Roughly three weeks ago, I logged out of my Twitter and Instagram with no real intention of signing in again any time soon.
It probably sounds odd for a Love Island star to swear off social media but I’m convinced it’s for the best.
Before I was on the show, I didn’t really use social media – I think I had around 35 posts to my name. Now I have no idea how many I’ve done, or how many followers I have, but it’s around 2million.
Being awarded a platform like that is a privilege and I wanted to use it for good. People are so used to scrolling through posts, being told they should look a certain way or own this car or those shoes, I wanted to be a little ray of sunshine and make my followers laugh or smile.
But then it became harder to do that. In a world of coronavirus, lockdown, isolation, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people don’t need to hear ‘let’s be positive’ on their timeline. People are fed up.
When you watch a video like that of George Floyd’s death, it isn’t as simple as seeing it once. It plays over and over again in your head. It’s traumatic.
Like many black people, I could see myself in those shoes. I lived in the States for seven years in places like Alabama and Virginia and I’ve been in cars pulled over by police officers. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced.
It’s not because the police have come out all guns blazing – that’s not what I’m saying – but knowing that things like that do happen in southern states is terrifying. It’s being aware that people have been killed after being stopped by police.
I read the news and people’s social media posts about George Floyd’s death knowing that could have been me.
It felt like an overload and I just had to get off Twitter and Instagram. I couldn’t face watching those clips on repeat and then being bombarded with opinions from morning until night.
So I stepped back quietly without announcing what I was doing, to allow others to say what needs to be said.
I am a huge advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, and as a lot of that is based online, you may think my silence and decision not to post is an odd one. But I have my reasons.
Firstly, when you’re speaking out of a place of true hurt, none of us articulate everything we want to say. No one is going to be able to when they are traumatised. It’s why I’m not a fan of people calling out other people’s responses, saying they should have done this or that. When you’re in pain, how are you going to say something perfectly?
But I do understand where the other side is coming from too – this is a moment where our voices have leverage and power, so there is a pressure to use them in the best way possible.
The thing is, not everyone is in a position to be a front line speaker. For example, John Boyega has been amazingly vocal, and I love him for speaking out – but not everyone can do that.
In every movement, everyone has their skills and ways in which they can help. In every team you’ll find people with different jobs. Not everyone in the kitchen can be the head chef. Not every footballer can be a striker. And a good team understands that everyone has a valuable role to play to progress as a whole.
There are the people behind the scenes planning long term strategies, like organisng boycotts against companies that don’t support the movement. We need the protesters to raise awareness. We need those who are better suited to mentoring young folks, which is what I’m doing.
We need others to be having difficult conversations with people in their life. We need to support black owned businesses through our purchasing power. All of this can build a successful system that keeps momentum going.
Just look at the structural inequality present today, it’s just that, a structure. You have the people who are vocal in their support for keeping things the way they are, but then you also have people not saying a thing, quietly intent on maintaining the status quo.
Not every racist is going to scream it from the top of their lungs – they might even be tweeting #BLM – but either consciously or subconsciously they are doing something to uphold the system. We have to take the same approach, but in favour of change.
For years, I have been mentoring young black people in my family, or that we’re close to. I’ve seen what it can do and I know there is a huge opportunity for more of it in my community.
I genuinely hope more people get involved in mentoring on the back of the Black Lives Matter movement because young black people have so much to offer.
I think that’s the saddest thing that came out of my time on Love Island. I received hundreds of messages afterwards from mothers and other young black men. They were saying thank you for showing society that black people aren’t just like what is generally portrayed in the media.
They meant it as a compliment, but it was hard to take it that way. People were telling me I was a gentleman and changing the narrative – it was bullsh*t. The way I behaved is not unique to black men. The public are typically used to seeing black men cast and forced into roles such as the womanisers, the aggressors, or the fool.
I have so many friends, who are just like me and do not fit the stereotype of the black males you see in the media and on TV.
I don’t think I was cast on that show and expected to be the way I was, but the response has made me realise just how much influence the media and the images they put out have on the way whole communities are viewed.
If they showed more young black gentlemen like myself, would we still see the stereotypes we do today? If you’re white and from a town with little to no diversity, and you have nothing to go by other than the news and certain TV shows, of course you’re going to be misinformed.
It helps me understand why the Black Lives Matter movement is such a shock to some people, even if I think it’s crazy that they don’t know or haven’t heard about the systemic racism black people face on a regular basis.
Right now we have an opportunity to get these uncomfortable, long overdue conversations underway
Honestly, it’s a shame that it’s taken people locked at home with their phones and no other distractions to finally see what is happening around the world. This is what black people have to live with every day, but it’s only now seeped through to the public consciousness.
It wasn’t until I moved to the States that I became overly aware of my blackness. I feel lucky to have been raised in London, surrounded by people from countless different backgrounds. In London, you become aware of the issues of the system – and we do have them – as a young adult, but in the States it feels like the divide is always there.
In the UK, everything seems to be swept under the carpet because we want to appear ‘politically correct’. If you can disguise what you really want to say in PC terms to cover your arse, you can get away with not addressing the issue at heart. That way of thinking massively slows down progress.
Instead, we need to cut the bullsh*t and get down to the meat and potatoes and hash it out so we can move forward and make head way.
Right now we have an opportunity to get these uncomfortable, long overdue conversations underway.
And while we have the floor, we should be making the most of it. Black Lives Matter has given us leverage that we’re not usually awarded, so we need to think through our next actions to keep it up. While the world is watching, let’s do something.
For instance, so many incredibly qualified black people are often shut out of jobs or overlooked. Now is an opportunity for black people to get hired in certain positions that can help create more change.
It’s easy to be cynical about businesses’ intentions, because there are definitely people who will be showing solidarity to jump on the ‘trend’. But while the opportunity is there, we should be making the most of their desire not to be seen as ‘behind the times’.
Being off of social media has allowed me to see this more clearly.
I’m sure I’ll be back properly when it feels right for me personally, but for now I will be doing everything I can behind the scenes to help the community – whether that be fundraising, supporting movements, mentoring or lifting up the voices of others.
It’s encouraging to see how much support there is outside the black race. It’s a sign that this generation are not willing to accept the status quo and are striving to make positive change.
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