Editorial: Counter hashtags are counter-productive

by Nosipho Mathaba

[Trigger Warning: Violence]

[Image from @Mcdeeeeeee on Twitter]

There seems to be a trend that after any human rights movement, specifically #BlackLivesMatter and #ZimbabweanLivesMatter, counter hashtags always emerge. Soon after both movements began following human rights violations and injustices, #AllLivesMatter and #PutSouthAfricansFirstMovement flooded social media, shifting the focus away from the actual issues being brought to light.

As counter-productive as they are, they exist. They not only exist, but they also reveal an even bigger problem in society. These hashtags exist to reveal the underlying racism and xenophobia that is rife in South African society today.

It should not be difficult to say "Black lives matter" and "Zimbabwean lives matter". Not at any point do these movements suggest that their lives matter over others. The truth is, all lives should matter but they do not. The hashtags highlight the lack of empathy shown for the lives of those who have been systemically oppressed for years. That is why these hashtags exist.

Logically speaking, if all lives really mattered, there would not be a need for the movement in the first place.

According to an article by CNN, studies show that Black people, specifically Black men, in America are killed by a rate of approximately 3-to-1 in comparison to white men by police officers every year. By now, we are all aware of the names George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more who have been murdered at the hands of white policemen.

George Floyd was viciously and inhumanely strangled while handcuffed and eventually killed. Breonna Taylor was brutally shot in her own home. Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and killed like an animal while jogging. All of the above and many more have gone unpunished. There is a pattern here; these killings have stemmed from the fact that the victims are Black. If you ignore this fact, it means you are part of the problem.

White people will never have to worry about being misidentified, shot and killed, or brutally attacked purely because of the colour of their skin. White citizens will never have to watch their backs because, at any given moment, they could be murdered by a civilian or policemen. However, Black people have had to worry and still do.

Black people live this reality and that is why we say Black Lives Matter. According to CNN, Black people are seen and have always been seen as 'less than' under the law. We are the only race that was brought into the US as slaves. This means that the main purpose of Black people was work and labour. Black people were not valued as human beings but as a commodity. As slaves, Black people were not allowed to be educated, they could not own land, and they could not vote. Logistically, that has changed but Black people are still looked at as inferior, whether it be in the US or here in our own South Africa.

Does Black Lives Matter have borders, though? Black lives don’t just matter in the US, they matter globally, and as fellow Black people, we should feel empathy for ALL Black people.

That is why #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. This movement is aimed at fighting against economic instability and human rights exploitation in the country. The hashtag started after authorities blocked a street protest/demonstration with extreme violence in early August. Zimbabweans are currently facing issues such as a 700% inflation, food and fuel shortages, an unrelenting economic crisis, and a collapsing currency.

They are facing a basic human rights issue but, yet again, a counter-hashtag arose. The #PutSouthAfricansFirstMovement is a clear indication of the palpable xenophobia which exists in South Africa. The movement is said to “fix” South Africa and "protect them from foreigners".

Counter-hashtags are not only counter-productive, but they also point to issues that are far more threatening. Those who are pro-counter-hashtags are selectively and consciously ignoring the blatant and often life-threatening oppression that these groups of people continue to face.

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