slavery”, something many people suffer from today and being a free thinker, something more people need to work on. If you are wondering what he means, Childish Gambino has an answer in his music video, “This is America”. The main focus is on him dancing happily throughout the video while bad things happen in the background. Without further inspection, the only bad things we notice are the ones he personally brings to the forefront while, still, happily dancing. A more thorough look exposes constant problems in the background from start to finish and the fact that despite the obvious problems, we are still more captivated by his version of trendy dances that are front and center.

The point is, it’s easy to get caught up in, or captivated by things that don’t matter, including entertainment, social media, and news, while we’re continuously experiencing awful things, but very few come to our attention. The news may report a corporate company doing something unjust to a Black person. Via social media, hashtags are created and are shared like wildfire, as is the idea of “boycotting” said establishment. This behavior is followed by grumbles of how frequently these incidences occur. What they didn’t notice at the bottom of the screen was the ticker updating those watching of a highly favored bill headed to legislation that reduces or eliminates funding for something important to our community such as education or criminalizing a normal behavior within our community (such as wearing baggy pants). Three days later Cardi B releases a single about a broken heart and we’re busy interpreting what happened in her personal life. Now we’re well versed in things going on that are in heavy rotation via media and can discuss it intelligently the next time it makes its way into conversation. An unarmed Black man or woman is killed by a police officer and there’s more outrage, new hashtags and protests. Meanwhile, Beyonce announces a new tour and the conversation turns into how expensive the concert tickets are. There was more energy put into freeing Meek Mill, than all of the energy or support combined during the last 5 or even 10 years in support of unknown Black men imprisoned for similar warrantless charges but lacking the funds to push their cases forward.

This is America. Atrocity after atrocity occurs within our communities and while it may be bothersome, hurtful or shocking, it’s done little more than create a new type of person, a social activist. Someone who has great concern online, shares all of the trending hashtags and will argue internet trolls and racists down until they’re too tired to type. The reality is, they haven’t done much more to support the cause. In the past, when people were fighting injustices or fighting for change, they committed to specific, measurable actions and most were willing to make personal sacrifices, such as enduring physical abuse or imprisonment, suffering the effects of boycotting, or even risking their own lives. Today, more people hashtag the current organization to be boycotted just before defending their latest purchase from said retailer. This behavior stems from the concept of “bread and circuses”. For example, they can be upset about police brutality on one hand but on the other, will not boycott Black Friday because they need the reduced prices on gifts. It sounds easy enough to say, but the reality for many people is that this conflicts with their value system and they won’t be able to provide a “Christmas” for their children if they boycott. They acknowledge that an injustice has occurred within our community and something needs to be done about it, however, what they won’t do is make that sacrifice. You may have to tap them for the next boycott with a sacrifice they are willing to make. Overall it results in nothing and the only change that occurs is the name of the next offending organization.

We can all think of an injustice or two and the upset it creates within the community. We have experienced the conversations surrounding the event, whether first or second hand. We have also noticed how fluid people are regarding the maintenance or acquisition of their “bread” and or “circus”. One of the many, and more effective ways to do this is by using our dollars to fight back economically, for change. As it is, we are not a group of people to be taken seriously because during the last several decades, he have largely been reduced to talk or hashtags regarding what is and isn’t acceptable within our community because our “bread and circuses” hold a lot of value. If you can label the bulk of your actions as maintaining or acquiring your “bread” or “circus”, then you may need to take advice from Kanye West and THINK for yourself or from Childish Gambino and open your eyes and SEE what’s happening right in front of your face. Once you become aware of how this cycle works, the only way out of it is to act. By act, I mean make that sacrifice.

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