Our well-meaning hashtags won't stop racist mass shootings. We need to take action.

The Buffalo shooting shows we need to do more to help Black and brown people.

Correction & clarification: The prior version of this column misspelled the names of Dr. John Raible and George Floyd.

Your social media feeds likely include well-intentioned tweets with the #BLM and #BlackLivesMatter hashtags after the racist massacre in Buffalo on Saturday. There's just one problem: The hashtags aren't helping Black and brown people.

Hashtagging our views is far from sufficient to stop the brutal, systemic violence and blatant terrorism being perpetrated against Black people in this country. What's more: Not only does hashtagging not help, it may just be adding to the problem by distracting us from taking any kind of real action. In other words, instead of actually doing something — out of laziness, discomfort or feelings of helplessness — we let ourselves think that a hashtag, a new profile pic, somehow, someway, helped. 

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I'm telling you now it didn't. But there are specific actions that we can take, as white folks, to be real allies in the face of centuries of racial terrorism in this country. 

Better alternatives to hashtagging

Unless you've been detoxing from news and digital media for the past two days you know what shooting I'm talking about. For those who don't: On Saturday, law enforcement officials said a white man armed with a military-style assault weapon, wearing tactical gear and a camera to stream, murdered 10 people and injured three more in a murderous, hate-fueled massacre at a supermarket in a predominately Black neighborhood of Buffalo. Eleven of the 13 people who were shot were Black.

White people need to be better allies and that can only happen by taking real action. "But what can I do?" You might ask yourself. "I have no real power. I'm just a middle-class white person in America trying to get by myself."

Fortunately, there are a lot of Black and brown people who would be happy to tell white people how they can be real allies. For those who simply aren't willing to do that but want to start doing more, then there are a multitude of articles on the internet about how white people can check themselves.

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I like a checklist by the Powershift Network, an "intergenerational network of organizations and campaigns that center the diverse young people most impacted by the climate crisis," which has concrete suggestions for white people who want to be more active in their anti-racism but aren't sure exactly how to. The checklist is adapted from notes by Dr. John Raible and gives examples like:

  • I continually educate myself and others about racism.
  • I recognize my own limitations as a white person doing anti-racist work.
  • I raise issues about racism over and over, both in public and in private.
  • I attend to group dynamics to ensure the inclusion of people of color.
  • I reach out to initiate contact with people of color.
  • I am present at meetings to make sure anti-racism is part of the discussion. 
  • I raise issues about racism over and over, both in public and in private.

I would add to that list by including, for instance: 

  • I cancel my membership to Fox News and other news outlets that regularly permit the dissemination of white supremacist theories like the Great Replacement Theory, which the Buffalo shooter appears to have espoused and which Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson is known to propagate
  • When I say or do something racist and I am called out on it I don't take it personally. Instead, I am quiet, actively listen, apologize and attempt to put that learning into future action. 
  • I support the teaching of real American history in all its ugliness. I vocally and emphatically support Critical Race Theory being taught in schools. 

We can and must do better. 

Fleeting displays of solidarity, like hashtags and profile pics, existed since 2013 when the first #BLM hashtag showed up. That clearly did nothing to stop the killings of Patrick Lyoya, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, or any of the people killed at the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina or at the Walmart in El Paso. Superficial displays of unity of message, even if heartfelt, will not stamp out white nationalist terrorism in this country because it's on the rise.

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Don't get mad at me. I do not say this from a place of perceived superiority. I do not say this to be "judgy." Instead, I say it as someone who has hashtagged my social media posts in an attempt to display my genuine feelings of solidarity with Black people in the U.S. I get it: It comes from a place of outrage and compassion. After a tragedy, our immediate reaction is to show solidarity with the victims. In this instance, an entire race is constantly under threat. But it's simply not enough. 

“This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black as he could,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference on Sunday.

A hashtag won't stop that kind of murderous hate. Only action will. 

Carli Pierson is a multi-lingual New York licensed attorney, former professor of human rights law and Opinion writer at USA TODAY. You can follow her on Twitter at: @CarliPiersonEsq