I sometimes wonder, if the Rwandan genocide had occurred this past April, as opposed to 20 years ago, what would social media look like? I wonder if it would #trend on twitter, or whether or not celebrities would hold up posters of a tiny African country the size of Maryland with bold typography that read #Genocide. I wonder if instagram feeds would be littered with selfies of users’ hands stamped with a red “G” instead of an “X”, bringing whole new meaning to the “End It” movement.
I don’t ask these questions to be morbid, twisted, or in the least bit insensitive. The country of Rwanda and its people is about as near to my heart as any country on earth, excepting the one of my birth. It’s inked into my skin and it’s certainly tattooed on my heart, which is exactly why when the #BringBackOurGirls began to trend on twitter (and facebook), I immediately thought of Rwanda.
In April of 1994, when a tribal-based ethnic cleansing began to sweep the green thousand hills of Rwanda, UN soldiers arrived, posted, and sat. Like sitting ducks. Like target practice, and indeed, some of them were killed in the line of fire, prohibited from firing back themselves. Foreign nations, and foreign policy, refused to label the slaughter of almost a million people in just about 100 days, a genocide. Once given that title, the UN is obligated to act. And well, no one wanted to get their hands dirty. TIA, (“This is Africa,” an expression used profusely in the DiCaprio film Blood Diamond about Sierra Leone) perhaps, is a good abbreviation to express the sentiment. I was 11 years old at the time, but I would venture to say most Americans, from 7 to 77, had little to no idea that across the Atlantic Ocean and the continent of Africa, neighbors were raising machetes, completely unstopped, and cutting down families they’d lived and farmed next to for generations.
Fast forward to the present. I am 30 years old, and 200 some odd girls have been captives to a terrorist regime for less than a week, and I know about it. It’s viral. And what’s even better? They’re African. Nigerian. Muslims and Christians. People. Their names are on a list. I can find them and pray for them and advocate for them. There has been a shift in the American’s response to outages occurring overseas, and say what you may about social media, this is one area in which we have taken a step in the right direction. It has become sort of “en vogue” to change profile pictures and create hashtags that raise the public conscience to a newer level of caring about people half a world away.
Now, as the linked article above mentions, there is definitely concern that the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has dwindled, and given way to other issues. This probably adds to the reasons why some see this “trend” in social media to be shallow, superficial, and “bandwagoney”. I suppose that could be true. But, I prefer to see this movement in social media to be uplifting, encouraging, and hopeful. Whether average Americans and celebrities just didn’t care about Africans 20 years ago, or they simply did not have access to media that would prompt their compassion, I am not sure. But,to be certain, twitter, facebook, instagram, even pinterest, are tools that on one hand seem middle schoolish and silly, but are actually quite capable of promoting good, and thus shaming evil. Where the world stood still 2 decades ago, it is now taking pictures, posting campaigns, sharing information, and overall, raising awareness for the plight of people and championing justice. If artists like Alicia Keys can use her instagram feed to not just promote herself, but also the safe return of kidnapped girls in Western Africa, I cannot help but appreciate her attempts, and feel heartened in general that the world I’m living now just might be more merciful than it was when I was a teenager, and THAT is a trend I am not sure many generations have had the privilege of “sharing.”
The hope is that as long as we don’t simply rest with the idea of “raising awareness,” but press doggedly forward to continue to see change come about, social media may just be the beginning of a massive world upset, a reality that is far more than just “likable.” And THAT is ALSO exactly where THE JUSTICE LETTERS comes in. We hope that in a world of social media, we can enter the blogosphere, and provide a space where voices can be heard championing the rights of the marginalized, the oppressed, or the forgotten and ignored, whether they are here in America, or across the oceans. We hope we can provide food for thought, fodder for change, and resources for further research. We hope to be advocates, empowerers, and writers of redemption, revolution, and human rights. We hope you will read our letters, and find your own way to write back hope, peace, and mercy to our cities, our nations, and our world.