Social media breaks aren’t self-care for Black people who feel isolated offline
I took a break from social media for self-care and found out social media hiatuses are different for Black people.
By Taylor Lamb
Social media has been popular long enough that people are no longer consistently singing its praises. Instead, we’ve collectively reached a point that it’s just too much. People care too much. They post too much. They spend too much time on their phones instead of engaging in person.
I feel as though I’m constantly bombarded by messages telling me that I need to disengage (that I often see on social media). There are countless articles written by people who chose to stay off social media for a week, a month, a year, all with the same message: It changed their lives. They’re better off because of it, and you should do it too.
A lot of what they said made sense to me! I do spend too much time on social media. I do care too much about what my followers think. I’m sure I could benefit from some time off. So, I did just that. For the month of August, I temporarily deactivated all of my social media accounts. But here’s the thing they don’t often tell you: Social media hiatuses are different for Black people.
By now, we all know of the phenomenon called Black Twitter. The “place” where culture is created. The origin of all the best memes—that companies later steal and use incorrectly. Meredith Clark, a former newspaper journalist and current professor at UVA whose research focuses on the intersections of race, media, and power, defines Black Twitter as a “temporally linked group of connectors that share culture, language and interest in specific issues and talking about specific topics with a black frame of reference.” Being able to instantly access a network of people who share your culture and interests is invaluable. Time and time again throughout the month of August, I was reminded of how lucky I was to have that on the internet, because I certainly didn’t have this network in “real life.”
I recently graduated in May, and started an apprenticeship at a theatre in July. I live where I work, with 15 other apprentices. I love my job a lot. And I love the people I work with. I’m learning so much and I’m helping create art, which is really all I want to do in life. My theatre is also committed to making a more equitable society. I’m so happy that this is my first post-grad experience. And yet… it still has its pitfalls.
When it comes to racial diversity, my theatre falls short. At the time of my social media hiatus, I was the only Black apprentice, and the only apprentice of color period. Many of my friends are also one of the only Black people in their offices, but at least then they go home to their families. My home is with the same people that I work with. In a very important way, I was alone. Of course I felt this loneliness during my first month at my job already, but once I deactivated my social media, the reality of being the one and only really hit.
It started a few days into the hiatus, when Beyoncé’s Vogue cover and accompanying written piece came out. I loved the photos, made them my screensaver and home screen, and pored over her words. I read it multiple times, really trying to absorb everything she said. I felt like I understood more about her choices, and ached for the pain she must have went through with her most recent childbirth.
I wanted to talk about it. But, I couldn’t, really. The people in my office like Beyoncé, for sure, but not in the way that I do. I knew that if I logged into my Twitter account, I’d likely find a conversation about Black women in childbirth—parallels being made between Serena Williams’ experience and Beyoncé’s, and a conversation about the alarming disparity in deaths during childbirth for Black women compared to other races. But no one was talking about that in my office. I didn’t bring it up because it’s not like it’s something my coworkers have a lot of knowledge about. So, I just kept it to myself.
It’s not that every Black person loves Beyoncé. Many on Black Twitter are outspoken about how much they don’t care for her. But she matters to the community. I knew the community would be talking about her. And I was disconnected from the community.
This continued to happen over the course of the month. Nicki Minaj was saying silly things, making terrible choices, and disappointing me as an artist, but I couldn’t express my disappointment in conversation. Was I about to start a conversation criticizing a Black woman with non-Black people, waiting for their misogynoir to come out? No thanks. So when my non-Black friends began a discussion about how much they loved Nicki, I didn’t bring up any of my criticisms. That’s not a conversation I wanted to have with them. So I didn’t.
The time I longed for my internet community the most was when Officer Roy Oliver was sentenced to fifteen years for killing Jordan Edwards. I saw that announcement on my phone and felt so much joy that a police officer was finally punished for ending the life of a Black child. Then, almost instantly, I was upset at how happy I felt. A boy’s life was still lost. The amount of time Roy Oliver is sentenced to in prison? That’s the full amount of time Jordan Edwards got to spend on Earth. And as someone who is critical of prisons and whether they need to exist at all, I couldn’t honestly classify this sentencing of Roy Oliver as a “win.” And yet, a part of me was still happy too!
It was a confusing juxtaposition living inside of me, one that I’m having a hard time putting into words even now. But I felt a certainty that my timeline would hold a similar conversation—Black people trying to work it out, together. I wanted to work it out too.
I didn’t feel I could “work it out” by talking about this to the people around me. Did they even know Jordan’s name? I didn’t want to ask and find the answer was no. Even though from my interactions with them, I believed they would make their best effort to be the most competent “allies” they could be—there was no way they could understand what I was feeling. So, I just sat with it. Alone.
I’m not trying to discourage you from taking time to unplug. I’m not trying to say social media doesn’t have its negative effects. I’m not saying that Black Twitter is a substitute for real interaction with Black people in our own lives. But unfortunately, that’s a luxury for some people. As of right now, I’m one of those people for whom it’s a luxury. And even for someone who has more access to people from a shared culture than me, they may be an introvert. And even if you’re an extrovert, making large groups of friends isn’t easy!
And of course, there’s the other margins we exist in. Maybe you’re always with Black people but you’re the only queer person, or the only disabled person. Being able to connect with people like you online is invaluable. It’s incredible to get to connect with the people who understand what you’re going through because of that shared experience, and the ones you may not ever get to meet in real life.
So now, when I see an article by a writer about how much their life improved when they took a social media hiatus—how it taught them to be closer to people and improved their relationships—I’m going to look for the race of the writer. And if they’re not Black? I’m probably gonna scroll on by. When you’re almost always surrounded by people with shared culture, language, and interests, social media isn’t doing as much for you as it is for me. So yeah, it’s easy to disconnect from that. But that’s not the case for many of us.
Social media hiatuses are different for Black people.
Taylor Leigh Lamb is a writer and actress who is very passionate about using art to impact social change. Get to know her better by watching her on Youtube and follow her on Twitter to see more of her work.