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June 23,2020

by Stephanie Soh

The Rise and Fall of Platitudes

It’s a well-worn stereotype that, when asked about their wish or hope for the future, beauty pageant contestants reply with ‘world peace’. 

This is parodied in the film Miss Congeniality, in a sequence that shows contestant after contestant responding with variations of ‘I would have to say world peace’, ‘Definitely world peace’ and ‘That’s easy, world peace’ on stage. 

Miss Congeniality

All-encompassing, compassionate and suggestive of a capacity to care about the plight of others, it’s easy to guess why ‘world peace’ became the go-to platitude in a contest that has long been criticised for promoting narcissism and superficiality. 

It’s also breezily uncontroversial. Who doesn’t wish for a future where citizens of the world can come together, joining hands to celebrate our commonality in a conflict-free utopia?

And as coronavirus visits suffering upon many – whether directly through infections and grief, or indirectly through lockdowns, job losses and poverty – and the Black Lives Matter movement shines a light on inequality, some have found comfort in coming together through symbolic gestures of solidarity. 

Most prominently, there was the clap for healthcare workers and carers that saw people applaud from their doorsteps, windows and balconies, and #BlackOutTuesday when black squares were posted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It would be remiss to call these gestures platitudes in themselves. As well as showing gratitude to those working on the frontlines of the pandemic, the neighbourhood claps brought people together during a particularly isolating period. 

But then there were the claps from the likes of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government, who had voted for measures that left the British healthcare system stretched and underfunded, who had failed to acquire adequate supplies of PPE as hundreds of workers were dying on the job, and whose neglect of care homes led to over 16,000 deaths.

And let us not forget the claps from those who champion this government, despite the untold suffering it has wrought through its support of austerity, anti-immigration and small government ideology. 

elliott-stallion-1UY8UuUkids-unsplash

To clap for workers while making their jobs harder, low-waged and – now – life-threatening, was a platitude played out to an egregious degree. And clapping alongside such people, while the death toll rose, felt empty and futile.

Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other black Americans, #BlackOutTuesday had its origins in an initiative started by two black women, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, who work in the US music industry. 

They called for Tuesday 2 June to not simply be ‘business as usual’, but a day ‘to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community’, calling the campaign #TheShowMustBePaused.

#TheShowMustBePaused

But by the day itself, #BlackOutTuesday had been taken up by others and overtook #TheShowMustBePaused to become the more prominent hashtag, and the campaign spread beyond the music industry so that social media was filled with black squares posted by people from all over the world. 

This was met with some backlash. Posts fell flat when corporations such as Amazon expressed solidarity despite, in their instance, having provided facial recognition technology to police departments and making low-paid warehouse staff work in gruelling conditions. 

Individuals were criticised for performative allyship – of posting a black square to appear engaged with anti-racism, while doing nothing of the sort. Some didn’t wait until the day had passed to follow up their #BlackOutTuesday posts with the usual Instagram merry-go-round of selfies, food pics and lavish interiors.  

Crucially, Thomas and Agyemang had said that #TheShowMustBePaused was 'not a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul.’ Exploitative companies and individuals who fail to interrogate their own complicity in systemic racism could not say the same.

Participating in mass movements can help foster a sense of togetherness and raise awareness for their respective issues. But for the same reason Clap for Carers and #BlackOutTuesday were able to take off – due to the ease with which people could participate in them – they were liable to being appropriated by institutions and individuals who otherwise continued to prop up the forces of oppression that ran counter to what these campaigns stood for.

Instances such as these proliferated and, rather than bringing us together, they felt meaningless or – worse – like acts of manipulation. It’s not enough for clappers to show appreciation for frontline workers without supporting better wages for these workers, confronting the xenophobia that discriminates against the foreign workers labouring in these crucial roles, and vowing to kick out the political party that has undermined all of this during their decade in power.

It’s not enough for social media users to post a black square, without calling for an end to the punitive criminal justice measures that disproportionately penalises black citizens, supporting policies such as redistributive taxation and a robust welfare state that help redress the conditions that have kept black communities oppressed for centuries, and voting for the political candidates who are most likely to enact these changes.

When it comes to ‘world peace’, this phrase will always be too vague and elusive to escape criticism. But committing to the political and social change needed to – perhaps, one day – get there, makes it less of a platitude, and more a call to arms. 

photo-1591565164840-ab2af8c58b0a

June 23,2020

by Stephanie Soh

The Rise and Fall of Platitudes

It’s a well-worn stereotype that, when asked about their wish or hope for the future, beauty pageant contestants reply with ‘world peace’. 

This is parodied in the film Miss Congeniality, in a sequence that shows contestant after contestant responding with variations of ‘I would have to say world peace’, ‘Definitely world peace’ and ‘That’s easy, world peace’ on stage. 

Miss Congeniality

All-encompassing, compassionate and suggestive of a capacity to care about the plight of others, it’s easy to guess why ‘world peace’ became the go-to platitude in a contest that has long been criticised for promoting narcissism and superficiality. 

It’s also breezily uncontroversial. Who doesn’t wish for a future where citizens of the world can come together, joining hands to celebrate our commonality in a conflict-free utopia?

And as coronavirus visits suffering upon many – whether directly through infections and grief, or indirectly through lockdowns, job losses and poverty – and the Black Lives Matter movement shines a light on inequality, some have found comfort in coming together through symbolic gestures of solidarity. 

Most prominently, there was the clap for healthcare workers and carers that saw people applaud from their doorsteps, windows and balconies, and #BlackOutTuesday when black squares were posted in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It would be remiss to call these gestures platitudes in themselves. As well as showing gratitude to those working on the frontlines of the pandemic, the neighbourhood claps brought people together during a particularly isolating period. 

But then there were the claps from the likes of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government, who had voted for measures that left the British healthcare system stretched and underfunded, who had failed to acquire adequate supplies of PPE as hundreds of workers were dying on the job, and whose neglect of care homes led to over 16,000 deaths.

And let us not forget the claps from those who champion this government, despite the untold suffering it has wrought through its support of austerity, anti-immigration and small government ideology. 

elliott-stallion-1UY8UuUkids-unsplash

To clap for workers while making their jobs harder, low-waged and – now – life-threatening, was a platitude played out to an egregious degree. And clapping alongside such people, while the death toll rose, felt empty and futile.

Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other black Americans, #BlackOutTuesday had its origins in an initiative started by two black women, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, who work in the US music industry. 

They called for Tuesday 2 June to not simply be ‘business as usual’, but a day ‘to take a beat for an honest, reflective and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community’, calling the campaign #TheShowMustBePaused.

#TheShowMustBePaused

But by the day itself, #BlackOutTuesday had been taken up by others and overtook #TheShowMustBePaused to become the more prominent hashtag, and the campaign spread beyond the music industry so that social media was filled with black squares posted by people from all over the world. 

This was met with some backlash. Posts fell flat when corporations such as Amazon expressed solidarity despite, in their instance, having provided facial recognition technology to police departments and making low-paid warehouse staff work in gruelling conditions. 

Individuals were criticised for performative allyship – of posting a black square to appear engaged with anti-racism, while doing nothing of the sort. Some didn’t wait until the day had passed to follow up their #BlackOutTuesday posts with the usual Instagram merry-go-round of selfies, food pics and lavish interiors.  

Crucially, Thomas and Agyemang had said that #TheShowMustBePaused was 'not a 24-hour initiative. We are and will be in this fight for the long haul.’ Exploitative companies and individuals who fail to interrogate their own complicity in systemic racism could not say the same.

Participating in mass movements can help foster a sense of togetherness and raise awareness for their respective issues. But for the same reason Clap for Carers and #BlackOutTuesday were able to take off – due to the ease with which people could participate in them – they were liable to being appropriated by institutions and individuals who otherwise continued to prop up the forces of oppression that ran counter to what these campaigns stood for.

Instances such as these proliferated and, rather than bringing us together, they felt meaningless or – worse – like acts of manipulation. It’s not enough for clappers to show appreciation for frontline workers without supporting better wages for these workers, confronting the xenophobia that discriminates against the foreign workers labouring in these crucial roles, and vowing to kick out the political party that has undermined all of this during their decade in power.

It’s not enough for social media users to post a black square, without calling for an end to the punitive criminal justice measures that disproportionately penalises black citizens, supporting policies such as redistributive taxation and a robust welfare state that help redress the conditions that have kept black communities oppressed for centuries, and voting for the political candidates who are most likely to enact these changes.

When it comes to ‘world peace’, this phrase will always be too vague and elusive to escape criticism. But committing to the political and social change needed to – perhaps, one day – get there, makes it less of a platitude, and more a call to arms. 

photo-1591565164840-ab2af8c58b0a