People have been burning their shoes. Specifically, they’ve been burning their Nikes. In a bold move, the athletic company recently chose to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their new ad campaign. The former San Francisco 49er first garnered public attention when he began kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African Americans, a move that won him respect and disdain in equal measure. Scroll through social media long enough and you’ll probably come across a video of a disgruntled sports fan immolating his sneakers. The whole spectacle bears a striking resemblance to the Great YETI Conflagration of 2018.
As hysterical as many of these responses are, though, the underlying issues remain serious and demand thoughtful interaction. But for those of us who linger on the digital sidelines and watch conversations devolve into “well-that-escalated-quickly” scenarios, the prospect of joining in doesn’t exactly sound enticing. Haven’t we alienated enough distant family members, lost enough friends, and risked enough jobs in these debates? And, for that matter, how can we even be heard in the midst of all this noise? Why bother?
Balancing compassion with firmness, Khang leads her readers through the current morass of social media, and offers a thoughtful and constructive way forward for those who want to do more than seethe on the sidelines.
Kathy Khang’s new book Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up tackles these very questions. It’s a timely book that arrives just as online outrage culture seems to be cowing more and more of us, especially those on the margins. Balancing compassion with firmness, Khang leads her readers through the current morass of social media, and offers a thoughtful and constructive way forward for those who want to do more than seethe on the sidelines. To those who have felt continually stifled because of their age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, Khang’s book offers an emphatic message: “You might feel like your experience isn’t universal enough to be important or even acceptable. I want you to know that you have a voice.” Even a simple image can make a real difference. For Khang, it was a Facebook avatar:
My Facebook avatar until recently was an upside-down flag, which I started using in December 2014. An upside-down flag connotes distress, and in the fall of 2014, several publicized incidents of police violence against black men and women caused me to rethink a lot of my beliefs, including what my smiling photo communicated. I wrote about the decision to change my avatar in a blog, and two years later I was still getting asked publicly and privately about the story behind my avatar. People who I initially met on social media but who I now call friends adopted the same avatar after reading my blog.
Unlike the act of turning a sports shoe into a burning effigy, the image on Khang’s Facebook page continued to inspire many conversations from online inquirers. More importantly, it brought a serious issue to the attention of the public in a thoughtful manner. Naturally, Khang’s “silent protest” also inspired some scorn, but that’s hardly a surprise in today’s volatile context. As Khang says, on certain days “sarcasm gets the best of me. Other times, Jesus and hope mixed with a touch of snark wins.”
If the prospect of raising your voice on serious issues sounds daunting to you, this is a book that can go a long way toward restoring a proper sense of confidence. And a Christ-like attitude leavened with a little hope and snark doesn’t hurt either.
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