yeah, infographics and hot takes are harmful, but they're also empowering lower-income people of color.
elitism + inaccessibility in academic resources, and why you need to stop being condescending to lower-income people of color
Note: I feel as though this post will burn the only few bridges I have left in the organizing community. I am really scared of posting this so here I go.
The rise of activism and wokeness on social media has birthed the surge in “depthless hot takes and quickly put together visually aesthetic infographics”. We are all quick to repost them on our Instagram stories and share them with our friends. One might ask if we’re reposting them because they’re helpful resources or if perhaps it makes us appear good. Or maybe we’re reposting them out of guilt?
While some of these hot takes or infographics are actually educational and have the power of impacting everyone on social media, this also means that anyone can make them without the consequences of fact-checking them.
Organizers and activists have expressed their concerns about the harm in infographics spreading inaccuracy to the large masses on social media. Naturally, I thought, wow! They’re so right. Ugh, social media is so annoying.
I was thrilled and excited to see resources of books and texts they were sharing on casteism, slavery, abolition, and more. Out of excitement to learn from well-known and highly respected authors and activists, I quickly bought several books online in hopes of learning more from credible resources.
When they all came in the mail, I immediately sat down with my highlighter, post-its, and colored pens (I love stationery. It’s my guilty pleasure! Can you really blame me?) and began to read the first page. However, I found myself constantly looking up for the definitions of every third word in each sentence I was reading and google searching historical contexts I have never even heard of that was subtly mentioned. I then hopped on my laptop to crackdown free online PDFs (which is beyond rare) that would hopefully break down the condensed information and searching for more books to read that would explain the book that I was already reading. I scratched my head and felt my brain frizzle, feeling more confused than ever before.
I closed the book and put it back on my shelf, where it is currently gathering dust with other books I attempted to read. I felt defeated and shamefully incompetent. I scrolled through Instagram stories watching people I deeply admired posting pictures of pages from a book with captions that read “This is a great resource for those that are wanting to learn about ____. I really recommend reading this.” I stared at the book in the picture and realized it was the same book that I had just hidden away on my shelf.
My cheeks felt flushed as I realized that perhaps I was too slow to read it. I tried so hard but just possibly couldn’t understand it. It was too difficult.
Recently, I’ve been seeing organizers shaming people for listening to hot takes and reposting infographics. I understand the concern in how harmful most of the infographics and hot takes are, especially since it has impacted the recent election, but I can’t help but feel a sting of hurt.
While we are putting blame on people for consuming infographics and hot takes, we are refusing to look at the big picture and critically asking ourselves why they are going viral.
Quickly pointing fingers and shaming people for consuming infographics acts as blatant class division and elitism.
Political, historical, and social justice focused books are mostly written through the lens of academia and use jargon that only a few could understand, which perpetuates classism. They hardly ever come from the point of view of lower-income/poor people of color.
Upperclass and powerful people/institutions strategically make these resources inaccessible. 1) It helps them have a bigger hand over poor people of color which results in a power complex or a hierarchy. 2) Making social justice texts hard to understand ultimately blinds minorities from understanding oppressive systems— thus making it impossible for us to fight back. How can we destroy oppression if we don’t have an understanding of how it works in the first place? By purposefully keeping us in the dark, it continues to fuel the oppressor’s power.
Academic language and theories primarily focuses on the lived experiences of lower-income people while simultaneously excluding us from the conversation because we don't know what the terminology means. Using words and focusing on historical contexts that are not taught in public schools makes it difficult for lower-income people that want to learn about social justice to read them. Not everyone has the intellectual ability in understanding the books written on social justice topics and even the money to purchase them. So what do you do if you have a passion for social justice but had grown up in a school system with underpaid teachers, ripped textbooks, classrooms with not enough chairs but too many students, and a family that couldn’t provide tools + an atmosphere that wasn’t able to encourage critical analysis? How are we supposed to read these resources if we were never given the foundation?
Do the majority of people that repost infographics and hot takes want clout and look good? Absolutely. However, I believe the remaining minority in people that shares them are also lower-income people that finally have the access to learn about subjects that were never taught in our history classes.
When I see organizers encourage folks to do slow reading and research in their free time, I think back to my past. All throughout my life, I have always been in survival mode. From the age of 14, I was going in and out of mental hospitals and sessions with 7 different therapists, picking up odd jobs to help my family out that was struggling financially, and staying up until 4am to accommodate white teachers that had no understanding of what I was going through. I wonder if I ever had the mental capacity and time to read the books that I purchased now. But instead, I laugh at the thought, fuck no. We often talk about privilege in class, sexuality, gender, and race, but what about how luxurious it is to have time and capacity?
Out of curiosity, I asked my friend (who is a junior in college and has now become the breadwinner in her family due to the economic crisis and the pandemic) if she had the decision to read a book (that I have seen several times recommended on social media) about said topic or an infographic, which would she choose? She responded, “Is it bad that I would choose the infographic? Man, I honestly don’t have the time to read a goddamn book right now. I have to think about how the fuck I’m going to pay for next month’s rent and read this theory my sociology professor, who’s a total dickhead, assigned us to read. I have to wake up at 5am tomorrow to take a 2-hour train ride to the restaurant where I have a 6-hour shift to serve shitty customers. And then I come back home to finish writing a paper, only to have my white ass professor say it’s not sophisticated enough. That book you mentioned sounds hard anyways. Infographics are right there and ready on my screen. It’s so easy. So I choose the infographic.”
This inaccessibility continues to damage lower-income communities, which is why infographics and hot takes on social media will continue to do well and go viral. It is because of their simplicity. Should we feel ashamed for understanding them, quickly processing, and having it easily handed to us?
As I started to analyze the people that pokes fun at those that rely on infographics as a source of education, I started to remember South Asian activist spaces I’ve been in where words like “brahmanical patriarchy” and “casteism” were dropped. I stared blankly at the activists I admired and followed on social media for a long time and wondered what these words meant. When I transparently told them that I never heard of these words, their behavior stiffened with passiveness and condescending judgment. They were suddenly looking down at me. I immediately felt shameful and sensed the need to explain my incompetence to them. “No, I’m not slow!”, I wanted to say, “I just didn’t know what they meant because… well you see, I’ve grown up in a Sunni Muslim community and lived with family relatives that didn’t allow me to learn about other religions! I promise, I’m not a goof, it’s not my fault.” But it didn’t matter how much I would explain for my lack of knowledge because to them, it had automatically made me lower than them.
Looking back, it is clear to me how vastly different our walks of life are. They are keen on making spaces and creating conversations on how to uplift people like me while also refusing to value me as an individual.
Besides the elitism and classism that is involved in the act, it is also harming mentally ill people and those with learning disabilities that have limited capacity to even understand or process the difficult language used in social justice books and conversations. (Note: I will not expand on this because I myself do not have a learning disability so I cannot speak on this. But I hope you get my point.)
You cannot say you are in support of lower-income people of color while also shaming us for choosing to consume resources we believe are quick, simple, easily handed, and educational to us. You are inherently creating a dangerous juxtaposition. You are intellectually and emotionally harming us.
However, while I also understand the destruction infographics on social media are creating in spreading false information and how that is also hurting lower-income communities, I believe the energy lost in humiliating poor people of color is not useful.
Instead of attacking and questioning those that rely on infographics and hot takes, let us create approachable, easy to read, simple resources, and emotionally safe conversations where we can all learn about history and social justice topics. Let us continue to walk away from academic spaces that is only dividing us even further.
Infographics are fully capable of spreading false information, but as long as credible resources continue to be elitist and difficult to understand, vulnerable communities that were not given educational tools or the foundations of critical thinking will have no choice but to use them as their echo chamber. As long as trustworthy tools continue to be inaccessible and elitist, infographics will continue to do well, no matter how harmful/false the information is which is why diverse media/educational tools are important.
I end this with my final thoughts: When you feel the need to use academic jargon to explain social justice issues, are you really trying to liberate the working class and uplift us? Or are you assisting your elitist ego? Who are you really serving?
Please consider paying me for my labor. It could be any amount!