A Graphic Education- How graphics aiming to educate actually detract from true activism

A Graphic Education-  How graphics aiming to educate actually detract from true activism

[Words by Julia Hegele (she/her)]

[Photo by Luke van Zyl on Unsplash]

Justice is waiting for you on Instagram, wrapped in the warm-toned ribbon of an unseen story, perched at the top of your feed. No longer locked in the exclusive channels of books or lived experiences, one can now familiarize themselves with hundreds of complex sociological topics with just a few clicks. 

In the wake of the eruption of injustices across the globe: from the tipping point of centuries of racial violence in the US, to the persecution of the Uyghur Muslims in China, to the breaking of years of capitalist hegemony over our society, it has never been a better time to learn. Information is everywhere on every subject. A glance at your friend’s recent story will likely treat you to a bubblegum pink graphic on sex workers rights in between aesthetic photos of her new plants, a few swipes and you’ll be up to date on the flaws of American democracy, then quickly treated to a crash course on eco-friendly period provisions before a boomerang of some pints. 

This deeply saturated approach to dissemination has, arguably, ignited a fervor in young people all across the globe to become engaged in their respective politics. Well at least that’s what it looks like. There is no doubt that some, if not all, of these graphics are read through in their entirety, vetted for their sources, and diffused into the reader’s everyday life … how else could we trust the well-intended deluge of information hitting us from all sides? And therein lies the flaw to what could be a beautiful step towards a communal consciousness. The sheer volume of posts and the intentionally fleeting nature of a story removes the impact from these well intentioned shares, creating a pastel wormhole of buzzwords and recommendations that we can let play while we flick absentmindedly between apps. There may be a few posts that spark an idea or prompt a quick signature, but for the most part the saturation of information is too great to provide a consistent through-line: just when you think you understand the concept of gaslighting your attention is shifted to an overview of prison abolition. Neither concept is given the consideration they deserve.  Eventually both are drowned out and lost in another wave of tastefully illustrated concepts with a tap of a finger. 

No intention is purer than the desire to enlighten your friends. Vines of recommendations and condensed theories have hung hazily in the forefront of everyone’s Instagram since mid June, aching with the fruit of knowledge, just waiting to be plucked. But sharing a list of books is not the same as reading them. There is no way one can familiarize themselves with the oeuvre of bell hooks with a few slides, yet we share her titles as if they are worn paper copies, imploring our followers to enlighten themselves past the point of ignorance that we (not 15 seconds ago) were also clinging to. The pretense of dispersing information is no longer an act of education, but performance. Sharing educational graphics is a social statement, a comfortable alternative to taking to the streets, to lobbying your elected officials, to speaking in person without aesthetic bullet points to bolster your opinions. Before you share, ask yourself: are you actively participating in the dismantlement of systems of oppression, or has the comfort of a screen become too necessary a part of your radicalization? 

Instead of allowing ourselves time and energy to genuinely learn, unpack our privilege, and combat our internal biases in real time, we glance at a fleeting concept, bookmark it, and continue scrolling. Media reproduction is in no way the most effective form of education. In fact, the form itself reduces room for activists to grow or evolve their ideas, encouraging aspiring leaders of social movements to claim these doctored diatribes as gospel rather than to open a discussion for a mutual exchange of information. The intention of these graphics is to catalyze those new to conversations of social justice, not necessarily to simply inform. They are prompts to further, more complex investigation. When we share them and assume we’ve paid our dues as allies we miss the whole point of this pre-packaged initiative. These are but appetizers to the veritable feast of radical ideology that we as potential activists are starving for. 

The reality is that these concepts are massive and difficult to process and, whether we accept it or not, they will take substantial time to integrate into our everyday lives. The first step to genuine change is to recognize that we cannot unlearn centuries of prejudice in thirty seconds. Until we treat these graphics with respect and nuance, until we can set time aside to learn and better ourselves offline, and until we understand that true justice cannot be found in an idle fifteen minutes waiting for a train, but in a lifetime of practice, only then can we begin to swipe, (and live), with integrity.

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