During our class discussion on Gamer Gate and whether it “mattered,” I was reminded of hashtag activism, a concept I encountered last year. My first exposure to hashtag activism came in the form of #CancelColbert by self-proclaimed hashtag activist, Suey Park. She created the hashtag in response to a tweet from The Colbert Report’s official Twitter: “I am willing to show the Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”
This was meant to satirize the irony of Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder creating a foundation to benefit Native Americans. Suey Park, however, found the tweet needlessly offensive and decided to act via Twitter. Past hashtags of hers include #NotYourAsianSidekick and #BlackPowerYellowPeril. Her goal is to utilize social media as a method of activism, something I’d argue is only possible through a platform as quick as Twitter.
However, I am conflicted on Suey Park because, in a larger sense, I support Asian-American awareness and activism. I thought the #NotYourAsianSidekick movement was poignant.
However, I cannot agree with Suey Park the person. I don’t want her as a person representing the movement I believe in. In the interviews she held, she was incoherent and unable to focus. The most telling interview was her’s with Salon.com:
So what do you want to see happen in your revolution?
I mean, it’s already happening I think. The revolution will not be an apocalypse, it’s gonna be a series of shifts in consciousness that result in actions that come about, and I think that like, at this point is really like, ride or die, in terms who’s in and who is out. I don’t play by appeasement politics, it is not about getting my oppressors to humanize me. And in that sense I reject the respectability politics, I reject being tone-policed, I think we need to do away with this idea that these structures are … that the prisons can undergo reform and somehow do less violence as a structure. But any example like that.
Wait, can you ask that question again, I got distracted real quick, there was a bird outside my window.
She was on the receiving end of a lot of jokes and criticism because she could not properly articulate her points to a broader audience. To a crowd that is well-versed in social justice, her language might be considered more transparent. However, those are not the people she needs to direct her activism towards. If she can’t spread her cause in a way that others can consume, it is ineffective. In my eyes, she spoke a lot but said nothing.
So how do I reconcile my dislike for Suey Park with my appreciation for Asian-American activists who put themselves out there? After all, one can easily disregard my complaints with the argument that I’m not doing anything productive by criticizing her. However, I still think my frustrations are valid. My movement is not being taken seriously because a woman could not ignore a bird outside her window or stop talking in circles.
Furthermore, a great deal of criticism towards Park was related to the permanence and effectiveness of hashtag activism. It’s a great way to quickly spread a message, yes, but what then? And how long does that hashtag last? Are hashtags a sustainable mode of activism? Considering the fame and power that Park quickly gained, perhaps it is. However, the shortcoming of being a hashtag activist is that you are limited in your speech – you have to be succinct, to-the-point, which can lead to over-generalization and inability to elaborate, much like how Park was unable to clearly speak when given the opportunity.
In general, I think hashtag activism has a lot of potential to lead to greater modes of activism and change. It’s also easy for people to join in and there is arguably less at stake than something like marching in a protest. However, I think we must also question who is leading these hashtag activist movements and if it matters.