Tackling Issues of Social Justice Through Social Media

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There are more and more people talking about social justice than ever before. The question is, why? Why are issues of social justice all of a sudden picking up steam? Ten years ago, social justice was talked about, but on a much smaller scale. Now, the news is bursting at the seams with social justice issues as people become more and more involved in what’s happening in the world today.

A week ago, I would have told you that social justice issues have risen exponentially over the last five years. However, having thought about it now, I realize that social justice issues have always been there. There was the Ku Klux Klan (who, extraordinarily, still have their own website. Yet more proof of the fact that racism still exists) and the pinpointing of HIV as a “gay disease,” for example, not so long ago. There was also the Civil Rights Movement, where African Americans advocated to have the same rights as their Caucasian counterparts, a battle that lasted for more than ten years.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that social justice issues have always been there, but now social media tools – like Twitter – are allowing these issues to gain more exposure. Ferguson, Charleston, Eric Garner, Elliot Rodger. Together, events like these have blown up social media as people all over the world unite with each other in solidarity. Because the fact is, even if these events don’t happen in our own backyard, they still affect us. It is naive to think that there aren’t social justice issues in your own community and by staying informed about these events, we are better prepared to make our community a place where everyone is treated equally even if, in the midst of all these tragedies, such a notion seems like a fantasy.

But no, we can’t think like that. With hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #BeenRapedNeverReported, #WhyIStayed, #WomenForAll, you have to believe that one day our world will change. Because people use these hashtags our of solidarity, to show others that they are not alone in their fight. Twitter has allowed us to become an international community where ordinary people can connect with each other over these sorts of issues. That people are becoming so involved on the social media stage and are so passionate about these issues, gives hope that maybe, one day, our world will be different.

In particular, I am thankful for tools such as Twitter because it has empowered youth to stay more informed about current events. Before I was introduced to Twitter, I never knew what was happening in the world. However, now, I am able to find out about an event the minute it happens. For example, I immediately contacted a friend of mine when I got up one morning and saw this story on Twitter. My friend lives across the street from where this happened but she hadn’t even heard about it until I texted her. With social media, people are able to learn in real time what is happening in their community and, in addition to this, they are able to have a voice. Today’s youth are the ones who have the opportunity to change the world and so perhaps by being exposed to what’s happening in places like Ferguson, these youth will be empowered to set the world right. 
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  A Screaming Comes Across the Sky via Compfight cc

What it says in this sign is true; the moment we become silent about things that matter, we cease to exist in a meaningful way. And through these social media sites, like Twitter, we are given an opportunity to speak out, to protest the injustices that still exist in the world. A voice, that’s all there needs to be. A voice that gets the rest of the world involved. Freedom of speech is a right we all have and it makes a huge difference in how politics are conducted in our country. Politicians want to make people happy and by people voicing their displeasure about things such as the events at Ferguson, there can be change, even if it’s just a little.

Of course, Canada has its own issues regarding social justice. Most prominently, of course, is the struggle that many First Nations face in Canada today. A Truth and Reconciliation report was released from Ottawa a month ago, saying it was a “cultural genocide” regarding what Canada has done to First Nations. And, a few years back, there was a hunger strike that a First Nation chief did in an attempt shed life on the issues that First Nation communities across Canada were facing. In complement to this, an #IdleNoMore hashtag was created in protest to the Harper government’s apparent indifference to First Nation issues. Yes, in Canada, we certainly have a major mountain to climb regarding social justice issues. But there is hope. When Carey Price gave an inspiring message to First Nations youth at the NHL 2015 awards during his acceptance speech, many people were again reminded of the maltreatment and lack of opportunities that First Nations today face. Social media was alight with these sentiments from Price and he soon became a Twitter trend in Canada.
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So what are teachers’ responsibilities concerning teaching social justice in the classroom? I spoke a bit about it in this blog post. I think the key is not so much to preach to students that this or that is wrong, but to instead give them the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. It is important for teachers to allow students to build their critical thinking skills, not to preach. Social justice issues are complicated and I know that I, as a white woman of privilege, will never be able to portray what it feels like to be a part of a minority; in fact, trying to do so may only anger those who are of minority status in my classroom. I will, however, incorporate social justice issues into my classroom and try to get the students to reflect on them because I believe in equality and building for the future. This is the world we are living in, and it’s the only one we got so we have to work towards spreading an attitude of love and acceptance.

Although, like Brandon Debert said in this blog post, there are “Fads” concerning social media use, I absolutely think Twitter is more of a blessing than a curse. Although these people might not totally grasp what they are saying by using the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, what is important is that they are at least getting exposure to what is happening outside of their own community. They are, at least on some level, aware that racism is a problem and one that needs to be fixed. Working towards building an engaged community is essential for tackling these social justice issues and so the more activity Twitter sees on these issues, the better.

How do you view Twitter in regards of allowing people to voice their concerns about social justice issues?

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Combatting Racism in Schools: What Can Teachers Do?

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Susan Melkisethian via Compfight cc

This article really hit a chord with me. I have followed the events that have happened in Ferguson, a lengthy ordeal that has been plastered all over the news; it even has its own Wikipedia page now. What has happened there and is still happening seems unbelievable and, quite frankly, it terrifies me. I thought we were past this. I thought that the Civil Rights Movement, led by the great Martin Luther King, had staunched this. Of course, I had known that there was still racism in the world, but for it to have reached such an extent in Ferguson – and at the hands of law enforcement – is truly sad.

What does it mean that there is an entire website – gaining great momentum – dedicated to the hashtag #blacklivesmatter? It means that white people – like me – thinking that racism does not exist is baseless; it’s only to appease our own minds. You hear stories about people’s fight with racism and you think, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or, “Oh, they’re exaggerating.” That’s white privilege talking. How many events like these have to happen to convince us that racism is still alive and well? My university education and, of course, the Ferguson shooting, has certainly changed my perspective on racism. As a white woman, I understand that I will never be able to fully comprehend the racism that people of colour face on a daily basis – it would be an insult to them if I claimed that I did – and now, I will never diminish the hardships they face by thinking that they’re not happening.

While discussing Ferguson within my circle of family and friends, I have heard comments suggesting that these kinds of things only happen in the USA – they’re gun crazy, they’re wackos, they don’t value human life. I used to think that as true, when I was young and desperately wanted to regard my country as the best. We stand for multiculturalism here, right?

As I grew older, I understood: Canada has its own problems. What about the residential schools that were enforced by the Canadian government? By us? They were operated for more than 100 years. People might respond to this by saying, that happened a long time ago. But is 1996 really such a long time ago? That was when the last residential school closed. And the effects of them will be everlasting. It was a cultural genocide. Most of those who went to residential schools have been emotionally scarred for life and have been plunged into a plethora of socio-economic problems. No, Canada is not without its racism. And when Regina’s main crime is centred in North Central, a community in which 1/3 of the population is First Nation, we are faced with a problem not so different than that in Ferguson.

This, now, poses a question: What can we, as teachers, do against such hate?

It starts in the classroom. Schools are one of the most important tools that can be used to fight racism. Our jobs as teachers is to be culturally aware and socially responsive; we must adopt as society adopts and that means raising new issues in the classroom as they arise. Our role as teachers does not only lie with helping students do well academically, but also teaching them how to be respectful, responsible citizens. Part of that also means cultivating an ability to think critically in all students; that, I think, is one of the most important things needed in the fight against racism. Oftentimes, racism is passed on from family and so the child does not know what is right or wrong; however, if students are able to dissect a family’s words and actions and cross-reference it with what they learning in school, then they might actually be able to dismiss this prejudice or stereotype on their own. Ultimately, as teachers, we can’t force students to not be racist; it’s THEIR decision. We just have to present them with all the facts that they need to know that racism is wrong and make an informed decision.

The article presents an excellent unit plan addressing racism, one that teachers would be wise to implement. What I like the most about the proposed lesson plan is that it revolves around real world events: the shooting of Michael Brown. The reality is that racism is a real issue in our society today and I think it would be beneficial for students to focus on these facts rather than on abstract ideas. By doing this, it will also cultivate a sense of social responsibility in students: we are part of society, this is happening in society and, ultimately, it is in our hands to stop what is happening.

It’s no easy task, it’s true, especially when a child may learn certain stereotypes and prejudices for his/her family. But there needs to be change in society, real change, in order for events such as the Ferguson shooting and racism that First Nations face in Regina to stop. It’s scary how easily something like Ferguson could have happened in Regina, especially when the RCMP felt compelled to pen an open letter to citizens who were worried about racism in the police force in the first place. You desperately want to believe that these kinds of institutions are without stereotypes but when our own government didn’t shut down the last residential school until 1996, then perhaps there should be some fear.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue – specifically, about how to combat racism in schools. I am by no means an expert on social justice or on racism, but these are just some of the ideas that have been swirling around n my head for a while. I hope you enjoyed the article, and if there is anything you disagreed with, please feel free to comment!