“Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.”
In my recent post about studying abroad, I talked about how we (as well as those we follow) often share videos on various social media outlets to raise awareness about current global issues. However, if your newsfeeds are anything like mine, you’ve also scrolled past hateful comments, tweets, and posts regarding current events in our country (i.e. the Muslim Ban).
As an Orlando native, I have prided myself on growing up in an area that is essentially a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, religions, and races. I was even fortunate enough to attend an fairly diverse magnet high school, which allowed me to befriend people from all walks of life and truly value what made each of us different. Just four short years ago, I graduated from that high school, and since then, I have lived in three different states, all of which had very different demographics than Orlando (read: I was in the rural south).
As such, over the past few years, I have accumulated quite an interesting assortment of followers (and people I follow) on my social media accounts, and have increasingly begun to realize that I seriously need to reevaluate why I follow them.
I have come to realize that those that I am “friends” with from high school, undergrad, previous jobs, etc. sometimes don’t value the same things I do. Some of these people are forever friends, others are people who are friends-by-association, and some are people I barely recognize (remember when we used to send “friend requests” just because?). Whatever the case, if you’re like me, you’ve found yourself slowly deleting, blocking, or unfriending these people—especially over the last election season—because of their hateful, xenophobic comments and attitudes.
By cleansing my newsfeed of hate speech, I have seen fewer shared videos of Tomi Lahren spewing her extremist views and more shared videos spreading awareness of the refugee crisis, of women’s rights issues, and of everything in between. And so, by getting rid of such deliberate negativity, I can actually use social media for what it’s made for: keeping in touch with people.
And although I’m not one to keep tabs on what everyone I went to high school and undergrad are doing, it’s always especially exciting to see some of the amazing things that they are up to. I’ve seen so many friends from high school and undergrad fundraising for their sororities’ philanthropies, embarking on mission trips to third-world countries, studying abroad, and some even starting their own non-profits.
However, what’s even more eye-opening is seeing the ways in which Muslims from my high school (and many that I was friends with) have been impacted by the xenophobic rhetoric used by political leaders, social media “friends”, and mere strangers, especially after President Trump’s executive orders.
Instead of reacting to hate and prejudice by spewing hateful words or adding fuel to the racially intolerant fire, however, these Muslim friends have expressed their frustrations in the most peaceful way—they offer to inform others of their religion and display the peace and kindness they wish to receive.
Of my Muslim friends on my Facebook newsfeed, my friend Sameer, an alumnus from my high school, has most profoundly inspired me. He is diligently helping to spread awareness to those unfamiliar with his religion and culture, and his social media speaks volumes of his desire for a more inclusive world.
I’ve always appreciated how his Facebook posts often encourages his followers to ask him questions about his religion if they do not understand something, how he is always trying to spread awareness about the many stigmas his entire religion and culture face, and above all, how his posts demonstrate his genuine optimistic outlook for the future. What’s more (and I think even more impressive), he also uses his social media to fundraise money to aid families affected by the ongoing war in Syria by posting videos of his travels to both Syria and Greece.
While the exact number of lives Sameer has impacted (both here and abroad) is unknown, he has been able to inadvertently educate his followers and foster an understanding of his culture and religion through his avid social media usage and humanitarianism. Because of Sameer’s actions, he is not only promoting diversity and inclusion, but also creating a safer world for people of all backgrounds, and is most definitely someone everyone could learn something from.
I recognize that although not everyone has been as fortunate to grow up surrounded by the same amount of diversity as I have been, it does not mean that you should be closed-minded, and even worse, xenophobic. Following “friends” that are diligently participating in social activism, like Sameer for instance, gives us first-hand encounters and experiences with the many prejudices minorities face, and also gives us direct ways we can help with national and global issues.
I also understand that it is tempting to disregard some of those that we grew up with or those that are from our hometowns / high schools while we are out making new friends, having new experiences, and being introduced to new ideas; however, we can still learn something every day by following some of them and feel a very real connection with what they are doing, regardless of your own cultural and religious beliefs. I am so glad that amidst the many, many shared memes and ridiculous videos on my Facebook feed, I have Sameer—and many people like him—sharing ways they are impacting our local, national, and global communities, as well as spreading awareness about the many stigmas and oppressions faced by minorities.
While you may not care to follow or keep track of people from your past (high school or otherwise) on your social media, I think that it is paramount that we keep some of those connections in order to have a better, first-hand understanding of how people are being affected by many of our nation’s politics and to open our minds up to diversity and inclusion.
I’m also not saying that you should delete everyone with a different viewpoint than you (because that’s a little absurd), but by all means purge the bigots, the racists, and any and all hate speech from your newsfeeds. However, the next time you think you might want to filter out all people from your past on your “friends list,” think again. By riding my newsfeed of toxic, hateful ideologies and attitudes, I realized that many of the people that remained, whether I was close with them or not, are actually doing extremely important work in order to better our society. And who knows, some of the people that remain your friends might just inspire you through one of their posts one day and end up influencing you to make a difference—it really is amazing what will happen when you cleanse your social media of people sharing videos/posts that pollute your feed with xenophobic, close-minded ideals.