"My Expectation Is That Social Media Is Not a Safe Place"
An open account of navigating social media as a BIPOC author.
Posted March 8, 2021
Guest Post by Susan Cousins, MBACP
People of colour inhabit a complex space in social media and as someone who speaks about racism on Twitter, I take ownership of the decisions I make because I have things to say. For me, these decisions are all about what to write, how to write it, and in what tone and depth. And today it’s made all the more meaningful as Meghan Markle is observed around the world, voicing the experiences of women around the issue of the colour of their unborn babies. Today my tweet reflected some of that experience: "For decades, the colour of our children has been up for insidious questioning; make no mistake."
On Twitter, I am positioned in a certain space because I’m brown, because of my age, because I’m a woman, and because I seek out both a relational and political tone in what I write. My counselling background and training in online supervision and counselling has never left me in terms of how I communicate and has helped me manage its vagaries. My expectations have always been that it is not a safe space, but I’ve tried staying safe and limited my real life in so many ways and that has damaged my self-esteem and my trust and engagement with the society in which I live and that I love. While I don’t want to leave Twitter, I have a feeling that there is an inevitability about the length of time I’m able to safely stay.
Twitter reflects some aspects of real life; I’m used to white spaces, I’m used to unprocessed and regurgitated thoughts and my biggest ally has been to ignore most of them because most of my experience on Twitter is and has been a very positive one. People message me and tell me how much my book has helped them and it’s incredibly rewarding to receive those messages and I also note that the majority of those messages comes from people who have less of a voice in the current conversations about race. Most people would describe me as a disciplined person and I am in some ways; I am very disciplined with Twitter, where I generally tweet once a day and take a look at the responses in the evening. I’m an annoying morning person and that’s when I have the most energy. Most of the time they are spontaneous thoughts that I try to craft into something half intelligible. I don’t waste my time being a perfectionist about it or worry too much about what other people think. And I’ve also noticed that my spontaneous tweets are always the most liked.
Twitter provides me with connections and the space to comment, change, and challenge and yet I’ve always known that Twitter can be a violent place where people are regularly harassed for resisting oppression and for talking about race as I have experienced recently. Unexpectedly, and without warning, a racist attack was levelled at me where multiple accounts coordinated to spell out an offensive word to one of my replies. This was not the first time I’ve been called the N-word, but it's a new encounter for me in relation to Twitter. The Twitter community rallied around me to support and report the tweets. I learned that support often comes from unexpected places and the people you might imagine would support you were glaringly absent. But this is yet another racialised and traumatic event that goes down in the history of my life and the history of others. People are ignored and diminished on social media, it’s a cruel circus, some of which is filled with hate. I’ve developed an online presence that suits me, that represents a small part of me; a spontaneous thought or an energetic moment springs up in me and I write it down and try to be as authentic as I possibly can.
On social media one has to contend with people you know, people you don’t know, people who follow you but don’t use Twitter, work colleagues and friends. My social and experiential reality means I rely on a healthy mistrust of most situations. I draw on what internal strength I have left to guide me through most importantly maintaining my daily routines and physical fitness (although I am hopeless at it) which grounds me daily. Hypervigilance has played a massive role in my life and is an important strategy while finding meaning in all of this allows me a unique sense of purpose.
Susan Cousins is the Author of Overcoming Everyday Racism, she is also a senior accredited counsellor and supervisor.