Escaping reality is easy when you’ve got a phone in your hands. With a few simple taps, we have the capacity to be under the sea on Disney+, in the old west on HBOGO, or in a Russian emperor’s estate on Hulu. We can look up old flings on Facebook, and we can scan Twitter for the latest trend. Most of it takes us away from the present moment in time, a balm for the overworked, overbored, and overstimulated.
One of our favorite fast escapes? #PetsofInstagram. Especially Ralph and George the corgis.
#BlackoutTuesday was perhaps misinterpreted by some, but in broad strokes, it was meant to clear Instagram out to elevate and amplify black voices. For many of us, that meant on #BlackoutTuesday when we scrolled through our feeds, we weren’t greeted by the usual taste of pictures of friends’ kids, of nuns in adoration, of morning sun dancing across the water, of a cityscape at sunset. We saw a trail of black squares punctuated by an occasional and essential post, cultivated by black content creators during this challenging time.
Most of our Instagram networks participated, including our favorite Pets of Instagram, Ralph and George, a couple of corgis with charisma to spare. The day before #BlackoutTuesday, we were treated to images of Ralph licking a cake in celebration of his 7th birthday. Delightful and ridiculous.
The next day, a black square, and a caption: “We see you, we hear you, and we stand with you against racism and intolerance. #BlackoutTuesday.”
And the comments came. They always come. One reads:
“Sorry I will have to unfollow Ralph and George. I always enjoyed the posts as a relief from political commentary since I can see it on too many other sites. Best Wishes.”
“Sorry I have to unfollow. I really enjoyed seeing the antics of Ralph and George. This is ur site and u can post what u want. But I do not wish to see political comments.”
What might two corgis (but really, their humans, who are Asian-American), who are the stars of an Instagram account with 321K followers, and who contribute to one of the greatest forms of escapism the Internet knows, say in response? This:
“…it is truly sad to us that denouncing racism this day and age is considered ‘political’ to some of our followers. We neither need nor want your apology, and suggest that you think about why this statement, simply standing against racism, makes you so uncomfortable.”
Overcome by corgis. The day after #BlackoutTuesday, our favorite Insta-pets were back – a picture of Ralph and George, side-by-side and tongues hanging out, captioned: “Better together. #SendingLoaf.”
It is both sad and an incredible act of privilege that people choose to cultivate such a deeply siloed experience in regards to the information they want to receive. It is sad that some live perfectly at peace while others face the chaos of the world every day. Even when millions of people gather over many days of protests in hundreds of cities. Even when we have the opportunity and, some might argue, the moral obligation to witness the killing of a black man at the hands of a law enforcement officer. Even then, people can opt out and escape. They can choose who to listen to, what to watch, and what images and outlets to reject. What’s more, people have the audacity to make demands that other content creators provide the grounds for comfort at a time when the world is necessarily and importantly uncomfortable. To silo oneself and to demand the upholding of that silo is an act of complacency in perpetuating division and, in this case, racism.
It is true that in the wake of every tragedy and every evil, energy wanes and the message gets quieter or suppressed entirely. There may soon come a time when George Floyd isn’t discussed widely every day as he should be. When we collectively forget him, as we may have done with those lives taken before his. When we forget the matchstick moment we lived through, and we cultivate grounds for another incident to occur by our silence. And we, all of us, cannot let that happen.
We must remain diligent in the work of ending racism. We call those who share our substantial privilege to do the same. We must encourage even Ralph and George to keep the witness and discussion alive. We must apologize and repent. We must continue saying that #BlackLivesMatter. We must read and discuss the books we so readily liked when we saw them gathered together in an image on social media. We must talk with each other, and most especially listen to the voices of people of color. We must continue demonstrating. We must vote. We must seek systemic reform, and we must seek a transformation of our minds and hearts.
Until that happens, we can’t fall back on our usual escape. We cannot retreat to our usual silos of comfort and complacency. We’ll keep enjoying #PetsOfInstagram from time to time, but then the work continues until the sin of racism is eradicated from the earth.
This article was co-written by Danny Gustafson, SJ, and Eric Immel, SJ.
Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash