Today, New York Magazine released a piece featuring 35 of Bill Cosby’s accusers discussing their sexual assaults at his hands. The article is a stunning and disturbing account of the dozens of women that Cosby so cavalierly drugged, sexually assaulted and raped over the past half-century. It is a visceral account of trauma.
Yet, a curious amount of Twitter’s commentary deemed the story a mere “distraction” from the the mysterious death of 28-year-old activist Sandra Bland. In other words, people are somehow convinced that it is not only not possible but not important to be focused on both stories.
Of course, this “distraction” narrative isn’t limited to gender violence. In the last two weeks of July Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Drake and Meek Mill have also been involved in drama deemed “distractions” from the latest story of police brutality or racial injustice.
Stories are often pit against each other online, whether it’s by self-righteous soapboxers on social media or conspiracy sites playing the “agenda” card. It wasn’t long ago that Rachel Dolezal’s madness and Caitlyn Jenner’s trans-awakening were being deemed “distractions” from Akon’s “AkonLightingAfrica” initiative or former cop Eric Casebolt’s needless assault of a 14-year-old girl in McKinney, Texas.
A Twitter search of the aforementioned names and “distraction” showcases users imploring us to #staywoke and pay less attention to one story or another, but that’s nothing new. Just about any search of a controversial name and “distraction” will aggregate the social mediasphere’s all-too rampant paranoia. Yet there is a logical failure in the implication that a person’s interest in the trivial indicates their disinterest in the serious.
It’s easy to tell someone’s priorities by what they deem irrelevant. If over 40 women getting drugged and raped is a “distraction” then you need to wrestle with your sexism and indifference to sexual violence. Like the sly transphobia that followed Caitlyn Jenner, the current marginalization of Cosby’s accusers is indicative of a problematic, bigoted perspective. Perhaps those who call the NY Magazine piece a distraction should actually read it and understand how the cops who beat and possibly killed Sandra Bland are not that different from Bill Cosby. Both are perpetuating violence against women, both are pathologically controlling, and both seem to enjoy abusing women. You can care about both without being asleep at the metaphorical wheel. We can talk about it all.
Why can we not call for justice for both Sandra and for Cosby’s victims? Why is the story considered more about the destruction of his image then his alleged destruction of women’s peace of mind? Additionally, just what bearing does Drake or Meek Mill’s frivolous “beef” have on either of these serious stories?
It’s not just Cosby and it’s not just rappers. News about celebrities is always fodder for “distraction” cries, as their every move engenders a swarm of commentary. It was a Paper Mag article about “socialite” Kim Kardashian that created the “break the internet” term, and a 2014 Huffington Post piece pondered whether she was in fact a “distraction from terrorism”.
I don’t think she or any celebrity can “distract” anyone with a normally functioning brain. Nevertheless, in my time on Twitter I’ve seen too many patrolling their social feeds like consciousness cops, juxtaposing the celebrity hysteria against assaults on social justice, implying society at large doesn’t care for the latter. When scrolling down my timeline and seeing these comments, I wonder if they consider that some use social media as a vacation from the crippling fear these incidents are causing. Online activism is powerful, but for some, Twitter is simply a venue to live tweet shows and laugh at Drake.
The suffering of oppressed groups is frequently ignored by the mass media, but it’s flawed to assume individuals are doing such just because they discuss multiple issues. If I had a dollar for every time I saw a derivative of “everybody’s’ talking about A, but no one is talking about B” on social media, I’d be rich enough to buy everyone a plasma wall to ensure we’re all watching everything at once. In a world where social justice movements are aligning across racial lines and intersectional feminism is a growing force, there should be little doubt in humanities’ capability to concentrate on more than one thing at once.
Community organizers such as Deray McKesson and Shaun King flood their Twitter timelines with nearly comprehensive news on Black America’s oppression, but they’ve never accused anyone of being “distracted” from one story or another. Perhaps they’re fixated on realizing social media’s potential as a unitary platform.
In the wake of all-too common hate crimes, hashtags such as #GrowingUpBlack and #IllRideWithYou provide a springboard for solidarity. Additionally, “Black Twitter’s” #TakeItDown hashtag had a notable impact on removing the confederate flag from South Carolina’s State house. These instances prove social media is more effective when it’s used to foster solidarity and inspire action instead of control collective perception.
Suggesting that people don’t have the mental capacity to follow more than one issue or are only spoon fed what CNN or Fox News presents is condescending, and inevitably engenders more resentment than enlightenment. Social media users who make unfounded generalizations must understand that their social feed is not the entire world’s moral compass. If nothing else, a person’s fixation on “distractions” projects their desire to rewire the world’s collective consciousness to align with their self-interest.
Simply put, what happened to Sandra Bland is abhorrent, and so is what Bill Cosby is alleged to have done to dozens of women. No one should feel obligated to follow one story. Once and for all, it’s time to acknowledge that humans have the capacity and nuance to simultaneously consider, discuss, and connect with a range of issues. As the parameters of social media continue to develop, it will certainly need more consciousness leaders than consciousness cops.